MAY 8, 2023

S01 E02 – Michelle & Emiliano: When Your Kid Can’t Sleep

This is part two in a three part series with guests Michelle and Emiliano, whose 10-year-old daughter struggles with severe anxiety.

In this session Leslie reviews the skills from session one to figure out what did and didn’t work to help manage Willow’s anxiety. In this episode, we look at the relationship between parents’ behaviors and the unintended consequences that impact their children and can contribute to things like separation anxiety. Towards the end of this session Leslie “hits a nerve” In other words, she asks some tough questions about the impact of parents’ well intended actions. Listen as Michelle and Emilliano show us their vulnerability and model what growing as parents can look like.

We live in a society where we expect immediate results. Many parents have the same expectation about raising children. Spoiler alert: parenting is a long term investment process. In this session Michelle and Emiliano share that some of the skills they used had immediate results — that feels good to all parents. And some skills didn’t get immediate results — that’s the hard part. Hang in there. Have faith in the process. Certain skills don’t show immediate change but under the surface they are making an impact and will have long term positive results.

To learn more about these skills:

Video demonstration of Three States of Mind: The Nervous Guy Sings
Dialectics: What is it? And A How-to-Guide
Worksheet on Breathing Mindfulness Exercises

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. Transcriptions by Eric Rubury. A special thanks to everyone who contributes their wisdom and support to make this possible.


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

Michelle: If your child is like bawling at the airport, what do you say? Just say “bye” and you walk off?

Leslie Cohen-Rubury: Whether you are confused, overwhelmed, frustrated, or just concerned about your child’s well-being, parents have thought to themselves, “Is my child a monster?”, or ask the question over and over again to me in my therapy office. Welcome to this fly-on-the-wall parenting podcast that allows you to listen in, as parents share their trials and tribulations in therapy sessions recorded live. I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury, your host, a therapist with 37 years of experience helping parents navigate this question. I’m also a mother and a grandmother who has stayed up late into the night wondering if my child is a monster — a totally normal question that you may be asking yourself. Though I am a therapist, this show is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for therapeutic intervention.

This is the second of three sessions with Michelle and Emiliano, who came to me to talk about their 10-year-old daughter Willow, who deals with intense emotions. Last time, we talked about how Willow struggled with anxiety at bedtime, as well as school anxiety and panic attacks that showed up at unexpected times. If you haven’t listened to the first episode, I suggest you go back and catch up, because there’s a lot of information that will help this session make more sense. We went over some specific skills and strategies to try at home, like writing down her worries in a “worry box” each night. Michelle and Emiliano are back today to talk about what worked and what didn’t work. It can be so frustrating when things don’t work out the way you thought. And you don’t get those immediate results. But it’s important to stick with it. Change takes time. And when things don’t work out, that information is just as useful as when they do. As always, the names of my guests, and the name of their child, have been changed, along with any other identifying information. Okay, let’s get started.

Leslie: Hi, Michelle. Hi, Emiliano. It’s good to see you today. And it’s been about a month or month and a half since we last spoke. So I’m really curious as to what you’ve been working on and what your takeaways from the last session were. What worked, what didn’t work? What was life like at home?

Michelle: Yeah, thank you, Leslie. It’s great to be with you again. We instituted several of your suggestions after our last conversation. We’ve learned that it’s very typical for our daughter, Willow, to get very anxious before bed, and she really kind of starts to go from one thing to the next, of whatever is on her mind that’s really bothering her. And so we had her do the “worry box.”

Leslie: The worry box, yeah.

Michelle: Yeah. So we’ve had her write down her worries and date them and rate them, like you suggested. And that really seemed, I think, to alleviate some of that immediate stress in the moment, for her to be able to write it down, to rate it, to talk about the day. And then we didn’t really have to talk much about it. I think we just kind of folded it up and we found a little — she has a little pot in her room and it goes into the pot. And we did that several times. And until recently, it really worked, there were no more worries that night, even. It seemed to completely silence the worries that she went to sleep.

Emiliano: I fully agree with your experience on the use of the tool. As we, I think, mentioned in the previous session, Michelle and I take turns every night to put Willow to sleep. And so I experienced the use of that tool by myself with very similar results. And funnily enough, yesterday — so Willow has been going under a lot of anxiety and yesterday was my turn to put her to sleep and I read to her for a while and we did a lot of the same routine. And at some point, she asked me, “Can I have a piece of paper and a pen?” I didn’t offer it, she just said, “Can you give me a glass of water and a piece of paper?” And then she started writing something. I just let her sort of write, and I noticed that she was writing something like, “I feel sad.” And then I went to my side of the bed and that was it. But yeah, she’s now asking for it, which I thought was interesting.

Michelle: And similarly, I think the other day, I remember asking her if I want — I offered her a piece of paper and pen. I was like, “Shall we put this in the worry box?” And she’s like, “No.” So she seems to understand what needs to go into the worry box and what doesn’t.

Leslie: Yeah. But what I love that you’ve said is it has cut down on the conversation, that before bedtime was getting, if I’m not mistaken, was getting pretty excessive, that she could talk and talk and talk and keep you engaged. You were trying so desperately to help her calm down. But unintentionally did not realize it was actually increasing the amount of anxiety, the more she could talk about it. So it sounds like you’ve made a significant change in, write it, rate it, date it, put it on the piece of paper, put it down. And that has limited the amount of talking before bed.

Michelle: But it has until recently. I think we’re running into a new set of worries. So it did work. And it seems that Emiliano had some success recently, but I had more of a challenge the other day, which we can get into another time.

Leslie: Okay, so let’s hold off on that for a moment. Were there other strategies that worked over this last month and a half that you tried?

Michelle: Yeah, the turning her awareness into the sounds around her — I tried that several times where I thought it went really well where she was just not able to settle and fall asleep because she has too much energy; because she didn’t — it wasn’t this kind of need to talk or that there was something clearly on her mind. It’s just her ability to kind of settle and sleep at some point. And so I tried it a few times, and it worked to just lay with her and say, “Okay, do you hear that?” We have a sound machine in her room. So it’s like, “Do you hear the sound machine, like, listen to that?” “Oh, I can hear the fish tank bubbling. Oh, that’s an owl outside.” From one sound to the next. “Oh, that’s Papa in the kitchen washing dishes” or, you know, and we were just listening to different sounds.

And she really fell asleep much faster than she normally takes to fall asleep. For her, sound seems to be the thing that can get, I guess, get her focus onto something so that she can sleep. In addition, we also have started to occasionally use — because she loves stories, she’s very and very much in love with stories. And so one of the ways is to use “sleep stories,” there are certain sleep stories that I think have been successful for her. And we question because we don’t want to give her too much media. But these are made for kids, really sweet. And just listening to them seems to, you know, if we can get her to the point — I mean, she doesn’t fall asleep while listening to a sleep story because she loves the story. So that’s part of the problem. So we’ll listen to 15 minutes of it, and then turn it off. And then the process from that to falling asleep seems to be faster than without the story, let’s say.

Leslie: Beautiful, that sounds really good as well. So when you just described that she will listen to the stories at night, and then you turn them off, so then she can settle herself. What I love about that is the independence. Now she’s putting herself to sleep. You’ve talked about where she holds your finger — squeezes it really tight, she needs you next to her bed. Well, as a teenager, as a young adult, as she’s growing even now if she can listen to a sleep story, which can transition her, it’s away from you. And it’s now making her a little bit more independent, even though she might need a little more support going to bed and that’s something that calms her down. So you’re focusing on moving her towards more independent, less dependent skills, which is fantastic. And we’re also acknowledging that she can do it on her own and that she can settle her body and I want to.I don’t know if you’re reinforcing that and saying, “Wow, after you listen, do you notice your body’s a little calmer?” Maybe you say it in the morning, you might not want to say it in the moment because it might activate her thinking and we want to keep her in her body and in her calm body.

So I’m just pointing it out to you that we do want to reinforce the calming that happens when she listens to a story maybe pointed out in the next morning so we don’t get her thinking again, but that rather she’s tuning in and as you use that word, and as she’s settling her body before bed, great things.

Okay, so excited. You’re trying these things and things are working. And I know we’re gonna get back to what is creating the anxiety presently. Nothing works forever. I mean, I shouldn’t say nothing works forever. Some things work forever. But these are tools. And sometimes we need to shift the tool. So I’m not surprised when you say, “Well, it worked for a little while.” Parents can get very discouraged. “Oh my God, here we go again, right?” It’s like, “Here we go again. It’s —we’re back at square one.” No, no, no, you’re not. So even though her anxiety has gone up. Okay, we’ll deal with that. Let’s keep going over some of the other takeaways. But we’ll come back to what happens when anxiety peaks again.

Michelle: Yeah, I think the other things that have worked with breathing if she gets really kind of wound up into the grip of it. We talked before about kind of, you know, deep breaths to sort of get back into your body. And my acupuncturist taught me a breathing technique, that’s just another way to do the same thing, where you breathe in for four seconds, then you hold your breath for seven, and then you blow out for eight. And so we’re able to count through that process and do that a few times. And that kind of brings things back into a less amped-up state.

Leslie: Great, great. One thing I might have mentioned last time is trying to practice some of these skills — especially breathing skills — when she’s calmer. Because it’s rather hard if you ask someone who’s hyperventilating to do their breathing, until they’ve practiced and they have that muscle of mindfulness. It takes a little practice before you get good at it. So if you’re practicing it at other times besides bedtime, that’s really great. That way, when she is really upset, it’s more familiar to her. And there’s a little bit more muscle memory when it comes to that. But sure, good. There’s so many kinds of breathing. I love hearing about different kinds of breathing, that just really catch your attention and help you focus mindfully on your breath.

Michelle: One of the others that I tried was the — I think I found this one challenging or I don’t think it worked in any immediate way — when this idea of holding both things at the same time. So being able to say, “I know that you’re scared, I know, you’re really afraid, or I know that this is worrying you. And I also know that it’s going to work out okay.” You know, that sort of thing. I’ve tried it a couple of times, but it doesn’t seem to have any sort of immediate impact on changing anything. But maybe there is a deeper, maybe it sort of sinks a little bit deeper. And she’s — it might be effective in the long run, I don’t know.

Leslie: You got it. It is a very challenging concept. This is the concept of dialectic thinking, where we can hold two things at once. And I really know that we are a society that is trained in what’s called “dichotomous thinking.” It’s my way or your way; you’re right or you’re wrong. And it’s all one way or all the other way, good or bad, right or wrong. It’s societal, it’s in the way our brains are set up a little bit. And it’s in her education. It’s really all over the place. So we are talking and I’m glad you said you know what this didn’t have the immediate result I was hoping for because that kind of training her to think dialectically — is you’re raising her in the long term to help her think dialectically — will allow her when she gets older to hold these two things.

So right now, it is really important for you to keep modeling it. Just because you don’t see the results don’t stop: do it, do it, do it, keep doing that. You will smile. I know there will come a day, and not too far away, where she’ll use the “and,” and you will smile and say, “I guess she was listening.” So I know that’s going to happen. Just keep using the “and” because she needs to see that you’re modeling it. She needs to see that it makes sense to you that this is the way you’re thinking about things. So even apply it in your own life. You know, “Wow, I’m really tired and I’m going to get up and go clean the dishes. Or I’m really tired and I’m going to go out for a walk to get some fresh air.” So really almost make it part of your life, because we want to expose her to it as a way — it’s a mindset and we want to help her develop this mindset.

Emiliano: Yeah, there’s a tendency to say “but,” right? Like, “I’m so tired but I’m going to go do the dishes.” And it’s just that small switch because the “but” is definitely dichotomy thinking, not dialectical.

Leslie: That’s correct.

Michelle: Yeah, or worse. I “should” — you know, that sort of stuff that you get in your head, too. I think that can be pretty poisonous.

Leslie: Absolutely.

Emiliano: I was going to add to what Michelle was saying about one of the techniques where I didn’t see a lot of results and it wasn’t a technique by itself, but it was like the end of the exercise where she had to write down, sort of your worries. And then I believe you mentioned, then we go back, when she is calm, and try to sort of assess how she felt against something. And I tried it a couple of times, and it just seemed to just raise her — you know, she couldn’t assess where she was. It was more about her racing — her nervousness or anxiety, because she just remembers that. I was like, “Okay, I was a two; but now that I think about it, I’m back at six.” Or something like that. So…

Leslie: So it actually did work, because when she wasn’t thinking about it, she was at a two. And so we can say, “So there are times when they worry about what your teacher is going to say, what’s going to happen tomorrow, or whatever the worry is, right? You mentioned it specifically, five minutes ago, that worry was down at a two or maybe a one. It was a very small worry, it wasn’t on your mind. So, isn’t that amazing that worries change? “

So the point of going back to the worries, and the rating is to teach her perspective. Perspective says: I will feel different at different times. So you use it creatively. But think about it, perspective is a hard thing to teach. Right? So you might say, “You were very upset when you told me about your friend not asking you to play,” or whatever the example is, you know, “Your friend didn’t ask you to play and you were very upset at the time. I think you recorded that as, on a scale of one to ten, that was an eight.” And say, “The next day when you were playing with her did that change?” So you actually just have to be a little creative about helping her see that there’s perspective change. Yes. If she says, “No, now I’m back at the nine,” then say, “Okay, well, you just started thinking about it, and it just went up. So it makes sense that it went back up to a nine because it’s now on your mind again.” So you can then go back to a worry that you know, for a fact is over and gone.

So again you need to be — I have an expression: be one step ahead of your child. So if you pick up a worry out of the worry pot, you’re gonna accumulate them. And the worry was, “I’m scared to go to the movie, I’m scared to go to my friend’s house, I don’t want to do, I don’t want to talk, I don’t want to raise my hand at school,” whatever the worry was. But you know that she’s over it. Go to that one, go to the one that you know is not going to raise her anxiety again.

So one of the things I do is I sometimes put some things in the Worry Box. Because I’ll say, “You know, I have a worry, or I think you were worried about are you going to be able to —” let’s say she went sledding —“Are you going to be able to go sledding? And are you worried about getting hurt?” Well, the season’s over. Right? We don’t have to worry about getting hurt sledding because it’s over. So that’s setting her up for success. It’s almost like I’m making my tool work for me to make my point. Does that make sense?

Michelle: It does. I think a slight challenge for us, which might be particular to us, is that our child is incredibly imaginative, like to the point where she — her reality is her imagination. So if she can imagine that it puts her back there in such a vivid way. So I think we all have that ability to like, you know, our brains can respond to whatever we’re thinking about. But hers is just so strong and vivid that it’s even more challenging in that way.

[Music: Acoustic Motivation by Coma-Media]

Michelle: Do you remember the time I was dropping my father at the airport in New York City and I have a friend in Brooklyn so I was spending the night there? But it was just overnight and I was leaving and she was super — remember she was super upset? She was so worried that I wasn’t going to come back, that it was — it went into her worry thing. She was really stressed and worried about me going away. I don’t know if you revisited that one because I feel like that was passed and I went away again for a few days which also really, really upset her when I was leaving at the airport. Remember?

Emiliano: Yeah, no, I remember. I mean, I think she — yes, she goes through a moment of anxiety just before you leave. But then whether she boxes that anxiety, or — she doesn’t, she doesn’t go into manifesting that anxiety once you leave, maybe she goes through a quiet moment. And then eventually she’s okay, or what seems to be quote-unquote, normal. But then when you come back, it could be like, she could be having a blast, and then you come back, and she’s like, “Wow!” Which is kind of…

Leslie: I am so glad you shared this example. There are a few things that I think that are helpful here. One is we know she’s very, very attached to you. I mean, last time you shared with us that you got — you had the ability to spend, I believe, not working her first four years of life and spending a lot of time with her. hat’s beautiful. And being highly sensitive, she may not have gotten practice in being without you. Right? She may have gotten practice. And also, it’s her sensitivity and her intelligence, there’s a lot of factors that are going in here that make it very hard for her to separate from you. Okay?

So one thing that Emiliano just said, which is when you go her anxiety peaks, and then it goes down. So we want to think of it as that sine curve, which goes up and it goes down. That’s how you can teach her about her emotions and about the Worry Box and the rating. It’s like, “Yeah, that fear, that feeling goes up when you think about it. And then when you get distracted, and you start playing, or we drive home, and we have dinner, and you help me cook, or then all of a sudden it goes away.” So we want to just say: feelings come and feelings go. And then we want to back it up with facts. “You got upset when mommy left. And then we played a game. And it looks like it went down.” So teaching her and maybe even playing with your hand where it goes, “Oh, my feeling’s going up. And it’s going to go down.”

Tracing your hand is both a lovely mindfulness practice because there’s a sensation of feeling each finger. But also you can use that for describing feelings. Feelings get big, and feelings go away. They come and they go, just keep tracing your finger as you say, the feelings coming in feelings going. And I think that’s a way to teach her the perspective that yes, when your feelings come, they are big. And what we’re trying to teach her, as we talked about the last time — I think I mentioned the puppy with big paws — we’re trying to teach her that she will learn to be able to handle those feelings. The way we can teach her is feelings come and feelings go. Does that help?

Michelle: Mmm hmm.

Leslie: Good. The other thing that I would say about, when Willow sees you after you’re away, and there’s that big emotional response, like, “Oh, Mommy, I’m so glad you’re home. I didn’t know you’re going to be gone.” You know, there’s an emotional response. How do you respond?

Michelle: How do I respond? I don’t know. I mean, I usually give her a hug. I usually, because she, she’ll just sometimes she’ll just burst into tears. And sometimes she has done things like, made me sit down and decorated me and, you know, like, put a crown on and treat it — just tried to spoil me in her way, you know? So, it depends on what happens, if she bursts into tears or is really upset. I mean, I usually hug her and say, “I’m home, I’m back, I’m here. It’s okay. You see? I came back,” or something like that. What do you recall?

Emiliano: Yeah, I mean, a variety, I think.

Michelle: Yeah. No reaction.

Emiliano: Yeah. And depends also where you’re coming from and often you’re just very happy to be back and you’re smiling and hugging her, reassuring her. There’s been times where — especially when you’re leaving — that you’re busy, sort of feel bad about it. So you’re like overly cuddly. Which is also what I will do, if I’m going away. Moreover when you’re leaving, than when you’re coming back.

Michelle: Yeah, I’m thinking of my recent airport departure where she was crying. I was like, “Honey, I have to go, it’s freezing, I’m so cold,” and…

Emiliano: And she was hugging you.

Michelle: …I was hugging her and saying, “I’m gonna be back. Everything’s fine. I’ll be back, it’s just four days. It’s okay. I’m coming.”

Leslie: It was thinking about it and a child who’s anxious. This is sort of a mystery. But I’d like to assess it. How much does the child get reinforced to have a big reaction based on the parents reaction? If she sees that you feel needed, she knows that you feel love. Like you said, she makes you feel like a queen. But even when you’re leaving, and she’s very upset, and then she sees you upset. There is a parenting book called, Your Children Will Raise You. And I love that title because sometimes we have the experience where we need to work on it. And we need to work on it, which says, in that instance: is it really painful for me to watch my daughter struggling? Emiliano is shaking his head, it’s probably a yes with a capital Y-E-S — it’s yes, we don’t like to see our children struggle. And…

Michelle: Or their children cry or…

Leslie: …No, no. But we also don’t want to make their anxiety worse.

Emiliano: Correct.

Leslie: There is a fine line between making it worse by hugging and staying and getting cold and being outside. And just trying to help, just trying to help. just trying to help. And the point is, it actually doesn’t just help. Right? She doesn’t calm down when you give her the extra hug. The anxiety says: Keep crying, mommy will give you another hug, keep crying. So the anxiety is sort of doing its work to get her to make you feel needed. You’re giving her a hug, even though you’re like, I don’t want this happening. She’s engaging in a way with you that I think it’s like talking too much about time. It’s the anxiety that is actually running the show here. And that’s where you go, it feels difficult because you’re having troubles moving away from that.

And so one of the things that I look at my parents, and I’m like, “Why did my parents actually — why did it work?” There is a little piece of the parenting from the ‘50s and ‘60s that I call “benign neglect.” A little bit of neglect. And I mean that really, really little, so little, but it’s a word that helps us understand that if I don’t attend to every word, and I just validate her experience, “This is really hard for you. This is me going away. And this is your emotion mind. And this is really hard for you.” We’re not actually neglecting her at all. We’re attaching to the person and not to the emotion.

Michelle: You have something to say? [Laughter] You’re nodding, like…

Emiliano: No, I’m…[Laughter]

Michelle: I don’t know what you think I’m doing wrong. But it’s…

Leslie: It’s not wrong. It’s what’s working. And I know when I say something like that it can feel like, “Oh, no, I’m doing something wrong.” So I’m so glad your response was that. Let’s take that again. Let’s take it where, if your intention is to attach, to make her feel loved and supported. Right? That’s your intention.

Michelle: Of course.

Leslie: If the intention to do that is by giving her lots of extra hugs, staying longer before you leave, drawing it out, talking more, trying to reason with the emotion. And you see it’s not working — are you willing to try something different?

Michelle: Yeah, but I don’t think it ever gets to that point. I mean, even that time, I just — I was like I’m you know, “It’s I’m too cold. Honey, I have to go. I’ll see you in a few days. I’ll be back.” And I walked off. You know, that was…

Emiliano: …a minute. I think at times, you’re probably going to that and we both do…

Leslie: es.

Emiliano: …because we have a history of abandonment ourselves. Right? Well, one or more of our parents was not present. Both of our parents — fathers — were not present at home. And of course, there’s an element of neglect, to a degree in the case of our single parents. And I wouldn’t think that it’s outrageous to think that we are overcompensating at times with Willow. No?

Michelle: Yeah, I mean, possibly. I mean, certainly my mother went back to work after two weeks after having me. I took off for four years. So there’s a huge difference in that, right?

Leslie: And so Emiliano is wondering, I think it’s a great question with curiosity to ask: is there a possibility that sometimes what we do in parenting is an overcompensation or — forget overcompensation, it’s a response to your own childhood wounds and what you would like to do. So it also connects to your values, which is a lovely thing, and that’s beautiful. So we want you to be able to connect to your values, parent your child in an intentional way. All we’re doing here today is trying to get out unintended consequences, when we might be making things worse.

Michelle: Yeah, I mean, so in that case, what do you suggest? I mean, if your child is bawling at the airport, you just say ‘bye,’ and you walk off?

Emiliano: Validating, no?

Leslie: So remember, there’s a before, during, and after. So driving up to the airport, I might say, “I’m gonna guess that there might be three things that happen when we get to the airport: you might start crying, I might stay a little longer. You know, instead of saying goodbye, I might hang around a little longer.” And whatever the third thing is, or maybe you just name one thing, like, “I have a feeling that when we get to the airport, there is a chance that you might start crying and worry about me going away. Is there a chance that that might happen?” She’ll say, “Yes.” Now we’re educating her on the before of who you are, and this might happen. That’s okay. Teaching her to understand who she is, is one of your jobs as a parent.

Then when you’re there at the airport, she starts crying, I might say, “Ah, there it is, there’s emotion mind. Hello, emotion mind, hello, worry, I’m gonna give worry a kiss, there’s my kiss for worry. And here’s my big kiss for you.” Because I want to name it as a part of her, but not all of her. And when she’s crying and crying, I’m like, “Okay, I’m gonna give a kiss to worry. And now I’m gonna give a kiss goodbye to you.” And actually, maybe make it short and sweet.

And let that happen. And maybe make a plan. “When we get to the airport, I’m going to count to three, and we’re both going to do a high five, and I’m going to kiss you, I’m going to hug you and we’re going to do a high five, and then I’m going to go off to my plane.” So that I’m not leaving, to go off on my plane because I’m freezing or because I have to go or because we don’t want to get to that point where it’s, now we’re getting upset. I want to acknowledge her anxiety as it’s there, the worry is there. And I don’t even really have to address it because she is safe, she is fine. You’re going away, you’re coming back. So it’s more matter-of-fact then feeling.

If you are looking on a continuum, do you validate her feelings? Absolutely, positively, you guys do that. Do I want you to take a giant step a little bit more to reasonable mind where it’s matter-of-fact, “I’m getting on the plane. I leave in an hour. I’m gonna go sit at the airport, read my book, and then I’m getting on the plane. I’ll call you when I get there tonight,” or whatever the plan is. But a little bit more matter-of-fact, just to give her practice in that regard. How does that sound?

Michelle: Sounds fine. Yeah.

Leslie: Okay. And afterwards as she gets in the car. Emiliano, you’re taking her home. And you might say, again, change the subject, keep going, don’t make a big deal out of it. And then at home it’s like “Oh, your anxiety showed up? And your anxiety went away. How cool is that?”

That’s actually where I think we can wrap up for today is — you’re helping her with anxiety that wants to be a long run-on-sentence, she wants to go on and on and on, anxiety wants to do that, right? That’s her way of holding on, when she’s feeling so anxious. Let’s try a short and sweet kind of motto or way of interacting with her a little bit. Always I want to make sure it’s validating. But even validating can be short and sweet: “It’s really hard when mommy goes away. Love you, see you tomorrow; or, see you in three days.” So I always want to respect her feelings. And I want to validate what is valid. And then I want to keep it short and sweet just to move her a little bit towards her reasonable mind.

Last question: did you use emotion mind, reasonable mind, and wise mind with her at all?

Michelle: Yeah, I tried that. And that language and stuff just didn’t resonate. She didn’t like it. Especially in the moment when she’s wound up to say, “Oh, you’re in your worry mind” or whatever, she looks at you know — It just didn’t sit well and work well with her at all from my experience. I don’t know about you.

Emiliano: I didn’t try it, actually.

Leslie: Okay, let’s start — she’s already heard it when you talk about it with her. Let’s start talking about it yourself. If you guys can point out, you know, end of the day, you’re tired. “Hey, I think I’m a little in emotion mind, I’m exhausted, I’m overwhelmed. That’s my emotion mind.” So we take away the shame of using this language. And just use it gently. You can use it with her. You might use it in hindsight because it does sting more when you are in emotion mind to hear someone say you’re in emotion mind. I told you my daughter once said it to me and I was like, “Don’t say that to me.” [Laughter] I got the same reaction that your daughter has, which is, “No, don’t you dare tell me I’m in emotion mind”. And she was 100% right. [Laughter] So it stings when you say it to someone in the moment, even if it’s true. So say it in hindsight, “Wow, I guess the emotion mind showed up when I said goodbye to you at the airport. Makes sense, I get why a motion mind might show up.” And then that’s it and then move on. Okay.

Michelle: I think not in the moment, but after the fact or before if you’re talking about it, that makes sense. But in the moment, yeah, it didn’t work well.

Leslie: Beautiful. And this is why I say try the skills, practice the skills, when it doesn’t work, tweak it. And so that’s a great like, “Oh, yeah, we need to tweak it.” Don’t get too discouraged when things don’t work, because she’s still learning, she hears it all. So let’s wrap up there. And just keep in mind short and sweet. Keep in mind that we’re trying to use the skills in a way that she can practice them and start to learn to develop them. Some of them take much, much longer, like the dialectic thinking, or the three states of mind. Keep modeling it, have faith. I really believe that she’s going to develop the skills and she will be an expert using these skills later.

Michelle: Thank you.

Emiliano: Thank you.

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

Leslie: I want to thank Michelle and Emiliano for showing up again in such an honest and vulnerable way. I really appreciate their presence today. I have a great deal of respect for them, and for all of you as parents as we do this work. Remember to keep the faith. It’s so easy as parents to get caught up in talking to the emotion and not your child. That’s when it ends up that the emotion is running the show. So are you willing to be vulnerable in parenting your child?

Refer to the show notes for more information on the skills and strategies we talked about; and then leave me a comment on my Instagram, Leslie Cohen-Rubury. That’s R-U-B-U-R-Y. And make sure to subscribe to Is My Child A Monster? wherever you get your podcasts; so you don’t miss Michelle and Emiliano’s final session, where they come to me with a very specific concern about Willow’s refusal to go on an overnight school field trip.

Is My Child A Monster? is a new podcast, and we’d love your help and getting the word out. My mission with this podcast is to provide resources to parents and caregivers who may not have access to the therapeutic process. Share this in a text to a friend or in your Facebook parenting groups. This episode of Is My Child A Monster? was produced by Aletta Cooper, Dale Rubury, and me. Our theme music is by L-Ray Music. I’m your host, Leslie Cohen-Rubury. Thanks for listening. And don’t forget to practice being comfortable in an uncomfortable situation.

Transcribed by    Edited by Eric Rubury

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