good kids and grown-up good kids
As a therapist, I work with “good kids” and “grown-up good kids”. When I say “good kids”, I don’t mean that there are good kids or bad kids. I know that all kids are different and good in their own ways.
I’m referring to how we are put into social categories while growing up. Adults saying: “she’s such a good kid” or “she’s so mature for her age”. We get this positive feedback when we are quiet, thoughtful, dedicated to school work and especially when we go above and beyond to help out. We get an A++ and another gold star.
My experience as a good kid looked like always excelling in school and work, yet feeling a deep anxiety to keep up appearances and live up to high expectations. Maintaining A++ work even when overwhelmed and exhausted.
You may share this experience, but it sounded different growing up. Maybe it was “teacher’s pet” or “goody-two-shoes” or “social chameleon”.
Many of my clients identify as people-pleasers and perfectionists, living with chronic stress, anxiety and burnout. It can feel really hard to slow down and rest when all you have known is constant work. When we enter employment and the gold stars stop? It feels like an identity loss, like we are scrambling to keep up and we don’t know the rules anymore.
In therapy, we work together to uncover personal values (outside of high expectations for achievement), practice slowing down and putting self first and redefining expectations for what it looks like to live a “good” life. With art, we play and make a mess and let go of control.
The coolest part of my job is working with kids and interrupting this pattern early on. Letting them know that they are valued and deserving of rest and that they are allowed to just play. Giving them the tools to cope with anxiety so it hopefully doesn’t lead to burnout later on. And when I work with adults, they get the tools that they may have never received as a child - because good kids’ support needs are often overlooked.
Do you identify as a good kid? There are some classic good-kid experiences that a lot of us share. For example, in elementary school, I would stay in at recess to help my teachers set up their bulletin boards instead of going outside and playing on the playground. What was your experience like?