Episode 153

Stress and Anxiety in Kids - Julia Cook

Recorded by | Run time: 22 min, 58 sec


We find ourselves in very uncertain and unsettling times. For most of us, life continues – albeit an altered reality – but with the underlying sense that everything we know has been changed. Our children aren’t immune to sub-surface bubbling of societal anxiety brought about by the unprecedented pandemic. Stress and anxiety are becoming commonly experienced by our kids.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and they’re navigating it at a very young age.

For teachers and parents, we’re looking for ways to teach and resourcing learning in new ways. One effective teaching tool in the primary years is picture books, and author Julia Cook has a huge collection of stories to help adults know what to say and how to say it, and to help kids build skills to combat anxiety, stress and irritability.

Julia’s an internationally recognised award-winning children’s book author and parenting expert. Her picture books are a staple in school libraries and homes everywhere, and they’re loved by parents, teachers and children for their beautiful, simple messages about emotional learning and life strategies.

Thanks for listening to this episode. To order any of Julia’s books, head to JuliaCookOnline.com.
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On the blog:  Strategies for Emotional Regulation in Children – Helping Kids Reset.

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Stress and Anxiety in Kids – Julia Cook – Full Episode Transcript

In Extraordinary Times, Stress and Anxiety are Common Feelings

Bronwyn Brady: (00:01)
Teachers and parents. We find ourselves in very uncertain and unsettling times. For most of us, life continues, albeit an altered reality, but with the underlying sense that everything we know has suddenly been changed at children on immune to the subsurface bubbling of societal anxiety brought about by this unprecedented pandemic. This once in a lifetime event for them is occurring now and then navigating it at a very young age. For teachers and parents, we’re looking for ways to teach and resource learning in totally new ways.

Bronwyn Brady: (01:05)
One effective teaching tool in the primary years as we know is picture books and author Julia Cook has a huge collection of stories to help adults know what to say and how to say it and to help kids build skills to combat anxiety, stress and irritability. Julia is an internationally recognised award-winning children’s book author and she’s also a parenting expert and she has previously been a school counsellor. Her picture books are a staple in school libraries and in homes everywhere and I’m sure that you’ve seen them. They’re loved by parents, teachers and children for their beautiful simple messages and emotional learning and life strategies.

And she joins us today to talk about some of her newest releases which are particularly relevant to life now. Welcome Julia to the podcast.

Julia Cook:

Thank you.

Bronwyn Brady:

Thanks for being here. Could you tell us a little bit about your career because you’ve previously been a teacher and a school counsellor?

Julia Cook Really Gets Kids

Julia Cook: (02:01)
Right. Well, I started out as a, as a ski instructor and had many years of college and my father said, you need to pick a degree. And he said, what do you love to do? And I said, well, I love to teach skiing. And he goes, well, then teach school. So I started being a, I was a middle school math teacher and then decided I worked with really hard kids, the kids who really had a lot of struggles street kids and low income kids and broken homes and poverty. And that was my favouyrite demographic and thought if I was a school counsellor with that degree, I could be a better teacher. So I went and got my master’s in school counselling and we moved to a town for my husband’s job that needed a school counsellor. And I had that degree.

Julia Cook: (02:55)
So I left the middle school and became an elementary school counsellor. And about 15 years ago, I could not figure out how to teach my kids a tattling telling on each other. And the kids were driving each other nuts and the teachers too. And so I had a very good grad teacher who told me, you know, if you want to get into a kid’s head, if you read them a story and the story has tools that are inside of it, the tools will spill out into their heads. When you pull the book away, those tools stay in there. Then they can solve their problems from the inside out as opposed to you trying to do it from the outside in. So I looked for a book on tattling, couldn’t find one, wrote a story and it worked. And this teacher came in my office one day and said, you should do something with this.

Julia Cook: (03:47)
So I grabbed a book off the shelf and and called the publisher and a person answered. I said, “I just wrote a book on tattling and it’s working”. They said, “Send it in”. So I overnighted it on a Monday. They called me on a Wednesday and said, “We want to publish your book ma’am”. I said, “How much do I have to pay you?” They said, “Ma’am, we’re going to pay you”. And I dropped the phone and then they said, “Do you have any others?” And I said, “Well, when I was little I used to interrupt all the time, interrupted so much my babysitter said, ‘Julia, your mouth is a volcano’. So I have that.”

And now there’s 100 books total 30 in about nine languages and just I’m over 2 million copies sold. So it’s been kind of a crazy 15 years.

Julia Cook has Been Writing Socio-Emotional Learning Books for Kids for over 15 Years

Bronwyn Brady: (04:33)
Oh wow. What a, what an amazing journey you’ve been on and yes, that’s so incredible. Definitely there was a need that you identified there and it’s filled that gap for a many, many teachers the world over. So I love “My Mouth is a Volcano”. I use that with my students a lot. I had a class of intervention students who were very I guess their behaviour was quite challenging and I loved using My Mouth is a Volcano cause they were nine and 10 year old boys. And even at that age that a picture book and a story was so helpful to me to get that message across the, you can’t blurt, you shouldn’t just speak all over each other and taking turn-taking. I mean, it’s just the social skills isn’t it, of of teaching that you, you need to get that foundation there before you can teach the actual content. So it’s really great to have that, that available through the books.

Julia Shares Why Picture Books are Effective Instruments for Learning

Julia Cook: (05:24)
Well, if you can make it into a story that a child can relate to, then they see themselves in the story and if they’re character building lessons, they’re like recipes for social success because if the child has an issue and a solution is presented, they try the solution and if it works, then they succeed. And so they don’t even know they’re learning. They’re having a good time doing it if it’s entertaining as well.

Bronwyn Brady: (05:55)
Yeah, absolutely. So engaging if it’s entertaining them. So that’s, yeah. I’m, I’m so glad you’re doing what you’re doing. So in this time that you’ve spent writing the books, the 15 years and then also the time before that when you were teaching yourself in your time, have you seen the emotional needs of children and students in particular change in, in your time working in schools and with kids?

Julia Cook says Screen Exposure is Negatively Impacting Kids’ Emotional Wellbeing

Julia Cook: (06:20)
Very much so. Kids especially with screens, they’re inundated with screens and succeeding on a screen is five times easier than succeeding in real life. So you push a button and you get a reward. You get a dopamine rush in your brain. And to get that same dopamine rush in real life, the effort needs to be five times greater. Now when you do persevere and get that rush in real life and, and succeed the reward is five times greater as well because you’re actually physically doing it, smelling it, and participating in it. But the problem is if our kids don’t balance onscreen highs with offscreen highs and real life is kicks him in the rear end because it is too hard to succeed. It’s like I tried, I tried as hard as I try on a video game and I can’t do it.

Julia Cook: (07:16)
So they shut down. And then the social skill issue is, is scary because our kids are losing their nonverbal communication skills. They’re losing their people skills, they’re talking through screens, they’re losing that, Hey, you’re getting on my nerves. Look, they don’t even see that anymore. And it, and, and they, they become a little bit more, this generation seems to be so egocentric. Like, what’s in it for me? And instead of walking into a place of employment and thinking, wow, I’m so lucky I have a job. They think this company’s lucky to have me. So it’s a whole different ball game with our kids. We have to give them, I, you know, social skills to overcome. I tell them, I tell teachers every day, screens are job security for you because you are in the people building business first and the education building business next. And if you don’t, you know, if you don’t teach the child first, the human part, you can’t even get to the academics.

Julia Cook: (08:21)
And parents are, you know, becoming very inundated with screens as well. I have been in a school last week and a little girl didn’t get her homework done and the counsellor said, “Why didn’t you get it done?”. And she said, “I didn’t know how”,  “Well did you ask your mom?”  “Well yeah, she’s playing a video game. I’m not allowed to bother her when she’s playing her video game”. So our whole culture is changing because of screens and, and you know, the, there’s social thing going on with kids and you know, if you didn’t get invited to a party before nobody really knew about it was hearsay and now it’s all over the internet that you didn’t get invited to the party. And there’s pictures to see to show that. So it’s, you know, are there, self-worth is so inflated by what other people think of them.

Most Important Life Skills for Children Today

Julia Cook: (09:12)
And establishing strong self worth in kids at a young age is absolutely crucial as is teaching them to, you know, speak. And the number one thing when when a child goes to apply for a job, according to Forbes magazine, there’s 10 things that an employer looks for and numbers five through 10 are academically oriented. Two, three and four are executive function skills. The number one thing is can you act as a team player? Can you work with other people? Do you have people skills? And our kids are losing those. So the kids that have good social skills are going to be way ahead of the game.

Bronwyn Brady: (09:53)
Yeah, for sure. Definitely those interpersonal skills are so important and lifelong skills. Whereas the academic or the, the content, their curriculum stuff will come and go in their time. But I totally agree with you that for job prospects and success later in life, they’d need to really nail down those fundamental core skills as little kids. So how do you Julia, because you’ve written about so many different topics, you said over a hundred books now. How do you identify the topics which are relevant to children to write about?

Julia Shares How She Chooses Which Topics to Address in her Stories

Julia Cook: (10:23)
Well, you, you, you know, I’m in the schools, I’ve done over 2000 school visits pretty much all over the world and, and listening to teachers. Tell me what the kids struggle with and you know, we just wrote a book on social anxiety that’s called Herman Jiggle, Say Hello. And he opens up his mouth and the words get stuck. And a new release that we have is I’m Stretched and it’s on stress and dealing with stress. So if you have one foot in the school, as you know, what the teachers need and what the parents are struggling with, and I’m parents, they want to do the right thing and they want to teach their kids and the books or recipes on what to say and how to say it. They model positive parenting strategies and positive teaching strategies woven into the story. So as a teacher, if you do get what the teacher does in the book you’re doing and saying the right things, and as a parent as well, if you do what the parent does in a book you’re doing and saying, write things according to research.

Julia Cook: (11:20)
So not just stories, they’re all research based, but the topics you know, come from what we struggle with. You know, with kids. I never thought I’d have to write one on cell phones or video game addiction. And that was just crazy, you know? And, and our, our society changes every day. So, you know, we still have the, you know, the, my mouth is a volcano. That’s just a classic problem. People interrupt all the time and, and but now, you know, we have the book judgmental flower, which is unaccepting differences and, and, you know, being proud of who you are yet being accepting of others. So, yeah.

Bronwyn Brady: (11:58)
So do you think that you’ll always have a source of inspiration for new content as well with your new books?

Julia Cook: (12:06)
I don’t know. They always said when are you done.?And I, I keep, I thought, well, when I write one that isn’t is, you know, I’m not as proud of as the one I have written before. I mean they’re works in progress. I’ve changed, you know, the book comes out and if it needs to be revised, it gets revised. If it needs to be redrawn, it gets redrawn. We just redrew Bully Beans with a new illustrator and shortened it. One of the complaints about some of the books is they’re too wordy and when that happens, I tell teachers, read the story yourself and then paraphrase it for your kids if it’s too wordy. And sometimes I’m trying to put too much in 32 pages. So I’ve learned from feedback and I’m cutting backwards and you know, redoing a few of the books that way and the ones that are coming out now have lot fewer words around a thousand as opposed to like 1600. So I don’t know if we’ll ever run out of topics because our world is ever changing. I’m getting old, so I don’t know if I want to keep, you know, trying to, to do the, I mean I don’t want to go past my prime.

Bronwyn Brady: (13:11)
Well done. We really grateful for all all that you’ve done in anything extra will be an absolute bonus. So thank you very, very much Julia. So in your newest book, I’m stretched, which you just mentioned then it addresses stress in children and we were talking a lot in Australia as well as probably in the States about stress in kids. But what particularly prompted you to write about stress as a topic?

Kids and Stress

Julia Cook: (13:37)
Kids are over-scheduled, they have a, I had a little kid come up to me and say, “Will you write a book about me?” And I said, “Well what about you?” And he says, I’m stretched. And I said, “You’re stressed?” And he says: ” Yes, I’m stressed because I’m stretched. I feel like I’m a rubber band and I’m about to break. Everybody’s pulling on me. I have to do piano and I have to do soccer and I have to do karate and I have to do math club and chess club. And I have to, and I don’t have enough me to go around” and I can just picture that little kid, you know, they want to do well in these days. It’s so competitive. If you, if you want to do a college board, you have to start when you’re four and take all the extra camps to do that, you know? And so

Julia Cook: (14:21)
You know, kids are, kids are spread really thin and parents are, you know, escorting kids from activity to activity to activity. They don’t have a lot of me time and you’re not going to change that aspect. So I did put in that book, you know, it’s okay to say things to say no to things you can’t put in, you know, fit in. But that’s not the, the, the focus of the I’m Stretched book is we have a lot on our plate. So what do we do about it? To control our stress and deep breathing you get and you get some exercise, you do something nice for someone else, you go on a mental vacation. There’s a lot of strategies in the book that you can try to, to channel your stress.

Bronwyn Brady: (15:02)
Yeah. Amazing. And I think that you’re right, it’s such a global problem and it’s not even just a problem for children because teachers, teachers, ourselves, we are very stretched. And I can totally empathise with how that little boy was feeling because when you’re teaching, you feel like there’s an endless list of jobs to get done and a very short day to do it all in. So I think that

Julia Cook Speaks to Teachers About Overwhelm and Stress

Julia Cook: (15:25)
I want to give, I want to give your teachers and a little tip of advice and that is, you know, our kids, they come to us with all kinds of problems. And your job, you are like a setter in a volleyball game. Sometimes you’re going to get a perfect pass to make a perfect set so that you can have a perfect spike and, and get a point. And sometimes you’re going to get a shanked pass. Now you can’t control what comes your way, but you got to do everything you can to better the ball. So you keep that ball from hitting the floor. You do everything you can to keep it in the air and keep it in play. Even if you don’t get a perfect spike. If you get it over the net, the team that keeps getting it over the net is the team that ends up winning the match. And so I talked to teachers about that. You know, you’re not going to be able to set a perfect set all the time, but did you better the ball? Are those kids better with the time that you spent with them, than they would be without spending time with them. So when they come to you broken, when they come to you stressed, when they come to you with the baggage, you know, can you lighten that load from the time they cross into your room until the time they leave? Can you better the ball?

Bronwyn Brady: (16:47)
Beautiful. What a great analogy. I really love that. Thank you for sharing. That’s amazing. So on that topic, on that kind of, that way we’re going, how can teachers use your book but also separately support students who exhibit signs and symptoms of anxiety?

Kids and Anxiety

Julia Cook: (17:09)
Well, anxiety is something that, you know, it’s a feeling of not being in control of what’s going to happen. So there’s some things that you can do with kids that are anxious and you can explain to them that, you know, you might not be able to control what happens outside of this classroom, but inside we can do everything we can to make sure that you can predict what’s going to happen next. So you, you have a plan for them so that they know what’s going to happen next and they feel secure. Never, you know, demoralise or belittle a child’s for anxiety even though they’re absolutely ridiculous in in common sense. You might want to look at the child and instead of saying, “Oh, that’s dumb, that will never happen”. You look at that kid and say, “I can only imagine how scared you must be feeling” because you see, I can only imagine.

Julia Cook: (18:07)
You don’t want to say, I know how you feel because you don’t know how that child feels. Did you say, I can only imagine how scared you must be feeling and that child realises that. I’m seeing, I’m heard and now I’m validated. Yeah. And so a lot of times we run away from anxiety or try to hide it and try to put it under the rug. Oh, that’s not going to happen then. That’s ridiculous. Or whatever. You know, when you have a child who’s really anxious, you can always look at them and say, okay, let’s go through that. Let’s, let’s analyse what’s the worst thing that could happen. What’s the, the not so worst thing? Let’s talk out the things that you worry about. And some kids that, I have one, I have one kid who has a recipe card file. Every time he has something he’s anxious about, he writes down what the solution’s going to be.

Julia Cook: (18:55)
Then he files it is a little box so it doesn’t have to stay in his head had letting it go. He knows it’s there so he can pull it out. Yeah. You know, it’s beautiful. And then there’s another analogy that teachers can use. That’s very helpful. And that is you take an empty backpack and you go outside the school with the child and they pick up rocks and put it in his backpack. And every rock stands for what’s going wrong in their family. You know, my father’s drug addicted we are homeless. My mom, you know, is abusive, whatever. And every time they think of something that’s not good, they put a rock in that backpack. And then they stand across the street from the school holding the heavy backpack of rocks. And you slowly walk towards the school with the child holding that heavy load on their back.

Julia Cook: (19:48)
And when they get to the door, you have them take the backpack off and set it outside the door and stepping into the school. And you tell that child that there’s a lot of stuff going on and it’s not great outside of school. But when you come into this building, everyone here loves you and wants you to win and want you to succeed. And this is a safe place that you can just be a kid. And those rocks will still be there when you leave. But when you come to school, you don’t have to bring that into the school.

Bronwyn Brady: (20:22)
How lovely that is. So, Oh, that’s, I’ve got a tingle down my spine because I think that that’s just so illustrative and beautiful and, and graspable for children. So definitely a beautiful way to think about leaving the troubles at the door. If you could pick another personal favourite book to tell us about as well, which one would it be and why?

The Importance of Trust and Communication in Relationships

Julia Cook: (20:46)
The Judgmental Flower. Every human relationship that we have has to have two things. Trust and communication. Relationships don’t exist without trust and communication. I mean, I can love my husband endlessly, but if I don’t trust him or I can’t communicate with him, I cannot stay married to him. So teacher-student, a teacher-teachers, sibling-sibling, parents, spouses, you know, couples. You must have those two things for any relationship to work. And so I don’t have to like you, but if I can trust you and talk to you and you can trust me and talk to me, we can grow together alongside each other. And the basic judgmental flower, the messages, there’s differences in all of us on the inside and the out learning how to be flower special, what the world should be about. You may see, ensure when you see a flower whose petals are blue but the world, it’d be very boring and if all flowers look like you. So you know, everyone is different and you know, you need to understand that the differences, that’s what makes our world so awesome. And as long as you could, I mean we think about, you know, different countries. If we had trust and communication you know, all everyone, every, all mankind could get along if they could learn to trust and talk to each other. Yeah. So

Bronwyn Brady: (22:07)
Beautiful book. Yeah, The Judgmental Flower. Gorgeous. Okay. So I really appreciate you talking to me. Thank you so much for joining me and I’m really looking forward to seeing what you create next, Julia, because you are an absolute talent and a gem and so, so great in our community and thank you for the lovely tips that you’ve offered our teachers. Thank you. I just had a blast on your show. All the best, bye. Thanks for listening to this episode. To audit any of Julia’s books, head to Julia, Coco online.com and join Jill and I tomorrow on the buzz, when we talk about meditation and mindfulness as ways for reducing stress in our kids. See you then.

To purchase any of Julia’s beautiful stories, visit her website. Contact Julia directly via the Buy Books tab, and she will even personally sign your copy if requested.


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