Lunchtime Lessons from Dr. Lisa Damour
Hannah Moskat, School Counselor

On October 6th, over a Zoom lunch session, our community was fortunate enough to welcome Dr. Lisa Damour as a guest speaker for our Parent Education series. Having taken a mental health course that was co-created by Dr. Damour in the past, I was thrilled to learn she would be speaking to our community.

Dr. Damour is a psychologist, best-selling author, New York Times columnist, podcaster and CBS News contributor. As an expert in her field, Dr. Damour provides concrete, practical advice that children, adolescents, parents and educators can use in supporting mental health. Her first book, Untangled, is specifically written for the parents of adolescent girls, which has proven to be an invaluable resource in our community.

Dr. Damour started her presentation by reminding us about the true definition of being mentally healthy, which doesn’t mean feeling happy all the time. What it means is having the appropriate feelings at the appropriate time, and managing those emotions effectively. We are all inclined to feel sadness, stress and anger when we are faced with difficult situations, and those feelings do not make us any less healthy. Emotions are not good or bad, they simply are, and the more we can understand them, the more skilled we can become in managing them.

So, what does managing our emotions mean? How do we know if our children, or ourselves, are doing this effectively? Dr. Damour explained that management comes from our ability to regulate emotions, meaning finding the right balance between expressing and containing them. Expression means releasing those emotions in a way that brings relief, most commonly through verbalizing. Containment means having the capacity to push pause and not let emotion take over completely if you don’t want it to, often through healthy forms of distraction.

What I appreciate so much about Dr. Damour is her ability to give “right now” advice that not only impacts our children and students but ourselves. Lisa’s simple phrase, “don’t talk about it, be about it” was powerful. She offered our parent community advice like knowing when to step back and stop asking questions, to be receptive to our children’s need to contain emotion through our ability to contain it. And that when our children’s expression is high, we as adults can help by remaining steady, which communicates that the feelings will subside, and it’s ok to feel their powerful emotions. I’ll admit that even as a counselor, I find it challenging to resist “fixing” problems, and yet the more I practice what Lisa suggests, of sitting with difficult feelings, I continuously see the power of this approach.

Supporting children and teens through challenging emotions, while managing our own, is not an easy task, but lessons like those from Dr. Lisa Damour empower us to remember that the practice is ongoing. Even Lisa, the indisputable expert, named times she could have done things differently, reminding us of the humble attitude and humor we must bring to this journey.

For more from Lisa, you can listen to her podcast, Ask Lisa, every Tuesday.