November 27, 2023

Focus On Understanding Your Kid’s Big Reactions With Guest Dale Rubury

This mini episode between season one and season two focuses on understanding your child’s intense reactions.

Although there are many causes for a child’s strong reactivity, Leslie and returning guest Dale Rubury discuss expectations as one of those many causes behind those big reactions. Dale had a long list of unmet expectations from her childhood, so she joins her mom on today’s episode to unpack one example for parents and caregivers to learn from.

About the guest:
Dale Rubury is Leslie’s daughter, a producer of this podcast, and today’s guest. After graduating from college with a degree in Zoology, Dale moved to warmer climates to pursue a career with animals. She worked at the largest primate sanctuary in North America for 7 years before moving on to a different career path. For the past few years she has been in the world of construction where she was building yurts and working for Habitat for Humanity. Dale is currently pursuing a degree as a Physical Therapy Assistant. Dale is proud to say that she has a healthy relationship with her anxiety.

Time Stamps:

1:48 Parents often say “what’s the big deal?” when their child is having such a big reaction

3:40 Kids can have a “script” in their head about how they think things should go.

3:50 Ironically, parents also have “shoulds” in their head about how they think things should go

6:00 Assume that the child feels embarrassment and shame about their reaction

7:11 Add compassion to the child’s reaction

7:55 “Staying One Step Ahead of you Child” – we do this by understanding what is happening below the surface of the child’s reaction

8:39 Look for the prompting event such as the child’s expectation which set off this whole chain reaction

8:56 Parents may personalize the child’s behavior which will add to the problems

9:20 Ask yourself what’s my problem, what’s my child’s problem

12:08 How to teach “expect the unexpected” to your child

13:10 Ask your child before they do something “what are your expectations of….”

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.


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

0:04  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  Hi, I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury. Is My Child A Monster? is between seasons right now. But we’ve been releasing all sorts of bonus content, including an episode with comedian Michael Ian Black and his wife, Martha Hagen Black, about managing holiday stress. For today’s bonus episode, my daughter Dale, who’s also a producer on this podcast, is back. We’re talking about when a child’s expectations are not met, and what you might see as their seemingly outsized reactions; for example, when you pick up your child after school, and you have to make a quick stop to get milk instead of going straight home, and your child throws a fit. Understanding why that’s happening is really great information to help you parent. Dale had a long list of unmet expectations growing up. So she’s here to talk with me about them today. 

Let’s get started. Hi, Dale, it’s great to have you here today.

1:09  Dale Rubury:  Hey, Mom, good to be here.

1:10  Leslie:  Okay. So because I’ve been working on Season 2, one of the things that keeps coming up is this idea that children have sometimes big reactions that parents don’t understand. So what I mean by that is, there’s a huge discrepancy in the parent’s mind between the event and the reaction that the parents get, and it confuses them. I thought that would be something great for us to talk about.

1:42  Dale:  Oh, yeah. I mean, I gave you the biggest reactions, and they are usually based on the teeniest of things. 

1:48  Leslie:  Right. So teeny things—did you know they were teeny things? Or, in the moment, did it feel like it was…I mean, I think that’s what parents say. I hear parents say, “You’ve got to be kidding. I cannot believe this reaction my child’s having.”

2:03  Dale:  Oh, no, it felt, I mean, it felt like a big deal in that moment. It felt as big as the reaction I was giving. It’s only in looking back that it’s like, yeah, that’s a minor thing. But even looking back, I can still almost conjure up those big feelings. And that big reaction, because that was the reality of how it felt for me.

2:25  Leslie:  Okay, let’s put it into actual experience. And I think it is about expectations, and reactions, and disappointment and all these kinds of things. But let’s make it practical.

2:37  Dale:  There was my birthday party. I don’t remember what year, maybe five. It was when we were living in Miami. And we had a bunch of friends over. And I remember something about the cake being brought out. And everyone’s starting to sing Happy Birthday, but something wasn’t ready. It wasn’t in the order I was expecting–maybe I was still getting everything set up on the table. It’s the details I don’t remember. But I just remember that I wasn’t ready for the cake to come out. And it messed up my expectation of what I thought was going to happen. And I just remember losing it. And the next thing I remember is just being in my room, crying on that big, big blue pillow that I had. And you trying to comfort me and I just was inconsolable. 

3:31  Leslie: And I think parents can relate to this. There are a lot of birthday parties that go terribly…children get terribly upset. And parents confused: “Why?” And you just said the details–you weren’t ready for the cake to come out. What do you mean? Did you have a script in your head as to what it looked like? Like what goes on in your head so parents can understand their own child?

3:57  Dale:  Yeah, I think I often have a script in my head of how things are supposed to go. I think it has to do with kind of trying to combat the anxiety and unknowns of all the different things that could happen in any given situation. And so, to try to control that, I think I have a set plan in my head of, “Okay, we’re going to set the table with all the forks so everyone has forks and plates to eat the cake and and everyone’s going to be by the table and ready to go and just…” So yeah, I think it’s a way to control too many variables of any given situation. And then to have something disrupt it, which in life it often does, is just devastating.

4:47  Leslie:  Wow. You just described what I don’t think many parents get to see or understand, because all we see is that reaction. And I don’t remember what I did, but I could have come in there and maybe made you feel worse by saying, “Your friends are out there, come on, let’s go.” I don’t remember at that moment. But sometimes we are upset because it’s not going as planned, either. I have a lot of shoulds in my head, which is: “This should be fun for you, this is your birthday party, and you should be having a good time and you should be enjoying your friends.” So I think part of the reason why parents struggle with this is because we as parents or caregivers actually have a script in our head about how things should go. 

5:33  Dale:  Yeah, I mean, that makes sense that the parent would also have that script in their head. I remember…I think it’s important for parents to know, too, that even in that moment…I mean, I have a twin sister, so Carrie still had her birthday party that I kind of probably ruined a little bit. But in that moment, I don’t remember what you did. But I do remember, regardless of what you were doing, I felt a lot of embarrassment and a lot of shame with that. Because I think I just want parents to know that the kid’s not trying to do it to be difficult; the kid’s not trying to do it to be, I don’t know, to gain attention or something. I was, I was mortified that I had had that reaction. I also couldn’t do anything in that moment to prevent it at that age. But I do remember being really embarrassed, which is why I ended up just staying in my room for a while and crying and I do remember you sitting in there with me for a while and, and just giving me time until I was ready to go back out. 

But I remember a lot of it was trying to calm down the embarrassment of it. Because it wasn’t really about like, oh, the cake came too early, it really became about the bigger reaction of it, it became about the embarrassment of my big reaction. So even at that age–which again, I think was probably four or five, six at the most–is a lot of shame with it and embarrassment. So just to know that to add a little gentleness to the parenting response to it.

7:11  Leslie:  Oh, that’s beautiful, the adding the compassion, because what parents see is this big reaction to what seems like a small event. And then they miss the part that you just so beautifully described, which is the embarrassment, the shame, of having that reaction. And that becomes paramount in that moment. So what a complex situation, it’s not as simple as, “Dale, come on, get over it.” It’s “This is a big deal. Dale, this is a really big deal, that something didn’t turn out the way you thought.” And if we go into situations, knowing our anxious children or highly our sensitive children, maybe doing this, then we can be one step ahead of our child. 

7:59  Dale:  Yeah, and the parent can view it as not an issue of did-the-cake-actually-come-out-problematically-early, but more of an issue of: my child is highly sensitive, probably has a lot of anxiety, and struggles with things that don’t happen as expected. Because that is a big issue. Everyone knows anxiety is a big thing. Everyone can relate to having things not go as planned. So if you can kind of boil it down to the underneath issue, it might give a little bit more perspective, as opposed to, “Okay, so the cake came out probably 30 seconds too early–what’s the big deal?” 

8:39  Leslie:  Right. And we focus on that behavior that we think is the surface behavior, that is really what we just call the prompting event, that just started this chain reaction that you have. But I do want to point out something you just said, which is really important, which is parents could personalize, you know, “I just made your cake. I’m making this party for you. Why are you reacting that way?” And it’s not because a parent is selfish. It’s because they don’t get it either. 

So one of the things we want to do is remember our children’s reactions may or may not be a reflection of what we’re doing. It may be a reflection of what’s going on inside of them. So let’s try to separate,”What’s my problem,what’s your problem,” and really help you as a child. And it’s very confusing to help you figure out and help the parent figure out what’s going on. 

Dale:  Yeah. 

Leslie:  You mentioned one thing, that I might have given you time. Let’s talk about some other practical strategies that help the child. And I’m going to ask you, because you’ve been living with this, you probably, still as an adult, have things that don’t turn out the way you thought they would in your head. 

9:53  Dale:  Definitely. Yeah, I mean, it hasn’t. That never changes–life goes on. And we’ve talked about this with a lot of different things. But just to reiterate, is not to add on any shame or embarrassment in an attempt to thwart that behavior from happening again, or to hopefully deter it in the future, because I can tell you, it won’t. It will just add to the shame and embarrassment that that child is already feeling. And I can tell you that child, whether you see…and you won’t see the embarrassment, it probably won’t show up as embarrassment or shame. It could show up as more anger, or sadness. But just know the shame is already there. You do not have to make the child feel any worse. And yeah, giving time…and also, I remember just encouragement, because I was mortified to go back out thinking it was going to be a big deal. And I remember going out and nobody saying a thing, like we just all carried on. And those moments helped me kind of go, “Okay, I guess the next time I’m embarrassed, I’ll remember, oh, I can go out and everything was fine.” But definitely not rushing that process.

11:10  Leslie:  Beautiful–maybe a little reminder at the end. So you just spoke about some things that help after the big reaction. So we want to have compassion, just say, “Wow, that must be really hard.” Really compassion and validation, giving the child time. And possibly, maybe even a little experiment like, “Hey, Dale, let’s go back. And I wonder if anyone’s going to notice you take a look. And when you go back, see if anyone has a big reaction, like you did, to you coming back?” And so they get to learn very clearly: no, actually, no one had it. Because you go out there to look up people having a big reaction. And if someone does have a big reaction, can you handle it? Can you go back to your birthday party and say, “Hey, it’s my birthday party, I deserve it.” So those are the after. Let’s move backwards to: what can I do before the birthday party?

12:08  Dale:  I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to expect all the different variables of what could go wrong; so that classic thing of: expecting the unexpected. 

12:23  Leslie:  I love it. I love it right there. That’s the practical skill I want parents to take away here, is to help them help their child expect the unexpected. To know that there are some knowns about the situation, and then to expect the unexpected; and to say, “There may be things that I don’t expect, and I can handle it.” So even if you don’t believe you can handle it, we’re going to give ourselves a little bit of, or give our child, a little affirmation of, “You are going to expect certain things. And let’s expect the unexpected or the unknown. And let’s add a little love flag that says, ‘and I can handle it.’ And it’s okay.” 

So that’s before they go to the situation, just what is it going to be like, and being able to help them prepare that, yes, they might have some expectations in their head. And I might even ask a child, “Hey, we’re going over to your friend’s house. What are your expectations of playing at your friend’s house?” And get them out of the way so then when they don’t happen, or they do happen, we can say, “Great. Let’s see what happens. Let’s see what happens if they do happen. Let’s see what happens if they don’t.” I think there’s a lot we can do before. And I think there’s a lot we can do after the big reaction. 

So I’m going to leave it with that and wrap up and say thanks for sharing, and thanks for being here again, Dale.

14:02  Dale:  Thanks so much for having me, Mom.

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

14:08  Leslie:  Thanks so much for listening to this mini episode of Is My Child A Monster? Please subscribe, so you don’t miss our upcoming bonus episodes and our Season 2 launch early next year. As always, you can find links to everything, including my revamped newsletter, and how to apply to be a guest, in the show notes or at The Is My Child A Monster? team is Alletta Cooper, Dale Rubury, Gabriela Glueck, and me. Special thanks to Eric Rubury. Our theme music is by L- Ray Music. I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury. Thanks so much for listening.

Transcribed by edited by Eric Rubury

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