Help Your Teen Feel Connected, Competent, and Confident with guest Dr. Melanie McNally

About this Episode

If your teen is struggling with “big emotions” like anxiety, anger, frustration, or a lack of direction, we encourage you to listen this podcast episode where Dr. Amy and Dr. Jody interview licensed clinical psychologist and life coach Dr. Melanie McNally. We got some great take-aways about everything from self-awareness and awareness of others to self-regulation and setting goals and the role that parents can play in supporting their teen without grabbing the reins entirely. Don’t miss this episode with Dr. Melanie as she walks us through tips to help teens build vital skills to carry them through the transition to adulthood and beyond.

About Dr. Melanie McNally

Dr. Melanie McNally is a licensed clinical psychologist and life coach to tweens, teens, and young adults. She’s worked in the mental health field since 2005 and specifically with adolescents since 2013. She helps them build self-awareness so that they can create and reach goals that are aligned with who they want to be. Dr. McNally is the author of the book, “The Emotionally Intelligent Teen: Skills to Help You Deal with What You Feel, Build Stronger Relationships, and Boost Self-Confidence”. 

Connect with Dr. Melanie


Instagram: @Dr.MelanieMcnally

YouTube: @DestinationYou

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Read the transcript for this episode:

DR. AMY: Hi, smart moms and dads. Welcome to another episode of the Brainy Moms podcast brought to you today by LearningRx Brain Training Centers. I’m your host, Dr. DR. AMY Moore, joined by my co-host, that is awful. Let me start that sentence over. I’m your host, Dr. AMY Moore. I’m joined by Dr. JODY Jedlicka today as my co-host, and we are coming to you today from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Dr. DR. JODY and I are super excited to welcome our guest, Dr. MELANIE McNally. Dr. MELANIE is a licensed clinical psychologist and life coach to tweens, teens, and young adults. She’s worked in the mental health field since 2005, and specifically with adolescents since 2013. She helps them build self-awareness so that they can create and reach goals that are aligned with who they want to be. She’s also the author of the new book, “The Emotionally Intelligent Teen; Skills to Help You Deal With What You Feel, Build Stronger Relationships, and Boost Self-Confidence.” Welcome, DR. MELANIE.

DR. MELANIE: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here today.

DR. AMY: So we like to start by having our guests just give us a little bit of background. Let us know how you became interested in working with adolescence, specifically why you wrote a book specifically on adolescence. Just talk a little bit about your background and inspiration.

DR. MELANIE: Yeah, so, you know, I initially I actually wanted to be a high school guidance counselor when I was going through my undergrad and that was kind of my plan. Until, because I really wanted to work with teens, mostly because when I was a teen myself I was really anxious and, you know, and grew up in a really dysfunctional house and I didn’t have any tools and how to handle my anxiety or what was going on at home. And so I really wanted to be that support person for young people that I wished I would have had. And I wanted to do it as a high school guidance counselor until I went and shadowed one. And they, first of all, high school guidance counselors, oh my gosh, they, and teachers, should all be paid so much more and be given so many more resources. But after shadowing one for a couple of days, I was like, I don’t think this is the best fit for me. So I decided to go more of the route of psychology and to go into therapy. And initially I even started off working with adults. But I kind of was going back a little bit in my roots of like, okay, I really want to get back into helping teens. That’s originally what I started off wanting to do. But then also, as I was working with adults, I felt like so many of the issues I kept confronting, like, if we could have gotten to it earlier, you know, if we could have helped them when they were younger, then it wouldn’t have turned into this, you know, huge issue later on in life. And so I had these like two driving factors to push me back into working with adolescents. And so I started focusing specifically on them in 2013 at some group practices until I went on to, you know, start my own private practice in the suburbs of Chicago and working with them, you know, doing therapy and then eventually transitioning over to coaching. So now that I, I just do coaching with, you know, tweens, teens and young adults, helping them understand how their brain works. Helping them develop some really great skills around goal setting, increasing their motivation and helping them with self-regulation.

DR. JODY: I heard you on another podcast, Dr. DR. MELANIE, and you were talking about the difference between counseling and coaching, and I loved how you talked about what the difference between that was. Can you talk a little bit about what the difference between those two things are?

DR. MELANIE: Yes. So with counseling and with therapy, it’s much more focused on the problems on symptoms, getting to like the root cause of those things, which is very, very important. But a lot of times we get kind of stuck in the symptom management, stuck in the problems. And with coaching, it’s much more future focused. So it’s not so much like we’re not worrying so much about what the root causes are what the root reason is. It’s more of “Okay, this is where you are right now. What do we need to do to move forward? Like, what do we need to do to help you get on the right track and to create goals that are really aligned with your values?” So that’s the one main difference. And then the second one is confidentiality, especially when it comes to adolescents. In therapy, you are very limited in confidentiality and what you can share with parents and how involved they can be. It’s really up to the teen, depending on what age they are. But with coaching and the way that I structure my coaching programs is that parents are very much involved. So the teen is aware, the parents are aware. But I explain it as teens don’t exist in a vacuum. I want parents to be involved. I want them to know what we’re working on.

I want them to have tools so that they can support their teen. And I want the teen to know that like, “Yeah, Mom and Dad are going to know that this is what you’re working on and they’re going to be following up with you.” And so that way we’re all on the same page and we’re all kind of on the same team working together.

DR. JODY: I feel like that’s so much more empowering for entire families. And so I just really, I really loved that. Thank you for sharing.

DR. AMY: Let me jump in real quick. So I’m a counselor and a coach as well. And I recently went to a workshop conducted by Dr. John Townsend, and, you know, he has a whole coaching program  in California. But he said the difference that he believes between counseling and coaching is that counseling is about healing, and coaching is about reaching a goal. And so I loved how he kind of distilled that down, right, that it was, “Hey, this is a particular problem that I’m going to help you solve, and this is a particular goal that I’m going to help you reach.” Versus, “Okay, we have to heal this because you’ve got some psychopathology happening.”

DR. MELANIE: Mm hmm. Yes. Yeah. That’s a great way to summarize it for sure.

DR. JODY: Yeah.

DR. AMY: Sorry, Jodi. Go ahead.

DR. JODY: That’s all right. I was going to talk about your book, which I loved by the way, and I’ve already recommended it to a couple of people, so it needs to get released quick. So, but your book focuses on three main components of emotional intelligence. I think you talked about self-awareness, self-regulation, and awareness of others. Can you talk about why each of those areas is important for, for kids to develop?

DR. MELANIE: Yes. And, you know, and this, it’s funny cause this is probably the area that I get most passionate about when it comes to the book is first of all, understanding like the different components of emotional intelligence. Because a lot of times people think of emotional intelligence as just emotional awareness. Like “if I’m aware of how I feel, I’m emotionally intelligent.” And that’s only one component of it. Emotional intelligence also means being able to self-regulate and understanding how other people might be thinking and feeling. Like, those are really crucial skills. And the issue I run into with a lot of teens is that they are very emotionally aware, especially teens today that are on social media. They are learning about all kinds of symptoms and you know, they’ll talk about their triggers and they’ll talk about trauma. They have all of this language, but they don’t have any of the self-regulation tools. They don’t understand how essential the self-regulation piece is, that we have to be able to calm ourselves down. We have to be able to deescalate. Because what research shows is that when you have self-awareness without self-regulation, it leads to increased anxiety, increased depression. It leads to that like rumination, that dwelling on like negativity, and it’s really unhealthy. And so you need to have that self-regulation piece. It’s just as important as the awareness. And then the interpersonal piece is essential because we have to be able to understand what other people might be thinking and feeling. We’re obviously not mind readers and no one, emotional intelligence doesn’t mean that you 100 percent know what other people are feeling and thinking. But you can kind of guess. Like you can kind of figure it out a little bit based on like body language or what people are saying. And you can kind of figure out like how people perceive you. And that’s a really important skill, especially for teens to develop. That they need to know what other people, how other people are responding to them, how other people are reacting. You know, if they are, if they’re acting in a way that’s appropriate to the context, or if they’re being like, maybe really self-absorbed, or they’re being really insensitive. They need to be able to read the room in a way. And so understanding like each of those components that that’s what makes up emotional intelligence is key. But then I always find myself going back to the self-regulation piece because I see teens just constantly wanting to skip over that one. Like, “Well, I’m aware. I understand what my triggers are. I know what really upsets me. That’s enough.” And it’s like, no, that’s actually not going to be helpful for you. You need to know how to deescalate too.

DR. AMY: So can you talk a little bit about some of those self-regulation, emotional regulation techniques that you train teens to use?

DR. MELANIE: Yeah. So, you know, it kind of depends on what the self, what it is that they’re trying to regulate, because there’s different things involved in regulation. It kind of depends on whether the stress or anxiety, if it’s, you know, going through our DR. AMYgdala, which is, you know, very nonverbal and not attached to any sort of … It’s just a very like physical sort of physiological response to things. Or if it’s going through more of our cortex where it’s, you know, connected to thoughts. So helping them understand, first of all, like where that stress is coming from? Is it that physical response? Is it more thought-based? And then once we know that, then we can figure out what’s going to be most helpful. Because if it’s that physiological sort of response, then we want to learn how to self-soothe, like doing things that are very just like calming and relaxing to calm down our central nervous system. And so for teens, you know, that might mean, like going for a walk. It could mean, you know, getting into a cold shower or a warm shower to just kind of let that water just soothe and regulate them. It might mean learning some breathing exercises. And I usually I have a couple that I teach teens because they get a little turned off with breathing exercises. I think that there’s such an overuse of them or like an over a push that then they think, “Oh, it doesn’t work for me.” But it’s really because they probably haven’t learned. one that works for them yet. They haven’t given it a fair shot. So it could be a breathing exercise or a meditation or like a mindfulness kind of a practice. And then if it’s more of like the thought-based type of stress where they’re thinking like, or they’re stuck on certain negative thoughts, then that might mean, using some logic and reasoning to kind of talk through it. Almost like, “What’s my worst-case scenario? And if that were to happen, what would I do? How would I manage it? How would I deal with it?” It could mean, you know, problem solving. So figuring out like, “Okay, this is a thing that’s really stressing me out. So I’m, instead of running from it and hiding from it, let me actually walk through it and figure out what steps I need to take.” And then it also could just mean even like labeling feelings, you know, like I’ll teach teens just to recognize, like, “I’m really anxious right now.” And just label it. Like, don’t let it overpower you or rule you, but just having that recognition of what that emotion is.

DR. AMY: What is your favorite breathing exercise for teens?

DR. MELANIE: My favorite one is doublet breathing. So that’s where we inhale through our nose as much as we can. And then we do one final sniff in at the end and then a long slow exhale through the mouth. So it kind of sounds like this where we go … and even just doing it right now. Like, you just feel it.

DR. AMY: You just activated your parasympathetic nervous system, right? Your heart rate went down!

DR. MELANIE: It’s like, so amazing how quickly that one works. Like, you can just do it once or twice and it will have this immediate response. And so if I can get them just to do it with me once or twice, and then they feel it, then they’re hooked and they’ll do it. And then they’ll come back to me and be like, “Oh my gosh, it really does work.” So I find that that’s like the, a good intro because it works for everyone. And then once that one works and we can like maybe add in some other ones where they might have to practice a little bit more.

DR. AMY: Yeah. I call that the sigh because I do it inhaling through the mouth, then that quick inhale again, and then let it out. And I say, it’s the sigh. I mean, in big neon letters and people aren’t going to look at you funny because people sigh all the time.

DR. JODY: One of the ones you talk about in your book is rhythmic, gentle movement. And just funny aside, if you asked me like 10 of my favorite things, vacuuming is one of my favorite things to do, and I’ll do it at other people’s house, like I’ll go to my son’s house and vacuum conveniently sitting out for me. And I’ll go ahead and vacuum, and I told my daughter-in-law after I read, I’m like, this is because this soothes me, this rhythmic, gentle movement back and forth. So anyway, I do find it very satisfying to vacuum.

DR. AMY: Well, you come here and do rhythmic gentle movement with my vacuum anytime you want, DR. JODY.

DR. JODY: I love to vacuum, DR. AMY. I would do that.

DR. AMY: That’s funny. So I was … Well, first of all, I love how accessible you are actually making DBT skills. Like, is that part of your thinking as you’re walking through all of this?

DR. MELANIE: Yes, I love a DBT. I don’t necessarily use it from like a manualized, you know, structured, but it’s more of like I pulled tools that I found to be really effective and apply and, you know, and get teams to use those tools and find ways to kind of like inject them into a lot of the strategies. Because we, you know, from DBT, it is very, you know, there’s a lot of evidence to support it. We know how effective it is. And even like the cold-water exposure, like, is huge. Like getting a teen to even just like splashing cold water on their face is such a good reset. And that is one that is so accessible. Because I know in DBT, it’s more of like soaking your face in cold water.

DR. AMY: Which isn’t necessary.

DR. MELANIE: No, and you might not always be able to do that, you know, if depending on where you are. But if you’re at school and you can run in the bathroom and splash cold water, or … I even have a client where she works at Starbucks and she’ll just get ice out of the bin and just kind of hold it on her wrist for, you know, 30 seconds or so just and then she’s found that that’s been helpful enough for her to do that reset. So you can kind of play around with it, just like how you found vacuuming is like a nice rhythmic thing for you. It’s like with all of this like playing around with this so that you figure out what works for you. Because it doesn’t have to be one size fits all, you know, like with DBT where it’s very, it’s wonderful and very structured, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can kind of pull things that work and we can play with them a little bit.

DR. AMY: Yeah.

DR. JODY: So for any moms who aren’t not psychologist. I’m a different kind of doctor, explain dialectical behavior therapy.

DR. AMY: And so it’s like, it’s a four-pronged approach to teaching mindfulness and emotion regulation and distress tolerance and then interpersonal effectiveness skills. And so like what Dr. DR. MELANIE is saying is that you know, it was created. to go from point A to point B, right, in a very regimented, manualized process. But those skills don’t have to be taught in that order. They don’t have to be used in a particular order, in order to be effective. But the cold water, immersing your face in cold water, the reason that that works is because it activates mammalian dive reflex. And so you throw your face in a bucket of ice water, and it immediately activates the parasympathetic nervous system, lowers that heart rate, calms the nervous system. But for it to be effective, you only have to have that on the top of your cheekbones, right where it meets the orbital bone under your eye. And so I actually have clients keep a frozen eye mask in their freezer. Because that will touch that part of the face. And so if they find themselves be themselves becoming anxious, they can just throw that frozen eye mask on their face, and that has the same impact without just the shocking, overwhelming sensory experience of throwing your face in a bucket of ice water.

DR. JODY: Super practical to carry around a bucket of ice water.

DR. MELANIE: No, but I am totally going to borrow the face mask that never occurred to me. And those are like, you could pick those up anywhere and just keep one on hand. That’s brilliant. I love that.

DR. AMY: Yeah, I don’t know where I got that idea. But anyway, I’m happy to pass that on. Yeah. Okay, so getting back to my original reason why it DBT was just kind of ringing out as I was reading your work. Talk a little bit about that distress tolerance and learning how to tolerate discomfort. And so when, you know, I work with teens who struggle with anxiety and they’re terrified of their anxiety, right? They’re terrified that their anxiety is going to kill them, right? And so that whole idea of learning to sit in that space of discomfort, whether it’s anxiety or anger or sadness or whatever the emotion is that’s distressing. I know you train teens to learn how to sit in that space of discomfort. Talk a little bit about that.

DR. MELANIE: Yes. And you know, and this is such an important piece because phones have made it so easy for us to avoid discomfort. Not just for teens, but for all of us. Like anybody who’s feeling a little bit of distress, a little bit of anxiety can just instantly pick up their phone and start scrolling and feel better. And so what I find now is a lot of teens, they, they don’t know how to tolerate any level of discomfort at all. Like the smallest amount feels really intense to them because they just constantly are using their phone to self-regulate. And so learning how that, first of all, that discomfort is a part of life, you know, we don’t have to label it as a trigger. We don’t have to label it as a trauma. It is a normal part of the human experience. And in fact, we want some discomfort in our lives. Like it’s healthy, it’s good for us. And so we want it, but then we have to learn how to just feel it. And so we don’t want to do something like picking up our phone every time we feel that discomfort or distracting ourselves immediately. And so that might mean for a teen, first of all, just labeling it. “I’m really uncomfortable right now.” And that could just mean labeling it in their head. They don’t have to say it out loud or anything like that, but just labeling the discomfort. If they’re able to label it further as an additional emotion, you know, “I’m uncomfortable because I’m really anxious,” or “I’m uncomfortable because I’m really angry.” And if they can add that extra feeling piece in there, that’s great, but it’s not necessary. And then recognizing like, “Okay, this feeling is not going to kill me. I can feel this while still going about my regular activities. So if it’s walking into school and it’s the first day and I’m feeling really, really anxious, I can still walk into school while feeling this discomfort, while feeling this anxiety.” Because then what we learn from that experience is that eventually the discomfort starts to dissipate a little bit, you know, it doesn’t kill us. It gets better. And then that way the next time we feel it, we have our brain now has that experience to draw from it recognizes like, “Oh hey you’ve been here before. It’s not that bad. You know, you can handle it. You can get through this.” And so they need those opportunities to label it, to allow themselves to just kind of feel it and then to go through the motions of whatever their activity is, but not a distraction activity. It’s not about like, “Okay, now I’m going to find something to distract myself,” but more of, “I’m going to do whatever it I was planning to do next while still feeling this discomfort.”

DR. AMY: So what is your advice to parents? What language can you give them to speak into when their teens are experiencing anxiety or fear or whatever in that moment so that we, they validate it, but then can also be encouraging? What language do you have for them?

DR. MELANIE: So I think it’s helpful, first of all, if parents just, you know, recognize it by saying, you know, “You seem like you’re really anxious right now, or you appear stressed out to me.” And so labeling it for the teen, but not making a judgment. So it’s not like this is definitely how you are. Or making it like part of their personality, like “You’re so anxious,” but it’s more of, “You seem anxious to me right now.” You know, “I’m noticing like you’re chewing on your nails. You’re wanting to, you know, get on your phone. You seem really anxious.” And then they can check and be like, is that true? Is that something that’s going on like in, you know, and see if the teen will respond. And if not, that’s okay. But if the teens able to say, “Yeah, like I’m really anxious. I don’t want to walk into the school building.” And then the parent can say, like, “I understand. I know how hard this is for you. But I also know how good you’re going to feel once you do this.” And so you’re recognizing, the parent is recognizing that this is really challenging, but also recognizing that the teen has the capability to do the hard thing anyways. You know, it’s not about the parent rescuing or fixing things for the teen, but just instilling that belief like, “I know you can do this, even though this is really hard for you. I know that you’re able to do this.” And if necessary, the parent can throw in some bits of evidence. You know, “I know you can do this because last week I saw you walk up to that new group of friends.” Or “Last week, you know, you invited someone over to the house and I know how hard that was for you.” And so they can bring in like those bits of evidence to help the teen, you know, make those links themselves. So they’re kind of giving that encouragement, but they’re not letting the teen off the hook of like, “Okay, you’re too anxious. You’re too stressed out. We’re just going to turn around and go home. You don’t have to go to school today.”

DR. JODY: And also not solving the problem for them, right?

DR. MELANIE: Yes. Yes, 100%. We don’t want, you know, because I see that a lot with parents where they want to rescue or they want to just tell the teen exactly what they need to do and do all of the problem solving. But what I always caution parents and, and have them think about, if you’re constantly rushing in to solve the problem, like what kind of message are you sending to your teen? And I know parents do it with the best intentions. They really want to be helpful and they’re trying to protect their teen. But we have to look at like, what’s that message sending to the teen? Like, they’re just learning, like, “Oh, Mom doesn’t think I’m capable of figuring this out on my own. You know, I need Mom to do everything for me. I need Dad to fix this.” And we want them to learn that they’re actually capable themselves. And even if they screw it up, you know, if their attempt, it’s not perfect and they make all kinds of mistakes, that’s okay. They’re going to learn from that.

DR. JODY: Right. But even knowing that you trust them to be able to solve this problem eventually, I feel like that goes a long way also.

DR. MELANIE: 100%.

DR. AMY: And then do you go back then at the end of the day or after the event has happened and have a second conversation?

DR. MELANIE: If the teen is open to that, 100 percent. So you don’t want, you know, you don’t want to—I hate the expression “beat a dead horse,” but I don’t know a better one. But you don’t want to just, you know, constantly, where it almost turns into like nagging, where now you turn like this positive experience into something where the teen’s like, “Oh, we have to talk about this again.” But if the teen is like open to it, and at the end of the day, they seem kind of happy and upbeat, then the parent can bring that up of like, “Yeah, like, remember how you felt this morning? How do you feel now? Like, what did you do to get yourself through the day? How did you manage that discomfort?” And having them tell you a little bit about like either what tools they used or the self-talk they had to engage in. And so then they’re, you know, sharing what they did, what their process was, because then it will help to encode that a little bit in their memory so they’re more likely to do it again later. And then, you know, but then once it’s done, you just kind of let it go and move on and you don’t have to keep bringing it up over and over again.

DR. AMY: You just kind of bank it away as evidence to bring back to them the next time.

DR. MELANIE: Yes, for sure. So like if in the next week they’re having an issue again, now you have something where you can be like, “Remember last week, you know, when you were really stressed about walking into school? What tools did you use last week?” Or, “I remember you told me that you had to tell yourself this, you had to do some breathing. Why don’t you try those things out and see if they’ll help you here too?”

DR. JODY: Yeah, I would imagine shining a light on it also makes it more available to them to use when you’re not sitting next to them and kind of coaching them through it.

DR. MELANIE: Yes, definitely. It’s you’re helping them to recognize what their process is. Because a lot of times I realize with teens, they have great skills, they will have wonderful, like a wonderful process for how they got from point A to point B, but they’re not aware what that process actually is. They don’t know the steps. And so, like you said, if you shine that light on their process and what their steps are, you’re not telling them what they did, what to do, but it’s kind of like, “Oh, you already had all the steps. I’m just helping you recognize and identify what they were. And so now you know what you need to do next time.”

DR. AMY: So what advice do you have for parents who … so when I work with teens, I kind of joke that, you know, I’ll give them all of these tools and skills and they’ll use them for a week and then three weeks later they will have forgotten the same tools and skills that we’ve taught and practiced because their prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed, right? They’re not necessarily banking it all away and they can’t plan it and they can’t follow through. And so what advice do you have for parents who get frustrated at, “But you did this last week. Why are you not able to access the same process or skill now?”

DR. MELANIE: So I have two bits. One is for parents to remember what it was like when they were a teen. I’m always amazed at how quickly adults forget. I personally, I kept all my journals for my teen years. I am so thankful I did ,first of all, so they’re not floating around out there to be used as blackmail. But then also because there’s such a good refresher on how wild I was during that time and like the way I was like thinking about things. And it’s not that I had some sort of like mental illness or issue. It was like typical teen behavior that I was exhibiting. And so I think a lot of times parents forget what it’s like and that a lot of times you are going, you know, you’re going to see a lot of ups and downs. But then to also … the second point is just to think of how you’re … when you’re training a brain, when you’re teaching your teen how to think about things, it’s kind of, you need that consistency. Kind of like how you’re, if you’ve ever, you know, had a puppy, and it’s like you’re trying to get the puppy to not chew on furniture, you have to constantly like redirect the puppy to his chew toy, and then when he starts chewing on furniture, you’re not like belittling the puppy and telling him how dumb he is. Hopefully. You know, you’re just like, nope, here’s your chew toy and constantly redirecting it. And you need to really be on top of the puppy. And it’s kind of the same thing with brains and with teen brains, we’re constantly redirecting them back to what they need to be doing. And we need to be really consistent and we need to do it in a way that’s helpful and compassionate and not belittling and condescending.

DR. AMY: Yeah. All right. So speaking of training the brain, we need to take a break. Let DR. JODY read a word from LearningRx, our sponsor, and then we’ll come back and keep talking.

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DR. AMY: And we’re back, talking to Dr. DR. MELANIE McNally about her upcoming book, “The Emotionally Intelligent Teen.” And so, Dr. DR. MELANIE, I want to talk about motivation. And so you write that motivation comes from doing, not from thinking about doing. Talk to us about why motivation is so important and such a difficult thing in those teenage years. And what advice do you have?

DR. MELANIE: Yeah. So I think that a lot of times teens do wait for the thoughts or the feelings for motivation to come up and they think that, “Oh, I need to feel motivated” or “I need to really want to do something.” And they don’t understand that they actually need to just start taking the baby steps. And the baby steps, then they create the momentum to keep us going forward. And so, and a lot of adults actually don’t understand that fully either. Like we need the action and sometimes that might mean just focusing on the absolute smallest piece first. And so if that’s like, you know, if I’m trying to get motivated to go to the gym, then it might just mean putting on my workout clothes. That’s like the first step I have to focus on. And then once I do that, then what’s next smallest thing that I can do. It might be putting on my gym shoes or putting, you know, getting into the car. But we’re just focusing on like one little baby step at a time to kind of get the actions lined up to create that momentum. So a lot of teens don’t understand this because motivation really is like a skill set. It really does include different skill sets, and they haven’t necessarily learned the skills that go into motivation. So they haven’t learned about the internal process, like the intrinsic motivators. They haven’t learned about like purpose and passion and how that feeds into motivation, or they haven’t really developed grit. You know, grit is a skill that they’re developing throughout adolescence, all the way into young adulthood. And so that’s not fully developed yet. And they haven’t really learned fully how to set goals and how to achieve those goals. And so those are all parts of, you know, motivation, and they don’t necessarily have all of those in place yet. They don’t have the skill sets. So it’s helpful if, you know, parents and teachers and coaches and whoever’s, you know, helping that particular teen, it’s helping them figure out like, “Okay, if you’re not motivated to apply to college, like, let’s look at which skill are we lacking in right now.” Is it the intrinsic motivators, you know, is it that we just don’t have the grit to put in the effort that we need to write the essays and to take care of all the little things that go into the common app. You know, is it the goals like we don’t necessarily have our goals lined up and figured out what it is we’re trying to achieve here. So fit breaking that down and then honing in on the area where they’re lacking.

DR. JODY: Yeah. I love how you said at the beginning that that you wish somebody would have taught you these things earlier. And as you’re talking, I’m sitting here thinking, “Gosh, I am lucky I’ve made it this far. Like, it was just luck that I got all these things.” But I know much of your work is in coaching teens around goal setting and goal achievement and you may have just partially answered that question. But how can self-awareness in particular help teens identify and reach their goals?

DR. MELANIE: That’s a good question. And it’s really important because they need, if they don’t have self-awareness, if they’re not creating goals that are aligned with what they value and goals that like excite them and light them up, then they’re probably not going to sustain the grit. You know? They’re not going to put in the effort that they need to achieve the really big goal. So they need to have that self-awareness to figure out, “Is this something that I really want?” You know, cause sometimes with teens, what I’m trying to do is tune out like the noise of the world to help them tune into like, what’s really important to them Because maybe they’re listening to what their school is telling them is important, or maybe what society is telling them or what their parents are saying. So they need to figure out what’s really aligned with how they feel and what’s exciting for them. Figuring out what they truly value and then aligning those goals with those things so that they actually want to stick with it.

DR. JODY: Mm-Hmm. What do you do with kids who just can’t figure out what they’re passionate about or what they’re excited about? Any advice for people with that issue?

DR. MELANIE: Yes. So helping them figure out what they’re passionate about is actually really fun, because what you can do is just start off with whatever they’re curious about, you know, what are some, and if that means a parent has to point out those observations. Like, “Oh, I noticed that whenever we watch, you know, documentaries, you get, you know, you’re always like glued to the TV.” Or “I noticed that you ask a lot of questions around this particular topic.” So parents can kind of point out things that they’re curious about, or maybe things that they’ve been passionate about in the past. You know, maybe when they were younger, they were really into theater, really into, you know, playing the drums. But then once you kind of have pointed out things that they’re curious about or have a little bit of passion in, then you help them to just create like a passion list. Like, “We’re just going to brainstorm all the things that you’re either curious about or you’re passionate about and have this list. And then we’re going to spend the next month where you’re going to spend 15 to 20 minutes a day in one of your passions or in one of your curiosities.” And we’re not doing this with any expectations. We’re not trying to turn this into a career, goal or anything. It’s simply exploration. Like, “We’re just figuring out where these things are going to lead you.” And what I find when I do this with teens is like we don’t even need to spend a full month because after they’ve done this just for a couple of weeks, they’ve already got a couple of things and they’re like now full in, you know, and that’s what they really are passionate about. So it’s giving them that space to explore. Giving them that time to spend on things that they’re passionate about. So that might mean, you know, easing up a little bit on their schedule if they tend to be over scheduled with all these other things, or getting them off their phones if they spend all their free time just scrolling or playing video games, so that they have that time and space to explore.

DR. JODY: I would imagine it doesn’t take a lot of motivating to get them to work on that either.

DR. MELANIE: No, it only does if they are spending a lot of times gaming around their phones. When I have teens who that’s the bulk of their free time, those are the ones I have the hardest time getting them to explore their passions because, you know, they’re addicted at that point and it’s really hard to break that addiction.

DR. AMY: All right, so I was one of those moms who allowed my kids to dabble in different activities to find what they were passionate about. And so, you know, maybe they tried soccer or lacrosse or martial arts or art class or theater, whatever. And, I had one son who dabbled. He would try it for a week or two and say, “I hate this. I don’t like this.” And so that’s okay. I would allow him to stop doing that. But I hear lots of parents have a different philosophy where they’ll say, “You’ve made a commitment. You have to finish it.” What are your thoughts? What are the pros and cons of doing it that way? Talk to us about that.

DR. MELANIE: Yeah. So if I would say if that’s like a family value, if let’s say that stick, you know, honoring a commitment all the way to the end, if that’s a family value that parents are really trying to teach at home, then you want to, you know, be fairly consistent with that. So, “If you sign up to join the soccer team, then we need to honor that commitment. Like, we’re not going to, you don’t have to play soccer again, but you’ve made a commitment to your team and we’re going to keep showing up.” So you’re kind of, you’re focusing on the commitment side of things, versus, “No, you’re gonna like soccer and you have to figure this out.” So I can see a lot of value in doing that, because you’re really teaching them what your family values are and you’re staying strong with it. And as long as parents do it on their end too, and so it’s not just like a one-sided street, where like the kids have to honor their commitments, but parents don’t. So you want to be consistent there. But it also is great if you know if they’re doing something like let’s say piano lessons, where it’s an open-ended kind of thing and they decide after a couple of weeks where they’re not into it and they don’t really like it, then the parent might decide … Well, actually, let me go back, because what I think would be helpful for that is if the parent sets a timeline for that first, if they’re going to try something where there is going to be that open-ended, you know, time like a piano lessons. The parent might say, “Okay, I want you if we’re going to do this, I’d like you to stick with it for three months before you make a decision if you want to quit or not.” And so then you would, again, they have to honor that commitment that they made with you. But that can be helpful with something that’s new and a little hard, like piano, because when it does get hard, a lot of kids are going to want to quit and want to walk away and not really give it a full chance. So if you’ve kind of incur … if you’ve set a timeframe in the very beginning. If you haven’t set that timeframe, then I would say that parents probably would let them walk away but now the parent, think of it as like, “Okay. Lesson learned. The next time we do something that’s going to be a little more challenging.

We’re going to stick with it for a little bit longer and see how it goes.”

DR. AMY: Good advice.

DR. JODY: Yeah. Very good advice, actually. There’s a section in your book called “Vibe check your goals.” Would you share more about what that exercise means with our listeners and include the importance of setting goals that are aligned with your feelings?

DR. MELANIE: Yeah. So in the book, because I do have them creating goals that are, you know, aligned with what they value, aligned with feelings like the exciting and more positive emotions. But then I wanted to include the vibe checks because I want them to be checking in with where they are in their goals. Like how they’re still feeling about the goals. If it’s still matching, you know, the excitement that they had initially. What are some barriers that they might be running into? What are some ways to manage those barriers? Because oftentimes what happens with goal setting is we set goals, a lot of people know this, they set goals at the beginning of the year, and then maybe three months in, they’ve completely forgotten about them. They haven’t stuck with them. And then maybe at the end of the year, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I was going to do this, you know, I was going to run a marathon this year. I completely forgot about that. How did that happen?” It’s because we need to be constantly checking in and adapting, shifting, you know, making changes, figuring out what’s working, what’s not working.

So I wanted teens to get a taste of that so that they’re learning the process that goes into setting and achieving goals, but also so that they’re building that awareness around how a goal feels, you know, how it feels when they’re doing something that’s aligned with what they value or how it feels if they’re doing something that they’re excited about. And then to see if those feelings shift along the way like that.

DR. AMY: We are in a season where post-high school plans are no longer just college, right? Like we are valuing apprenticeships, we are valuing gap years, we are valuing simply graduating and going into the workforce now. And for a long time, college was the plan. And if you deviated from the plan, that was not respected. It’s different now. So how do you motivate a teen whose plan is not to go to college right after high school? Who says, “Well, why do I need to care about my grades if I’m not trying to get into college? Why do I need to do the homework? Why do I …?” right? Talk to us about that.

DR. MELANIE: Well, I think for that teen specifically, it’s about figuring it out what they do value, what is important to them. Because if it’s, if it’s not grades, if it’s not, you know, coursework, which is totally fine. What, what is important to them? You know, is it social connections? Is it playing music? Is it some other type of like activity or hobby? Is it earning money so that they can buy their first car? Like figuring out like what actually is important to them. And even if it’s not this huge thing of them saying, “Oh, eventually I want to, you know, be able to purchase homes and flip them and, you know, become this real estate person who’s like doing all this stuff.” They don’t need to have this like huge, huge goal, but it’s more of what’s the next thing that we can focus on? Because we do want them focusing on something and it can be, again, it could be earning money to buy their first car. Or, you know, to be able to move out and move in with their friends. That’s a great goal for them to be working towards because as they’re working towards that, they’re figuring out things about themselves. They’re figuring out about what they like, what they don’t like, what works for them, what doesn’t work for them. And so helping them just kind of navigate, “Okay, well, what’s the next thing for you? If it’s, you know, if school isn’t important to you, that’s okay. But we want to focus on this next thing.” And then they still, you know, if they’re still in high school and obviously they still need to be finishing their work so that they can graduate, just making sure that there’s a conversation about why that’s important. It’s not the parent just lecturing, “You need to graduate. You need to do this because I say so.” Teens respond a lot better to logic and reasoning than we give them credit for. And they’re much more open to hearing parents’ reasons, as long as parents have established a pretty decent relationship of trust and listening. And so they’ll take that into account of like, “Okay, this is something that I need to finish because I know I’m going to need a high school degree to be able to get a job so that I can afford an apartment to move in with my friends.”

DR. AMY: Yeah, I like that to find something to focus on. And that’s a life lesson anyway, about setting and reaching goals and taking responsibility for your choices, right? If your choice is not to go to college, right? You’re, you still have to have a plan, right? You can’t live in our basement until you’re 40.

DR. MELANIE: Yes. And we have, and goals are really good for mental well-being. They are really, there is all kinds of research showing how great goals are and even in having passions and having interests. Those are all things that are really healthy for us. And so having, you know, your teen set goals, no matter what those goals might be, that gives them some purpose. It gives them some drive. It gives them reason to get up every day. It gives it, you know, and plus it can act as a domino because that goal might be the first domino that pushes down a whole series of dominoes that lead to a wonderful future for them. But they need to have that first push and so having a goal can be that first domino down, that’s going to trigger all the other ones.

DR. JODY: I would imagine that if a parent can be aware of what their child’s passions are and goals are, they can also help them connect the dots between what you’re doing now and why it really is a piece of the puzzle or why it is important to do this now so that you can have that later. I think just good life lesson, right?

DR. MELANIE: Yes, definitely. Helping to make those connections is huge. And again, it can be real. It’s more valuable if like the parents are coming from a place where, you know, there’s a good foundation for the relationship where the teen or the young adult they have a … They know that “Mom or Dad doesn’t have this hidden agenda for me, or they’re not you know judging and they’re not really condescending.” But more of like, “No, Mom just wants, you know, me to figure out what I like and just wants me to be happy, then I’m much more likely to listen to her than if I feel like, yeah, she just wants me to make a bunch of money or she just wants me to, you know, have a career that she can brag about to her friends.”

DR. AMY: So, Dr. DR. MELANIE, what have you not gotten to say to our listeners that you would like to leave them with today?

DR. MELANIE: I don’t know. I think we covered a lot of ground. You guys asked some really good questions. I think just to stress the self-regulation piece. That, you know, we want teens to learn how to self-regulate. We want them to learn how to calm themselves down to reset their nervous system. And so for parents who are listening, if you feel like your teen just doesn’t know how to do that, then start thinking about ways to incorporate into the family culture. You know, or maybe it’s like people are going to yoga together, or maybe you do, you know, a free meditation that you get off of YouTube, you know, where you guys do that at night before you go to bed. But like make it part of the culture so that your teen is learning that critical piece.

DR. AMY: And how can they work with you?

DR. MELANIE: So you can find me at my website, which is So that’s destination. And you can find on there where I have my one-on-one coaching, and then I have a lot of self-guided tools as well. So I have programs that teens can go through, like on an app where videos and learning different skills and tools with like worksheets. And then I have different resources for parents, like parent workshops. And then I have my book that’s coming out December 1st, which you can also pre-order through my website too.

DR. AMY: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Dr. DR. MELANIE McNally, for being with us today and sharing your wisdom with our listeners. Listeners, we’re going to put all of those links and handles in our show notes, as well as how to purchase her book, “The Emotionally Intelligent Teen’ Skill to Help You Deal With What You Feel, Build Stronger Relationships, and Boost Self-Confidence.” Thank you so much for listening today. If you like us, please follow us on social media. We are on every channel at the Brainy Moms. Do it now before you forget. If you love us, we would love it if you would leave us a five-star rating and review on Apple podcasts. And if you would rather watch us, we post these episodes on YouTube at the Brainy Moms as well. That is all the smart stuff we have for you this week. Catch you next time. Have a good one, everybody.