June 4, 2024

Emma Part 2 of 3: When You Need A Perspective Shift

This is the second session with Emma, mother of four children. 

After just one session, Emma is having breakthroughs about how her own traumas are affecting her judgment with her kids. She and Leslie discuss the warning signs of rumination (a symptom of her anxiety) and how to reel it back in once she’s started. They also work through a few role-playing scenarios in order to see  how Emma can validate her children without unfairly punishing them. Sibling dynamics are never easy, and while Emma’s anxiety may be telling her she needs to “fix” every problem, Leslie gently reminds her that children don’t need fixing, but they do need some very important things from their parents in order to feel emotionally safe and secure.

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.

Time Stamps

  • 4:34 Use the line “I wonder if…”  to clarify what your child is thinking or feeling
  • 6:31 Stop putting your adult expectations and standards on children
  • 8:43 The shift from being a victim in your relationships can be a shifting of expectations as well as empowering you with skills to make you feel confident in the situation.
  • 13:15 Whose problem is it?
  • 14:43 How body sensations help us identify emotional reactions. 
  • 16:06 Understanding Rumination (and how to prevent it)
  • 21:43 Is your child tuned into fairness and unfairness? And what it means in terms of sensitivity and dichotomous thinking
  • 23:50 How we help children have a growth mindset vs a fixed mindset
  • 25:17 Children repeat themselves when they don’t feel they are being heard
  • 27:42 How to validate children: reflecting back what they’re saying so they know you understand
  • 34:20 Shifting from “tell me what happened” to “what’s your version of what happened  (each child tells their POV)
  • 35:51 We’re not looking for blame, we’re looking for understanding and empathy
  • 36:12 Shame: let’s avoid interrogations, and make them feel safe instead

Resources: 

Leslie-ism:Expect your children to misbehave.

TRANSCRIPT OF SHOW:

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

0:03  Emma:  From her perspective, she’s going, “Where did Mom…how did she escalate from A to B so quickly?” And it’s because I’ve gone into my head and she’s not seeing those thoughts. So how could I expect her to understand my behavior from those thoughts?

0:22  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  It can be so easy to get trapped in our heads and not be fully present with our children. Why do we get trapped in our heads? Because we worry about their behavior, about our expectations about their futures. And it’s so ironic because we’re worrying about their futures, and we’re not with them in the present moment. 

I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury. And 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. Today, in Emma’s second session, we talk a lot about anxiety and rumination and how it shows up as her need to fix her children. And as I say, every few episodes, our job is not to fix our children. They don’t need fixing. They need support, connection and to be understood. 

Emma and her husband are parenting seven-year-old Henley, three-year-old twins Grayson and Claire, as well as a new baby. Like most siblings, her kids fight and misbehave. And Emma is struggling with that, as so many parents do. 

As a reminder, all the names and identifying information have been changed. This show is for informational purposes only. And though I’m a licensed clinical social worker, this is not a substitute for therapeutic intervention. So let’s begin. 

2:01  Leslie:  Hi, Emma, how are you today?

2:04  Emma:  I’m great, Leslie. I’m so looking forward to this. I’m excited and nervous and just really hoping to gather some more of your wisdom here with parenting. Good.

2:15  Leslie:  Good. I’m so glad to be here with you. And I want to come back later to the idea that you’re nervous. It’s very normal when you’re going to therapy, but I’m always curious: what are the nerves about?

2:26  Emma:  Oh, I think just the topics that we’re going to discuss today. They’re complicated. And I think just navigating that is just so hard. And I’m just so curious, but also—it’s almost a nervous excited to know—where we’re going to go with it and find out the inner workings of the children that I have here. [Laughter]

2:49  Leslie:  So, nervous means there’s a lot here. And we can unpack it and understand it differently. And so that’s beautiful. And like I said, having any feeling going a into therapy session is definitely, totally expected. So would you start, if you would, with any feedback from your first session, and any feedback from what you might have practiced, what you tried, what worked, or what didn’t work?

3:19  Emma:  Well, to be honest, we didn’t have a lot of instances where I got to practice the communication aspect with my oldest. But I did my thinking, just in my thinking of her actions and her words. And looking at it, as you know, this is a child and she’s trying to communicate her needs. And same with my twins, Grayson and Claire, I was using that to practice and that forethought of their communicating needs constantly, really helped me to slow down in my own thinking and to just really evaluate what it was they were asking me at that time.

So I feel like that has just really opened up a whole new chapter for me, a whole new way of, you know, anticipating needs, but also really on trying to understand those needs. I think a lot of times when I’m anticipating those needs, I’m already thinking of a solution versus hearing the actual need and coming up with an even better solution, possibly. So I think that has really helped me. Using the and phrases a lot was also very helpful, trying to model the behavior. 

And I really, really liked the phrase, “I wonder if…,” because, even my youngest, she was saying something about, “Oh, I I need this,” or just kind of putting it out there that she wanted something without asking. And I said, “I wonder if you can ask me for some apple juice.” And she stopped and she goes, “Mommy, can I please have some apple juice?” And I was like, “Oh my goodness. This is groundbreaking. We have manners. We have a question. We have direct communication.” It was just, it was a very interesting moment for me as the parent. And to hear that, it was refreshing to know that I maybe need to be more direct in my communication to get the direct communication from them. So that was huge.

5:16  Leslie:  Oh, that’s huge. That really is. I’m so excited that you had that feeling of trying something, and seeing such a change. And sometimes changes happen in that kind of big way, and sometimes they’re more subtle. So the more subtle change here that I see, is the change in perspective, that you’re opening up your perspective to wondering about their communication, what are they trying to say to you. You’re going in, to be present to: what are they trying to communicate to me, in this moment?; rather than: what do I think their needs are? 

And you said, when you started, there weren’t too many situations. Do you think that’s a coincidence? Or do you think that could be a direct correlation to the fact that you changed your perspective?

6:08  Emma:  Now that you say that, it sounds like it was a direct correlation. [Laughter] And it’s crazy how that happens, because in all reality, I think that as parents, we tend to lose our sense of communication with our children. It’s just such a different relationship to navigate. It’s not having an adult conversation with somebody who can think and communicate and express their feelings in a mature way, where children can’t really do that yet. 

And so, my perspective of coming to the thought of, “This is my child speaking to me,” rather than trying to place adult standards on the child. It was it was definitely eye-opening and made for an easier week, to be honest. It made it easier,

7:00  Leslie:  I really do believe strongly that children can pick up on that perception. That one line that you said, all of a sudden included in your perceptual shift was, “I am seeing my child for who they are, at their seven-year-old self; not expecting what I want from them as adults; like, I want them to be polite, I want them to be direct. So I’m going to see them where they are now, not where I think I want them to be.” And you said it made for an easier week or something like that. How do you think it made them feel?

7:33  Emma:  Oh, probably less trying to guess what they wanted, or guess what I wanted them to say. Because sometimes I do see the look, or I do see the thinking going on. And they’re trying to find an answer. And I think instead of searching for something that they felt could be what I wanted, they were just organically being themselves. And it was such a change.

7:58  Leslie:  Wow, I love it. That’s really wonderful. And it sounds like you could feel that ease. They could feel that ease. Beautiful. And did that word that you used last session about manipulation—was that showing up more? Or did you let go of that a little bit more.?

8:19  Emma:  It was easier to let go this time and to say…just having you come out and say “Hey, it’s not this. So let’s figure out what it is, instead,” I think, took away that word is such a big heavy word that it did. It took away a lot of my expectation and a lot of what I thought was going on and feeling like I was a victim. And the real situation was I needed to fix my mentality on it and switch it.

8:47  Leslie:  You shifted your perspective. That’s beautiful. And yes, you made the changes in yourself. So, since your last session, did you also feel a little less like a victim, a little less helpless, like you actually had skills? 

9:04  Emma:  Yes. Oh, absolutely. That was a big step forward. I feel like it was a relief not to have this big expectation of my kids and myself and just really just being like, “Okay, let’s do one situation at a time and kind of figure out where we go from here.” Now, did the kids still argue? Yes. [Laughter] Did we still have some of what I call the mini-parenting going on? Yes. But when it came to trying to have conversations with the children just on basic need levels, that felt a lot less intense.

9:42  Leslie:  Beautiful. And I’m glad that you mentioned that they still had their fighting. Probably Henley was doing her parenting thing. That’s important because we are not taking away their childhood. We’re not taking away who they are at this given time. We want them to be kids. Do you realize that’s what you signed up for when you decided to have children? [Laughter] Forgot to read the fine print there, right? 

10:07  Emma:  I did. I did—I missed it. 

10:10  Leslie:  The sibling rivalry, the talking back, not doing what you asked them to do. Yes, it is a given. And it is a little messy. But when we feel less like a victim, less helpless, it can really help us not feel so badly about ourselves as parents. 

10:29  Emma:  And that coupled with my triggers for manipulation and being sensitive to feeling manipulated in certain situations, and realizing this isn’t the person doing the manipulating. She’s not intentionally pushing my buttons—at least her to knowledge—not intentionally pushing those buttons where I feel triggered to feel manipulated. I have to take a step and separate those for myself. And I realize that now, that I just need to create that space for her, where she isn’t a product of past relationships, and she’s not being punished for my previous experience with manipulation and having that forethought that, yeah, she’s already going to do something to manipulate me, and I’m going to feel this way. And I think it just released a lot of that expectation.

11:23  Leslie:  So I want to repeat those words, because they’re very important. You’re giving yourself space, and you’re separating your issues of your past, whether it’s childhood, whether it’s past relationships, you’re giving yourself space, and separating your issues from your child’s issues. When you say, “She’s not intentionally pushing my buttons,” I love that you caught yourself saying that. It is very interesting. There’s a thinking pattern called mental filtering, where it’s almost like we have a lens that if, “I’ve been manipulated many, many times in my life,” or “I don’t trust other people,” your past learning, then gets you thinking. So you see what you’re thinking, you see what the past…And so we want to take that filter, or that veil away. We understand that it’s there, but we want to separate it, and really understand that my child is who they are. And I want to give them the respect that they don’t have to carry all that baggage with them. I don’t want to see it. 

If I get triggered—this is what I do—if I get triggered, I respect that I might need to go back and look at where that hurt, where it was unfair, where I want to maybe heal a moment as it’s coming up in this moment. But I need to take it and work on it myself. 

Emma:  Yes, yes, definitely. 

Leslie:  Good. That’s why it’s even more complicated than you thought. Yes, sometimes I need to see what’s triggering me, see what is bringing up some old issues, some wounded areas. And I can go take my own time, whether it’s by journaling, whether it’s just taking a walk, whether it’s acknowledging, whether it’s going to therapy, I can work on that myself. It’s not my child’s job to do my work for me. So seeing them separate—I want to repeat that—those are very, very, very important words. 

13:19  Emma:  Definitely. And hard to do sometimes in the heat of the moment, but…

13:24  Leslie:  Okay, so I have a line—you seem to like these little lines. Whose problem is it? Oh,

13:30  Emma:  I’m writing that down. Whose problem is it?

13:34  Leslie:  And let’s put it into an example. When she’s doing something, and you feel like your button is pushed. Of course, we have no buttons, so there’s no pushing of buttons. But you have that feeling. Just when you get that feeling, can you stop and say, “Whose problem is this?” So, can you think of an example right now where you might put that into place, so we sort of practice it by thinking about it now?

13:59  Emma:  I would say probably when she has that expectation of wanting to do something, without asking. And she starts kind of constantly talking about it. And I get this kind of tightness in my chest, almost where I’m going, “Oh, my gosh, she is expecting us to do this, we are going to have to change our schedule around. She hasn’t even asked. She’s just saying this and now we’re going to have to jump through hoops to make it happen.” And all this reel starts going in my head. And I think taking a second and being like, “Whose problem is it?” It’s mine because I’m thinking too much about what has to change versus, well, let’s just start with getting her to ask the question.

14:40  Leslie:  That’s it. And the warning sign—the flashing neon light or the yellow traffic light, saying you’re going through a red light or the red light’s coming—is the tightness in the chest and the words where you say, I think you said, “Oh my gosh.”  And my guess is you say that over…the tightness of the chest and the words: it could be almost a conditioned response. Those are the two things that happen. That’s your warning signal.

15:10  Emma:  Okay.

15:12  Leslie:  If we can catch it, which you won’t always catch it, but if you can catch it with the tightness of the chest, that first sensation…Oh my goodness, you’re going to be way ahead of the game and then say, “Wait a minute, whose problem is that? My chest is letting me know I’ve got a problem showing up.” 

15:29  Emma:  Okay, right when it starts to kind of rear, right?

15:34  Leslie:  Because then you go into the ruminating and you go spiraling with lots of, what-if, what-if, what-if, or other thoughts. And that’s like the snowball has picked up momentum and a lot of snow and it’s going to be much harder to stop.

15:50  Emma:  Yeah, that’s definitely a weakness of mine, that spiraling of the thoughts going. And then before I’ve even had her ask me that question, I’ve already, in my mind, got this anxiety built up that it’s going to be a huge ordeal, when in reality, it’s probably not going to be that big of an item, or deal if we plan correctly. 

16:10   Leslie:  So, ruminating can be a part of anxiety. It’s often a very common symptom of anxiety, because the anxiety is: but what if, what if, what if, what if…right? Or how much? And it’s that going around in circles with lots and lots of thoughts. So you’ve got the ability to, A) name it and catch it as ruminating. “Oh, I notice I’m ruminating.” That’s a way to step back from it. The second thing is to try to catch it earlier, where it’s, “Oh, my chest is tightened, or I’m saying, Oh my gosh. That means I’m going into the ruminating room.” And that’s actually what happens. You just leave your child stranded—she’s talking and you’re like, “Now, I’m in my ruminating room.”

16:52  Emma:  Yes. And that’s where I think I miss a lot of what she’s trying to say, because I’ve already left, in my mind. 

17:00  Leslie:  And and I am going to say something that sounds harsh, but I think it’s a way of us acknowledging what happens in the moment. When we’re ruminating, or we’re getting anxious in that moment, and we’re getting caught up in our thoughts, we’ve left the relationship that I’m having with my daughter. I’m no longer there for her. I’m like, I don’t even excuse myself, I’m like, “Excuse me, I gotta go into my head and have a few ruminating thoughts.” 

But we just sort of disappear. And then we come back all upset and angry. And it’s like, “Where’d you go, Mom? Why’d you come back?” So getting caught by your anxiety is…I understand anxiety can sort of hijack us or take us out of the moment. And so if that happens, we want to acknowledge that, that anxiety can be self serving. And that’s what emotions do: they need to serve themselves so that they can stay around? 

17:55  Emma:  I appreciate that. You’re right. From her perspective, she’s going, “Where did mom go? How did she escalate from A to B so quickly?” And it’s because I’ve gone into my head, and she’s not seeing those thoughts. So how could I expect her to understand, then, my behavior from those thoughts? 

18:14  Leslie:  Exactly.

Goodness,

18:16  Emma:  Oh my goodness. That’s awesome.

18:18  Leslie:  But let’s say you missed that. That’s like you missed the first exit. So now you’re going down the road a little bit further. And you’re now in that ruminating room in your head. You can then catch it by saying, “Oh, guess what, Henley. I just noticed that I disappeared into my ruminating room. I was up in my head thinking about all these different what-if or little anxious worries, I’m back.” So you can actually let her know because there’s a very good chance—being your daughter—that she might have the same kind of ruminating, I mean, all of us ruminate at some point or another, right? So we want to learn and I’ve taught many adults who don’t know—what going around and around in a circle with lots of thoughts—what it’s called.

19:03  Emma:  Hmm, I like that. I like that a lot. That will definitely help for sure.

19:08  Leslie:  Good, very direct, very aware of where you are, what you’re doing; beautiful kind of way of teaching her as well.

19:16  Emma:  Yes, yes.

[Music: The Beat of Nature by Olexy]

19:36  Emma:  So if you wanted examples of the many parenting… this was actually something that happened outside the home. So, the kids go to a daycare at the gym while the parents work out. And something had happened between Henley and Grayson at the kids club. So when we got into the car, Henley was re-telling me what happened. It was kind of gray on how Grayson ended up smacking her and she was upset about this. And I kind of asked her, “Well, did the lady who was in charge, did she see what happened?” And she said, “No, nobody saw it, but Grayson hit me.” 

And it kept coming up over and over and over again. And I said, “Okay, well, I wasn’t there. So it’s really hard for me to punish him when I don’t know what happened. Was he playing? Was it an accident?” Sometimes those things happen, and it blurs their perception of you what to tell Mom—they see it as intentional all the time. But as parents, we know sometimes it’s not always intentional, or sometimes it’s provoked. And we have to kind of then explain, “Okay, well, if you are doing this, this is their warning sign.” 

And not that it’s okay. But this is what is the pattern here. She kept bringing it up, she kept saying, “Well, Grayson hit me. Grayson hit me at the kids club.” And it happens a lot. Even when they play, if I don’t see something that happened, she comes running out of the room and says, “Claire bit me,” or and sometimes there will be a mark. And I know for sure Claire did that. And then other times, there’s not and I’m like, “Okay, what happened?” And I’ll come in and say, “Okay, everybody, tell me what happened?”

21:19  Leslie:  This is just classic. I have a lot of ideas. We’re going to go over it. But when I say, classic, it means I’ve heard it before. So, I don’t want you to think that there’s anything wrong. This is common, number one. Number two, I always like to start with the assessment. So I want to know a little bit more about Henley. And you might have told me this last time, I might need a refresher. So is Henley particularly tuned into fairness and unfairness?

21:51  Emma:  Yes, she’s very tuned in to fairness and unfairness. 

21:55  Leslie:  That’s important to know from the outset, because kids who are very, very tuned in to fairness and unfairness, they may be a highly sensitive person. And they pick up on that. They may just be a very principled person, almost like an all-or-nothing, like, this is right, this is wrong, this is right, this is wrong. And that’s called dichotomous thinking. That kind of dichotomy actually, is hard to live your life, because things are not always so clear cut right and wrong and right and wrong. Very difficult for someone who wants the simplicity of this is right and this is wrong; along the same lines as the what’s fair, what’s unfair. So we want to know that about her. You’ve just said, Yes, this is who she is.

22:46  Emma:  This is huge, because even earlier this week, we had a conversation where she was at school, and she said, “I always get warnings from the teacher when people talk to me.” And she kind of sounded like she was upset that this was happening. That wasn’t fair for her because if her friend was asking her a question, and she answered her, she was doing the right thing. But the teacher saw the talking and was like, “No, you cannot talk.” So she fixates a lot on this, I’m interested to see where to take her, kind of, from this type of thinking.

23:28  Leslie:  Well, it’s going to take a while. You’re going to work on this for the next…she’s seven years old, you’re going to work on it, as long as you can work on it, even probably as an adult. But we want to start now—it’s very, very important. We want to acknowledge who she is, we can’t change the way her brain is, her brain is probably much more of a right-and-wrong kind of dichotomous brain. And we want to teach flexible thinking. 

There is a book called Growth Mindset. Very wonderful book about how we help children have a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. And although they don’t use the language of dichotomous thinking versus dialectic thinking, those two concepts parallel. A growth mindset is more of a dialectic way of thinking, because it’s flexible thinking; whereas a fixed mindset definitely is more challenging in life. It works in certain situations, but it’s going to be challenging in interpersonal relationships and situations. 

It’s very complex. That’s why she’s in school and says, “I don’t get it. Why is my teacher yelling at me? I’m just answering a question.” So in her mind, she’s right. Someone asked a question, you answer the question. Very, very confusing. And I would just say, “Wow, both of those things are true. The teacher sees the two of you talking, and you’re answering the question for your friend. Hey, how about that? Isn’t that amazing that both things are true at the same time.”

24:56  Emma:  I like that.

24:57  Leslie:  So, I want to go back to your example of the parenting when she got in the car and she started talking about Grayson hit her. You jumped into fix-it mode. You jumped into fix-it mode and said, “I don’t know what happened because I wasn’t there. But I’m supposed to fix this problem. That’s my job as a parent.” You panic, she panics, and nobody gets anywhere, and she keeps repeating herself. What I find is children will repeat themselves because they don’t feel like they’re being heard or understood. Very simple rule of thumb. It’s like, “Why is my child keep saying this?” It’s because you don’t understand them. They’re going to say it until they think you understand them.

25:38  Emma:  Yes. And I think that thought did go through my head. I was like, “Leslie would say she’s trying to communicate something.” But I’m like, “What is she trying to tell me?” And I, for the life of me, could not. And because of the chaos of us trying to get home and doing dinner, it completely just slipped out of my mind to slow down and be like, “Okay, let’s dissect this.”

26:00  Leslie:  I have compassion for you. I am not trying to fix every moment of your parenting life. We’re not trying to fix every moment, some of those moments are going to come out like that. And that’s fine. We’re using it as an example. So you can see that, at some times, you take the breath. Actually, just listening is the first form of validation. So if you just…she gets in the car, she comes in the car from school, or the daycare or whatever it is, and she’s got a story to tell…

Emma:  …just listen. 

Leslie:  Just listen to her story. And you can do, “Aha, hmm, oh.” Again, just because we use this theme: It’s not about you and what you’re going to do to fix it. She’s telling you a story. Listen.

26:50  Emma:  So, start by listening just to give her that validation in her feelings. Okay.

26:56  Leslie:  If that ends it…let’s say you just sit there listening, “Mm hmm. Wow. Okay.” And you can ask a clarifying question, “Did you get support?”, whatever, you might add a thing or two. But if you just do the listening, and she’s done, that’s all you needed. Now, if she’s still going on, then she might be indicating, “I need a little more validation from you, Mom.” It might be the next level, which is what I would call reflect back: mirror back to her what you’ve just heard. You want to try it before I try it? 

Emma:  Okay. 

Leslie:  “Mommy, Grayson was hitting me. And I don’t like being hit and he hit me. And I was so upset.”

27:35  Emma:  “Wow, Henley. I hear that you are upset because Grayson hit you at the kids club this evening.”

27:42  Leslie:  “He did and he didn’t get in trouble.” 

27:45  Emma:  Oh, gosh. That’s a hard one. See, that’s where I don’t know how to…

27:49  Leslie:  Okay, reflect back, stay with it, reflect back. 

27:53  Emma:  “Henley, I hear that you’re still very upset that Grayson hit you. And what makes you even more upset is that there was no consequence.”

28:02  Leslie:  Right!…“It’s not fair, mom. He hit me and he didn’t get in trouble.”

28:09  Emma:  “I see. So, you feel that Grayson should get in trouble for hitting you.”

28:13  Leslie:  “That’s right, because I get in trouble if I hit.”

28:17  Emma:  “That is true.”…Okay, so just reflecting back, kind of repeating back to her what she’s saying, so she understands that I understand.

28:28   Leslie:  Exactly. And you know what? From my end, I feel like Mom gets me. And here’s the hard part: there may not be a solution. 

28:39  Emma:  Okay. That’s where I feel so kind of off balance, because what I feel like—and this could be me placing what I believe—she’s trying to communicate is that she wants Grayson to be punished. But I don’t feel that it’s punishable because I don’t know what happened. So how do I navigate that? 

29:00  Leslie:  Remember her theme. We discovered that she’s got this unfairness button. And I might say that, “Ugh, this is one of those moments you feel like it’s unfair. What can you do when you feel like things are unfair? You’re telling me and I appreciate that. And I’m listening. I hear that you think it’s unfair, I get it. What else can you do? Would you like a hug?” So you focussed  on, “What am I supposed to do with Grayson?” And I’m like, no, she’s got a problem right now, in the moment. She’s dealing with this discomfort of, “This is unfair, and I don’t know what to do with this feeling.” So it’s like, “Oh, you’ve got this feeling and the feeling is going…it’s okay to have that feeling. Would you like a hug? Would you like to go home? And we will write this story in your journal or draw a picture or I’ll write it down for you.” This is a moment of, “It feels unfair. I don’t like this moment.”

29:54  Emma:  What would I do if she came back and said, “I want you to punish Grayson,” or, “I want Grayson to go to timeout.”

29:59  Leslie:  Say, “That makes a lot of sense. But not every situation…we don’t always get what we want in every situation. So it’s unfair. You want me to do something, and I’m not going to do anything about this situation.”

30:14  Emma:  Okay, so just tell her, “Hey, I’m not going to do anything.”

30:18   Leslie:  I’d say that. And then I’d say…okay, what popped in my head was, “But you are welcome to tell Grayson how that felt. I will give you the space to make it safe for you and make it safe for Grayson, that both of you get to share how you felt about that situation.”

“But Mommy, you need to punish him.” 

“No, I think you think I need to punish him. But I’m not actually going to choose to do that right now. I have some rules about when I give someone consequences. This doesn’t fall into the time that I would give him a consequence. But I’m happy that you can express how it felt to be hit that doesn’t feel good. And I’m happy to help you with those feelings. I am glad you’re speaking up. Because when something seems unfair to you, I want you to speak up.”

31:05  Emma:  Okay, perfect. So just giving her that space to recognize the unfairness and be like, it’s okay that nothing’s going to happen on my end. But what kind of putting the power in her court, letting her know like she has the power to do something about it if she wants.

31:22  Leslie:  Or you can say—and this is where brainstorming is so important, because now as we’re talking, all these ideas are popping in my head—you might give her an opportunity to talk to Grayson, and maybe not in that moment, because you’re too, you got too much going on. Say, “You know what? I’m going to make sure we make time for this tomorrow morning,” or whatever, or after dinner. And then I might say, “Let’s also see that there are some other interpretations. Could it be that it was an accident, that Grayson didn’t realize, he didn’t want to hurt you? But when he picked up his hand, he hit you.” I wouldn’t go there right now. But I would tell her that that is a possibility of finding other interpretations as well.

32:03  Emma:  Okay, I like that. Now, we did have a situation. I can give you an even more specific one where she was going into a room and her little sister was in the room, she was coming out of the room. And this was Claire. And Claire had turned around to talk to Henley and Henley didn’t want to talk to her for some reason. So she shut the door. And Claire kind of backed up a little bit. And then Claire opened the door to talk to Henley again. And then Henley kicked the door shut, which smacked Claire in the face. So she got in trouble for that. And we had her take a timeout. 

And, we’re like, just think about, you know, we want to know why—why you did this. And her first one was, “Well, I didn’t know that she was coming back in the room.” And we were like, “We saw it.” We saw that she was intentionally opening the door. And then we saw, we heard and saw all of it. So we knew what had happened. So she kind of fibbed her way through the first couple questions on it. And then when it came down to us having the conversation I said, “Why did you slam the door?” She said, “I don’t know.” 

And she kept saying, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” And it was frustrating to me. I said, “Well, could we maybe look at how were you feeling? Were you angry with Claire? Walk me through this.” And she kept saying, “Well, I don’t know.” So I’m not sure if it was the emotion and embarrassment of the moment of putting her on the spot. Or if she really doesn’t have the words to describe how she’s feeling. Or, it’s a combination.

33:44  Leslie:  I love that you’re opening up the possibilities, you don’t exactly know. And I love that you’re thinking more broadly. Excellent, because that’s what we want to teach her, to think more broadly. So I’m going to go back to the situation with Grayson and Henley in the car, only because it’s going to relate to this situation. One other idea that I didn’t do, which I think is also lovely. I love to use the phrase, “There seems like there’s a problem here. It seems like you both have a problem.” 

So when you go in with sibling rivalry, we often, and you even said it, “All right. Tell me what happened.” “He did this.” “She did this.” No, they each get to say what their interpretation is. We don’t say what the problem is. We say, “What’s your perspective? What’s your interpretation of what happened?” Because everyone has their own interpretation. There’s no one reality. There’s perspective. “From my perspective, this is what happened. From your perspective, this is what happened.” From Grayson’s perspective, it may be that Henley in daycare told him he’s a baby; I don’t know…right?

Emma:  Yes, right. 

Leslie:  She might have said something that she thought, “I didn’t do anything.” And he hit her because his perspective is that she teased him. And her perspective is, “The problem started when he hit me.” So what I like to do is…you might get home and say, “There’s a problem between the two of you. Why don’t you tell me? Henley, you’re going to tell me what happened from your perspective. And Grayson, you’re going to tell me what happened from your perspective.” 

And sometimes when I have kids doing this conflict resolution, I put my arm around the one who’s not talking, because the one who’s talking has a little more power. “You did this and you did this and you did this.” And I remind them, “Okay, tell me how it felt.” “I didn’t like it when you hit me.” So we start to unpack it with perspectives. We give them each a chance to hear. 

Just very quickly, the second step is they each have to say what the other person said. Now, I know Grayson is three years old. I’m not worried about doing this right now. I’m just giving you an idea. I like to go in with: there’s no fault, there’s no blame. We’re not looking for fault and blame. We’re looking for understanding. And we’re looking for empathy, and we’re looking for problem solving. 

Okay, going back to the situation with Claire. I do believe that Henley doesn’t know why she did it. And it is shame. She knows she did something wrong, on some level. A lot of people, adults and children, have a very hard time when they’ve done something wrong, admitting they’ve done something wrong. It’s not easy. So, I don’t like to put my kid on a witness stand. I don’t want to question her, “Why do you do this?” And when you do this, you’re putting a flashlight in someone’s eyes.

36:44  Emma:  Okay, so it’s more it feels intimidating. 

36:49  Leslie:  It feels intimidating, which creates a second problem which they’re protecting themselves from. “Don’t question me, don’t question me.” I mean, people lie when they’re being interrogated, when they’re when they feel unsafe. So first, you want to make her feel safe. “Wow, that was upsetting. Everyone’s upset. Claire, are you okay?” Making sure Claire is okay. No one’s in trouble. Again, when you go right to punishment, we don’t give them a chance to admit, “I hit her and I didn’t, I was really upset. I didn’t want to talk to her, and I didn’t know what else to do.” And that’s the answer you’re going to get, when you make her feel safe.

37:21  Emma:  So just getting that guard down right away is not putting the blame on anybody. But just saying, “Hey, we have a problem here,” essentially.

37:31  Leslie:  Exactly. “We have a problem here. And everyone’s okay. Let’s figure this out. We’re safe.” And it’s going to be hard. I think this is going to be hard for you, which we might need to bring up in the next session, which is: what else besides consequences? You want to go to, “How do I have to punish, we need to stop anyone from getting hurt.” My thinking is, is everyone safe? If everyone’s safe, I don’t need to put anyone in timeout. And now I have to create emotional safety. First, I have to make sure everyone’s physically safe. I want to be the parent in the room again; not the victim of their typical messiness of children and all that and say, “Okay, let’s all take a breath. Let’s all pause, we are safe. We can figure this out. There’s a problem here, and we’re going to work together to figure this out.” So, taking your pause is helping them learn to take a pause. The reactivity, and the impulsivity of, “What happened, why did you do this, go take a timeout,” that impulsivity usually isn’t our best guide.

38:31  Emma:  Yes, that makes sense. I kind of took what I’ve learned in your previous podcasts and said, “Could it be that, I’m going to take a guess here, on maybe why you slammed that door.” And I said, “It’s hard being a big sister. And sometimes it can be annoying when your little sister wants to constantly be around you. Did you feel like you wanted some space from her?” And that was her resolution. She was like, “Yes. I just wanted some privacy. I just wanted Claire to leave me alone.” And I was like, “Okay, I understand how that feels. Because I feel like that sometimes with all of you. [Laughter] So she did come around to it. So yes, I remember that from a previous podcast. And I was like, “Alright, I’m going to just speculate, but not place that emotion on her.”

39:22  Leslie:  You really are learning so much. So the key is, the only time you get in trouble is when you have that panic moment. Your, “What do I do? What do I do?” Or feel helpless. And you go into emotion mind—that quick, impulsive, emotion mind. And if you can take the breath, that’s the same thing as giving her a moment, because right after she slammed the door, and she went into blame, she went into emotion mind. “I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what happened. No, don’t tell me…” And so instead, learning that, because you’ve got that information. It’s in your brain. It’s back there. You just have to give yourself…

Emma:  …the space. 

Leslie:  Exactly. All right, I want you to keep practicing that. How’s that sound?

40:04  Emma:  That sounds very good, and challenging. 

40:07  Leslie:  Yes, it is challenging. And there’s no deadline, you’re not in a race. This is a long endurance game. You’re going to take your time, so I don’t want to put pressure on you. And give yourself the opportunity to practice it. And if it doesn’t work one time, guess what? There’ll be another opportunity to practice it.

40:28  Emma:  As always, with the children.

[Laughter]

40:30  Leslie:  As always with the children. All right, so let’s wrap up there. Thanks, Emma. Thanks for showing up and doing this hard work. 

40:41  Emma:  I appreciate it. Leslie. I appreciate the insight and the wisdom and I’m looking forward to the next session.

 40:46  Leslie:  Excellent. Okay, take care.

40:48  Emma:  Thanks.

[Music: Dreams in Nature by Olexy]

40:56  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  It’s amazing to see how much has already changed for Emma just in her perspective shift, and also how committed she is to the longer-term changes. Emma doesn’t want to feel like a victim or helpless while raising her children. And she’s doing the work to change that. Feeling trapped is a horrible feeling. It feels like you have no choices. But the good news is there is an antidote to that feeling. It’s identifying your options. 

Even if it feels like an impossible situation, there are almost always options. And the way to figure them out is through brainstorming. For some people, brainstorming comes easy. For others, it takes a lot of practice. So, practice with your kids, especially when they’re not feeling trapped, so the skill is easier when they are. And keep in mind, the ideas you come up with don’t have to be practical. In fact, silly ideas are just as helpful for flexible thinking. So be creative. Think outside the box. And remember: step one is to come up with as many ideas as possible without any judgment. And step two is to go back over the list and evaluate them.

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

Join us next week for the third and final session with Emma, where we try to answer the questions, How do you deal with misbehavior? And how do you discipline a child compassionately? 

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

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