10 Essentials for ‘Raising a Kid Who Can’

Three McLean mental health experts offer advice on managing anxiety, self-motivation and resilience in a new parenting book.
Alexander Grey Wx3joq0xbh4 Unsplash

Anxiety runs in families, say the authors of a new book, Raising a Kid Who Can. So do practiced skills like self-motivation, rest and resilience. (Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash)

As children and teens nationwide continue to experience stress and anxiety in record numbers, three McLean mental health professionals are offering guidance for parents in a new book.

Set for release on Sept. 12 from Workman Publishing, Raising a Kid Who Can is authored by psychiatrist Catherine McCarthy, applied psychologist Heather Tedesco and child psychologist Jennifer Weaver.

The trio, who have worked together for 20 years, pooled their expertise to come up with what they’ve deemed the 10 “essentials” children need to thrive. Among them: rest, recreation and routine; attention skills and self-control; tools to accept and manage anxiety; self-motivation; and resilience.

“We brought everything that we each found to be important from the science, from the information out there and from our direct personal experience, and then we melded it all together,” Tedesco says.

The authors will be giving a book talk on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church. (Courtesy photo)

Each of the book’s 10 chapters is dedicated to one of the essentials, with science-based facts and figures to support the authors’ conclusions, as well as personal stories from their practices. Workbook-style pages invite readers to evaluate how they handle those essentials themselves, both personally and as parents.

That last part is crucial, Weaver says, because kids take cues from their parents on things like managing stress, prioritizing self-care and coping with failure. Anxiety is one example. It’s “contagious” among families, she observes. “We might say to a parent of an anxious child, ‘How is your anxiety?’ And they’ll say, ‘I just want you to help my child; I’m not worried about that.’ They don’t really want to recognize how connected [they] are.”

“It’s not required that you be a perfect parent to have a healthy child,” Weaver continues. Rather, the goal is to be “an awake parent, and that you be aware of yourself in the mix.”

Jennifer Weaver

Jennifer Weaver (Courtesy photo)

To differentiate their book from the thousands of other parenting titles on the market, the authors structured it as a roadmap that isn’t age specific. Readers can turn to it for insights on how to support children at all different developmental stages. After all, Weaver says, people of all ages (including adults) are continuously working on the 10 essentials.

“We’re always working on rest, we’re always working on attention and self-control,” she says, likening growth to a spiral rather than linear path. “As you grow within and the more self-control you have, the more motivation you might have, the more independence you’re able to have, the more resilience you have.”

In fact, the authors did plenty of learning themselves while writing the book. “We developed…our own little rallying cry, which was ‘Live the playbook,’” Tedesco says. “It was our way of reminding ourselves that we are human beings. None of us is perfect, we are going to make all kinds of mistakes, and, frankly, the best way we can equip our kids for life is to make the mistakes and to show them that we make mistakes. Then help them learn how to accept and recover.”

Heather Tedesco (Courtesy photo)

The decision to write the book arose during the pandemic, when depression and anxiety in children began escalating. In 2021, 57% of U.S. teen girls said they felt persistently sad or hopeless and 30% indicated they had seriously considered attempting suicide, according to a 2023 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

Boys aren’t faring any better. Suicide rates for males between the ages of 15 and 24 increased by 8% between 2020 and 2021, according to a report by CDC’s National Vital Statistics System.

“We just felt pretty helpless and powerless, so we started in the summer of 2020 by meeting and saying, ‘OK, what can we do?’” Tedesco says. “We’re big believers in trying to get something good out of adversity. A lot of the things that make us stronger and psychologically healthier are the struggle points.”

Though society has now entered a post-pandemic phase, the stress has not abated. “The surgeon general called this mental health crisis a national emergency,” McCarthy observes, even now that “kids are out playing again” and masks are optional.

Catherine McCarthy (Courtesy photo)

Covid fears and ripple effects aren’t the only source of stress and anxiety. Social media and bullying are also drivers for kids and teens.

Plus, “we are in what many scientists believe is the most rapid period of change in all of human history,” the authors note in the book. The pace is faster than humans (especially growing ones) have the ability to keep up with and adapt to, psychologically.

That’s why it’s crucial for parents to give themselves grace—and show their children how to do that, too, Weaver says.

“We have a little story in each chapter of somebody’s parenting,” she adds. “A lot of [those anecdotes] are examples of us forgetting our own system of values and, frankly, learning from our children. One of the beauties of being a parent, is that by having these relationships, you really get to learn a lot more about yourself and you get to grow as a person. I know I’m a better person because of my kids—because of that reciprocal relationship.”

In partnership with the Safe Community Coalition, McCarthy, Tedesco and Weaver will speak about their book on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. at Temple Rodef Shalom (2100 Westmoreland St., Falls Church).

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Categories: Health, Parents & Kids