Parent Trap: Let Go of Old Beliefs

Stephanie is worried about whether or not she’ll be able to make friends when she starts college this fall. Her social self-doubting began in seventh grade when her group of best friends started excluding her for no reason, and she spent the rest of that year alone and feeling lonely.

Addi has always struggled in school. Testing in grade school revealed that she suffered from dyslexia, and despite some accommodations and extra tutoring, she still barely made C’s despite working twice as long and hard as her friends who easily scored A’s.

Sofia’s parents got divorced when she was 3, and her dad gradually spent less and less time with her. When he got remarried and had two kids with his new wife, Sofia only saw him on some holidays and a few weeks in the summer.

When kids face adversities like those mentioned above, they always go into their heads and try to make sense of what’s happening to them. Unfortunately, they tend to come up with private logic that is negative. For instance, Stephanie began to wonder if her friends left her out because she wasn’t good, pretty or cool enough. She believed she was too socially awkward and weird to fit in. Addi decided her troubles in school were because she was stupid and thus figured she wasn’t going to have a successful life. Sofia wondered if her dad didn’t see her because she was unlovable and less important than his new family.

When I work with girls and young women in my counseling practice and in my retreats and summer camps, I help them become aware of a process I call the spiral of beliefs. Due to adverse childhood experiences, kids develop negative thoughts about themselves as they try to explain their experiences, and over time, those thoughts become beliefs that greatly affect how they show up in life. I help girls become aware of these limiting beliefs they’ve incurred and encourage them to reframe what they’ve made of these experiences. I tell them that while they are usually not in charge of what happens to them, they are always in charge of what they make of it, i.e. what that experience means about them. Stephanie decided her middle school “friends” acted the way they did because they were immature, insecure and inappropriately playing with their social power. Addi decided that struggles in the classroom did not mean that she was dumb and did not have to limit her future. She also read stories of many successful adults who, like her, had struggled with dyslexia. Sofia came to believe that her dad’s actions were on him and meant nothing about her self-worth or lovability.

Before your teenager launches into the world, it would be invaluable for them to take some quiet reflective time to figure out what limiting beliefs they may have acquired from adversities. The last thing I’d want is for them to walk onto a college campus thinking they were weird, socially awkward, not good enough, unimportant, unlovable and stupid. Their beliefs about themselves will affect the ways they show up academically and socially. Again, they may not have been in charge of what they experienced, but they are always in charge of their story. I want every new college student to believe that they are a good person who deserves good, loyal friends and that they have the ability to carve out the career and life they are destined for. Support them in letting go of and leaving behind any false, limiting beliefs that might hold them back from being successful in college and life.

Tim Jordan, M.D., is a Behavioral Pediatrician who counsels girls aged grade school thru college. Listen to his weekly podcast, Raising Daughters, to gain information on raising strong, resilient girls. For more info on Dr. Jordan’s retreats, summer camps and books visit

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