April 2, 2024

Molly & Alastair Part 2 of 4: When you’re in a Power Struggle with your Kids

This episode is part two of four sessions with parents Molly and Alastair. Last week Leslie focused on the sibling dynamics between their daughters, 8-year-old Elizabeth and 4-year-old Katherine.

This week we focus on a different kind of dynamic: the power struggle. In the fight for power between child and parent, Leslie offers an alternative: stop struggling for power and put an end to the power struggles. In this episode Leslie discusses identifying the problem behind the struggle, what the problem really is, whose problem is it, and learning to ask: can we try that again?

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.

Resources: 

Leslie-ism: When you don’t like a Child’s response use the phrase “Try Again”

TRANSCRIPT OF SHOW:

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

0:04  Molly:  I’m realizing that a lot of it is, I think, my discomfort with being around their discomfort.

0:24  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  Welcome to 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 session with Molly and Alastair. Last week, we looked at the sibling dynamics between eight-year-old Elizabeth, and four-year-old Catherine. This week, we focus on a different kind of dynamic, one that many, many parents are familiar with: the power struggle between parent and child. It’s an easy trap to fall into, when you don’t know that there are other options. And to that end, Molly and Alastair have a lot of questions. They are questioning what happens in their household, and they question what’s going on with their children. One could interpret that as being insecure and unsure. But I look at that as a strength in parenting. 

Asking questions means you are willing to think again, or look for greater understanding and find a new perspective. Bingo! That’s what your children need: parents who are not know-it-alls, but rather who are curious to learn and to grow. 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. So let’s begin. 

Leslie:  Hi, Molly. Hi, Alastair. How are you?

2:16  Molly:  Hi, doing well.

2:17  Alastair:  I’m doing good, thanks. 

2:19  Leslie:  All right. Now, it’s been a few weeks. So I’m sort of curious what your takeaways from our first session, what they were, did anything stick? Did you try any of the things in the toolbox that we sort of created together? So give me some feedback of things that worked and things that didn’t work.

2:40  Molly:  So, we probably tried some things more than others, as I’m kind of looking back on my notes from last time. One thing I did use fairly often was the idea of—I think it was a phrase you gave us—”If I had a magic wand, I wish one of me could be reading a book with you and the other could be snuggling your sister, wouldn’t that be great?” So I did use that one fairly often.

3:09  Leslie:  Okay, and how did it make you feel using it? And did you see any response from Elizabeth, who’s eight, and Catherine, who’s four?

3:18  Molly:  There was definitely not a negative response. I don’t think either, and particularly Elizabeth, who I was thinking about usually when I used it, said anything, but I feel like it probably sunk in. And it helps me feel better about the choices I had to make about how to spend my time in that moment, or what to be doing in that moment.

3:43  Leslie:  Okay, well, I think that is very important. It helps you deal with that hard choice of, “How can I be in two places at once? I want to help both my kids, I feel like I can’t do everything I want to do.” It’s dealing with the frustration of, when you have more than one child, being able to parent them in the ways that you want to. So it gave you a little bit of…it gave you something to do with that feeling. 

4:12  Molly:  Yeah. And I think on top of the other tools we were talking about, I’m realizing after our conversation, that a lot of this…some of it is about Elizabeth or Catherine or how they’re behaving or how they’re feeling. But a lot of it is, I think, my discomfort with being around their discomfort with how I, as a parent, am spending my time or with each other. And so I think for me, trying to kind of figure out in the moment, “Okay, is this really a problem for them? Or is this more something that’s internal to me and how I’m kind of processing or feeling about whatever interaction it is,” has been helpful, I think.

4:58  Leslie:  Well, that is so fun. You just nailed what I was thinking about from our last session. As I prepared for today’s session, I thought—one of the things I heard you talk about—was how you were feeling, and your goals, and what you’re trying to accomplish. And the pressure that that can cause you, or any parent—you have expectations, you’re putting pressure on yourself. I’m so glad you brought that up. I love that you just mentioned, and looking with discernment as: “Is this their problem? Are they upset? Is this a problem for them? Or is this just something going on inside of me?” So I just made a note of that—let’s come back to that. Any other feedback? Alastair, do you have anything you want to add?

5:43  Alastair:  For me, we talked about how, sometimes with Catherine, our youngest, I tend to try too hard to make her do everything herself as much as possible, instead of just helping her do things. And I think I’ve definitely been trying to do that more. And I think it’s definitely helped a fair bit. Especially if we’re rushing, I do find myself getting frustrated with her. And I haven’t always been perfect about not trying to hold the line when it doesn’t really need to be held, so to speak.

6:23  Leslie:  And could we go along the same lines? Is the notable improvement something you’re experiencing? Or is it also something Catherine is experiencing?

6:34  Alastair:  It seems to me both. Obviously, I can’t really, entirely speak for her, but I think it has helped quite a bit. 

6:42  Leslie:  Okay, so you’re feeling a difference? And it’s making the interactions more effective and more productive. It’s working a little bit better for you. 

 6:54  Alastair:  Yeah, less needlessly confrontational.

6:58  Leslie:  Excellent. And I’m not someone who’s opposed to confrontation, I love it as a matter of fact. And sometimes we’re creating a power struggle, because a power struggle—I know this sounds obvious—is a struggle for power. So do you think, in hindsight, you’re looking and saying, “Maybe I was just trying to power over her by trying to get her to do what I wanted her to do?”

Alastair:  Yeah. Definitely. 

Leslie:  Right. And that causes a power struggle. But instead, you’re looking at the situation and saying, “Am I just making up these arbitrary rules that she has to do what I’m saying? Or can we get it done a different way?”

7:39  Alastair:  When I took the time to really think about it, it was just trying to get her to do what I wanted to do, because I felt like she should do what I wanted her to do, rather than that it really had to be that way. So I think letting go of that a little bit has helped, helped quite a bit.

8:01  Leslie:  What were you going to say, Molly? 

8:05  Molly:  Well, I was just going to wonder if this is the same for Alastair. Because for me, I think part of it is also when I get into that dynamic, sometimes I think to myself, and I realize, “Okay, whatever kid it is, has made a couple points, maybe it doesn’t need to be the way that I thought it needed to be. But if I change my mind now, will this be reinforcing whatever behavior they’re using to try to get their way?” So maybe, whether it’s yelling, or tantruming. Or one of Catherine’s favorite things is she kind of negotiates, like, “Well, I’m not going to live here anymore, if you don’t do this.” Or, “You have to do this, if you want me to do that.” And so I wonder if part of it is also us feeling we don’t want to reinforce…

9:01  Alastair:   …difficult behavior. 

Molly:  Yeah.

9:03  Leslie:  And that’s very important. So this is a complicated question. It might have to do with timing. Because if she’s saying, “You need to put on my socks,” or, “You need to make me what I want.” And she starts escalating, she starts yelling, she starts stomping her feet, and you can see that the emotion is escalating, then if you do decide, “Why am I in this power struggle with her, I’ll just give in,” then you may be reinforcing emotional intensity. 

You are right about that, that you can inadvertently reinforce behavior that you don’t want, which is to escalate it. This is the classic example of that: you’re in the kitchen, your kids are playing together and then they start fighting in the other room. When do parents walk into the other room?

Molly:  When it gets loud. 

Leslie:  When it gets loud, and they’re screaming, and iit is the Pavlov’s dog that we reinforce in that moment. And so, “Oh, getting louder, brought Mommy or Daddy in.” Bingo: that’s reinforcement. That’s behavioral reinforcement. What we want to do is, maybe we want to go into the playroom when it’s quiet. And they’re playing along and saying, “Wow, I hear that you’re both taking turns at this game of Trouble,” or, “You’re playing and you’re both taking turns—great. I’m going to go back to cooking.” 

And you reinforce their playing, so that when they are yelling, or whatever, you maybe let it go, you see what happens. Sometimes we do go in when they’re yelling, but you really want to be careful—that walking in at that moment might be be reinforcement. And so yes, that’s what you’re saying about when do we give in? So the few strategies that I have, would be: catch it before it escalates. Alastair, did you try to give in, if that’s the language we’re going to use, but actually not have the conflict with her? Because it was like, “I don’t need to make her put on her socks by herself. Why can’t I help her?” Did you make those decisions prior or in the moment when she started escalating, or both?

11:25  Alastair:  I think more recently, I’ve been trying to do it before she starts escalating, reminding myself that it’s okay to help her put her socks or shoes on. And that doing that isn’t going to make it so that she’s not a self-sufficient human being the rest of her life. Which was sort of a misguided thought that I’d had before.

11:49  Leslie:  Great. So now what would you do if she is escalating, but you actually think giving in is not a bad idea? Do you have any ideas?

11:58  Molly:  I don’t know if this is the right thing to do. Sometimes what I do is, I say I need a moment to think about this. Like, let me get back to you. Not about socks necessarily. But when they’re asking for something, a little screen time or some sort of treat. 

12:16  Leslie:  Excellent. So, you make it very clear to them that you’re going to take a moment, “I’m going to think about this in my wise mind, so I can make a decision that’s based on my wise mind, not my emotion mind of you screaming at me.” So that’s really great. Okay, that’s a good idea. Any other ideas of what you can do, as they’re escalating? 

12:38  Molly:  I suppose we could ask them to help us, talk it out, right? Ask for ideas, ask for: what are you thinking? What about this? What about that?

12:49  Leslie:  Love it. So, you can actually—and have a bunch of paper around—grab a piece of paper and say, “Hey, let’s think about this. Let’s think about the pros and cons. Let’s think about why we want this. Let’s name the dialectic dilemma of why I want to say yes and why I might say no.” So I love that you would pull them over to their reasonable mind, get them out of their emotion mind, say, “Hey, let’s talk about this. Let’s figure out the pros and cons.” That would be a short way of saying that. But I love that. So it’s a distraction from the emotion. And it actually would get them to lower the intensity of the emotion. Beautiful. Well, those are two great ideas. Anymore?

13:30  Alastair:  I mean, maybe just labeling their emotion and acknowledging that they’re upset. And then talking through that a little bit and then helping them with whatever thing that they want help with.

13:44  Leslie:  All right, you guys, definitely you’re going to get a job with me. That’s fantastic. Noticing and naming what’s going on: “Wow, I can hear that if I say no, you’re going to be really disappointed.” So you’re starting to notice, “I noticed that your voice got louder. And you’re getting more upset because I think you want me to change my mind.” Just verbalizing what you’re seeing, if that’s what you were saying, I think is a great idea as well. 

I will add the one that I happen to love, which is to say, “Can you try that again?” So if they’re escalating, and I might be changing my mind, before I give in, I’m going to have them ask that again, in a talking voice, in a wise-minded way, however you want to say it. All I have to say is, “Try it again.” Kids know what that means. I want to reinforce going from an emotional state of an eight or nine—really high on the scale—down to a five. And I want to say, “Great, you just regulated yourself. I can change my mind about that. Let me help you. Let me get you that peanut butter and jelly,” whatever it is.

14:48  Alastair:  Yeah. And I sort of feel that what you’re talking about sort of sounds like it gives her the opportunity to, like you said, regulate herself rather than have it be something that we’re forcing on her. So I really liked that idea, actually.

15:03  Leslie:  Really great, right? It’s remembering to say, “Try again.” And you say it calmly because this gets into something that I was thinking of earlier that you said, Molly, about whose problem is it. And so you very nicely named, Alastair, that we want to give the emotional dysregulation back to our children, so that they have the ability to regulate their emotion, they’re not doing it out of fear, which there was a generation where we…”You be quiet, or else.” We made our children fearful of our parenting. And that’s one way to feel like you have authority. But again, I think that’s more of a power struggle, rather than actually putting the power in the child’s hand to say, “Hey, try that again. And let’s see if you can regulate that emotion. I know you’re disappointed. And I’m willing to hear about your anger, your disappointment, your frustration.” 

15:59  Molly:  This is a little off topic, but it kind of reminds me, I’m wondering if this would actually work. One of the things that Catherine does a lot recently, that is slightly triggering, or bothers me, because this is something that I’m working on from my family of origin. But when she’s upset and escalating, or something isn’t happening that she wants to have happen…I’m thinking, for example, this morning, I’m driving her to school, halfway there, she realizes there’s no music in the car, and she wanted music in the car. And instead of asking for music, she often says something that’s kind of blaming. “Hey, you didn’t turn on any music in the car. I told you I wanted music in the car,” even though she had not obviously told me she needed music in the car. Previously, usually what I would do is say, what I wanted her to say to me, which is, “Can you please turn on some music?” But I’m wondering, “Would you try that again,

?” if that would work. I don’t know how much of that is just what she’s saying. Or how much of it is how she’s thinking. But it’s definitely something I’ve been paying attention to, I don’t want her to always think,”Just because I’m uncomfortable, someone’s at fault.”

17:13  Leslie:  I talk about this a lot with parents, which is the vulnerability that kids feel when they have an emotion. So understand this, from your own perspective, when you’re feeling something, feeling an emotion, anger, disappointment, anxiety, whatever, it makes you uncomfortable. And if you’re a highly sensitive person, they even feel more uncomfortable. We don’t experience emotional pain, physical pain, all the same way—everyone’s unique. So if she’s experiencing that discomfort of disappointment, or, she realized she missed the halfway driving, she missed half the music that you want to listen to, that vulnerability, that discomfort in that moment, gets her lashing out. 

So we have many years, but I want to teach her what I just said to you. We want to teach her, “Oh, you disappointment showed up? And you felt uncomfortable,so you yelled at me? I get it. I get it. You didn’t know what else to do. You didn’t know…” And I wouldn’t discuss this with her in that moment. Because that’s not the time, but maybe later when you’re driving home and she’s had a good day. And you just say, “Oh, I realized this morning how upset you might have been when you realized you drove halfway and you didn’t listen to your music. That was frustrating to you. That was disappointing. And when you felt that, that was uncomfortable.

Number one, start on the surface. And all you have to say is, “Try it again,” in the moment…or ignore it. You know what? Sometimes just ignoring it is absolutely fine. It’s like, right now, it came out that I might put the radio on and ignore it. I won’t do that every time. But there’s nothing wrong with doing it once in a blue moon. I consider it a random act of kindness. 

Again, is she going to be this horrible human being to live with as an adult? I don’t know. Maybe she will, but probably not. And so instead, I might, one: just let her get away with it; two: just simply say,”Try again.” And three, I might name, “Wow, you’re disappointed.” I might put it in other words, you can also give her the words like you said, “Can you please ask me to do that?” That’s fine, too. 

So those are the ideas of what to do, in the moment. And then take some time to go below the surface and teach her that uncomfortable feelings might make her blame someone. Uncomfortable feelings are hard to name. You know, like, “Oh, I noticed that it was disappointment. Do you think it was disappointment this morning when you were driving to school and realized you didn’t have the music on? Did you realize that you had an expectation that you wanted the music to be on?” Talk about expectations. Talk about, “And what do you do when you get disappointed?” That’s just education, it’s what we call a psycho-education. You’re teaching her about what was going on. You can do that very gently. When she’s in a good mood, the more you tap into, “Wow, that was a bummer. This morning, you drove halfway to school.” That’s how I engage kids. I go, “Wow,” I try to be real. I try to be real—I put myself in their shoes, and then go, “Wow, you drove halfway to school this morning and realized you didn’t have the music on.” So now I’ve baited her into a conversation with me rather than “Oh, Mom, don’t talk to me about that.” So we have to be clever about how to get them engaged in a conversation.

 20:54  Molly:  That makes sense. I’m thinking this through, too, about how to address that when one of them blames the other, when we hear one of them blaming the other. And actually, that happens a lot, I think. I hear it when Elizabeth blames Catherine for something. Elizabeth’s tired from a day of school, overwhelmed, has responsibilities that Catherine doesn’t have, like homework, to get done. And she’ll lash out a bit at her younger sister sometimes when she hasn’t been doing anything. I guess my question is, maybe talk to her about that later, but, in the moment, is there a role for us as the parents when we hear that?

21:38  Leslie:  Earlier, when I said identifying whose problem is it; before we were talking about you versus what was Elizabeth’s problem or Catherine’s problem and you’re trying to figure out, “Well, am I being triggered? Is this my issue? Or is this theirs?” They may not see this as a problem. This is another example where you get to say to maybe Elizabeth and Catherine, “Hey, guys, whose problem is this?” Maybe in this case, I might say, “Hey, Elizabeth, are you tired? You’re not looking forward to doing your homework right now. And so it’s easier to yell at your sister, she’s in your way, and make her the problem when I wonder if underneath it all, you don’t want to get to your homework. Maybe let’s look and see if maybe getting to your homework is not what you’re in the mood to do. And so right now it looks like Catherine’s your problem, but really, maybe doing your homework right now might be the problem. What do you think?” 

And you guys can do it yourselves. If—you’re laughing—you come home and you’re upset about something that someone’s done. And you say, “You know what, I think: whose problem is this? I think I need to know that I’m overwhelmed. I’m tired. I think that’s what my problem is. Even though yes, these socks need to go away or the dishes need to be clear. And though that’s true, and I think I’m just…I need to deal with my problem because I think that’s what’s going on here. My discomfort, my uncomfortableness.”

23:11  Molly:  Feel free to tell me: would you try that again?

[Laughter]

23:15  Alastair:  I’m sure. I’m sure that would go over real well. 

23:19  Leslie:  So Alastair, here’s what you do. You try it, you get really brave, and…she just gave you permission to try it with her. I heard it—I was a witness. You try it with her. Expect the first maybe three, maybe five times that you do it, she might try to bark at you or bite your head off. She won’t like it. And somewhere deep inside, she’ll go, “Yeah, I really gave him permission to say that.” It’s just learning a new response. So if you give her three to five chances, it works. You just need to get used to someone saying, “Try that again.” Or, “Whose problem is this?” 

23:59  Molly:  And then if we do it in front of our kids, they can see that and hear that and hopefully it sinks in.

24:04  Leslie:  Try it. Just work through the first five times when it’s not easy to hear it. So, be brave.

24:11  Molly:  Now we’re getting some free couples counseling, too.

[Laughter]

24:15  Leslie:  I do a lot of couples work when I’m working with families and I do a lot of individual work when you come and say I need help with my child. So, parenting is all about growing as individuals.

[Music: Acoustic Motivation by Coma Media]

Leslie:  Let’s go back to that idea that you can get triggered when…what was it, when they blame each other, is that when you get triggered? I forgot, what was the example?

24:51  Alastair:  I don’t know if it’s necessarily the same for you, but especially when Catherine a lot of times she will be upset that you did something or didn’t do something that she had wanted you to do, but hadn’t said something. And then she will say, “Oh, I said I wanted you to let me make the toast this morning,” or whatever. And I’ve already made the toast. The rational part of me wants to be like, “You did not tell me that you wanted to make the toast. So I made the toast because we’re in a rush. We’re trying to get out the door. And now you’re furious because I made the toast. It’s just toast.” And reminding myself in the moment that she’s frustrated, but it’s not…yeah…

25:35  Leslie:  Yeah, that blaming can trigger you when she’s blaming you. And it’s actually not true, so it’s even more aggravating.

25:42  Molly:  I think it triggers Alastair, in the way, his first inclination is to be defensive and explain rationally why the statement is not rational. For me, it’s triggering in the sense of, I recognize that and I think, “Oh, dear, I don’t want her to be having to work on that when she’s my age. I want her to figure that out earlier.”

26:10  Leslie:  Got it. And both are logical. Alastair, you want to present the evidence, right? The evidence is, “I made a piece of toast, the evidence is you did not ask me.” You want to present a logical side, that’s totally fine. She’s missing…The three states of mind are: emotion mind, logic mind, and the overlap of those two minds, our wise mind. And we want to have our logic mind help us when we need to decide how to get through life, et cetera. So it’s okay to bring in the logic mind, except it’s not going to work for her, in that moment, and it sounds more defensive on your part. But I understand where you’re coming from. 

And Molly, you’re coming from a place of, “I want to save my child the pain that I feel as an adult, or to learn it early, because it’s got to be better to learn these things earlier rather than later.” So I am in total support of both why you’re doing what you’re doing. But the bottom line question is: is it working? 

With that good example you gave about the toast, and what to do with those moments, there’s a few things you can do. One of the things is similar to, “If I had a magic wand,” I want to let her know that, “If I had the superpower of mind-reading, I would have known that you wanted to make toast.” So mind-reading, in the therapeutic world, is actually what we call problematic thinking. And we all do it. Especially when we’re in emotion mind, we think people should read our mind. Well, people don’t read our minds. And so I’m, I’m sort of teaching her that just like, “I don’t have a magic wand, but if I had a magic wand, I would do this,” “If I had the superpower of mind-reading,” which of course we don’t, “if I had the power, I would know that you wanted me to make your toast.” If you said that to her, what do you think she’d do?

28:15  Alastair:  I think it might help defuse the situation a little bit. Yeah, make it a little lighter.

28:21  Leslie:  And we give the problem back to her. Remember, you said earlier, you recognized, “Wow, it’s nice that they’re learning to regulate their own emotion.” Well, in this case, she’s learning that she actually is asking someone to be a mind-reader, which is not possible. So she doesn’t have to learn the actual the clinical aspect of it. But when you say that to her, she’s actually learning something about herself: “Oh, yeah, I did wish Dad could read my mind.” And if you come across defensive, it looks like you’re defending yourself and making it about you. And it’s not your problem. She’s the one disappointed. One thing is to teach you about the mind-reading; another one is, “It’s not what you expected. You’re disappointed.”

29:10  Alastair:  I think that would be really helpful to do.

29:14  Molly:  We’ll have lots of opportunities to practice.

29:16  Leslie:  She’ll give you lots…it sounds like she’ll give you lots of opportunities. And can you apply something similar to yourself, Molly, when you feel that the blaming is directed at you, or something like that, again, to give her back the problem? 

29:38  Molly:  Yes, I like that example. The superpower example, too, because I do find that adding some levity or some imagination to situations often really helps move on. I think it’s probably a 50% chance we’d then start talking about superpowers and forget about the toast all together, which would also accomplish some goals of the morning. 

30:01  Leslie:  That’s beautiful. And by the way, if you’re driving her to school later, when the situation’s over, maybe even hours later, maybe not even just 10 minutes later, you might acknowledge that she regulated her emotion by saying, “You were disappointed this morning. And then you handled that disappointment.” Or you might even say, “What did you do to handle that disappointment, because that’s not easy.” So, we actually want to point out that our children are coping with those difficult emotions. We don’t want to just say, “Oh, good, let’s move on, everything’s fine.” We want to stop and acknowledge, “Wow, you were disappointed, and you handled it.”

30:48  Molly:  I was thinking, we could probably use that a lot more in different scenarios. Something, for example, once in a while, when one of the girls or the other or both are tired or overwhelmed; sometimes we’ll suggest something like a bath, or an audiobook—that really helps. So it might be helpful sometimes, after that, to just put words to, “You seemed like you were feeling XYZ, and then you did this. And now you’re seeming a lot more calm or a lot more refreshed,” or something like that.

31:25  Leslie:  And use the language, “I noticed that you did a, b, c, and d. And from my point of view, it looked like it helped you deal with those emotions. What was it like from your point of view?” So, I want to be clear that I’m not telling them how they feel, I want to be clear that they are acknowledging…you say, “This is what I’m noticing. Is that what you felt? Or did you have a different version?” Because they might say, “I’m still upset.” And that’s good information. Because, yeah, you can get re-triggered, you can have emotions come back. And just say, ‘Oh, yeah, I think the emotion just showed up again.” Well, look at that: you are back in emotion mind from where you were this morning. Not while you were listening in the bath. But now, because I brought it up, you are back in that emotion, I see that. That’s really interesting.” 

We want to be able to talk about a past experience as a past experience. But if it’s not processed, and you don’t know how to step away from it and look at it with some distance, then you can re-experience it. And that’s painful. We want to know that about our children. Because maybe Catherine is like that, but Elizabeth’s not. Or maybe Elizabeth’s like that, and Catherine’s not.

32:44  Alastair:  And probably in encouraging them to talk about and think about those things earlier on, may help them develop ways to cope with that, or make it easier for them to process those emotions down the line as well.

32:59  Leslie:  Yea. Don’t overdo it—then you’re going to feel like you’re in therapy all the time or something. But definitely, it’s like you said, it’s like a lifelong skill. It teaches two things. It teaches, one, how you process the emotion. So it’s giving someone a chance to process a difficult experience. And, two, it also teaches us that we can look back on an experience and have some perspective to say, “Oh, that worked well. That didn’t work well. What could I do different next time?” 

One of the things I have to teach when I work with kids is that if we go back—or adults—if we go back and look at a past experience, I’m not going back to look at the past experience to shame you, to judge you, to tell you you did it right or wrong. I’m going back—and we actually do this in a very behavioral way—is we look back and say, “Oh, what could I have done different?”

33:58  Molly:  So one of the things I really do actually want to try but didn’t very much, was you talked about talking explicitly about different priorities and how certain things can all be true. I think we talked about, for Elizabeth, “You want to be a good sister, you want to play with your friends. You don’t want your sister to be upset or have hurt feelings.” And I didn’t explicitly talk about those or make those statements in situations where I could have. I think some of it came in a little bit understated. 

So, for example, Elizabeth had a birthday party. Since we talked last, we had it at a roller skating rink and she was very excited. So, a couple days ahead of time, she’s talking it up with Catherine, “What outfits are we going to wear? It’s going to be special for you too, because you’re the birthday sister.” They’re both very excited about it. But once it’s time to actually get there, Elizabeth does want to run off and skate and play with her friends, not necessarily her younger sister who does not, in fact, know how to roller skate. I think that was a situation where we had different priorities. I think how I handled it was, I said, “Don’t worry about your sister, she’ll be skating with me, she’ll have a good time you go off and play.” It would have been a good opportunity to explicitly say those things and talk about priorities.

35:32  Leslie:  It’s not too late. It’s not too late. You can say, “When you had your birthday party, you had that dialectic dilemma.” Use the language, I like to teach it. “You wanted to make sure your sister was okay, and you wanted to go there—those were both important to you. You want to be with your friends. In the case of your birthday party, which one was your priority? And your priority that day was to skate with your friends. That makes a lot of sense. And what I said to that day is, ‘Guess what, I’m going to be on Catherine. Catherine and I are going to skate around, I’m going to help her.’ So when we have a dialectic dilemma where we want to do two things, understanding that you might have a priority is one part of working through it. The other part of working through it is finding what we call a synthesis, the solutions where you try to honor a little bit of both sides. So in this case, a synthesis might be, ‘Mommy said she’s going to roll a skate with you. So you can roller skate all around as you learn, while I’m off with my friends who are here for my birthday party,’ honoring both sides of the dilemma. That’s what a synthesis is. ‘You know what, I’ll skate with you before the kids come. And then when my friends come on, I’m going to go off and skate with them.’” You can imagine there are an almost endless number of solutions, in this case of how we can work it out. But the idea that she is going to pick one, so it’s not too late to go back over that. That’s number one, where she learns in hindsight, it’s okay to learn in hindsight, because you say this will happen again. 

37:10  Molly:  I think that would make sense to her, emotionally that, yes, her priority was skating with her friends. But she was concerned about her sister, and she did say something about that and made sure or…put the wheels in motion to make sure there was a solution there. 

37:28  Leslie:  Again, there’s a lot there to unpack. But you were saying that you didn’t use the skill. Getting ready for a birthday party and having this happen in the moment, I don’t think I would have used this skill in the moment, either. So please be gentle with yourself. And realize that we do have the time to do it after—we have another opportunity that will show up. I want to be really gentle on myself as a parent, because parenting is hard enough. 

I don’t want to be judging myself as, “You didn’t do it rightight. You didn’t do it right.” It’s: guess what, you’re going to have another opportunity. You want to try it—do it another time. Do it later. I’m still parenting my kids, even though they’re 33 and 36. I’m like, “I really could have done that when you were five, I could have done that differently.” [Laughter] So I love that you have your notes. And that you can look at your notes, and go back to them over and over again, tweaking them if you need to. Letting the ones that stick be the ones you try. And if one doesn’t work for you let it go or ask again. How’s that sound?

38:35  Molly:  That sounds good. Yeah, and I mean, the actual phrases are very helpful, too. Because once you use them a couple of times, it becomes more second nature and easier to use them in the moment like the magic wand one, superpowers…yes.

38:50  Leslie:  Yeah, they stick. So, practice, practice, practice. And if you feel a little overwhelmed, like you’re exhausted after our session, I understand, you can blame it on me. But now take it easy and be really kind to yourself, because you soaked in a lot of what we talked about from our first session, you’re trying things, you’re open. And I really respect that.

39:12  Molly:  Thank you so much.

39:14  Alastair:  Thanks for chatting with us. I think it’s been really helpful.

[Music:Acoustic Folk Music Guitar by ArtMusic ]

39:25  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  It’s hard not to think in terms of power struggles in parenting. And yet, if you stop struggling for power, you will put an end to the power struggles. And part of that is remembering to ask, Whose problem is it? Let me explain. If your child is upset, it’s their problem. If you’re upset, it’s your problem. So if you want to help your child solve their own problems, keep your emotion out of it. I know that sounds like an oversimplification. But the reasoning is that children are attuned to address their parents’ emotional needs before they address their own. So if you want them to take responsibility for themselves, don’t give them your problem to solve. 

So remember the phrase, “Whose problem is this?” And that’s what I call a Leslie-ism. I want to take a moment to talk about my Leslie-isms. If you listen to the very end of every episode, you’ll know that I give a short, catchy phrase to help you remember some of what we learned in the session. It’s hard to boil parenting down to catch phrases. But as Molly said, having these one-liners helps keep the larger concepts in focus. And being able to refer back to them helps you remember the skills you’ve learned. You can find a list of some of my Leslie-isms and the episodes they come from in the show notes.

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

Next week, we take a closer look at the subtle tension between two different parents trying to work together. You know how, when your co-parent interrupts your parenting moment, and it drives you nuts? Well, we’ll address that in Molly’s and Alastair’s final session. 

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 to end this episode, here’s a second Leslie ism. When you don’t like a child’s response, use the phrase, “Try again.”

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

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