September 25, 2023

Alice Part 3 of 3: When Your Kids Complain

This is part 3 of the 3 part series with Alice who is parenting her two boys Dan, 9 years old and Jake, 6 years old.

In the first two sessions, Alice and Leslie focus a lot on her anxieties about her children, and her parenting perfectionism. It’s so hard to raise kids, especially after a big life change, like divorce. This episode, Alice reviews what strategies have been working, and what still needs work. Today’s session focuses on additional practical strategies for things like chores, politeness, and the transition between Mom’s house and Dad’s house.

Time Stamps 

7:25 How much control do I give my child? A discussion of personal power vs powering over another person

9:35 Example of dialectic thinking for a child who they should have done something different

11:10 Zoom in and Zoom out

15:50 Flexibility and flow when the kids transition between two homes

20:10 What to do when your child refuses to do what you ask them to do

21:00 Raising a responsible child, not an obedient child

22:20 Joining your kids in the chaos of yelling

25:07 An example of the paradox of parenting

27:12 Resist the urge to fix the moment

30:36 What to do when your child says no. – give them space

31:35 Leave the complaint, Don’t pick up the complaint and it won’t go anywhere

32:05 Maintain your focus and don’t get distracted by the complaints – using an example of picking up your child at a friend’s house

Show Note Links

Leslie was interviewed on Whinypaluza Podcast with Rebecca Greene.  You can listen to that interview here where we discuss the causes of certain behaviors of children.  You can also follow Rebecca Greene at:

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Leslie-ism: You need both insight and practical skills in order to make a change in your parenting.

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.


0:02  Alice:  I have noticed that he always says no to my requests.  Early, I was arguing with the no, but I know that I just say it again and he’s like “Oh fine,”  and he likes that.

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

0:24  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, and I’m a parent and a therapist with 37 years of experience helping families navigate this question. And no, your child is not a monster. As a reminder, all the names and identifying information have been changed. And this show is for informational purposes only, and not a substitute for therapeutic intervention. 

Okay, today I’m joined by Alice in her final of three sessions. She’s a recently divorced mother of two boys, Dan, who’s nine, and Jake, who’s six. In the first two sessions, Alice and I focus a lot on her anxieties about her children, and her parenting perfectionism. It’s so hard to raise kids, especially after a big life change, like divorce. This episode, Alice fills me in on what strategies have been working, and what still needs work. So we use a lot of today’s session to focus on additional practical strategies for things like chores, politeness, and the transition between Mom’s house and Dad’s house. 

We also talk through the ways that we as parents engage with our children, that might be inadvertently reinforcing the behaviors that we are actually trying to decrease. And I give some ideas on how to shift your parenting mindset to de-escalate these situations. We’ve got a lot to cover; so I’ll let Alice fill you in on how things have been going, including her younger son’s recent birthday party, which if you listen to her first session, you know is a really big deal. 

So let’s get started.

2:22  Alice:  I’ve had a little time to try to play with some of these ideas. And that’s been good, because one of the big things I took away from our conversation was to slow down. And so it has been good to have a bit of time, to both kind of just broaden out my view of any given day and how much–quote/unquote–parenting success I’m going to have in any one day. Or skills that they’re demonstrating or learning and broaden it out to yours, and practice. 

And then I guess one of the other big takeaways that I had from our last conversation was my own internal slowing down of just the mindfulness with the experience of being alive, but of being with my kids, or of being present in a family with them. And so both of those things have helped me immensely, actually, with some things I’d love to talk about today. Also, kind of some observations. 

But before I go there, I can also tell you one specific revisit, which is that we were talking in our first conversation about Dan and his envy of his younger brother, Jake, and that Jake’s birthday was coming up. And so we were thinking about how to deal with that. So Jake’s birthday has come and gone. And so it was really interesting. Dan…we talked about it, we just kind of leveled, with just him and me. And we were like, “You know, this has been a hard day for you in the past. What do you think you want to do?” So he did a couple of things. He ended up taking the lead in the birthday gifts. We had a budget, but even he took Jake one day when we were at the store. And he and Jake went over to the toy department. And they took my phone and Dan got Jake to photograph everything he wanted, which was a little capitalist grabby-grabby for my…you know, I’m like, “What do you mean?” But on the other hand, it was just him taking leadership of like, “We want to get you things that you’re really excited about.” And honestly, there were some crazy things on there I never would have thought of. So that was really sweet. There was some leadership there. And that really gave him a lot of meaning. 

And that felt great for all of us, of course; because Jake then was totally stoked that what he had wanted is what he got. And so that was cool. And then the other thing is that Dan decided to go out with a friend during the party, so he wasn’t here. And so that was okay. And even though his father, interestingly, had some conversations with him about kind of, “Is that the cheater’s way out a little bit?” I don’t mean to be pejorative, but he was just like, “Is this something that you should face rather than…is this a running away from?” And, no—he decided to go out with a friend and do something fun. And interestingly, that helped Jake really take ownership of his own party. He was the…this was his own developmental arc this year, he had a real vision for it. And he really knew what he wanted, this bizarre, disgusting-looking cake. But he had the vision, and we made, we went and got the ingredients. So it was cool. 

So he really enjoyed then being just the kid, just him. So that was a really good result. And then, interestingly, Dan came home, and was totally like, “I chose the wrong thing. I should have stayed for this party.” So he had buyer’s remorse. Either way, he would have had that feeling. And so he got to still experience…in some ways that just made me be like, “Okay, you get practice either way, and we got to try a strategy, we got to think about it.” And I don’t mean to say in a dooming way, “Either way, you’re going to feel…you’re going to be okay if, when, feelings come of, like, ‘Oh, I should have chosen the other thing,’ ” or whatever. So, anyway, that was cool. 

7:04  Leslie:  Wow, that is so cool. I mean, what I’m hearing is the respect your children are feeling for themselves, and the respect you’re giving them with these choices. So what I hear and parents…it’s a really tricky thing, is: how much control do I give my child? I don’t want to give my child so much control that they’re running the show. Children need that sense of safety, by the authority that their parents feel. And at the same time, parents forget to be creative about small ways that children can take control. 

Your example covers that beautifully, because Dan got to go to the store and with his idea of taking the pictures and doing that, he felt a sense of control. And I want to relate control is not this power over anyone, but a sense of personal power. He just felt good that he could make a decision. And those are safe decisions. We don’t want children making controlling decisions when it involves other people, “I’m going to control you.” That’s when they don’t develop a sense of personal control, a personal power. So we’re not trying to power over anyone. And I think your examples are beautifully safe ways to give children a sense of control over their own lives and what they say and do. 

And then Jake also got that feeling of being able to jump into his own birthday party in the ways that he wanted. It’s tricky for parents, as you said, with your ex, that it’s tricky to really see that this is okay. Are we letting our child get away with something?I get that that could be a feeling. It’s a feeling because it’s not the way you were brought up, probably. It doesn’t feel familiar, so therefore, it might feel wrong. But let’s look at it and say, did it work? 

Did it work? Yeah. And you’re smiling because it did work, right? It worked. And I love the follow up that Dan got to experience “Oh, wow, I also wanted to be here.” And that’s the dialectic of, “Oh, my goodness, I want to go out with my friend and I want to be here. I don’t want to be here to see this party. And I want to be here to see this party.” So those are dilemmas that we all have—”I want to go out and I want to stay home.” And so this is good practice for him. And I love that you called it “practice.” I think you called it “practice,” which is fantastic. So I’m so excited by these things that you’re sharing from practicing. And I really want you to give yourself—I hope you’re giving yourself—lots of credit for actually playing with some of these ideas. You did a fabulous job. 

9:53  Alice:  Thank you. 

9:54  Leslie:  Did you give yourself credit? I think I know you’re a little hard on yourself. 

9:58. Alice:  I mean, yeah, I’m trying. I’ve been actually doing a lot of work on that in my own, my own self-personal journey. But yeah, it has felt so good that I know that that is a thing that is working. And so I am definitely…in those moments where I’m stopping and taking in my senses, experiencing what’s happening. I’m also trying to do that with these, kind of, reflective moments, where I look back on an experience like that. And I feel that’s one that we can be proud of, all of us, just how we learned. What are we trying to do? We’re trying to learn. And we’ve learned from our past experience. And this experience also made us learn lots of things. 

10:55  Leslie:  Beautiful, I love it. I’m so excited for you. And as you said, there’s still some frustrating things. But I want to reinforce just one more thing that you said, which was, you said you used what I’m going to call zooming in and zooming out—giving yourself perspective. That sometimes we need to remember that this moment, which is so painful, so difficult, sometimes even ugly, it feels that way, is not going to last forever. And in that moment, it’s very hard to zoom out and remember that. So I love that you took that away, that you worked on that perspective. You gave yourself that distance. I want to just reinforce that. That’s great. Beautiful. And finding that little moment of meditation of mindfulness, of using your senses in the moment and not separate from when your kids are there. Like, “Okay, now that my kids are gone, I can find my mindfulness, my peace.” No, we want you to be able to find your peace in the family life.

11:58  Alice:  Yeah, I’ve been trying. Well, actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Can we go there? 

Leslie:  Go there!

Alice:  All right. So in our new family arrangement, now we have two houses. This is a new thing for us this year. And very, very friendly relations between my ex and I and we have family dinner on Saturday nights. They’re at his house when they wake up, so they have all Saturday there. Then we have family dinner together. One of the houses on Saturday, Saturday dinnertime, and then they come over to my house Saturday night. And they’re there through Sunday, and then we start the week again. 

And so what I came to notice is that Sundays were awful, awful, awful, awful. And I jumped here from you talking about me feeling being able to feel peace, even while they’re here. It was getting to screaming levels of literally them doing a lot of screeching at me and so much resistance than what I had previous to the separation. What had become our custom on Sundays that there were certain chores that they needed to get done. And then they had some freedom around how and when, but there were certain things. And then maybe also there were other plans or things that we needed to get done, or that were part of our family plans on Sundays. And boy, in the last few months, I have just been getting such resistance to all of that. 

So at some point it dawned on me, “Oh, this is a little bit about that personal control. They are still in the first, what, nine months, of having what they knew as: “This is home base. This is family. This is so home base, I didn’t even think about what my parents were doing, whether they’re together, I don’t even think about it.” And now they are the ones that have to pick up their stuff and move back and forth. And I was like, “Oh, this is transition day, this is what this is.” 

And so I don’t know that’s kind of hypothesis I’m working with; I don’t know if if that’s really what’s going on but I started working with it to say, “Okay, if this were transition day and what they’re kind of saying underneath is, “You took all my control away. I have to now schlepp my stuff back and forth. I am not going along with stuff.” And so I just eased…no longer a list just for this time, there’s not a list of dit-dit-dit. We’re not planning things on Sundays, I’m not putting appointments, because we need to just to flex. And it’s been amazing. So I feel like the hypothesis is kind of working out because there’s more of an ease and a more of a willingness to cooperate. Then when we do need to maybe all go out because we don’t have groceries—we need to go grocery shopping, whatever it is— there’s a little bit more kind of goodwill in the bank there. I feel because I’m respecting all of us, all of our need by Sunday, to just be able to flow.

15:37  Leslie:  I love it. You’re talking about flow, you’re talking about flex—these are really good concepts and pulling back the expectations. Because you can’t build the structure if the ground and the foundation is not there. And believe it or not, you think, “Well, this is their home, it’s their foundation,” but it gets jostled each time they go away. This is a new experience. So absolutely reestablishing the grounding, the foundation of connection, sounds terrific. I love that you did that. And you brought those same skills into the picture. And flexibility is one of the key words in relationships when we’re dealing with any relationships—flexibility, flexible thinking, flexible interactions. Yes, absolutely.

16:29  Alice:  Yeah. Okay, so here’s the but.

16:31  Leslie:  Yes, here’s the challenge. 

16:34  Alice:  So, I find that in many, many things that I would like to either get done as a family—we just ate dinner that I made, and now we have dishes out, we have a dishwasher that’s full and needs to be unloaded, and we have dishes on the table, and we have food that needs to be put away. And so I would like the three of us to get it so that the food is off the table, that everything’s loaded up. And so how we do that we were a bit flexible on, we used to have more kind of specific roles. And now we’re just kind of like, here’s how we’re going to help each other out. 

So that’s one thing. So, God forbid, when I need them to do something that I am not then part of—they need to go finish a task—I am getting such resistance in this from Dan. Dan, I kind of have come to know, just has his volume turned up. He’s got some intensity there. So when I land a request, which of course I am doing as thoughtfully as I can to his nervous system, I’m phrasing it in a respectful, clear way. I’m not being like, “Hey, you forgot, you have to take out the garbage.” I’m not kind of throwing it out like an arrow. I’m saying, “Hey, before we leave, can you please make sure that you take out the garbage,” whatever, something like that. But I get this instant, “What?!” and it’s really loud, it’s an outrage of, “What?!” something to that effect. But then the thing is, Jake is also doing it—he is doing the very same thing. So then they’re, whoa, now they’re reinforcing it with each other. And, boy, it’s so…in some ways, I can just kind of absorb this, in some ways I give feedback. I’m like, “Well, that didn’t feel very good when you just both screeched at me. We need to get this thing done. How about just take a deep breath, and then we’ll then think about it again.” 

18:54  Leslie:  Let me ask you a question. So, are you asking what happens when you’re asking them to do something and Dan screams? And now all of a sudden, you’ve got Jake, who’s joining that behavior? And you just say now what do I do? What do I do when both of them end up screaming? 

Alice:  That’s it. 

Leslie:  So the first thing that I’m hearing is to validate yourself, that this is not an easy situation. Because if you keep moving through it quickly, you’re not taking that breath that we talked about earlier, which is: take a breath and remember this is not fun. This is not fun for them, or they may not be experienced in the same way, but it is not fun for you. And so I think what’s really important is to recognize: it’s really tough. And then to look at them—let’s talk about how you want to look at their behavior. You’ve got maybe Jake, imitating and copying Dan’s behavior, which is very likely—not unlikely. If that’s what happens, and it’s not the worst thing in the world, because he’s copying the good behaviors, too, that we don’t notice. 

So one of the questions I like to ask, maybe if there’s a lot of yelling going on, I might stop and say, “Is this working for you guys?” Just real, like, “Is this working for you? It’s not working for me. It’s not working for me when I ask you to do something, and I get a lot of screaming. So since this is not working for me, can you tell me how this is working for you? Or is there something that you need?” Again, giving them a little control over…hey, I want to get them thinking. I want to get them thinking, because we’re looking to raise responsible children, not obedient children. Obedient children are going to just do what you tell them to do. A responsible child is going to think for themselves. So in this moment, when they’re screaming, even a question like,”Is this working for you?” gets them thinking for themselves. “I don’t know. Like, maybe it is working for me. Like, they really have to stop and say, I don’t know if this is working,” in some way it might be working for them. So what if you ask them that question, what do you think would happen in that moment? Would you get their attention?

21:24  Alice:  I have tried versions of that, kind of to stop and, and get a little bit meta for a moment, but in a questioning way, to say, “Hmm, well, that didn’t really seem to work for me.” I don’t know that. I’ve asked them in their experience, though, in that moment. Because I feel some parental need to persist, to try to say, “Okay, but we’re going to solve this problem such that we get my way in the end, right?” Even if I’m doing it with honey, or whatever. And…

22:03  Leslie:  I’m actually going to interrupt you there, because you just said—oh my goodness—you just said something like, not only you’re going to get it your way, but you…it sounds like you’re joining them in the chaos of yelling. It’s like, they’re getting you in there. And which may be part of the part of the activity is: “Can we get Mom connected to us? So if we yell, it brings Mom over.” 

It probably makes you more like a parent, feel like a parent, when you’re jumping in to solve a problem. They create the problem, you might have some unspoken and maybe even unaware of this job description you have, which is: my job is to solve my kids problems. So they’re creating the problem. They don’t know that they’re doing that, creating a problem, so that you could come in with your cape on and say, “I’m here to solve the problem.” So we want to identify, “Hey, it sounds like there’s a problem here.” I don’t like to pinpoint, “Hey, Dan, what are you doing? Hey, Jake, what are you doing?” I don’t like to pinpoint it at that moment. 

In that moment, I like to go in, if I am going to go in, because we reinforce at that moment the yelling—you go in when they’re yelling. Well, it’s also because they respond that way. And you want to say, “Hey, I can hear your reaction. “Either we can try it again. I’m going to say that again.” And you say, “Here’s the chore, we need to do that. I’m going to try that again. Are you ready to try again? Or do you think you’re going to have the same reaction?” You can also come into it and say, “Hey, I think you start yelling so that I can fix a problem. I don’t need to fix this problem. We don’t have a problem here. Let’s try that again.” So I think it’s turning the situation around on its head. 

It’s a little bit of, let’s turn this around, and find a way to think about the fact that you don’t need to solve their problem. You’ve made a request, their reaction is… “Okay, you’re reacting in a big way. Shall we try it again? Do you need a minute before you get into it?” Just because there’s a big reaction doesn’t mean they’re not going to do it. So I would say, can you not respond to their big reaction, because then we’re just escalating, right? So if you say, “Hey, these things need to get done,” and they react in a big way, and Jake imitates Dan, and all that happened, say, “Great, take your time.” Now I’m going to be giving them the paradox of parenting, I’m going to say, “Take your time with your big reaction. And then let me know when you’re ready to do the chore. And then get ready to do the chore. It’s so true that when we give someone permission to have a big reaction, “Oh, I don’t need to, I’m okay Mom. I Yeah, I’m ready…” It’s truly the paradox of parenting. So you might want to try that as well.

[Music: Flowerpot by Olexy]

25:23  Leslie:  Hi, I’m just jumping in here to let you know about a podcast I recently appeared on. It’s called The Whinypaluza Podcast with Rebecca Greene. It was a fun conversation. And we talked about how to better understand why our kids behave the way they do and how you can better communicate with them based on that understanding. The Whinypaluza Podcast features bloggers and parenting and marriage experts who share tips and tricks to make life with your family better than ever. You can find it wherever you get your podcasts. And I’ll also link it in the show notes. I hope you listen. Now back to my conversation with Alice.

26:13  Alice:  That’s a great idea. I’m trying to think about those circumstances in which I am leaning into their reaction. And yet I am leaning in, in a way that is very carefully not…I am not elevating my voice, which is something that I’m carefully not doing. But I’m still engaging. I’m still I mean, in some ways I’ve tried…kind of out of just desperation is the word that comes to mind, to wait. It doesn’t seem to have been working other ways. So I’ve been giving feedback in certain circumstances, like, “Oh, when you yell at me that it doesn’t feel good at all, it hurts my feelings.” Because is that engaging with it?

27:01  Leslie:  Yes. So I am going to…this is a specific recommendation for you, as I say, in parenting: you need to know yourself. And I think, and I’m taking a guess, so please correct me if I’m wrong, that you do jump in most of the time, because you’re probably a detail-oriented person who likes to take care of the details, as opposed to, in parenting, we do need to ignore some of it. We do need to give our kids space to react. So I would suggest for you, I would suggest, yeah, you engaging, it’s fabulous that you go in with that calm voice, and you try to keep that and you give them feedback. And you do all that. That’s great. And I would recommend that anytime. But for you, I might also add, give them a break, don’t say anything. Respond with a, “Uh huh, yeah.” Let’s just validate that you’ve heard it so that it is validated. But then, it’s like no big deal. 

So I think that’s going to take work on your part to actually resist the urge, which might be impulsive or just an urge, to fix the moment. And the moment often fixes itself. So I want you to test that theory, I want you to experiment with “Well, what happens if I just go, ‘Uh huh,’” even with that big yell. Because remember, and I described this with my daughter, Dale, she was hitting a lot because she didn’t have the words, even through her teenage years, she would hit her brother, hit her sister, yell at them. And I just had faith that I don’t think she’s going to be the adult doing that. So I gave her that space. I didn’t condone it, but I did give her space. And I think that’s what’s going on here. I don’t think you’re raising children that are going to go around screaming out of control when someone asks him to do something. I for some reason, I bet that that’s not what’s going to happen. So how does that sound; of giving yourself a moment, giving them some time? Remember, your engagement, even a calm engagement, might be escalating the situation?.

29:19  Alice:  Yeah, I think there’s a lot there. I mean, I’ve noticed that with Dan, he will escalate to get my attention and escalate further and further. So I’ve learned to recognize with him that is that confirming that our connection is still there without it having…he doesn’t, he’s not getting what his fear wants, which is like, “Oooo, I’ll do whatever you need, Dad.” I don’t know what his fear wants but in those moments, he,…if I can say, “I’m really here with you. And I see your…” You know, like, if I can be there, right. And then it’s interesting—I laugh because you’re talking about, the kid that grows up and is not still hitting people. And yeah, Jake, I’ve noticed he always says no to my requests. Absolutely, always. And then…

30:11  Leslie:  Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa…always? 


29:10  Alice:  Okay. Very frequently says no

Leslie:  Big difference. 

Alice:  And he does it anyway. I learned early; I was arguing with the no, but I know that I just say it again, “Well, what I really do need you to put the OJ away.” And he’s like, “Oh, fine.” And he likes that. I mean, I don’t know if he likes that. But he is taking something out of that rhythm of being able to say no, and then a minute later saying, okay, and I’m thinking, “Okay, I’ve learned that if I just pause and don’t say anything, and he’s going to say, okay.”

30:59  Leslie:  Yeah, I think it’s a really honest thing. And I think that parents—we all do it, I’ve done it—where we’re so quick to react. I mean, we’re talking about they’re reacting quickly to, “Can you go do this?” “No!” And we’re doing something because once they say no, you just said, in the past, “I really engaged with the no.” Well, that’s why we’re here today. Because we’re doing the same thing they’re doing: they complain, we complain, they complain, we complain. And what if we just walk past that complaint? Leave the complaint alone. Don’t pick up the complaint. The complaint really doesn’t go anywhere. I think that’s keeping your priority on, “What problem am I trying to solve?”

If I’m trying to solve…a lot of parents stop the child from saying no, they don’t want the complaint. And they don’t want the no, because all of a sudden, that feels like to the parent disrespectful. And if we get away from that thought, and we maintain our focus on, “What is my goal?” My goal is to get my child to cooperate. So if my goal is to get my child to cooperate, then when they whine or complain, they’re trying to distract me as well from getting them to do the thing. So are we going to spend more time? And so I give this example, when you go to pick up a child at a friend’s house. And they go, “No, I don’t want to leave, I want to just play for five more minutes. Why do we have to go?” The funny thing is parents end up spending 15 minutes arguing with the child.

Alice:  Definitely seen that. 

Leslie:  You’ve seen that. Okay, so what I say is, your child: their point is to stay longer. They don’t care if they stay longer, because they argue with you, or they stay longer because they’re playing with their friend, their need is to stay longer, and they maintain their focus, and they work very hard. If your goal is to get your child out of the house, then I would say, I’m going to be in the car, because they’re saying “Why can I stay?” “I am happy to answer your questions about why. I’m asking you to leave now,when you get in the car. I’m waiting for you. And you can ask me all those questions.”

33:10  Alice:  Wow, that would be such self-assured parenting in this world. I mean, I feel like at the playdate door is one of those social moments where you’re managing the, “Did you say thank you?”, and the interaction with the other parent and the dog trying to escape or whatever. 

33:31  Leslie:  Exactly—those moments are chaotic. And like you said…what’d you call it?

Alice:  Self-assured.

Leslie:  Self-assured, lovely, lovely. It could be self assured. It could also be: maintain your focus. So there are two ways of looking at self assured—sounds like it’s a very hard thing to do—but maintain your focus. “Okay, what’s my focus? To get my child in the car. Great, I can do that.” You don’t have to worry about being self-assured.

33:59  Alice:  Well, I guess then, you know, the actual compliance piece. So we’ve gotten through the requests. Another example for us is when I want them to explore something or leave the house. Let’s go to the park, whatever—I get similar responses. But still my goal…I mean, what is my goal here? My goal in the end, is—in the end-end-faraway—is parenting goals. But near term, I want to go to the park, we need to get some fresh air, I know that everybody needs that, right? So I’m getting the resistance. And at some point, it’s too much. Maybe that’s because I haven’t been trying some of these things. And so I’m engaging further and I’m just like, “Ah, okay, I give up. Fine, stay. Play Legos, I’m going to go, I’m going to go l relax my nervous system from all this that we just did,” because it’s so frustrating. How do you actually then get them to go to the park? And keep their freedom, without being like, “I’m going to put you in the car,” which I would never do.

35:05  Leslie:  So let’s take a few of these ideas and bring them together. One is: maintain your focus. So if your focus is to get the kids and you need to…you want to be clear,: Am I controlling my children and telling them that they need fresh air? Am I setting some structure in my family where I want my children to go out every day or whatever to get fresh air? Those things are all good and fine. And do I know how to engage my children in getting them to do these things? So for example, do we have a meeting on Sunday nights and say, “Hey, there’s going to be a few times this week where I say, Let’s go out. Do you want to make a list of options for what we do?” Because now when you’re sitting there Sunday night, and you’re not there at four o’clock when they’ve finish their day or they don’t want to interrupt with their play is you’re doing it at a separate time and saying, “I’m going to tell you we need to you know, we’re going to go out for some fresh air four times. This week, do you want to make a list of things that we can do? I love the park. I love a hike. Let’s get creative. What do we want to do? Do we want to go to the high school and watch the football players playing football?

And so they may get more involved. And the more engaged someone is, the more likely they will follow through. So that’s one suggestion. Another suggestion is that when you are doing that, and you say, “Let’s go out,” absolutely: do what I said about the play date, go outside and say “I’m in the car. Take your time. And in about 10 minutes, I’ll start the payback clock.” I don’t know if I mentioned the payback before. 

Alice:  Oh, tell me! 

36:49  Leslie:  So the payback is my concept of family community service brought into the family. Community service says, we don’t need to make you feel worse, in order to be a person who cares more. So in order to try to teach children—juveniles who went to juvenile detention, we saw that wasn’t working. We said community service, really the concept of community service, where they’re feeling good about giving, is a much better way to help people learn, change and grow. So I bring that into the family, I call it family service, or I call it payback. So family service is when they owe the family some time. 

So if we’re all going out, and you need to go grocery shopping, you’re taking them out somewhere, and you’re trying to get their cooperation. Number one, I don’t expect cooperation all the time, with three different people, three people are doing three different things. And I’m going to first validate, “Hey, this is not something that you may want to do at this moment as well. And we may be doing it anyway.” So the idea is,if you suggest that, “We’re doing this,” then you might say, “I’ll be in the car, I have my magazine, or I have my book, I’ll be reading. And I give you 10 minutes to transition. Do you need a little more? Let me know.” And then I’ll start the family service clock—the payback clock. And then depending on the age of the child, however long I’m sitting there and waiting, they will owe me that time. They will owe the family that time. 

And it is not a punishment. Think of it as contributing to the family—you ask the family to wait for you, now you’re going to give back to the family…watering plants, bringing grocery bags in, maybe unpacking the groceries, just little things. And they can be things they like—you do not have to punish your child, “Now you’re going to clean up the garage with all the mouse poop or something. You want to get them to engage in that feeling of, “I’m giving back.” 

And parents have said to me many, many, many times, “Well, now how do I get my kid to do that?”

Alice:  [Laughter] Totally. 

39:04  Leslie:  I know that question was already on your mind. That happens, because they always want to do something—they want to go to their friend’s house, they want to go to sleep, they want to have dinner—there’s something that they’re going to want to do. And you just very calmly say, “Yes, you owe me the payback; when your payback’s done, then I’ll take you to your friend’s house.” Or, “Then you can play with your Lego station, you know, whatever. So you have to do it in a way that is going to motivate them. And the payback doesn’t have to be, “When I say now,” and all of that, it’s like, “Okay, you’re going to want to do something. And when you want to do it, you’ll do the payback before that.”

39:40  Alice:  How would you differentiate payback time, from the kind of base expectations of service to the family—of contribution to the family—anyway? 

39:54  Leslie:  It’s very similar. It might be the same thing; but it might be some different things. Maybe the kids don’t get involved with watering the plants, or cleaning windows or something like that. So it might be something different. And it might be organizing your books alphabetically. It might be—I mean, I’m making things up—but it could be something that they might think about…might be making a meal for the family. It might be making a card and saying…might be just drawing a picture and saying, “Can you make a picture and we’ll hang it on the wall?” It could really be anything that they are doing in service in that way.

Alice:  I love that idea. 

Leslie:  Great. So getting back to other ideas. Yes, some days are just going to be: it’s not going to work. And I love that you said you took care of your nervous system, and that’s what I would do. I would go outside and model, model, model. I would go outside and I’d say, you know, your children nine and six if I’m correct.  You get to go outside, they’re okay. You sit outside and let them see you do that. Again, the modeling is so much more…not more important than getting them to do it, but it’s so critical. It’s really, really important. Don’t devalue that. So you haven’t failed when you can’t get them out of the house. And you go outside and say, “Okay, I’m going to model it. It’s important.”

41:29  Alice:  Yeah. Thank you. I mean, it is because in that moment, it does feel like a failure, not to go out. I mean, that is only a recent thing, where I’m actually now aware of how jacked up I am from all of this, this back and forth. And I just know that I’m going to snap at anybody who talks to me, so I need to go outside and do what I need to do. And, and so it’s really interesting that they, who were kind of spitting venom a few minutes ago, that they’ve calmed down. But 30 minutes later, or whatever, I get somebody coming out and wanting to show me a Lego thing he made or something. It’s just then there’s that genuine reconnection that happens. So thank you.

42:16  Leslie:  Beautiful. Alright, so, did we answer some questions about collaboration, getting them to…how to get them to engage? We are looking to give them that personal power. So in what ways can they contribute to ideas? Or when they go to the…they pick the playground? “Hey, can you direct me to the playground,” little things like that. “Hey, I’m going to let you be my GPS, and you tell me how we’re going to go. And if you tell me to take left, I’ll take a left. So how about if we go out and get lost today, let’s drive and actually try to get lost and see what happens.” So showing them that modeling the flexibility, as you said earlier, is a beautiful thing as well, when you’re trying to solve these collaborative…you know, how do I get my child to do this?

43:05  Alice:  Yeah, thank you. Those have been great. Those helped me go further. So thank you.

43:13  Leslie:  So yeah, so everyone’s trying, and I get that right now Jake is trying on some of Dan’s behaviors. And that’s what he’s doing—he’s trying them on. And the less you make a big deal out of them, he’ll try, he’ll drop them. I mean, the classic example is, when your five-year-old comes home and starts cursing, they heard someone use a curse word. And as soon as you hear that, you are livid. And you’re like, “Don’t say that.” Well, guess what? That reinforces that. So sometimes letting things go is not condoning the behavior—it’s not reinforcing the behavior. And that is a hard concept.

43:48  Alice:  Just kind of letting it fade, or letting it go with the way it will.

43:54 Leslie:  Yeah, and most of the time, it will disappear. So I would give that some time. I think he’s trying on those behaviors. And if they don’t work, meaning they don’t get your attention…and they may work in the short term for him, because it may give him a sense of power. “Look how strong I am, I can yell.” And you might acknowledge that; you might say, “Oh, my goodness, when we yell, when I yell, when you yell, when Dan yells, we feel pretty powerful. Feels like a superpower. Well, that’s pretty cool. I think having a superpower of strength is very cool. So how else do you feel that strength, that personal power?” Name it for him. 

Because we want them to feel it in a positive way and go out and change the world. Or go out and…they don’t need to change the world, they just need to show up and have that personal view for themselves. So we want to name what I call the positive intention. When they’re yelling, they’re feeling their strength. The positive intention of that moment is, “Wow, you want to feel strong. Wonderful. In what other ways can you feel strong?”

45:00  Alice:  Yeah, I love that. I love that you took that in the curious direction instead of, “Oh, I see. You’re feeling strong. Could you do that more quietly?” So I love that. Thank you.

45:17  Leslie:  All right, Alice, let’s wrap up there. And I want you to give yourself a hug. Give yourself a pat. Give yourself…really tell yourself and allow yourself to feel some confidence that you’re showing up.

45:33  Alice:  Yeah, thank you.

[Music: Acoustic Folk Music Guitar by ArtMusic ]

45:45  Leslie:  I want to thank Alice for her willingness to self-examine and make change. I’m really impressed with Alice’s insight and her awareness. And yet she’s still struggling. It makes sense that she may be struggling, because insight alone does not create change. Judging herself has been an obstacle to that change. 

As a therapist, my focus is on helping people change behaviors in ways that are aligned with their goals and their values. And change is hard, and that’s with a capital H. Alice’s session highlights some of the factors that are needed for change to occur. We need insight, we need skills, and we need practice of using the skills over and over, as well as acceptance and willingness. 

I told you it was hard and complex. And yes, it is hard, but I also want to offer you hope. It’s doable when you commit to taking steps no matter how big or small. I know I throw a lot of strategies at clients. And sometimes it’s great and they love it. And other times it can definitely be overwhelming. But I want to remind you that what’s important is that you find what works for you and your family. Just pick something to try. It doesn’t need to be perfect and you don’t need to do it all. Any changes you make will have an impact.

[Music: The Wilds Beyond by L-Ray Music

Join us next week for the final episode of Season 1 with special guest Dale Rubury—that’s my daughter and a producer on this show—for another skills focused episode about what it means to raise a responsible child, rather than an obedient child. 

Subscribe to Is My Child A Monster? wherever you get your podcasts, so you don’t miss an episode. And thank you to all of you who are interacting with us on social media. We are getting great feedback on our videos and other posts. If you want to join the conversation on Instagram, find us at Leslie Cohen-Rubury; and on Facebook search for Is My Child A Monster? parenting community. As always, you can find a full transcript of this episode or apply to be a guest on Season 2 by visiting The Is My Child A Monster? team is Alletta Cooper, Dale Rubury, Gabriela Glueck, and me. Special thanks to Eric Rubury. Our theme music is by L-Ray Music. I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury. Thanks so much for listening. And remember, you need both insight and practical skills in order to make a change in your parenting.

Transcribed by edited by Eric Rubury

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