Discover how being self-aware and intentional in your actions can shape your children’s emotional resilience!

Joining me today is licensed clinical social worker and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, Amy Morin.

In this episode, Amy and I are shedding light on how parents, couples, and friends can harness this empowering mindset. From fostering curiosity and confidence to navigating complex emotions like guilt and values like honesty and kindness, we’re providing you with practical tools for strengthening your own mental wellness and raising mentally resilient kids, too.

Amy (00:00):

Can be lots of emotions wrapped into one, but when you just name it, it really does tame it. So we often talk to kids about name it to tame it, but there’s research behind it. Just labeling. It helps your brain and your body make sense of what’s going on. So when you have a slight sick feeling in your stomach and you think, okay, this is guilt, I feel guilty right now, and here’s why. It really helps you feel a little less guilty right in the moment. It lowers the intensity of the emotion and the duration of it, and then you can kind of move on with your day. But when we try to push it down and pretend it’s not there, convince ourselves our feelings are wrong, that’s when they do linger for sure.

Dr. Sarah (00:38):

How can we be mentally stronger and how can we raise our children with that same mentality to be resilient and grounded from the start? That is exactly what I’ll be unpacking today with my guest, Amy Morin. Amy is a licensed clinical social worker and the author of the International Bestseller 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, which led to a series of books on achieving mental strength. Her TEDx Talk, The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong is one of the top 15 TEDx talks of all time having been viewed over 22 million times. I can’t wait for you to hear my conversation with Amy about the characteristics of mentally strong individuals with practical advice for navigating parenthood partnerships and friendships. We’re going to touch on different ways to think about teaching flexibility, navigating complex emotions like guilt, and understanding the fine balance between supporting our children’s feelings and allowing them to develop emotional resilience independently.


Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights so you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.


Hi. Welcome everyone. I’m super excited. Today we have Amy Morin on. I am really thrilled to talk about all the work that you’ve done with parents and couples and all of your books. Can you start off just sharing a little bit about your work and how you sort of got in, because this is a kind of pretty cool series of books you’ve written.

Amy (02:36):

So I was a therapist in rural Maine and thought I was going to just teach other people what I learned about mental strength based on college. But early on in my career, my mom passed away. I was 23 when my mom died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. And it was really the first time I thought, okay, well now it’s really about how do I go through this extremely tough experience in my life and what works and what doesn’t? And I was trying to apply all of the things I had learned and I was glad that I did because three years to the day that my mom died, my 26-year-old husband died of a heart attack. So I wake up and I’m 26 and I don’t have my mom and now I don’t have my husband and I’m so grateful I was a therapist. I think if I had not been a therapist during that time in my life, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through it.


So I at least knew about grief. I knew some things about loss and PTSD and all sorts of things like that, which was helpful. But one of the things I was also struggling with besides losing my loved ones was finances. My husband was a breadwinner. As a therapist, we don’t earn a ton of money. I had a mortgage to pay, so my side hustle became writing articles because I needed to pay the bills, I had to keep the heat on in Maine where it was very cold and I could do that after work and on the weekends as a therapist, you can only work so many hours a week. You can’t really work nights and weekends and you can only see so many people and still be effective. But if I could write articles on a freelance basis, I thought, well, maybe I can not have to move. The last thing I wanted to do was also have to move. And so I started writing articles and I wrote one that went viral. It was called 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, and it got 50 million views. And from there I got a book deal and they said, Hey, you want to write a book? But I said, nobody knows the reason why I wrote that article. It was really the only article I’d ever written that was heartfelt. Other than that, most of my articles were kind of sterile clinical things about depression.

Dr. Sarah (04:34):

Interesting how the one that takes off that people resonate with are the ones that come really from that place of deep feelings.

Amy (04:41):

Definitely. And so a literary agent called and said, do you want to write a book? And I said, well, there’s a backstory, but I don’t want to tell it. I’m a therapist. So I usually listen to people’s stories, but I don’t share my own. And I explain the backstory to her. And really the day that I had written that article, my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I had been facing a third loss, major loss in my life, and I just remember thinking, this isn’t fair. And then I wrote the article as a letter to myself. I didn’t even plan to publish it, put it on the internet though after a few days I thought, if this letter helps me, maybe it will help somebody else. And that’s when it went viral and I got the opportunity to write a book After my first book came out, it was about a year later, 13 things, mentally strong people don’t do hit the shelves.


I had so many parents saying, how do we teach this to kids? So I wrote the parenting book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do. After that book came out, so many women stepped up and said, alright, we know that a Navy Seal and an athlete might be the epitome of toughness, but what does it look like to be a strong woman? So I wrote 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do, and then kept getting more things, questions about kids. So I wrote a kid’s book, 13 Things Strong Kids Do, and then I wrote a workbook, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do Workbook. And then my most recent book is 13 Things Mentally Strong Couples Don’t Do.

Dr. Sarah (06:03):

I love it. And I kind of want to just go back to the kids’ book because that actually really caught my eye and I love that. It’s really interesting to me that all the books are presented as these are things that these strong people don’t do, but the kids book is different. These are things strong kids do. And I’m wondering, I have an idea of why that was presented that way, but can you share a little bit about that? Why do we change the way we present these things to kids and why is that important?

Amy (06:31):

So two reasons. Number one, we tell kids what not to do all the time. Don’t run in the house, don’t raise your voice, don’t procrastinate. Whatever we tell them, it’s often what not to do. So I was afraid if I wrote a book about what not to do, kids are just going to roll their eyes and say, grownups tell us not to do stuff all the time. But also the bad habits I write about for adults are things like, don’t feel sorry for yourself. Well, a lot of kids don’t do that naturally, but we can teach them the positive habits so they don’t develop these negative habits that they have to get rid of in adulthood. If we teach kids about perseverance and self-discipline and grit when they’re young, then they won’t develop the bad habits that a lot of us developed because we never learned them along the way.

Dr. Sarah (07:15):

Yeah, that’s so profound. The difference between kids and grownups is fundamental beautiful truth is that kids, they, the grownups have to unlearn stuff. Kids have the beautiful gift of having the opportunity to just learn healthy things from the get go if they’re in the environment, the right environment that supports them and sees them and can teach them in the way they learn. And I just think that that’s so perfect, right? It’s so true. Kids don’t need to unlearn things. They just need support so that they can continue to be all these things that we as grownups have forgotten and have lost touch with. Kids really are, if you think about it, think about little kids. They are so confident, they’re so curious, they’re so disinhibited, they’re so willing to, and obviously temperament plays some role. Some kids take more time to open up, but there’s this innate buoyancy to them, and we as grownups could learn a lot from that. I feel like, and that’s maybe a lot of what your books are helping people to do is say like, okay, well what do I need to unlearn so I could do something a little bit mentally stronger?

Amy (08:38):

That’s it. Exactly. And for kids, if we just capitalize on the skills and tools and things they’re doing well already, we can just direct them in the right direction. Most of us though, have learned some bad habits over the years, and we might not even recognize that we’re doing them because they become so ingrained. We don’t even notice that we get stuck in these patterns or we develop these cycles that keep us stuck. So we do have to unlearn them, and that takes a lot more energy. But for little kids, if we just teach them from the get-go, what works? Keep doing this, channel it into the right directions, we can help them not develop a lot of our bad habits.

Dr. Sarah (09:15):

Right. Yeah, no, I think it’s so true. It’s so reassuring. It’s like we all have this in us. We all wear kids once too. We all have this innate ability to be resilient and strong. It’s just about the scaffolding of it, just channeling it, like you said. And so I’m curious too, what are some, across all the books, what are some of the themes? What do you notice grownups, whether it’s specifically women or you’re looking at it in terms of the relationship in couples, what are things that you notice we need to collectively unlearn?

Amy (09:54):

So I would say one big issue, the theme that runs across all the books is sort of the way that we deal with pain. A lot of us will do just about anything to avoid pain in the moment, and then it costs us something in the long term, whether we’re reaching for something that we don’t want to necessarily reach for, but it makes you feel good in the moment. Alcohol, extra food, some sort of a bad habit that we indulge in to get through today, but then it really makes tomorrow a lot more difficult. Another one is the responsibility that we take. Sometimes we like to blame other people for a lot of things. Like my boss drives me crazy, my mother-in-law makes me feel bad about myself. Sort of putting the blame on somebody else so that we don’t have to do anything differently.


And the power of the words that we use just in saying somebody ruined my day, like, Nope. You have the power to make your day as good as it could be. And it’s not somebody else who actually ruined your day. They don’t have power over your day. But we get caught up in that. And even to this day, I’ve been writing these books now for 10 years, and I’ve been a therapist for more than 20 years. I mean, I’ll still catch myself being like, oh, I have to go to the grocery store today. I don’t have to. It’s a choice. And just reminding ourself of all the choices that we have. But on the flip side of that, also not trying to control things that we can’t, sometimes we put our energy into worrying about somebody else’s behavior or trying to control the outcome of something that we have zero control over, as opposed to just focusing on what we do have control over, which sometimes is just our own attitude and our own behavior.

Dr. Sarah (11:26):

Yeah, it is interesting. And it’s funny because obviously the whole idea behind this podcast and talking to parents is tying it all back to raising kids. But we could talk about how it’s, it’s so interesting to me actually when I get into a conversation about anything related to adults and how we show up and how do we regulate ourselves, how do we shift our mindset? How do we reframe something so we can take ownership or be more mindful? There’s always this parallel conversation. I feel like that happens is when we do that for ourselves, we’re teaching our kids to do that because they’re always kind of watching us. So we could focus a lot on our kids’ behavior because that tends to be a big stressor for a lot of parents, super understandably. But when we focus on our kids’ behavior, we’re trying to control something we don’t have that much control over. And if we instead look at how we’re responding to their behavior or how we’re interpreting their behavior or how we’re setting up the environment to support or not support a change in that behavior, all of a sudden we shift the control back into our own space. We have control over how we show up. Not always because hey, everybody loses control sometimes. But I’m curious what your thoughts are on that.


What are some of the mentally strong characteristics or ways that people, parents or anyone moves back into that state of agency?

Amy (13:02):

So it really does come back to saying, I’m going to manage my behavior right now, my emotions while my kid is misbehaving. That’s tough to do, especially when you’re in aisle seven of the grocery store and your kid’s throwing a tantrum and you’re embarrassed and you’re thinking, I’ve got to get out of here. I have to do something. And we start to get anxious, and you might even feel kind of panicky, I have to stop this right now because people are looking at me. Or what are people going to think about my parenting? They’re going to judge me and think I’m a bad parent. And it’s all of those sorts of things that often lead us to make those decisions that aren’t always the good ones where you grab the kid, you raise your voice, you give ’em a lollipop to get them to stop crying in the middle of the store.


And those are the things that make things worse over time because we’re not teaching our kids how to regulate their emotions. They learn by watching us. What does mom or dad do when they’re angry or upset? How do they handle their anxiety? If I embarrass you, what are you going to do? So I think it’s really about shifting that mindset and knowing, okay, my child’s behavior is going to cause some uncomfortable emotions within me, but then my job isn’t necessarily to try and control the environment to try to control myself. So how do I do that when I feel embarrassed, I’m going to do X, Y, or Z. Might be taking a few deep breaths. It might be making eye contact with another parent who gives you that look of, I understand I’ve been there.


And that’s difficult to do because so many of us are just programmed into thinking, I can’t let my kid cry in public, or I can’t let my kid refuse to do their homework. Or if bath time’s at seven, then it better be at seven and it’s now 7 0 5, so I have to do something about this. So it’s more of a relaxed approach of, okay, if my child’s not behaving, what’s the consequence? Yes, I’m going to give my child a consequence for their misbehavior if that’s appropriate to do, but that’s my job is to give the consequence not to physically make them do something different right there in the moment.

Dr. Sarah (14:55):

Yeah. Yeah. I think it’s like we, like you said, it’s in the short term. Sometimes it’s easier. It would feel really satisfying to just make our kid obey us in that moment. And we probably can if we want to really need to. And sometimes for safety reasons, we do. And we just got to have to be sort of an icky pile of messy, two people fighting over something like it’s a safety issue. We just have to hold that boundary no matter how messy it gets. But also, a lot of the times, I think if we zoom out and we say, what is this moment showing me is the big goal? What is the long-term goal? Wow, my kid has to work on this skill. I have to help them prepare better for this expectation. I need to put more tools in their toolbox for these sort of transitional moments.


And I recognize that that’s a skill that takes a while to develop. Then all of a sudden the urgency and the moment goes away because my goal in the moment is it might at face value be like it’s just we have to get to bath time. It’s time. But I think in the long run, it’s that we want our kid to understand that there’s a rhythm to the day and that certain things have to happen and we have to do things that we don’t want to do. And that’s hard. We’re teaching frustration tolerance. We’re teaching time management, we’re teaching responsibility. We’re teaching cooperation within the family life. Those are big things to teach, and they’re really important, but aren’t learned in a moment. They’re learned in a many, many, many, many moments put together. And I think sometimes just that mindset shift of we’ve got time to work on this, that alone can help us relax a bit.

Amy (16:36):

And I love that idea of just reminding yourself when your child’s misbehaving, this is that they need to learn a new skill and what skill can you teach them? And I think it’s also about accepting that sometimes your child’s going to misbehave. I’m going to feel frustrated, I’m going to be embarrassed sometimes. And that’s all part of parenting. It’s all of those emotions are going to be stirred up, and those are my opportunities to model to my child how to deal with those behaviors. And we’re going to make mistakes. There’s going to be days when we’re frustrated, days when we give into a behavior that we shouldn’t give into, and that’s okay too, but we just want to make sure that we’re on the right path. And it’s so easy to say these things, and I know that as well. I was a therapeutic foster parent for about 10 years when I was working as a therapist in rural Maine.


So I would see my clients in the grocery store. They don’t know if this is my biological child or not, but the child is throwing an absolute tantrum on the grocery store floor and they’re seeing this happen. And as I’m thinking, huh, and I’m talking to this person about parenting skills normally in my therapy office, and now they’re watching how I’m going to deal with this in the grocery store too. And I just remember it just gave me such empathy for people too of I absolutely understand this is really hard to do matter how many amazing emotion regulation skills you have. Your kids will push every button some days and they will test you, and they don’t do it on the days it’s convenient. It’s the day that you had a really rough day at the office and then you come home and they also don’t want to behave. And those are all of our opportunities too, to say, how am I going to manage my behavior?

Dr. Sarah (18:07):

Yeah, they give us a lot of opportunities to practice.

Amy (18:10):


Dr. Sarah (18:15):

 When you are thinking. So obviously there’s so many different applications you’ve identified for this way of thinking when you’re talking with couples, because I think one of the things I find is as parents sometimes we identify with our parenting role and identity, and I think it’s one of those things that it expands to fill the space. When you’re a parent, it can be really all consuming. And so this is a bit of a hard thing to push back on. But I do think sometimes we get over consumed and over identify with that role. And at the, it’s like what does that displace? Sometimes it displaces our relationship or our intentionality and our thought and our effort in that relationship or identity as a couple, or it can affect our relationship or our identity as a daughter or a sister or a friend or with ourselves even. Right? People really do talk a lot. I think about feeling like they’ve lost a lot of their identity as a parent when you are working with people or writing about ways to help people reconnect with their identity as a couple. Just let’s take that one slice of our pie and look at that. What are some things that you feel like get in the way? What are some of the things that might we want to examine a bit more so that we can reconnect with that relationship?

Amy (19:56):

So some things that often happen is I’ll see a couple who, they’re just very focused on their kids’ activities. A lot of kids are busy, they have lots of afterschool activities and sports and band and parents will go to all of those events, and that sort of becomes their recreational outlet for the parents too. Like, oh, we don’t need to go on date night. We just went to the soccer game together. But they were always just focused on the kids. So I’ll see a lot of couples who really don’t argue that much. There’s not a lot of conflict, but at the same time, they’re just co-parenting this child or their children and running it more like a business or really the kids are the center of their relationship. So then of course when the kids get older and move out and move on as teenagers and have other friends and things they’re doing that don’t revolve around the family, that’s really tough.


And couples kind of look at each other like, oh, who are you? We haven’t gone on a date, a real date in 10 years. Let’s talk about that. So I think it’s important to make sure that you have activities together as a couple that don’t just revolve around your kids, that you’re having conversations regularly that don’t revolve around just the family business of who’s picking up who from practice and who’s paying what bill. And that’s sort of a thing, but you have conversations about hopes and dreams and feelings and outside things and that you carve out that time and that you show kids that yes, your activities are important and our time together is also important. And right down to having boundaries with your kids, whether they go to bed at eight and they stay in their room so that you can have private conversations that don’t involve them and it’s not about them and also what you call each other.


I think sometimes couples get into the habit of referring to each other as mom or dad, and that just kind of sets the tone for we’re not really romantic partners because I don’t really look at you the same anymore. I look at you as mom instead of Sarah. So for couples to know, no, it’s okay to have quiet time together, to have private moments to make sure that you’re carving out plenty of activities that don’t necessarily involve the kids. But I see so many couples that feel guilty about that. They’ll say, well, our kids are only here for 18 short years. We want to make sure we involve them in absolutely everything. But I think it’s important to remember that after those 18 years, you’re still going to be parents, but you’re also probably going to be in your house together without the kids, and you want to make sure that you have a really strong bond, the two of you that doesn’t always involve activities just with the kids.

Dr. Sarah (22:18):

Yeah. No, I think that’s a really good point. I think that applies a lot to friendships too. I think that same God as a mom, I relate to this so much of when I first had, I mean, my oldest is six, so I’ve been a parent for six years and I feel like there are friendships that I had before I had my kids that I’ve probably really neglected for six years. If you neglect a relationship for six years, is it going to be there waiting for you when your kids go to college? And is that something that might make you feel really lonely? And I’ve had to really examine this with some of my relationships and my friendships is how, and I get it when you have very little kids, it’s so hard. Even when you have older kids, it could be really hard, but more so because I think of what you’re talking about was just starts to become this intense management project.


There’s so many moving parts when your kids get older, there’s so many afterschool activities and school meetings and all these things that you have to keep track of and it could be so consuming, but when you’re really little and you’re really in it and you’re just in that stage of like, oh my gosh, my child literally needs my body to survive. So I’m just so in it. It’s really hard to, I always kind of say, give yourself a pass. It’s going to be really hard to maintain a lot of relationships during that sort of early childhood stage, but we can forget to and circle back to those relationships once we poke our head above the water and we’re like, oh, I could take a breath. And sometimes that sense of urgency around all of the stuff we’re managing, that’s a mindset that we can sometimes forget to double check and say, is that as urgent? Can I move this? Can my kid miss a practice? Or can I not go to their game so I can catch up with a friend for dinner? Is there a way to balance these things out a little bit more? And then when I do that, if I feel guilty, how do I check that guilt too.

Amy (24:24):

Yeah, that’s such a good point. I think a lot of parents feel like, yeah, no, I would be a bad parent if I didn’t attend every single soccer practice or every single soccer game because they’d say, well, to go out to dinner with my friend would be selfish and I’d look like a bad parent. And they’re really hesitant to do that. But you think about the long scheme of life. Like, really, what are you going to remember? Is your child going to remember whether you were at absolutely every single soccer game? Might they remember wow, mom really valued friends and she had good friends and she took care of herself. Okay. And I always assure parents as a therapist, I’ve never had an adult come into my therapy office and be like, my mom missed my soccer game when I was in the fourth grade and I’m scarred because of it. That doesn’t happen. I guarantee that no child is going to say if you miss one thing or you shuffled something around that you are a bad parent. It’s not about that. It’s really about the quality of the relationship that you have. And sometimes showing that to kids, our priorities might shift. We might have to shuffle things sometimes. Sometimes we say no. Sometimes we make different decisions, and that’s okay. Just because something’s in your calendar doesn’t mean that you blindly just do it. I’m in charge of my schedule. And that’s a good way to teach that skill to kids is we have a lot of afterschool activities right now. I love going to all of them and I’m going to make sure that I take time to meet up with my friend while they’re in town this weekend. Here’s how that’s going to look.

Dr. Sarah (25:46):

And it teaches flexibility, which is so valuable. It says like, oh man, this was the plan and now the plan’s going to change. And that’s okay even if we have feelings about it.

Amy (25:59):

And I think that’s a valuable skill. And for parents to know, you may feel guilty at first, you might feel bad, or another parent says, oh, we missed you on Saturday. And you’re thinking, oops, but that’s okay. Just because you feel guilty doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong. It’s just kind of a natural feeling that comes up sometimes. And it doesn’t mean that you should do anything differently. In fact, we want to teach kids that when we have guilt, you don’t want to cave into it all the time. So if your child’s friend says to them, can I cheat off your paper? You’d be a good friend if you’d let me copy your answers. Your child might feel guilty saying no, but that’s okay. So we want to teach them that. Yes, sometimes I feel guilty too, but I can’t be in two places at once and this is a decision that I’m making. And then we teach kids, just because you feel guilty doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, and it doesn’t mean you should change your behavior.

Dr. Sarah (26:47):

Yeah, I that’s a good point. I think sometimes a lot of times we feel guilty we’ve done something wrong, and that’s very sort of simplistic, which for little kids, that’s a helpful thing for them to learn. I actually think that I’ve been noticing this with my own kids. Teaching them about guilt has been really helpful for them because it’s not one of those go-to emotions that they’re learning, like happy, sad, mad, frustrated, scared. Guilt is like mean. There’s a book I really like, oh, what is it called? I think it’s called How Do You Feel? And it’s this really cute book with, it’s very simple. I love it because a very kind of a project kind of book where you can make any story you want, but it’s these kids at a playground and they’re, you see these scenes and it’s like, I feel happy, I feel sad, I feel scared.


And you can tell a whole story with lots of different layers to it as to why they’re feeling that feeling based on the pictures. It’s a cool book. But in that book, I feel sorry because this kid knocks over this girl’s juice at her picnic with his soccer ball. But that’s the closest I’ve seen to guilty in kids’ books. And I think kids feel guilty a lot and they don’t really know what to do with that feeling because it could be a lot of guilty is sort of a mix of a lot of feelings. So it’s a really interesting point you make that I just think is worth noting is like, okay, yeah, we can feel guilty. We often teach our kids that feeling guilty is when we do something that we shouldn’t do, we feel guilty. But your example, which I think is a pretty common one, is when we’re kind of in a rock cop between a rock and what is that phrase?

Amy (28:33):

A rock and a hard place.

Dr. Sarah (28:34):

Yeah. Thank you. When you’re caught between a rock and a hard place where either way you’re going to feel guilty, you feel guilty because you’re saying no to your friend and your friend’s asking you to do something that if you did, you’d also feel guilty. That’s a really tricky situation and not that uncommon.

Amy (28:54):

It is. And you bring up a good point in terms of feeling sorry, because we often do the forced apology thing, oh, apologize to your brother, say sorry, because you hit him and we confuse the two. Saying, sorry is a behavior, but feeling guilty is an emotion, and that too aren’t always tied. I mean, how often do kids smack their brother and you say, sorry, and they say, sorry, but they don’t actually feel guilty, they don’t feel bad about it. It’s just the forced apology.

Dr. Sarah (29:20):

No, they feel mad because whatever their brother did to get that smack, probably what caused they experienced a feeling that led to a behavior that was probably not an appropriate behavior. But the feeling of anger is real and making them say sorry when they’re angry doesn’t really match the feeling. It’s more useful to go to the anger and say, when you’re feeling angry, what can you do instead? You’re more likely to build. And once you address the anger and the anger can diffuse very likely feeling sorry or feeling like you want to reconnect and repair, it comes naturally. But if you try to make a kid say sorry, when they’re angry, the feeling and the behavior are at an odds with each other. And so it doesn’t really work in terms of helping a kid make really useful connections.

Amy (30:10):

I agree. And we’re not really teaching them about guilt. And what do you do when you feel guilty? They don’t feel guilty, as you say, they’re probably just really angry. And the forced apology kind of gets them out of trouble in the moment and then they move on with their day. And those are the kids that just get better at smacking their brother when nobody’s looking. They don’t actually change their behavior if they were just forced to give a quick apology as their consequence. So I do think it’s important to separate those things. And what do you do when you actually feel guilty? Maybe you did something and nobody saw you do it, but you still feel bad about it. Or you did something that maybe hurt somebody’s feelings at school yesterday and now you’re not sure should you apologize? Should you bring it up? Let’s talk about that. I think that would really open up so many doors for kids if they could understand that emotion better.

Dr. Sarah (30:56):

Yeah. And so we kind of got off on a tangent about guilt, but it’s like, ugh, I love talking about feelings. But going back, the reason why we were talking about guilt was because I think a lot of times we are conditioned as parents to feel guilty when we have to make that forced choice. And in reality, it’s not that there’s a way to get out of the guilt. It’s like when you have to pick between two things, when you’re in that rock and a hard place situation, there’s really no option that doesn’t leave you feeling guilty. It’s not that the guilt in and of itself, it’s a bad thing. It’s that it’s going to come, it makes sense, and how can you give it permission to be there? And also in doing so, release it. Because the ironic thing with emotions is the more we fight and push away a feeling, the longer it sticks around. So it’s like if you just say, Ugh, I’m feeling a little guilty about that, that makes sense. I had to pick between two things that make me feel guilty either way. So I picked one, whichever one it is, here’s the guilt, can I let that be? And in doing that, the irony is it goes away.

Amy (32:09):

Yeah, there’s tons of research behind that that just labeling an emotion takes a lot of the sting out of it, but we’re really bad at it and emotions are messy. So it’s not always clear cut. You might be happy that you saw your friend, but a little guilty, you missed the soccer game and maybe kind of sad you didn’t see your child’s score goal. It can be lots of emotions wrapped into one, but when you just name it, it really does tame it. So we often talk to kids about name it to tame it, but there’s research behind it. Just labeling, it helps your brain and your body make sense of what’s going on. So when you have a slight sick feeling in your stomach and you think, okay, this is guilt, I feel guilty right now, and here’s why. It really helps you feel a little less guilty in the moment. It lowers the intensity of the emotion and the duration of it, and then you can kind of move on with your day. But when we try to push it down and pretend it’s not there, convince ourselves our feelings are wrong, that’s when they do linger for sure.

Dr. Sarah (32:59):

Yeah. Another good thing to unlearn. So what are some of the other things too? So we talked a little bit about couples. How about parents? What are some of the things that you feel like parents, if you stopped doing this thing, it would lead to feeling mentally stronger?

Amy (33:19):

So one big one that kind of goes along with what we’re talking about would be about taking responsibility for kids’ emotions. When I was a kid, it was sort of like whatever you felt is whatever you feel. And a lot of grownups didn’t necessarily care. I think in today’s world though, a lot of parents feel like they’re responsible for their kids’ emotions. If your kid’s crying, you better cheer them up. If they are frustrated, I’m going to calm you down. If they’re nervous about something, Hey, I have a test on Friday and I am not going to do a good job. We want to run in there and reassure ’em, honey, you’re going to do great, or Don’t worry about that recital. You’re going to perform so well. And we don’t teach them, okay, when you’re worried and nervous about something that’s going to happen on Friday, what can you do about it?


Or when you’re sad, maybe you didn’t make the basketball team, what can you do about those sad feelings? It’s normal to get rejected. So instead of taking them out for ice cream, maybe we let them feel sad for a while and help them cope with those sad feelings. It’s tough though, as parents, nobody wants to see their child upset, so we want to cheer them up. And we often think it’s a reflection of us. If my child’s not doing well, then somehow that means I’m not doing my job. But really it’s so important to let kids do that. And I always think back to, there’s a study where they asked college kids, were you prepared for college? 97% of ’em say academically, yes, a hundred percent prepared for college, not a problem. And then a very small portion of ’em say, I was emotionally prepared for college. The vast majority of kids say, I don’t know how to deal with loneliness and sadness and anger and frustration on my own without my parents there. I’m struggling. And because of that, I’m not prepared to be out on my own. And I think that’s because of our tendency to rescue kids from their feelings that they just aren’t learning those skills on their own.

Dr. Sarah (35:03):

Yeah, and it’s funny that, I mean, that makes sense that it was dumb with a college population. It makes me think about the intersection of achievement, having achievement be super, super central to our values and having happiness be super, super central to our values. And how those two things, and you put them together, you get kids who really, really, really know about academic achievement, maybe even in a toxically intense way and don’t know what to do things other than happy, which is like a rough combo when you’re at college.

Amy (35:45):

It is. And I have another chapter in the book about not losing sight of your values. And so there’s, we know that most kids cheat. Most parents would say, I value honesty. But the truth is, most kids cheat before they graduate high school. Almost all kids have cheated. And that’s a surprise. A lot of parents say, not my kid. Well, statistically it is a lot of those parents, children who are cheating. And sometimes I’ll ask kids, I’ll speak to the school during the day, and then I speak to the parents at night. So I’ll be talking to a room full of young children and I’ll ask them, if your parent came into the parent-teacher conference tomorrow, would they rather hear that you’re the smartest kid in the class or the kindest kid in the class? And almost every kid in the auditorium will say, oh, my parent wants me to be the smartest kid in the class.


And then I’ll ask the parents at night, what would you rather hear? Almost all the parents say, well, I’d rather hear my kid is the kindest kid in the class. So I’ll tell ’em, well, go home and ask your child that question and see what happens. And it might be that there’s some social pressure to say, I’m going to say I want my kid to be the kindest, but I really want them to be the smartest. But I think a lot of parents then, when you look at it, if you really value kindness, how often do you talk about that versus how often do you talk about achievement? We’re much more likely to say, how’d you do on your math test? Rather than Who are you kind to at recess today? And so to just really make sure that we know what our values are, but then that we’re showing our kids our values with our priorities and the conversations we’re having and the things that we’re doing. Otherwise it gets confusing. And for people that only value achievement, they struggle with so many things in life.

Dr. Sarah (37:21):

Right. It’s so interesting because so valuable, that sort of experiment that you do, because I think it helps parents. I bet every parent really genuinely believes that their bigger value is kindness. I am just guessing, but I would say probably 90% of parents would really genuinely believe that their bigger value is kindness, and they don’t notice how much what their focus is on is in contradiction to that. So it’s not that our values are not, we know what our values are and they are real. And if we aren’t aware of what we’re putting our attention, what we put our attention on, what we put our focus on, what we talk about, that’s the thing that our children will perceive to be our values. So we may genuinely and honestly say, I put academic achievement below kindness, but if my child experiences what I put my attention on as sort of the inverse of that, they’re going to perceive my values to be academic achievement over kindness or whatever they are. And so they’re going to internalize that value system. So it’s like we want to share our values with our kids and we can’t just say it, we’ve got to do it. And that requires a lot of intentionality and self-awareness.


It’s so well-intentioned to ask a kid about how they did on their math test. It’s just that we don’t realize how much we do that we’re so programmed to, like we were talking about the beginning, we have to unlearn a lot of stuff as grownups, and we grew up in a society that really does put so much value on achievement that it’s really hard for us not to parrot that in the way that we talk, in the things that we ask kids about. We always ask, what do you want to be when you grow up? How is school? What’s your favorite class? What’s your favorite subject? When grownups are trying to make small talk with a kid, that’s usually what we go to, because that’s probably what people asked us when we were kids, right? She’s just repeating what we know. But yeah, the intentional shift, I think.

Amy (39:52):

And kids will make up the reasoning behind the behavior that they see. So sometimes it’s about having a conversation. If you’re at the checkout line and the clerk says, do you want to donate to this charity? And you say, no, you don’t want your kids to think, you don’t ever want to give to other people. You might need a conversation later about why you didn’t give to that particular charity, what your thought process was or why you give in certain places, but maybe not at the grocery store, just so the kids understand otherwise, they draw their own conclusions. Like, no, we don’t give things to people and evidence by we said no at the grocery store when the clerk asked us to donate money. So I think having those conversations and explaining your behavior, kids will definitely learn way more from what you do than what you say, but sometimes they’re going to look at things and think that’s not in line with your values, so you may need to explain why and to have a conversation with them and to ask them questions. What about you? Who would you want to give your money to when you’re an adult? And just really focusing on those sorts of things rather than, yes, those standard questions of how’d you do on your test and how are your grades this year?

Dr. Sarah (40:57):

Yeah, and I love that point because I think that example of the checkout counter thing, because I think as grownups, we are aware that, or I think in hearing that, I’m like, oh gosh, I’m asked that every single time I go to the grocery store. I don’t even notice that I say no anymore. I’m so desensitized to that question, and that’s not how I choose to donate. But I’m not thinking about what my kid is perceiving because frankly, I’m probably focused on the 10 other things I have to do as we leave the grocery store. And trying to just hold so much in my head that load of parenthood and all the things we’re holding and how busy we feel and how distracted we are, and mostly because we just have so many things we’re trying to juggle. It’s like, oh, wow, what value there is in slowing down and just noticing, and not even in the moment, sometimes that’s hard, but just like, Hey, do an inventory.


How many times do you think in a week, there are moments where you’re acting sort of mindlessly, not in a bad intention way or at all, just because on autopilot, maybe acting out of alignment with your values or you’re acting in alignment with your values, but your child might perceive your actions. Could my child be misinterpreting what my values are based on some of these sort of automatic actions that I go through in the day? Because we don’t realize how much they are paying attention, and we can’t be consciously mindful all the time, but sometimes a reflection after the fact can be really valuable too.

Amy (42:38):

Yes. And I think when you have a slightly older child, you can have those conversations. We value kindness. Have you ever seen times when you think I wasn’t kind to somebody? And you might be surprised what your child says. They might say, well, you went out with your friend, but then you complained about ’em later, or you lied to so-and-so and said, you had a headache. I don’t think you had a headache. And they might ask you questions, certain things that they’ve seen and say, why did you do that? They’re thinking about these things and noticing them and drawing their own conclusions, but it can lead to some really interesting conversations based on what your kids say that they’ve seen.

Dr. Sarah (43:13):

And I think even just the sort of, what’s the word, I guess, meta process that’s happening there too is an opportunity for you to pull back the veil of your internal process for your kids. So it’s like, oh, you perceived me to be unkind and I did do this thing that objectively might have looked really unkind and also how to care for this person so much, and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. And you can help really help a child understand nuance and context and perspective taking and how there’s things aren’t black and white and they’re not super all or nothing. How do we understand it’s a great opportunity to teach this richness of our worlds to them? Because yeah, I might white lie to a friend to protect their feelings, and my kid might interpret that as unkind. And so it’s like, man, that’s complicated. How do we help them understand complicated stuff? It’s just rich conversation fodder.

Amy (44:18):

I think so. And it’s okay to let kids know I don’t always have all the answers. I make mistakes sometimes. Sometimes I do stuff and I second guess it the next day. I don’t always know what the kindest thing to do is. And I also to worry about being kind to myself, not just to everybody else. And how do you be honest sometimes? How do you also protect people’s feelings? I think those are endless conversations that we can have with kids over the years. It’s going to be an ongoing thing when they become teenagers. There’ll be so many opportunities for them to have those conversations with us too about what’s going on in their lives then. But to know, yeah, these things aren’t always crystal clear and sometimes we have to make the best decision we can in the moment. Sometimes those aren’t always the best decisions, but you can learn from your mistakes too.

Dr. Sarah (45:01):

Yeah. Nothing simple, and it’s always worth talking it through. I think telling the story and helping create the narrative with your kids about something is just has endless value.

Amy (45:14):

I think so too.

Dr. Sarah (45:15):

Yeah. So if people want to learn more about your work or read some of your books, where can they connect with you?

Amy (45:24):

So my website’s the best place, which is amymorinlcsw.com (as in licensed clinical social worker.) And there’s a link to all of my books on there, and we’ll tell you about my podcast Mentally Stronger with Therapist Amy Morin, and my TEDx talks on there as well, and lots of other information about how to grow mentally stronger.

Dr. Sarah (45:44):

Amazing. Well, I feel mentally stronger after having this conversation. It’s just nice to, I think, I don’t know about you, but I think one of the keys to being mentally strong is awareness and reflective functioning. Being able to look at and be curious about our thinking and our feeling and that of others. Would you agree that that’s a key?

Amy (46:08):

Absolutely. And looking back and realizing that we have a certain lens that we look at life through, it’s not the absolute 100% truth that sometimes we see things in a certain light. Maybe we’re battling something or our emotions are high. And just knowing there are lots of different ways to tell the same story in our lives and that we can continue to grow better, learn and reach our goals, but to become a better human too.

Dr. Sarah (46:33):

Yeah, who wouldn’t want that?

Amy (46:35):


Dr. Sarah (46:36):

Thank you so much for coming on. This was so wonderful.

Amy (46:39):

Oh, this was fun. Thank you for having me.

Dr. Sarah (46:47):If you enjoyed listening to this conversation, I want to hear from you, share your thoughts and your feedback with me by scrolling down to the ratings and review section on your Apple Podcasts app or whatever app you’re listening on. And let me know what you think of this episode or the show in general. Your support means the absolute world to me, and just a simple tap of five stars can make a real impact in how the show gets reached by parents everywhere. So thank you so much for listening and don’t be a stranger.

180. How mentally strong people handle life’s up’s and downs: Unpacking honesty, kindness, guilt, and intentionality with Amy Morin