January 30, 2024
Emilee & David Part 2 of 3: When You Have Different Parenting Styles and How to Do Less
This is part 2 of the 3 part series with Emilee and David. In the first session, we learned about Jack, their six-year-old son who is having trouble expressing his emotions.
He often defaults to kicking and saying “I don’t know.” In this episode, Leslie looks closer at their differing parenting styles: David wants to get to the bottom of it, and Emilee tends to distract and redirect. Is it important to be on the exact same page as your partner when it comes to parenting styles? And what happens when what you dislike about your partner’s approach is exactly what’s missing from your own.
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.
- Why ‘how was school?’ isn’t a good question to ask kids. Here’s a CNBC article with some ideas of what to say instead
- Distress Tolerance STOP technique
- NYTimes article on unsupervised Play
- Leslie’s book recommendation: The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
- Leslie-ism: Do less
- 10:38 Anticipatory Anxiety: kids and adults can get more upset by the anticipation of the event than the event itself.
- 15:57 It’s not misperception, but rather simply having a different perception
- 18:00 Instinct to “get to the bottom of it” might be causing more stress
- 18:30 Can we normalize emotions rather than inflating them
- 19:18 When you have different parenting styles: determine what’s working and what’s not working.
- 19:45 How to get the best of both worlds
- 22:08 Emily distracts and redirects (indirect) David wants to get to the bottom of things (direct)
- 26:05 Announce and name what you are doing, the change you’re imposing
- 29:35 Their homework: Don’t work so hard
- 34:40 Normalize children who are arguing vs teaching children conflict resolution skills
- 36:50 The lost ART of healthy neglect
- 41:40 Use the line “can you give yourself permission to make a mistake”
- 43:20 “Plant the seed” and get out of there
TRANSCRIPT OF SHOW:
[Music: The Wilds Beyond by L-Ray Music]
0:00 Emilee: I find it very difficult, if he’s really upset, to be direct, because I think what we’re dealing with is his frustration when he’s really frustrated with us and it’s just hard to talk to him.
0:22 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 38 years of experience helping families navigate this question. And no, your child is not a monster. Today is my second of three sessions with Emilee and David, parents to six-year-old Jack. In our first session, we really dug into why Jack responds with “I don’t know” anytime he’s asked about his feelings. David and Emilee left that session with a new perspective and tried out some different strategies to help Jack with his emotions. We start out this session reviewing what worked and what didn’t. We also take a hard look at their different parenting styles.
As a therapist, I have heard parents repeatedly say that they are not on the same page and consider it a problem. Do parents need to be on the same page? David and Emilee have very different parenting styles. David is a problem solver. He wants to get to the bottom of everything. Emilee is a bit more avoidant, and wants to make sure everything is pleasant and uses a lot of distraction techniques. Many parents fall somewhere on this continuum and may find their co-parent is at the other end. Sometimes you just need to take a giant step toward the other parent’s parenting style. David and Emilee approach their parenting differences in this session with humor. And that’s such a gift.
Okay, now as a reminder, all the names and identifying information have been changed. And this show is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for therapeutic intervention. Let’s get started.
Leslie: Last time when we met, I gave you a little bit of homework. And you actually…I love the fact that you asked me to send you some notes. So I sent you the notes. And it’s been a few weeks. Can you tell me how it’s been going?
2:35 David: So we had a really kind of nice period, I would say, after our last call. So we didn’t have as many opportunities to practice the skills. But then I think just lately it’s been a little…I don’t know, we’re back in school, I don’t know exactly what’s going on for him. But it’s some of those behaviors that we were concerned about have been coming back. He’s been a little more on edge, let’s say. And so for me, I’ve been trying the describing to him—what I see when he’s having a big emotion. And trying not to ask questions that are really hard. Or trying to ask questions that he can answer rather than having to say, “I don’t know,” I think it was a really great piece of advice. In the moment, I find it very difficult to do. Like, what do I say there? And so that’s one that requires some more practice.
3:33 Leslie: Okay, so your takeaways from last session were to try to stop asking him questions, which feels a little funny because you don’t know what to do instead. That’s great. And you’re also using the describe skill to give him some language, because we got a lot of “I don’t knows.” Did you get a few less “I don’t knows” in the last few weeks?
3:55 David: Yes, because we haven’t been asking.
Leslie: But that’s good.
David: Yeah. No, no, it’s good. We had a really nice period. But again, just the last few days, it feels like he’s been having a harder time.
4:08 Emilee: So I found, actually, the description to be useful, even though we weren’t really able to ask questions. He listened. And he would allow us to have a bit of a break within the crisis, because he listened to what I was describing. So it’s not…he doesn’t answer but he listens, I can see.
4:28 Leslie: Oh, isn’t that a gift? I really want to point that out, that that’s a gift. If your child is listening, and we’re not putting him in a position of anxiety where he says “I don’t know” and you’re frustrated and he’s frustrated, then the idea that he’s listening—that’s great. That’s a positive for me. And I totally get that for you, David, the uncomfortableness of not asking a question, is simply a pattern or a habit that needs to change. And when we change habits, it feels uncomfortable. It’s unfamiliar. So stick with it. I think it’s great that you are asking the question, “What else can I do?” But right now, if you are using describe the way you and Emilee both stated you are, I love it.
5:21 David: Great, we’ll keep that up. Seems like he’s going to give us more opportunities now.
5:27 Leslie: Of course, he’s going to give you more opportunities—he’s growing. And you know that all that growing means there’s a lot of opportunity for experiences. So was there anything else that you took away from the last session? Just to review, I mentioned about social signaling: understanding what he’s trying to say, that he is expressing himself, even if right now it’s with aggressive behavior or big emotions. But to see that as expressing himself, did that help?
6:03 David: It’s sort of…I think we were doing that before. Like, I thought, we’ve always tried to see his emotions as an expression of something, even he can’t quite articulate it. And we aren’t quite sure what one of the complicated melange is that he’s trying to express. But I think we’ve tried not to see it as he’s giving us a hard time. It’s rather that he’s having a hard time—I probably said that before. But that’s a really helpful thing that I always think of.
6:31 Leslie: Beautiful. So that sounds good. Let’s go on. You said, “We’ve been having a little bit of trouble in the recent days.” So do you want to describe what’s been happening?
6:42 David: I think he’s frustrated about something. So we’re back in school now. It’s been a couple of weeks after a two-week holiday. And he’s always said that he doesn’t like school. He goes, and he gets good reports about his behavior and his academics from the teacher. But he’s always said he doesn’t like it. And we sort of think maybe he’s a little bit bored in school to some degree. It’s a big class and just kind of, you know, only so much resources. And he’s not the squeaky wheel. He’s doing okay, so then we sort of wonder if he’s bored or if it’s something else. And it’s really hard to get him to tell us very much about school. So that’s the thing we go to a lot; it’s like, is there something going on at school that’s frustrating him? He was being bullied a little bit last year—we’ve got that sorted out, but we didn’t hear about it until the school year was over. A few weeks into the summer before he mentioned it. So we’ve been trying to sort of probe: is there something like that going on? He says no. But he’s clearly sort of more on edge, I guess I would say. So his little disappointments, that for a while they were sort of just rolling off his back, he kind of blows up a little bit at. He gets over it pretty fast.
7:56 Emilee: It’s definitely something frustrating that he can’t express. And so he just gets frustrated with us.
8:04 Leslie: Okay. So let’s start with a broad view of that. We want to figure out if the behavior is a normal behavior, or if it’s a problem behavior. And if you didn’t see it when he was home, on vacation, and then it starts to show up when he’s going to school…very simple, almost simplistic way of looking at it is: okay, school is stressful. There’s nothing wrong, because I see that with almost every human being. When they’re on vacation, they’re much nicer, they’re much more malleable, they’re cooperative. And then all of a sudden, when they go to work, or when they go back to school, all of a sudden all the moodiness starts to show up.
So on the broadest plane, we can say: he’s back at school, period, the end. And being at school is tiring, right? He’s probably more tired than when he gets to stay at home and play and run around outside or do what he wants to do. They are in school, it’s a little unnatural for a child to sit all day, not move around as much. These are stressful things. That’s the first layer. Does that make sense?
9:17 David: So, yes, and no. I think it could be school this time, because that’s kind of how it appears. But in the past, we’ve had him doing okay, kind of towards the end of the school year, last year. And then we went on summer vacation and it was really difficult. Probably one of our worst points. So, yes, that could be it. And I mean, that totally makes sense. But it’s not all—that’s not always the pattern. I don’t think it’s the only thing that has been going on.
9:45 Leslie: Any thoughts, Emilee?
9:48 Emilee: Yeah, it seems to me that it’s as if he has days with, days without; a bit like us. Some days he will be just super-cooperative. And then other days, you can see he wakes up and it’s going to be one of those days.
10:04 Leslie: Okay. So, yes, we took the broad view that he’s going to school and school is tiring, like work is tiring. And so all of our moods can be affected. But now let’s zoom in. Let’s zoom in and look at: Okay, what else is happening? What do we know about him? And we were talking a little bit last session about some of that masking, that he likes to hold it together. So he looks like the kid who’s doing a good job—he wants to look good. And there’s a lot of times sensitive kids have a lot of anticipatory anxiety. So before an event, or, you know, something happened in school or whatever, or even going to school, like waking up and even thinking about, “I’m going to school, and this is going to happen, or that’s going to happen,” kids can get more upset, or adults as well, can get more upset about thinking about the event than the actual event. And I see you nodding your head. So does this make sense for him, for Jack?
11:05 David: I mean, a little bit. He’s a pretty relaxed kid, I would say in general. I don’t feel like we see a lot of anxiety from him. There was an incident yesterday that lines up closely, I think, with what you said. And that was, he has music class, an individual tutoring session with a music teacher once a week. And it was yesterday. And in the morning, when we were getting his books together to go to school I was like, “Oh, let’s take your music books, because I’m going to pick you up and take you to music class after.” And he got a little upset, because he said, “Oh, I haven’t practiced.” And we don’t put any pressure on him about music class, it’s just for fun. And he wants to do it, great; if he doesn’t, great.
But he got upset and I said, “Oh, well, you know, is that important to you?” And he said, “Well, the teacher is going to shout at me.” And so then he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. He just wanted to get out the door and go to school. I was like, “No, no, this…” you know, first of all, he’s telling me that someone in his life is shouting at him. And so that needs to be explored a little bit to understand what he means by that. Turns out, it’s more that she scolds him, in a more gentle way. He’s not shouting at him.
But, yeah, but he just wanted to go out the door. He didn’t want to talk about it at all. And I was trying to get him to just stop for a minute, you know, and just, “Let’s just talk about this.” I wanted to let him know that it’s okay. You know, this is just for fun, and it’s really okay. That’s the first time I feel like I really see him–maybe not the first time, there’s probably been a few other times that I’ve seen him be anxious about something that’s coming up, and that he hasn’t performed in some way. But I don’t think we see that very often from him. But we sure did yesterday. And then on the way up there in the afternoon, after I picked him up, we talked about it again—again, I wanted to kind of explore, like, what’s the teacher actually doing? And I offered to go in with him and explain that we would do better than next week, we’d start reminding him to practice and blah, blah, blah, so that she wouldn’t “shout” at him. And he didn’t want me to come in. He was, “No, no, it’ll be okay. I’ll be fine.” And he seemed much more relaxed about it. Very comfortable with it, in fact. So I’m not sure it was even about music class, there was something else maybe…I don’t know.
13:11 Leslie: Or, as we just said, it was a good example for this anticipatory anxiety. Maybe it was just waking up and thinking about, “Oh, my goodness, I didn’t practice and she’s going to be mad at me, or she’s going to yell at me, or she’s going to shout at me” —that falls under anticipatory anxiety. And I’m surprised he went and relaxed, because I’m not sure that that got resolved. I mean, once he got in there, that’s when it would have gotten resolved.
But it’s interesting that perhaps your talking about it helped him. Or the fact that, like you said, maybe something else was upsetting, like, the day is over and now he doesn’t feel quite as vulnerable. When you wake up in the morning, there are a lot of vulnerabilities: there’s going to school, there’s your music class, there’s getting out of the house…and it’s not easy. So he might have felt less vulnerable in the afternoon and felt a little better about it. But I am still curious more about this anticipatory anxiety. And that’s such a good example. Does he often describe…does he ever say to either one of you, “Why are you yelling at me?”
14:12 David: He certainly has said it. But it’s not a common refrain, I wouldn’t say.
14:18 Leslie: And is it accurate? Or is it his perception of the situation?
14:23 David: Specifically?
14:25 Emilee: Yes, “Why?” I think he comments. He says, “You yelled at me. And it’s not okay.” So it’s more that he’s really upset when we yell. And we apologize because we don’t like yelling, and usually it’s when he’s pushed all of our buttons. But yeah, he doesn’t say, “Why,” but he says, “You yelled at me,” and that makes him very upset.
14:49 Leslie: And would you agree that in the times that he says it to you, you actually did yell at him? Which I have no judgment about of course—we’re parents, we’re human. So you’re saying yes, those are the times he’s not misperceiving those.
15:03 David: To some degree, yeah, we definitely raised our voices, you know, out of frustration.
15:09 Emilee: We’re more strict in the way we speak. More firm. And I think he doesn’t like it. So he gets mad. And so therefore he’s mad. It’s interesting, you say that he wants to please so that this is mask, because I don’t raise my voice very often. But when I become firm, he really…he’s upset about it. It’s as if he’s disappointed me or something..
15:37 Leslie: So he may just be a caring and kind child who doesn’t want to see his parents upset. At six years old, all he sees: if they’re upset, then I must have done something wrong. Actually, I want to go back to something I just said to you, because I want to clarify. When I said, “Is he misperceiving your reactions?” He’s really not misperceiving; he might have his own perception, which is different than your perception. I wanted to clarify that:, it’s not a misperception, it’s his perception. So for a child who doesn’t want his parents to be upset with him—he doesn’t want to disappoint you, he wants you to be happy with him—he’s going to see your seriousness or your firmness or when you have a change in your mood, he’s going to see that as possibly yelling, and very upset with himself or upset that that’s happening. Or he might be upset with you because you’ve changed your mood on him.
16:43 David: It feels like it’s more of the latter. Like, he gets upset with himself. He seems to get upset with us or the world. It seems to be more outward focused.
16:54 Leslie: Yeah, he doesn’t want to be uncomfortable. He doesn’t want you to be uncomfortable, because that makes him uncomfortable. And that’s what he was probably thinking about when he went to music is: she’s going to be upset. And did you find out if she was upset when he came back?
17:12 David: She was not. She didn’t even ask about the practicing. So everything was fine.
17:19 Leslie: Okay, so I bet that’s an example where your habits—if I may pick on you for a second, David—your habit of wanting to get to the bottom of it, right? Oh, my goodness, he started out by saying, “She’s shouting at me.” I love the fact and I want to reinforce that you want to make sure your child was safe—that is fantastic. And we understand that his perceptions of people being upset might be more the factor than, “We picked a music teacher who actually has no emotional regulation.” So your instinct to protect him, to get to the bottom of it, is, what I think, part of what’s making him more stressed. Because he thinks there’s something wrong if I show emotion. Your reaction of,”Okay, let’s get to the bottom of this,” as opposed to, “Yeah, I’d be upset. I’d be worried if my teacher’s going to…” It’s like, can we make nothing out of it? So that we’re not dismissing it, but we’re not inflating the emotion that he’s feeling.
18:39 David: This gets to a difference in our parenting style, that we’ve talked about a lot. And so I think Emilee is feeling somewhat vindicated right now. [Laughter] Which is fair enough, because we’ve often talked about, like, what’s the right approach, and neither of us are sure. So I’m happy to hear that mine was wrong. And you’re right.
18:58 Leslie: Yeah, go ahead, Emilee.
19:01 Emilee: No, it’s not wrong or right. But it’s true that we have different parenting, and sometimes it would be nice if it was more in the middle.
19:07 Leslie: So let’s have fun with this. I do not believe that there’s a wrong and a right. We want to ask the question: what’s working and what’s not working? So that’s the first piece of feedback I want to give you. The second piece is, I’ve heard it a thousand times from working with parents for so many years, that parents say, “We want to be on the same page,” or, “We need to get closer to the middle.” I actually don’t think that’s true. It probably makes a lot of sense, evolutionarily, to get the best of both worlds in our child. So exposing our child to a different set of skills is absolutely fantastic.
So if one parent has big-picture skills, and the other one has detail-oriented skills, well, we want our child to be exposed to both because… [Laughter]…Oh, I love that you’re laughing. Because that’s what they have to go out in the world and deal with. There are times they’re going to need the big picture. And they’re going to say, “Oh, that’s just like my dad,” or, “I’m more detail-oriented, because I need to make this application and be careful about what I’m saying,” then that’s going to be my detail-oriented…that’s mom. I’m going to do things that I got from Mom. So can we celebrate your differences? And start to look at the parenting differences as: what’s working, what’s not.?
[music: Stand in the Forest by Olexy]
Leslie: So can you give me any examples?
20:56 Emilee: When Jack is triggered by something, or gets mad or frustrated, David will go and try to understand and push him to answer, to really understand what’s going on.
21:10 David: Not always right in that moment, though. I mean, often later.
21:15 Emilee: But there’s definitely that, that confrontation.
21:21 David: Yeah, yeah. He digs his heels in and I dig mine and…it’s true.
21:25 Emilee: I tend to wait a little bit. I try to ask questions. If I see he’s just too upset, I just let it go, and I come back a bit later.
21:36 David: You try to distract him.
21:38 Emilee: I distract. Yeah, I distract him. I’ll just suddenly put on some crazy music, or I’ll just talk about a topic I know he likes to get him out of this mood. And then we can try to talk a little bit.
21:52 David: I’m terrible at that. Like you say, I want to get to the bottom of it. Maybe not right that moment. But if I’m not trying to get to the bottom of it, I’m just sort of disengaging for a while. I don’t really don’t have the skill of redirection.
22:06 Leslie: Okay, so Emily, you pointed out that you will use distraction and your calling it redirection, that’s great, because that skill does work, is a very effective skill. But it only works some of the time, not all of the time. And David, yours is more about going into the pain, through the pain, to get to the other side of the pain. So those are your…yes, you’re both nodding. One is a more indirect approach, one is a very direct approach. Well, they are both really brilliant, they’re both fantastic sets of skills. Because the people in life who avoid, avoid, avoid…because distraction can become…the negative side of distraction can be avoidance. And we’re not going to go into your issues of avoidance, but I bet there are some issues, Emilee, of avoidance in your life, and we don’t want to reinforce that for Jack. So we want the best of both worlds.
And actually you fell in love with someone who’s very direct, because intuitively you knew, Emilee, that you wanted someone who has the skills that you don’t have. And vice versa, David, you fell in love with someone who has this indirect way, doesn’t handle everything right on, doesn’t have to be confronted and dealt with all the time in a direct manner. So we definitely want to think about: when does it work to be indirect, and when does it work to be direct? Now the easiest answer, or should I make you guess first?
23:43 David: No, please just give us the answer. [Laughter] It will be the first time in parenting history.
23:50 Leslie: Okay, so what I see—I don’t have the answer—what I suggest is that, if you think of where you are, it’s like opposite ends of a continuum: direct and indirect. Then what I’m going say is: take a giant step, a giant step towards the other person. David, you will never become Emilee. Emilee, you will never become a David. But you may add a few of the qualities that are weaker in your persona, your way of being, and you can add some of the indirect.
And here’s the winner: that Jack feels that he’s got the best of both worlds in each of you. So David, that means for you, if you can sometimes bring in a very indirect approach. You might just say, “What would that look like for me,” and you have to think about it and then try putting that into action. And Emilee, you would be saying, “How can I be more direct, so that I’m not always smoothing it out and helping him feel better, but sometimes I am going to stay with it and deal with something in the moment that may not be easy.” So this is going to take time. But does this make sense? Do you want to repeat back to me what you think I just suggested?
25:13 Emilee: That I try to take a more direct approach sometimes to test it, see when it feels comfortable.
25:20 David: And that I can try to go with the more the redirection distraction approach sometimes.
25:26 Leslie: And Jack—how is he going to react when this happens? This is the most exciting moment because…think about it: when you act unlike yourself, you act differently, what do you think is going to happen with Jack?
25:39 David: It will get his attention, for sure.
25:41 Emilee: I think he will get mad at me.
25:42 David: Yeah, he probably will get mad at you.. I think Emilee has a harder task here.
25:48 Leslie: So, all right, I honor that. So Emilee, let’s talk about how to help you, because it’s going to go against your intuition, against your way of being and your patterns. Let’s see if we can make it workable for you. And I would suggest that you actually announce part of the describe skill—you actually announce what you’re doing.
So you might say to Jack, “Hey, Jack, I’m really uncomfortable. But I want to know if you and I can work together to think about ABC—whatever’s going on in that moment—how to deal with the fact that you’re really upset right now. I’m willing to be uncomfortable. Are you willing to be uncomfortable with me as we talk about that right now?” So that you share that you’re a little uncomfortable being direct.
Emilee: Okay. I’m willing to try that.
Leslie: It’s sort of naming what you’re doing. And I think we would need a few examples. Maybe we can think of one now where, oh, I might try being direct here. Because your skills of being indirect are beautiful. You’re teaching him distraction skills, you’re teaching him distress tolerance, that when someone’s very upset, it’s a good idea when someone’s in emotion mind to calm the emotion down, before we talk about the problem. So that’s the reason why we use distress tolerance, which may include distraction, or come-back-to-it-later. And so that’s still always very, very useful. And I wonder if we can think of some examples where being more direct might be helpful.
27:24 Emilee: I can be direct when he’s not doing something I’m asking to; he’s getting mad, because I’m telling him to clear his plate. These are, I think, the kind of things where I think I could be more direct. I find it very difficult if he’s really upset, to be direct. Because I think what we’re dealing with is his frustration, when he’s really frustrated with us. And it’s just, it’s just hard to talk to him.
27:55 Leslie: I know, this is confusing, because no, I don’t necessarily want you to talk to him while he’s in that emotion mind. So stepping back is a good idea. But David, you might be able to help us. From the outside point of view, when do you see the distraction maybe not as an effective tool in that moment?
28:15 David: I mean, maybe I’ll just throw something out here. Maybe at bedtime. Or as I just tell him, “Go brush your teeth, get ready for bed, let me know when you’re ready to read a story.” And I just let him get on with it. And I’ve had to say that a few times. And usually there may be a little bit of increased frustration by the fifth or sixth time. But I try not to get too tense about it. But I do want him to get to bed on time. Because I do think sleep, getting enough sleep is a little bit of an issue for him because he wakes up at the same time no matter what time he goes to bed. So I do get a little bit pushy around bedtime. And whereas you make it much more playful and kind of draw it out and you keep it moving. But it takes a while. And I sort of wonder if, wouldn’t be good to just sort of get him in the habit of just getting that done. Because he will just get it done with me. I don’t know if that’s a good example or not, it’s not a high emotion time necessarily. It’s just probably more frustration for us than him.
29:17 Leslie: I like that example in the sense that when Emilee, you are trying to get him to do something, it’s almost like you have to be the magician and you have to show…
Emilee: Yes, totally right.
Leslie: So instead of talking about being more direct, my suggestion is going to be: don’t work so hard. [Laughter] That’s my advice for both of you.
29:40 David: I see how that applies on both sides.
29:44 Leslie: On both sides.Yeah, let’s just not work so hard. Because Emilee, you can just say, “Hey, I can’t wait to read with you. I’ll be in your room waiting for storytime after you brush your teeth.” Nothing wrong with going and helping him brush his teeth and putting on that whole show to make him brush his teeth. But there’s nothing wrong with you stepping back a little bit, working a little less hard and letting it be more on his plate that’s more direct. Believe it or not, for you, is stepping back that gets you into a place of less work.
30:15 Emilee: Just thinking about it? Yeah, we would need to work on it. I think it was a really, really good example, which I will try.
30:20 Leslie: Excellent. So, stepping back for you is actually moving more towards that giant step of doing less. So that’s what doing less looks like for you, which is actually going to be possibly more effective at times. David, what about you? What would be…You’re working too hard. And how do we pull that back a little bit? What would that look like for you?
30:48 David: Well, probably just not trying to get to the bottom of it all the time.
30:54 Leslie: There you go.
30:55 David: Let me throw out an example that happened today and just see…I’ll tell you what I did, and maybe what I could have done. So the thing that happened today was he had a friend over and something got pulled off of a shelf by one of them. And Jack came to me and said, “Oh, my friend pulled this thing down on purpose.” And, you know, he was upset because he knew someone might get in trouble for this. And the friend came in and was saying, “No, I didn’t do it.” And they started shouting over each other. And I couldn’t get them to stop shouting at each other. They’re both trying to explain their side of the story. And so I just clapped my hands and said, “Stop.” And they stopped.
Jack got a little upset, because, as we talked about before, he really doesn’t like it when we raise our voices or express frustration with him. So I just sat beside him on the bed and said, “Okay, we’re going to give Jack a minute to kind of calm down. And the other kid was there. So I said, “We’re just talk to each other. You can both explain to me what happened. And let’s see if we can understand.”
So that was kind of the approach. It took a few minutes, because Jack was upset and he had to calm down. And then we did exactly that. We talked through it, we came to sort of an agreement between them about what happened. And there was some generosity on both sides about understanding. It was good. It was a lot of work. Nothing was broken. I mean, it was really in the end, not a big deal. So I could have—you tell me if this was the right thing—I could have just been like, “Nothing’s broken. It’s okay. You guys should just move on.”
32:31 Leslie: So I love that you use that as an example. And you see the opportunity to maybe let that go. I’m going to reinforce that, because obviously getting them to both share and work things out is also a beautiful skill. So I don’t want that to…I’m not saying that’s wrong. And throw it out the window…
32:51 David: Right. I didn’t want to be there negotiating this between the kids. [Laughter] But I was just, like…because they interacted in this way, this kind of shouting-over-each-other-way a lot. And they both need to work on that. That’s why I was working so hard.
33:05 Leslie: I love it. I love it. But let’s go back a step where you said they’re shouting over each other, and they need to work on that. Will they be 25-year-olds who act like that? What’s the likelihood that they’re both going to be 25 years old—let’s say they’re still friends—do you think they’ll be shouting the way they are at six years old, the same way at twenty five?
33:25 David: You’ve been watching the news?
33:30 Leslie: Oh, I agree with you that, yes, we do have a lot of adults in today’s society doing that. And it is people not having these skills. I’m not worried about your son not having the skills because you’re working so hard on that. But I do respect that you’re making it…yes, we do have to worry about that as adults. In this case, I don’t see two 17-year-olds fighting. I see two six-year-olds that are fighting. And what comes to mind is if I went out and saw a pack of cubs, or some kittens or some puppies, you know, in those adolescent years of puppies, they are still biting and growling and, and doing all kinds of things. And every once in a while…first of all, many times the mother just leaves them alone or the parent just leaves them alone and ignores it. So there are times where they…they don’t work, they’re sleeping over in the corner and say, I’m not getting involved here.
But there are times where you see one of the parents pick up the cub by the scruff and separate them or give a big bark at them. Like you did: you did a little bark, and you stopped the kids and you got their attention and you asked them to calm down and then you worked it through. So both are very valuable. And so number one is to see them arguing, maybe, “Alright, you guys go out and have a good time. Could you take your arguing to the other room so I can keep working on my work,” like it’s just normal. I’m going to normalize. You guys are arguing because when you have an opportunity to speak your truth and work it out…
Fighting, sibling rivalry, is actually a way of learning those negotiation skills. So that’s the first thing—you can just let that go a little bit. It seems to be their habit. Then when it’s all over, you might say, “Hey, does that arguing work for the two of you?” And they’ll say, Yeah, we like when we argue.” If they say they don’t like it, you can always say, “What would you like to do different?
35:34 Emilee: Leslie, I feel a sense of relief. Because I feel like we intervene on everything. I hope we’re not helicopter parents, but it feels like we kind of are. It’s just if we hear them fighting, or if there’s something we intervene.
35:53 David: I don’t think so. I think I mean, I hear them…they’re up here a lot. So I hear them, I heard them arguing a lot, and I ignore this. And this was a case where Jack came, you know, came in, was wanting to report on something. And I think I should, right? I mean, I thought I would respond to his asking me to come have a look. But I very quickly could have seen: nothing to see here, move along.
36:19 Leslie: That was the second step. So, the second step, like you said, is to just say, “Okay, thanks for letting me know, sounds like you have different perceptions. That’s okay, let’s move on.” So that would have been a second approach, if you are going to intervene. Sounds like there’s some fighting that you let go and you just let them play on their own. And Emilee, I am going to support the idea that as parents, it is likely, even if I didn’t know you, to say that most parents today are overly-involved in their children’s lives. There is a little bit of the lost art of healthy neglect.
37:02 Emilee: I love it. On this, I think you’re touching on a good point, because he’s…on Wednesdays, he goes to forest School. And he comes back and he says he loves it. He really loves it. He’s just, you know…what a great find. And I asked him, “Why is it that you love it so much?” He’s like, “Because we’re free, we can go on our own.” And the teacher just says, you know, claps his hands and then they come back, but they explore on their own. So I think the sense of freedom is just what he thrives on.
37:36 David: I thought we give him a lot of that. We let him go around the village here. He has a little walkie-talkie and he goes sometimes on his own to places and checks in with us. So I thought we give him more freedom than a lot of his peers have at his age.
37:55 Emilee: But it’s just an observation that he really likes…he doesn’t like obligations.
37:58 Leslie: Yes. And children love to be exploring. And right now we are dealing with, I think… there was a recent New York Times article that talked about the need to play. We have some studies that unstructured play is very valuable for children to feel that sense of confidence and being capable. So yes, I support that you do it, I already hear that you do it. You send him to the forest camp, or the forest school for Wednesday. So you’re encouraging that kind of atmosphere. And it’s okay that school is not that, because he has to get used to different environments. But he’s saying, “Oh, I do much better when I’m not being told what to do all day long.”
So I love the idea. It’s “yes, and.” Yes, he does and will benefit from the unstructured time of not being told what to do. And you can think about, where you said, Emily…you said hovering or helicopter parenting a little bit. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, compare yourself to yourself. Are there three ways that I can do a little less hovering? Are there three ways that I can give him a little space and not make a comment in these three times?
As we were talking about taking that step back, working a little less hard, because I want you to give yourself credit that you’re doing a great job. And working a little less hard is in everyone’s benefit. It’s a win-win situation. It is what Jack will benefit from. It’s going to help you grow in ways that you’re working a little too hard, “I’ve got to do this job right.”
39:44 Emilee: That’s forever a lot of work. [Laughter]
39:47 David: A lot of work doing less work.
39:50 Leslie: Yes. Oh, believe me when I tell people, you know, you function in the world at 180%—can you turn the volume down to 120%? And they’re like, “Oh my God, that’s going to be hard work. That’s going to be really hard.” So, yeah, turn it down a little bit, turn the volume down. You’re doing great. And doing a little less might be more as there’s the expression doing less is more, right?
Emilee: Yes. Thank you.
40:14 David: Yeah. Thanks for that.
40:16 Leslie: Okay. So you talked about a few examples, where he got upset. He came to you and said his friend knocked it down. Did his friend indeed knock it down?
40:30 David: Yes. It seems like he was trying to get the door open. And the cable was sort of there with the door. And so he was pulling on it. And it did fall down, but it was an accident, because he was just trying to get the door open. And they agreed on that point.
40:45 Leslie: And they agreed, beautiful. But some children are highly sensitive to being wrong, to being seen as, “You see that I did something wrong.” And I think, I don’t know for sure, if that’s tied into when he sees you upset. Why he’s upset that you’re upset is because he thinks, “I’ve done something wrong. And you’re saying I’m not good enough.” Do you see the complicated…it’s sort of like a circular thing that he doesn’t like you’re upset. But he thinks that if you’re upset, then that means you think he’s done something wrong.
I tell the story of one of my daughters. She never liked making a mistake. It was very, very, very uncomfortable to her. And she was so sensitive to make the mistake that she out-and-out blamed everybody else. And it’s like, “Wait a minute, you’re blaming, you’re making another mistake, because you’re blaming your brother for hitting you. Meanwhile, we just saw you hit.” So my line that I used with her was, “Dale, can you give yourself permission to make a mistake?”
Emilee: That’s a good try.
41:49 David: Yeah, we can maybe explore that a little bit.
41:52 Leslie: I’d love that. I think that might be, if something happens, “Can you give yourself permission to make a mistake?” Or, “Can you give yourself permission to not having practiced this week for your music lesson? Okay, why don’t you try saying that to yourself?” Of course, it took her many, many, many times of hearing me say that before it sunk in. She probably had to hear it a thousand times before it sunk in. You were looking at each other and nodding to each other. What was that about? Do you remember, a second ago?
42:23 Emilee: It was about him saying it’s not my fault.
42:28 David: We hear that less, now, I feel. But we’ve heard it a lot.
42:33 Leslie: So that’s a sensitivity. It’s not that he’s going to be like, Oh, my God, this child blames and lies. It’s: no, he’s protecting himself at the moment. Because he’s too vulnerable. He’s feeling so much sensitivity around making a mistake. So it might be a great line. Even if you hear it less, it might still be a great line. Because as he grows in life, we all make mistakes. And that never works: “I make mistakes, your mom makes mistakes.” You know, when we do that, as adults, you might as well throw that out the window; because kids know that everybody makes mistakes. They don’t give themselves permission to make a mistake.
So try saying that, “Can you give yourself permission to make a mistake?” Say it and get out of there. Remember, we’re doing less. So say that line, don’t have a conversation about it. Say it and get out of there.
43:30 David: It’s good you made that clarification because I was already thinking about, you know, framing that conversation. [Laughter]
[Music: Acoustic Motivation by Coma-Media]
43:35 Leslie: Yeah, they’re called planting seeds. Dave, in order for you to feel like you’re working a little less hard. Think of everything that you offer, as like planting a seed that will germinate into the larger thing, the plant, the flower, whatever. So you’re going to pull back by thinking, “Okay, just plant the seed and get out of there.”
43:55 David: Sounds great, Thanks so much.
44:04 Leslie Cohen-Rubury: Parenting changes don’t happen just because you talk about them. They happen because you make intentional changes to your behavior. Sometimes that intentional change can mean not working so hard. Parenting is a job with a high burnout rate. So finding ways to make the job easier is essential. Can you take a hard look at yourself and figure out where you may be overdoing it or overthinking it?
I want to thank Emilee and David for giving this session their careful attention and really doing the homework and committing to making changes. Before we wrap up, I want to add one new idea. And that is the art of healthy neglect. I’m not talking about ignoring your child or not meeting their needs. What I’m talking about is taking a step back and giving them some space. It’s important to let them figure out things for themselves. In fact, it helps build resiliency and problem solving skills. So give yourself a break. Take a breather. It’s good for both you and your child. And come back next week to hear how that advice worked for Emilee and David in their final session.
[Music: The Wilds Beyond by L-Ray Music]
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, tell a friend. You can find a full transcript of this episode, or subscribe to my newsletter, at ismychildamonster.com. The Is My Child A Monster? team is Alletta Cooper, AJ Moultrié, Camila Salazar, and me. Special thanks to Eric Rubury and Mia Warren. Our theme music is by L-Ray Music. I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury. Thanks so much for listening. And this week: Do less.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai edited by Eric Rubury