June 12, 2023

Tim & Natasha Part 4 of 4: The Blame Game

In this final session both Tim and Natahsa describe a shift in their relationship with their 6 yr old daughter Rosie. Leslie reinforces these changes and continues to work on shifting the conversation away from focusing on the negative.

Instead Leslie looks below the surface of behaviors to identify strength of the child that may be less obvious. All children have a need to be understood and seen for who they are. Children with ADHD have many challenges, including getting hyper-focused and having trouble shifting from one activity to another. Understanding who your child is and helping them understand who they are, reduces the blame and increases effective parenting.

Time stamps:

03:57 “Can you give yourself permission to…” Use this when blaming shows up

04:35 The cycle of blaming. Be careful of reinforcing the blaming behavior

06:13 A Problematic Thinking Pattern is to focus only on the negatives and disqualifying the positive

09:38 Go below the surface to get at what’s underlying a behavior

11:18 Help your child express themselves accurately

13:13 Hyperfocus is a common behavior of the ADHD child

18:00 Using Kinesthetic awareness, touch and compression as tools for the ADHD child

21:35 Strategy for shifting – move your body, move your mind (and your attention)

22:30 The value of movement and touch for ADHD

24:40 Executive functioning strategy of breaking down big projects into small achievable steps

LESLIE-ISM: Can you give yourself permission to … Make a mistake, to forget your toys, feel uncomfortable

Show Note Links:

A blog exploring Understanding Why Children Blame

Understanding and examples of Problematic Thinking Patterns 

A blog exploring The Need to be Understood  

Click here for more info about Contact Improvisation


Credits: Is My Child a Monster is produced by Alletta Cooper, Dale Rubury, and Leslie Cohen-Rubury. Theme music is by L-Ray Music. Public relations is handled by Tink Media. Graphics and Website Design by Brien O’Reilly. by Eric Rubury. A special thanks to everyone who contributes their wisdom and support to make this possible.


[Music: The Wilds Beyond by L-Ray Music]

0:03 Natasha: I gave myself permission to be like: so what she’s on the iPad? So she does a couple hours extra today, because Daddy’s not home and Mommy is keeping it together. Like, so what?

0:21 Leslie Cohen-Rubury: This is, Is My Child A Monster?, a parenting therapy podcast where you get to listen in as real parents and caregivers share their trials and tribulations in therapy sessions recorded live. I’m your host, Leslie Cohen-Rubury. I’m a parent and a therapist with 37 years of experience helping families navigate this question. 

Today we’re checking back in with Tim and Natasha in their fourth and final episode. As a reminder, Tim and Natasha are not their real names, and we make sure to change all identifying information. The tone of this episode is a little different. First, we start with an update on some of the changes Tim and Natasha are making in the way they parent Rosie. You’ll hear what skills are working and what skills aren’t. This session, we’re really focusing in on something that we touched on in part three. So just to catch you up, Tim went out of town, and Natasha had to parent Rosie solo for a weekend while also managing her work. So you’ll hear them reference that weekend several times as we explore some additional strategies that have a broad appeal, and can work in many situations, not just the one we talk about today. 

When something goes wrong, parents blame children, children blame parents, and parents blame each other. And the end result is a whole lot of shame. Listen carefully in this session to better understand the relationship between blaming others, and taking responsibility for your own behavior and emotions—not an easy thing to do as a child or as an adult. As a reminder, though, I am a therapist, this show is for informational purposes only, and not a substitute for therapeutic intervention. So let’s get started.

2:32 Natasha:  I do feel like there’s a lot of improvement. I really haven’t gotten into too many fights with her. 

Leslie: Excellent. 

2:38 Tim:   Yeah, she’s doing great. That’s the… 

2:40 Natasha:  Yeah. Yesterday, we did a play date. And she was so excited. “Mommy, I’ll do whatever you want.” Oh, alright! “Go weed the garden, go mow the lawn.” [Laughter]  What I’m trying to do more, and the modifying of the behavior is to just really praise her when she does something well and not acknowledge so much when she does something bad. If she does something bad. I’m just kind of like, hmm, and I walk away. I think that that catches her attention more than getting Mommy mad. But I am doing a much better job of saying, “I’m getting mad. I’m getting upset. I’m getting upset…I’m getting upset!”  [Laughter] I think I’m doing a better job and we’re getting along better. She still blames me. But I figured that’s just a mother-daughter thing. 

3:32  Leslie:   No, it’s not a mother-daughter thing. It’s just she’s so sensitive that she doesn’t want to be at fault. So blaming is much easier than owning. You know, I got mommy upset and all that.

3:43 Natasha: I guess so, I mean, it’s everything. I don’t know if I told you last time, but I had gotten where I’m like, “Stop blaming me for things. I’m brushing your hair.” And she’s like, “aaaarg!”, and I’m like, “Stop blaming me, stop blaming me. It’s not my fault you have knots in your hair.” [Laughter]

3:57 Leslie: So when blaming comes, it’s a great example when you can have empathy and say, “Can you give yourself permission to have knots in your hair and know that they hurt you? Can you give yourself permission to have forgotten the markers and now they’re dried up?” Because the blaming is she doesn’t want to be uncomfortable with responsibility.

4:21 Natasha: “Mom, why didn’t you remind me?”

4:24 Leslie:  “Can you give yourself permission to forget? It’s no fun to forget things.” You don’t use that line all the time. I would just say, “It’s no fun to forget things.” When you say back to her, “Oh, don’t blame me. I didn’t forget this,” or “It’s your hair,” then you’re actually reinforcing blaming behavior. You engaged in the blaming cycle. So remember, anytime we give someone attention, it’s reinforcement, even when it’s reinforcing something you don’t want to reinforce. That’s why when you said things are getting better, you have less conflict. You’re acknowledging her positive behaviors, and you’re not pointing out all the times, and reinforcing all the time, she doesn’t do it right. So you’ve shifted the balance of focusing on her positive steps and her positive changes and activities and behaviors rather than the negative.

5:19 Natasha: Yeah, I’m trying.

Leslie: Every drop of it helps. 

Natasha: We haven’t been fighting lately.

5:23  Tim:  You and her? 

Natasha: Yeah.

Tim: No.

5:25 Leslie:   That’s fantastic. 

Natasha: It’s better.

 5:27 Tim:  The first thing that I remember when I came home was what a great weekend you had and you didn’t, you didn’t fight at all. You also mentioned that she didn’t want to go outside because it was too hot. Which it wasn’t too hot. You were here. It’s beautiful. 

5:41 Natasha: That’s what she feels she did go outside. She was out for five minutes. She gets too hot. “All right. You tried.” And then I let her go back to play her iPad. I’m like, “That’s alright, honey, you tried, thank you.” 

5:55 Tim:  She has been spending a lot more time outside on her own independently. I remember chatting with a friend of mine, and I was looking out the window. And I was like, “Oh, Rosie is doing the thing that we brought her to do. She’s literally just running around the meadow, jumping over logs, and playing with the dogs and the horse.”

6:13  Leslie: There’s a thinking pattern, where if we’re disqualifying the positive in our life, and we’re only focusing on the negative, it is the way we see the world in the way, which is what…

6:25 Natasha:  …my mother does. [Laughter]

6:31 Leslie: You are shifting that. And I am so excited that you’re shifting that. Because, as you said, when Tim came home, “We had a great weekend.” It can be dialectic, “We had a great weekend and there were some challenging moments.” “We had a great weekend, and we’re working on how to reduce the amount of time on iPads.

6:53 Natasha:  But I think it was also good and just a self acknowledgement of that, of the weekend. As I was cooking dinner and I felt things were, “I just gave myself permission to be, like, so what she’s on the iPad. So what, so what, so she does a couple hours extra today, because Daddy’s not home.” And Mommy is keeping it together— so what, at the end of the day, she’s playing her minecraft game. I’m giving myself permission to not feel like a terrible parent that she’s on the iPhone, she’s watching…

7:29 Leslie: It’s all a balance. It’s about the act between wanting to limit screens for children, and wanting to reduce the amount of conflict and intensity. Now, I don’t think we should be afraid of our children. And at the same time, you were saying this was a circumstance where you were on your own, it was the end of a weekend by yourself. And you had tried to get her out and you tried. And reducing conflict right now may be way more important. And two or three hours on the iPad. So…

8:03 Natasha:  I was home alone and there was no way for, you know, tag team. “Hey, relieve me,” there wasn’t going to be any of that. So, we’re good, we had a pizza night, we watched a movie, we were in bed by 8:30. Didn’t  have any nightmares about…she slept in her room the night before. She had a lot of nightmares. She slept with me and held my hand the entire evening. She was really scared. And I just figured all right, well, maybe she’s missing Daddy. So that was the other thing—I was very tired because I slept maybe four…. and then she woke up and said that her mouth was on fire. I’m like, what? She was thirsty. She’s sleeping with her mouth open. So…

8:48 Leslie:  Interesting. So let’s go below the surface. Stay with me for a minute here. Let’s go below the surface. First of all, the fact that the second night she slept on her own is so lovely and does show that you reduce conflict. She didn’t go to bed with anxiety. Two things that I want to focus on is the anxiety that you’ve described is showing up in the number of examples that you gave, whether she’s worried about when you go away; maybe she was thinking about that. And the idea that anxiety is going to be confusing because she doesn’t know how to put it into words. I think her behavior might be the indication. I mean, clearly when she woke up in the middle of the night and said there’s a spider—that was anxiety. But there are other times where she’s in bed with you and she might not be able to say, “Mommy, I’m worried about Daddy, is he okay?” It doesn’t occur to her that that’s what she’s worried about. All she knows she doesn’t feel as secure as she does on another night. And we don’t know. 

And so what I say is, let’s go below the surface and take some guesses. And we can take a guess in that situation and we can take a guess when you’re outside and she goes, “It’s hot.” I don’t know that I believe her when she says it’s hot. I believe that is the only word she knows how to communicate, “I want to be inside.” So I might hear, I’m hot. And I might say, Oh, I wonder what else is going on below the surface? Is it that she wants to go back on her iPad? So I might say, “Hey, are you thinking about going inside and playing on your iPad?” I would guess that maybe she’s thinking about going back on her iPad to play her game. And she might say, “Yeah, I really do. I don’t want to be out here. I want to play my iPad game because I was having fun.” Okay, so you’re not dealing with an issue of heat, you’re dealing with an issue of “I want to go back and do my iPad”…. versus she says,” No, I don’t care about my iPad. I’m getting bitten up. And I don’t like these bugs.” So even though she said was hot, she may not have really realized that the bugs are bothering her. Or she wants to be inside because the dog is barking inside and she wants to go take care of the dog—I’m making up all these reasons. But you know your daughter—take some guesses. What else besides this surface thing that she’s saying, what else might be going on below the surface? Try to get inside and think the way she would be thinking. Do you have any guesses about being outside and her saying it’s hot? Like, what might be going on?

11:24 Natasha:  She wants to play with her iPad.

11:26  Leslie: Great. So then let’s give her the accurate expression. Teach her…”I think you want to go back in and play your iPad.” That’s giving her the ability to articulate what’s actually going on. Most adults don’t actually articulate what’s going on. They say, “Oh, I’m fine,” rather tha, “I’m struggling a little bit and I’m getting through my day.” So let’s teach her to be articulate. She might still go right back in. But I’d rather her go back in and say, “Yeah, I want to go back in and play my iPad,” than, “It’s hot out here.” Yeah. Because then we’re reinforcing inaccurate communication..

12:05 Tim:  Yeah. That’s a very good point. And I think that she would respond well to that in the sense that she’s generally pretty upfront about what she wants. There’s no…she doesn’t obfuscate very much. It’s a little bit unusual for her to say it’s hot when it’s not hot. And if you scratch beneath the surface, you could find that….she knows the reason: she doesn’t want to…she knows that she should play her iPad for 20 minutes at a time. That’s what the doctor said to do.

12:31  Leslie: And we do recommend that, especially with kids with ADHD, and at the same time, you’re dealing with a challenging situation. So there’s truth in both sides of that. 

12:42  Tim:  And she’s gotten better about and I’m…well, has she gotten better? I’m trying to teach her self regulation. I understand the iPad is pretty awesome. I’ve been addicted to video games myself. It’s… you kick back and just like, wow, you’re all in this own little world, right. But I also want to teach her 20 minutes at a time. “Can you tell Alexa to set the timer for 20 minutes?” And we’re at the stage now where she can do that. But she will completely tune out the alarm. I have come back to the house after working in the barn. “Come with me to the barn and help me with something in the barn.” “No. Daddy,” she goes, “you’re not going to like what I have say…

Natasha: “I’m sorry to say…” [Laughter]

Tim: “I’m sorry to say, I want to use the iPad.” She’ll whisper it. “Okay. Let’s do it for 20 minutes.” And I’ll come back after 40 minutes. And the alarm is still… [Laughter]. I was working under the deck the other day. And I heard the alarm going off. [Laughter]  And it wouldn’t stop. And I come back. And eventually, like—I was in the middle of something like my hands were dirty, so I couldn’t stop—and finally I came back and then she’s still on her iPad! And it was, “I didn’t hear it.” “You didn’t hear it? I heard it!”


14:09 Leslie: Right. She has an incredible ability to tune out and to tune in. It’s called hyperfocus, which is a real thing with people with ADHD as well. And like you said, you probably play your video games longer than maybe you want to, because they’ve got that kind of…they’re designed to keep us engaged. So it’s a real thing. It’s really challenging. I just want to go back to now…take a guess: she was in bed with you, she was having trouble sleeping. What would you guess was going on below the surface? Because you already said it. But if you said to her, not just thinking…what would you say to her?

Natasha: …okay.

Leslie: What would you say to her?

15:00 Natasha:  It’s an awkward time because it’s, like, 3 a.m., so she’s not super-awake. 

15:08 Leslie:  Oh, not a good time. No, no, no; not a time to say…okay, that makes a good point….

15:11 Natasha:   Yeah, she was dead asleep, and then we had…she couldn’t sleep, so I said, “Alright, fine: sleep with me.”  Then around three o’clock she woke up with the spider thing again and it was I think the dog moving. “Look, she’s fine, she’s fine, the dog, it’s the dog.” And then she just got really close to me. She goes, “Mommy, I want to sleep right next to you.” So then, and then she held my hand and that’s how we slept till about five or so, when her mouth was on fire.

15:40 Tim:  …which you might think is really cute but… 

Natasha: …drives me crazy.

Tim:  Natasha hates that.

Leslie: What? Holding…

15:45  Natasha:  That girl kicks me…

15:50 Tim:   I can sleep with Rosie on top of me and I’m fine…

15:52 Natasha:  …he can sleep with Rosie; but Rosie spears me. Rosie, like, she’ll flip over her head and her hand hits my head. And I’m like, Ahhhh! [Laughter]

16:02 Leslie:  So there’s so many things I want to say. One, before I move on to the kinesthetic touching—that’s very important, you’re saying things that make total sense. But before I go there, getting below the surface is when Dad goes away, because it sounds like you don’t travel all that much, but if one of you goes away, I want you to remember that she is highly sensitive, and anxiety is going to be there. So be one step ahead of her. And before bedtime, because it’s probably going to show up when she’s sleeping, that anxiety, or right before she goes to bed. I would say, “You know what, there’s a chance that because Daddy’s away, you’re going to feel a little different tonight, you might have a little bit of a discomfort or anxiety, that feeling might show up. And let’s just acknowledge and say hi, anxiety, Daddy’s away. And I’m okay.” So I would go below the surface. But in that case, do it ahead of time. 

Natasha: Yeah.

Leslie: Do it ahead of time, because you might…it’s what I call staying one step ahead. If we can name it, she might feel so validated, like, “Wow, I didn’t even know I was going to be nervous about Dad going away.” And she’s not going to think this through, but it’s going to be a visceral feeling where she goes, “Wow, Mommy knows me better than I know myself.” That’s the feeling of validation: when you feel someone understands you. That’s gold. That’s parenting gold. So go for that. When you can say what you think is happening to your child below the… I promise you, if you don’t get it right, they will correct you: “No, that’s not what I’m upset about. So and so didn’t like me today in school. And that’s why I’m upset.” It’s amazing that they will correct you if you don’t get it right. So go ahead and guess.

[Music: Nature Calls by Olexy]

Leslie: Back to that idea of kinesthetic touching. Kinesthetic is when we are movers. And we move as both information and an intelligence. So I mentioned, I think, multiple intelligence. She moves every…you know, she uses her hands, she likes to run, and she does things moving very frequently. I have ADHD, and I am a dancer. And I move my body. And if I want to write a lecture, I don’t sit down at the computer, I walk. I walk and talk. So movement for me is part of my intelligence. It’s how I think, and I need movement. And she probably does the same. Not only movement, but touch. So now you’re in bed and she’s trying to sleep and she’s trying to sleep well. Well, what’s going to make her sleep well? Touching someone, being near someone, moving all night. 

That makes sense to me. It’s not random. It fits the picture of who she is. And it’s like, oh, well, that’s good information. So when my friend and I used to take walks on the street, she’d go, “Leslie, do you realize you’re walking into me and pushing me off the road?” [Laughter] I’m like, That’s just how I walk. I walked to know where you are. And I walk to have touch. I do a dance form called contact improvisation. It’s a beautiful, beautiful dance form. But the point is, is that we’re touching; it’s a duet form and touch is the motivation for movement. I’m doing what works for me. And so when she goes up, you can teach your contact improvisation. She’ll love it, but that’s what she’s doing when she goes to bed. She’s like, “Okay, let me move my body and touch you so I can feel safe, secure and my nervous system can feel calm.” Touch helps her with her nervous system. Before bed, you might actually do a series of compression. Do compression massage where you put weight on her body, and you let her body feel at ease, because the compression on her nervous system actually slows her down and gives her an ability to rest.

Tim:  20:12  With your hands?  Just like…

20:14 Leslie: Yes, that’s right, pushing on the muscles. And always tell her; say, “Tell me if it’s too much.” But compression usually is a gentle…it’s not digging your fingers into her muscles. Compression is with a flat palm and pushing weight on the bones and on the structure. If I was standing, I would put compression on someone’s shoulders going down with gravity. If someone’s laying down, I’d put pressure on the structural place, not on not on joints, joints don’t love…like, my knees don’t love a lot of pressure. But my thighs can take pressure,my calves… feet can take compression. So she might love that as a little routine.

Natasha: She does like to have her back scratched…

20:55 Tim:   I was about to say that. She is really…and scratched in a very particular way. She’s really to fast, slowly, faster, slowly, beautifully, hard and slow like a sloth.

Natasha: …fast, slowly.

Tim: …fast and slowly; hard and slow, like a sloth.

21:09 Leslie: Excellent. That touch is speaking to her. It’s giving her that information. It’s really good. We want to teach her to do the same. Does she sleep with some stuffed animals? She probably has a few in her bed.

21:24 Tim:  Yeah, she’s got a menagerie…

21:27 Natasha:  I got her that owl thing. I tell her, “You always feel better when you hug that owl.”

21:32 Leslie:   Okay, so let’s teach her about the value of touch. Sometimes actually, this is another strategy for helping her shift. If she’s playing on her iPad, if you need her to come to dinner, when her body is in one position drawing or playing on the iPad, it’s sort of frozen in place.

Natasha: Yeah.

Leslie:  If you want her to shift, don’t tell her to go to the dining room table or whatever. Don’t tell her to get up and do something, tell her, “Wiggle your toes, put your arms up in the air.” And by doing that she’s now shifted her body, which means the brain is going to be able to shift from what she’s doing. So getting away from the iPad is extremely challenging, but start with smaller ways where she’s doing something you want her to shift, say, “Hey, can you clap three times up over your head? Can you beat your chest like King Kong?” Get her to move her body before you give her instructions. Movement is getting her brain online. You’re talking to her when she’s frozen.

22:37 Tim:  Right. Right, right. Okay.

Leslie Cohen-Rubury  22:41  

So yeah, I’m really glad we touched on this idea that I want to go with getting below the surface and trying to articulate what’s inside her. And I think touching some of the anxiety that she has might be helpful and informative to help her understand herself. And then also teaching her about her need–need– for movement and touch, how valuable that is for her to think, for her to be cooperative and things like that. And that is why, understandably, school is very challenging, because schools are not designed to have kids moving all day long. And that’s challenging because it’s going against her natural inclination.

23:26 Tim:  Hey, can I ask for your advice about something? 

23:29 Leslie:  Absolutely. Then we’ll wrap up.

Tim  23:31  

She’s a builder. She’s always been a builder. Increasingly, recently, she’s also been a planner. Like, you know, here the plans for the tree house where, “Dad” we’re going to build a tree house.” I don’t think she quite understands that we can’t build a treehouse tomorrow. Just like when you know, when we’re going to get the passport photo taken. That doesn’t mean we’re going to then get on an airplane and go to El Salvador.

23:57 Leslie:  Okay. 

23:59 Tim:  I don’t know, I’ve been thinking a little bit about strategies to bridge the building and the planning so that when she plans something, it’s not like a tree house that I can’t afford the lumber right now. And also, that’s going to be, you know, many weekends…

Natasha: [Laughter]  …yeah, even if we have the lumber sitting there, it’s not going to get built in an hour…

24:18 Tim:   I want to build that treehouse, too, right? But I’m like, put a pin in that. Okay, I’m going to build that tree house. But can we do something smaller in the meantime?

24:24 Leslie:  Wow, this is fabulous. Because someone with ADHD usually is a big picture person. They are the idea person behind someone. So it is about breaking down large things. She will be someone most likely—this is executive functioning—who goes to school and when they get into sixth, seventh and eighth grade, they will be doing projects…maybe before that. And when they’re in school, and they have to break down a project. It’s going to be brutal. It’s not going to be easy, do not get frustrated. So say, “The school is going to help you with breaking it down,” or you will help her break it down. 

She will need…I’m still learning how to break down things into steps. Okay, I’m great at the big picture. I don’t love the little steps. But I can do it. Obviously, I’ve had a lot of years of experience, of practice now. So be patient with her. When you’re breaking down those steps, build up those weaker muscles, because she needs them. And at the same time, she’s got this beautiful skill of the big picture. And yeah, when you’re frustrated-–it’s frustrating—and you can acknowledge to her, it’s really hard when you have a big idea. And it takes 100 steps to get there to wait those 100 steps. Use the magic wand: “If I had a magic wand, your treehouse would be built in an hour.” And that’s where you leave it, you don’t have to defend yourself. 

Tim: Good. 

[Music: Uplifting Piano Is by Music Unlimited]

Leslie: I want to thank Tim and Natasha for showing up and sharing their struggles and successes with us over the past four episodes. It takes a lot of willingness and vulnerability to even recognize you need help, let alone get it and follow through. 

A diagnosis like ADHD is information to help you know your child. But it isn’t the only thing. It’s important to get to know your child first. And it’s important to meet your child where they are. Let’s remember to use a diagnosis as a piece of the puzzle, not as the whole picture. Strategies need to be tailored to your individual child or children. Something that doesn’t change is the need to respect and understand who your child is. In this episode, Tim and Natasha really showed us how they support each other on this parenting journey. And you heard how Natasha felt a shift in her relationship with Rosie when she started to really meet Rosie where she was. And when Natasha gave herself permission to be an imperfect mom despite outside pressures. That’s a common theme for parents and caregivers alike. There are demands and expectations from your parents, from your friends and from society at large. And it’s okay to give yourself permission to be just who you are.

[Music: The Wilds Beyond by L-Ray Music]

Join us next week for a special episode with my daughter, Dale, as we talk about what it was like for her growing up as a child with anxiety. We also talk more in depth about a skill that I’ve mentioned in some of my earlier episodes called building mastery. Dale tells us what it was like as a child and I share from the perspective of being the mom. And then in two weeks we meet Catherine, whose teenage daughter is exhibiting some high risk behavior. Subscribe to Is My Child A Monster? wherever you get your podcasts, so you don’t miss an episode. And if you like what you hear, please rate and review it. This episode was produced by Alletta Cooper, Dale Rubury, and me. Our theme music is by L-Ray Music. I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury. And thanks so much for listening. Here’s a question you can ask yourself: Can I give myself permission to make a mistake or feel uncomfortable? And you can ask your child the same question:  Can you give yourself permission to make a mistake, forget your toys or feel uncomfortable?

[Music: The Wilds Beyond by L-Ray Music]

Is My Child A Monster?  is a new podcast and we would love your help getting the word out. Find us on Facebook and Instagram at Leslie Cohen-Rubury. And let’s have a conversation. This episode was produced by Alletta Cooper, Dale Rubury, and me. Our theme music is by L-Ray Music. I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury. And remember, instead of labeling a child’s behavior as bad, stop and ask yourself, when does this behavior work? And when does it not work?

Transcribed by https://otter.ai edited by Eric Rubury

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