July 24, 2023

Kathryn Part 5 of 5: When Conflict Escalates

This is part five of the five part series. Kathryn and Leslie meet for a fifth time to continue to work on her relationship with her 17 year old daughter Bridgette.


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

0:07 Kathryn: I wasn’t prepared. I was kind of flipping through the pages of my notes in my brain and kind of froze. I didn’t know what to do next.

0:23 Leslie Cohen-Rubury: This is, Is My Child A Monster?, a parenting therapy podcast where you get to listen in, as real parents and caregivers share their trials and tribulations in therapy sessions recorded live. I’m your host, Leslie Cohen-Rubury. And I’m a parent and a therapist with 37 years of experience helping families navigate this question.

So, before we get to today’s session, I want to tell you about something fun I did. I recently had the opportunity to be a guest on Well, Hello Anxiety, a podcast all about anxiety, and how it shows up in people’s everyday lives. It was a great conversation with Dr. Jody Richardson. And I’d love for you to listen. Just search, Well, Hello Anxiety, wherever you get your podcasts, or find the link in today’s show notes.

Okay, so now back to Kathryn, who is joining me today for her fifth and final session. In our previous sessions, we talked about the risky decisions her teenage daughter, Bridget, is making about sex and drugs and how scary it is for Kathryn as a parent. Today, we’re focusing a lot on how to have effective conversations when everyone is emotional. Defensiveness, anger, and frustration are all normal parts of communicating about highly charged topics, especially with a teenager. Kathryn has two examples, and we explore how to handle them. De-escalating these types of polarized conversations is a practical and necessary skill for all kinds of relationships. As you may imagine, this episode has a lot of mature themes that may not be suitable for all audiences. And as a reminder, all names and identifying information have been changed. Finally, this show is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for therapeutic intervention. So let’s get started.

Hi, how are you today, Kathryn?

2:38 Kathryn: I’m doing well. Thanks. How are you doing?

2:40 Leslie: Good, it’s good to see you. I’m sort of excited to continue where we were, from last session. You were asking about two situations that you wanted to roleplay. So I’m going to let you start—tell the story of one of those examples. Let’s just jump right in.

2:57 Kathryn: Yeah, one of them was…we had talked in the past about drug use. And I use some of the tools that you had said about, like, asking the question, “Wouldn’t you be curious, if you were with somebody that you really liked, and you want to get to know better? And they offered you fentanyl or heroin or something and they just said, “Oh, it’s going to make you feel so good.” Wouldn’t you just be curious about it?” And her response was, “Oh, Mom, I’m not easily peer-pressured into using any of that. I’m not going to use heroin…I’m not going to use that at all.” And then she quickly wanted to pivot out of the conversation. And so I didn’t know…I need more tools about how to continue that conversation, and to be curious.

3:48 Leslie: So can I ask you, did you respond? Did you have a response before she pivoted, after she said, “Oh, I’m not interested in doing those other drugs. And I don’t give into peer pressure,” something like that, she said. What was your response, if you had one?

4:04 Kathryn I…wasn’t prepared. [Laughter]

4:07 Leslie: Okay. No, you didn’t have a response…

4:11 Kathryn: I didn’t have a response, and so I kind of went blank. And I was kind of, like, flipping through the pages of my notes in my brain and kind of froze. So I didn’t know what to do next. Because I was, like, “Oh, that’s a good response.” And I guess it could have been, “Oh, okay, well, that makes me feel really good. Well, what if…let’s just roleplay this, just go through the motions and see what would happen.” I didn’t do that.

4:36 Leslie: So let me explain why you didn’t do that, and why you did do it right, now. You didn’t need my answer—the answer just came out of you. That’s exactly what I would do next. I would want to say, “Well, that makes me feel better knowing that you don’t give into peer pressure,” whatever—I have more to say on that in a minute. But the answer came up because: you are not in the emotional situation right now. That’s the difference between the clarity that we have in wise mind, versus the, what happens—like the fogginess or the confusion or the feeling a little out of control or overwhelmed—in emotion mind.

So if I’m having an emotional conversation with my daughter, and I’m nervous about having this conversation, or I’m practicing new skills, I might be emotional—not out of control—but I might be dealing with some nervousness about the conversation. That nervousness can cloud my ability to think. I know when I meet someone, I walk up to a group of people…I’d be walking up the street with my husband, my friend, and I’d meet a neighbor…and I would go to introduce, and I’d say, “Oh, this is my husband,” and I forget his name—literally forget his name. Because I got nervous, because in the past, I forget names. So now I’m nervous when I have to introduce—it is a Catch-22. And the anxiety of, I’m just like, “Oh, my God, I don’t know my husband’s name, and I’m gonna forget it. And then I forget it. Literally forget my husband’s name it; I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened.

Why? Because I go into emotion mind. Someone’s going, “I have to introduce my husband, and I forget his name.” And it happens very quickly. I know I’m in emotion mind. So what do I do now,when I walk up to someone is: I take a breath. Oh, my goodness, the power of a breath, brings me back into my wise mind and say, “Okay, this is my husband, Eric.” It’s there, I know the information. And that just happened to you. Because here, you don’t have your daughter in front of you. And you’re not worried about her volatility. And you’re not afraid of doing the right thing. You’re with me, you’re like, “I’m safe, I can,” and the words came out of your mouth. Right? You were thinking clearly, that’s wise mind.

Wise mind helps us to think clearly. And it helps us to do what’s effective in the moment. So when we are in a difficult conversation, I’d be doing a lot of breathing. I’d be doing a lot of pausing. Then you will access your wise mind more often. And I would verbalize that. Like I might say, when you were there, say, “Oh, I think I’m in emotion mind. And I don’t know what to say. Give me a minute.” And take a breath and just show up to repeat what you heard. Because the other thing you’re doing is you’re getting ahead of yourself. “I got to think of what to say next, I got…” Wait a minute, you didn’t take in what she said. Because when you take in what she said, and you show up to that moment, not, “What am I supposed to do next;” but what just happened, it also makes sense: your wise mind is going to help you because you’re in the moment you want to respond to.

8:00 Kathryn: Right. Yeah, it makes so much sense.

8:01 Leslie: We often are like: I got an agenda and I got to bring in all this outside information. But really, we want to remember conversations go better when we stay present. When you hear someone talking, listen, listen to the point that you are understanding. And when you stay present to what they’re saying, I have a feeling you’re going to know what to say next. I can give you the words, I want to teach you the process where I find the words, I find the words because I slow down, I take a breath. And anybody who knows me is probably laughing because— hear I go—I talk before I think and often the words come out of my mouth before I’m staying present. But this is a practice that I can do as well. So it’s really, really helpful. So does that make sense? Because you just did that.

8:58 Kathryn: Yeah, it makes total sense. And it’s so helpful to hear: not to get ahead of myself with the agenda. Because I’ll sit down like, “Okay, this is on my list. I need to talk to her about this. And we’re going to check that off the list and everything will be there. We’ll move on.” And it completely takes me out of the process.

9:15 Leslie: Yeah. So then she takes…let’s go back. You were there. She said that. She’s about to take a left turn and get off the subject. Why do you think she does that? Because she might do that a lot. You might try to get out of a conversation. What do you know about why she wants to get out of conversation? Why does anybody want to get out of conversations?

9:37 Kathryn: She doesn’t want me to lecture her.

9:39 Leslie: Ohhhhh…[Laughter]. I don’t blame her. Oh, boy, is she 100% right about that. Yeah, kids don’t really want to be lectured. I don’t…do you like to be lectured?

9:52 Kathryn: No, not at all.

9:57 Leslie: Okay, so that’s something to probably name before you start. “I want to listen, I want to understand, I am going to do everything I can in my power not to lecture you.” You’re saying that for your benefit to remind yourself not to lecture and you’re saying it for her benefit—music to her years. “Oh, thank god, Mom, you always lecture me.” [Laughter] Back into emotion mind—take your breath. Don’t personalize it. This is a tricky process there’s a lot of work that has to happen when we’re having a conversation. Okay, so how would you stay with it? Let’s roleplay it, we could roleplay it both ways where you start the lecture, because I do want you to see what happens. And then when you give the comment of, “Wow, that’s really helpful to hear that you don’t give into peer pressure.” So let’s go both paths.

10:58 Kathryn: Let’s just try it and see what happens.

11:00 Leslie: Let’s see. I’ll play Mom, and you play your daughter. And I will play it both ways. Okay. “So, I want to ask you about the fact that, you hang out with friends, there’s a lot of people doing a lot of different drugs. And I’m curious, what would happen if someone you liked and someone you cared about offered you fentanyl or heroin? What would happen if you got offered those things?

11:34 Kathryn: Why do you think I’m hanging out with people who are going to offer me heroin, Mom? I’m not ever going to do heroin. Why are you talking to me like this?

11:40 Leslie: It’s my worry. And I am curious, I really want to know, what would you do in that situation? Is it possible that somebody could offer you something that…what do you think would happen if someone offered you something that was…

11:57 Kathryn: Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, I don’t give in easily to peer pressure. I mean, nobody’s going to peer-pressure me into doing something I don’t want to do.

12:04 Leslie: Okay. You just said, you don’t want to be peer-pressured. That’s so cool. Can you tell me what that means? How do you know you don’t give into peer pressure? Have you had experiences of peer pressure, where you know yourself?

Kathryn: Well…can we talk about something else? …..[Laughter]

Leslie: Okay, I did get you to start. You know, I forgot to escalate it. I was going to add…

12:38 Kathryn: Yeah, but that was really good. Because I was totally in the role of my daughter. And that was the…it was like, all of a sudden…that stumped me.

12:48 Leslie: Yes. And that’s where we want our kids to be. We want them to be thinking. And you got her thinking.

12:55 Kathryn: Yeah, no, you did.

12:57 Leslie: We want to raise responsible children. My definition of raising a responsible child is getting them to think. If we tell them what to do, if we lecture them all the time, we’re not giving them room to think. And we don’t know how they think. I love that that stumped you.

13:19 Kathryn: Yeah, because I felt we could easily go into the polarity, which is what we often do. And this one was, all of a sudden, it was this blank. I don’t know how she would respond to that question. So it’s like, “Oh, I haven’t been asking that question.”

13:37 Leslie: So we have two paths. One, which I did not state, is if she said, “I don’t give into peer pressure.” And that is satisfying to you, on some level. It’s not 100% convincing you that this problem is going away. But it is a statement that, “I’d like to end the conversation on that statement.” So one of the things I highly recommend is: make conversations short and sweet. I think that’s a great place to put a period. I would walk away and say, “I’m going to end it on that note—I don’t give into peer pressure.” If that’s the mantra, she just said to me, that is the mantra I want to leave her with. So sometimes—I don’t love the expression—we beat a dead horse, we keep going and we keep going. And we keep pounding our kids for more information. It’s like, “Wait a minute, you just got a gem—stop and leave it there.” So that’s choice number one. And I think I recommend that highly because again, you get overwhelmed. And we don’t want to overwhelm her, don’t overwhelm yourself. You don’t have to go that far.

14:42 Kathryn: Just in terms of giving myself partial credit, we did stop the conversation there. We stopped at, “I don’t give in to any peer pressure.” And I was like,” Okay, sounds good.” And in my mind, I was like, “Oh, man, I should see what else can I get.” And to hear that I don’t have to beat a dead horse—alright, that’s a great statement. And I’m also very curious about what she thinks of as peer pressure.

15:09 Leslie: Great. So, (a) you can come back another time and say, “You know, the other day, you mentioned that you don’t give in to peer pressure. Can I ask you about that? I’m curious, can you tell me more?” Remember the two words? These are really helpful. “Tell me more. Can you tell me more? Or can you give me an example of when you have, in the past, not given into peer pressure?” So the second option…the first option is, put a period and reinforce, “Great that’s music to my ears. Let’s end it right there.” And in your heart, you really are happy to hear those words. Not, “I have to get more out of her.” But, “No, I really am happy to hear those words.” Bring the emotion that this is very good thing to hear. The second one is, tell-me-more, be curious, go right into…you’ve got to be present for that, you can’t have an agenda, because you’re going to miss that opportunity.

And then the third one is if you keep going, and she starts to escalate, and you start to escalate, how do you recover? So basically, that’s again, the idea that there’s emotion mind and as soon as anyone escalates. Because as soon as anyone escalates, you know that people are feeling invalidated for some reason. It’s a really,…it’s a pretty solid cue that “Okay, I just said something that was invalidating to you.” Because you heard her talking. And you’re going on and and in your example that you gave, “I heard you talking about doing these drugs,” “Mom, why do you have to ask me these questions?” And then you said, you know, “Why do you have to worry about it all the time?” And then you said, “Well, I’m just curious, what would you do?” And in your roleplay, your voice calmed down. And you said, “Mom, but I don’t give into peer pressure.” She calmly said that—she wasn’t screaming at you. So I’m like, “She’s in a wise mind. And she’s talking to me.” As soon as I hear someone go, like in the beginning of the conversation, she goes, “Why do you always have to assume that I’m with people that are bad, and that bad things are going to happen?” Now, I could say, “Hey, I can see in your reaction, I can hear in your tone, that there’s something that I’m saying or doing that’s invalidating.” So I’m staying in the present moment. And I’m not going to go any further. There’s no point to have a conversation if she’s going into emotion mind, because I said something that was invalidating. I didn’t mean to say something about them, just trying to ask questions, but she heard it as, “You don’t trust me. You’re always thinking bad things about my friends.”

So I slow down, because I see her reaction. As soon as I see someone’s reaction, you do a timeout, and I put my hand up in the T and I say, “Timeout. We’re not going to go further with this conversation.” Because emotion mind means you are not in wise mind. Wise mind means…if you’re not wise, man, you’re not going to get anywhere in the conversation.

18:22 Kathryn: Do you timeout for a really long time? How does that work?

18:28 Leslie: Timeout can be…t could be anything. It could be, “Timeout. Let me take a breath.” “Timeout. Let me say that differently.” “Timeout. What did I just say that was invalidating.” Or, “Timeout. You know what? I think it would be nice to revisit this on another day.” Or, “Timeout. We can drop it. It’s really okay for us to drop this conversation.” Not everything needs a resolution.

[Music: Nature Calls by Olexy]

Dale Rubury: Hi, I’m Dale Rubry, a producer and occasional guest on Is My Child A Monster? And we’re looking for guests for Season 2. We’d love to hear from all kinds of families with kids between ages 4 and 18. There’s no problem too big or too small. So if you’d like to volunteer for some free parenting therapy, and are comfortable sharing your sessions publicly—with all names changed, of course—please visit ismychildamonster.com to apply.


Leslie: Do you want to give me the other example?

19:46 Kathryn: Yeah. So she came home. And I think what had happened is she came home late, which she often does and had not been in communication with us. And we didn’t know where she was, when she was going to be home, she had our car. And we’ve had lots of conversations with her about, you know, show us some respect around, just be respectful. And let us know when you’re going to be home, be home when you say you’re going to be home, and let us know where you’re at, if you’re going to be late. So my husband and I were, kind of getting ourselves worked up around how, “This is just what she does, she does this all the time. She does this all the time.” So that when she walked in, we were already frustrated with her. And, historically, there’s been frustrations about this repeated behavior. And then she’ll say, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I won’t do it again.”

And then it’s just like…there’s no change in behavior. And so when we brought that up, like, “You need to be in contact with us,” she’s like, “Every time I walk in the house, you always find something wrong with me, it makes me not want to come home, because you always are finding something wrong with, like, I can never do anything right.” So, not really sure, just need some practice on, or hearing how to deal with, that kind of situation.

21:05 Leslie: All right. I want to say one word: timing. [Laughter] What do you think I mean by that?

21:15 Kathryn: Giving it space, you know, choose your battles and figuring out when’s the best time to do it. Because in recognizing that my husband and I were already heated, that it wasn’t a good time to talk to her about that we needed to…yeah: find the right time and the place.

21:32 Leslie: That’s so important. Because what you have to say is important. You’re developing mutual respect, you want her to respect you, you want to respect her. But if everybody is coming in, and I’ve got to believe her words: ”I always walk in this house, you always tell me I’m doing something wrong.” I don’t believe the “always.” But I believe the sentiment, I believe she feels like, “That’s not the best time to hit me over the head with what I’m doing wrong, Mom or Dad.”

So I do think…you know, whose problem is it? You guys were upset, you have a right to be upset, you have a daughter that didn’t come home, you have worry. Take care of your problem, go to bed, she’s home, she’s safe. Nothing else needs to be discussed tonight, because it’s already done. She’s there at that moment. There’s nothing that needs to be done in that moment other than now you can go to bed. The next day, when people have had sleep, it’s not late, you’re not in emotion mind, then I would go back to it. I’d make it short and sweet.

Again, I want to make sure it’s dialectic. So when I approach a conversation, I want to approach it as, “You have a version of the story. I have a version of the story. And I’m really interested in hearing both sides of the story. I want to hear your perspective. And I’d like you to hear our perspective.” So sharing your perspective, it’s really important to start with emotion. Or the same way we did last session, we did the three step apology, the step number one was: describe the facts. You can always start with the facts. “It was one o’clock in the morning when you came in the house, we asked you to be home at 11. We did not get a text or a call from you.” Those are the facts. And then I would go into: express your emotion. “It really gets Dad and I worried, we have worried thoughts of your well being, we have worried thoughts that aren’t your problem, but as a parent are really hard to deal with.” So worry shows up. And so you’ve just shared what you’re dealing with and worry. “And we’d like to find a way where we respect what’s going on with you. And we also get to deal with that worry.” So figuring out: “How can we solve this problem going forward?” And then I’d say, “And I really want to hear your version of what happened last night. Because I’m missing information. I don’t know the whole story. Did you try to get home at 11? Were you having so much fun that you actually put your phone down and you’re so in the present moment…” Because you’ve described who this child is and I bet she knows how to be in the present moment. And thinking about when it’s time to leave is just not on her radar. Right? So we want to respect her. You’re shaking your head and you say Yeah, that’s exactly who she is. Right? She is in the moment. She’s having a good time…

24:44 Kathryn: …forgets time.

24:47 Leslie: Forgets time. So again, in order to respect her, you and your husband want to accept the fact that this is who your daughter is. It doesn’t mean you can’t problem-solve. But let’s begin by respecting who she is, rather than saying, “You shouldn’t be that way.” That would be like trying to tell the tulip to be a rose. It’s like, “Hey, listen, you’re beautiful. You’re a tulip. I love you. But I really would like you to be a rose. I’d like you to come home on time, I’d like you to call, I’d like you to remember, I’d like you to think about us.” Yeah, she’s living in the moment.

25:25 Kathryn: So then, what are some of the ways to problem-solve that? So it’s like mutual respect.

25:35 Leslie: Right. So you said that you keep going around this issue that keeps coming up. So one is, I am going to say, I think there’s more radical acceptance that you and your husband need to do on your end. Because…how bad is it? Do you not know where she is for hours on end? Or is it that she’s 45 minutes late? So I would need to assess the problem. And remember we said, don’t get overwhelmed with what is the problem, how to solve it. Right now you’re saying, how to discuss it. You want to remember timing, you want to remember to stay in wise mind. And you want to remember to use—describe and express your emotion.

But also keep her interested in the conversation. Remember, she’s got a perspective and remember that, I want to see the positive intention. Like, “Sweetie, you live in the moment, you are so present. So when you’re out with your friends, you are present, and you are with your friends, I know you’re not on your phone, I know you’re not…I mean, those are really cool qualities. And you live at home with us. And I’m wondering if we can figure out how to deal with respecting each other’s needs and who we are.” So I want those to be separate conversations. I mean, in your head, I want them to be separate conversations, it can be all one conversation. But really, particularly, you remember that timing is important, wise mind and being in that place to have a conversation is very important. And then radically accept this is who she is. So how do we work with what is? “We get that you’re going to be late, we get that you may not call us, let’s figure out what might work.”

So when you do that, sit down with her and get a piece of paper and pencil out and brainstorm ideas together. I have a feeling she’ll come up with some ideas that could work. She might just say, and I’d be curious if this is a big part of it, is if she’s consistently a half hour late, 45 minutes late, can you guys have faith? It’s not erratic, if it is pretty predictable, then 45 minutes late all the time is very consistent, right? [Laughter] So all of a sudden, you can just say, “You know what, that’s really our problem.” So maybe we need to tell her 11 o’clock, and then she’ll be home when we want her home at 11: 45. So it’s a matter of: whose problem is it? So think about that. And when you come to her non-judgmentally sharing your emotion and respecting who she is, I think the conversation will go better. So try to hold on to those little tidbits. Give it a try.

Kathryn: Okay.

Leslie: All right. Sounds good. Are you overwhelmed?

28:47 Kathryn: No. I feel like if I can just focus on the timing and the wise mind that’ll get me a long way.

28:55 Leslie: Beautiful. It does. Those are two really firm ways of being grounded. And I can’t wait to hear but good luck with this.

Kathryn: Thank you.

[Music: Acoustic Guitars Ambient Uplifting by Oleksii Kaplunskyi]

Leslie: I want to thank Kathryn for sharing so honestly and being vulnerable throughout her five sessions. When we started, Kathryn described her experience parenting Bridget as a scary roller coaster, and often felt like a failure. Parenting a teen is hard and I’m grateful that she chose to share with us and allowed us to witness her growth. Wait till you hear their update.

As you may have noticed throughout this series, I didn’t focus only on Bridget’s risky choices. These sessions are not just about how to fix her behavior. But I imagine that some listeners may have been hoping for answers for how to directly change their child’s behavior. I get that, but that’s putting the cart before the horse. Changing behavior is possible, if we start with accepting who our child is. And these five episodes show how far that went in improving Kathryn and Bridget’s relationship.

As I told Kathryn, my goal for parents is to raise responsible children who are capable of thinking for themselves and taking ownership of their own behavior. Focusing on validation and mutual respect will create the connection for a healthy parenting relationship. Through role playing, we see how big of a difference it can make to approach these tricky conversations in wise mind, instead of emotion mind. Using these techniques can allow us to stay present and engaged in the moment, which will help us become more effective. These strategies help both you and your child de-escalate conflicts.

And since it’s the end of my sessions with Kathryn, I have a little update to share. You’re probably wondering how the apology from Part Four went. Well, we recorded these episodes some time ago. And unfortunately, we don’t actually have that answer. What Kathryn did share is this: The intensity of that time has thankfully eased, and I’m so grateful to you for holding my hand and helping with my parenting skills to navigate those rough and tumultuous waters. We are slowly healing from the rocky teenage years, and the relationship is maturing into one with more mutual trust and respect, thanks to these sessions. And Bridget is now in college where she continues to be her confident self.

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

Join us next week for my final session with Kathryn, where we explore how to de-escalate conversations when everybody’s emotions are running high. So subscribe to Is My Child a Monster? wherever you get your podcasts and please rate and review. This episode of Is My Child A Monster? was produced by Alletta Cooper, Dale Rubury, and me. Our theme music is by L-Ray Music. You can find a full transcript of this episode, resources, and sign up for my newsletter by visiting ismychildamonster.com. I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury. Thanks so much for listening. And this week, I leave you with a challenge: Find an opportunity to apologize to your child for your part in a conflict. You may be pleasantly surprised at the response you get from your child.

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

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