February 6, 2024
Emilee & David Part 3 of 3: When Your Kid Metaphorically Throws Up On You
This is the final session with Emilee and David. Emilee felt a big difference when she stepped back from her son’s big reactions and no longer took his words and actions personally; that’s a huge achievement.
David said he felt less pressure on himself as a parent—also a huge achievement. In this session, Leslie also explained creative ways to teach children about emotions, like using children’s books and other media. Leslie also addresses Jack’s neuropsychological testing and the results. Leslie supports Emilee and David as they digest this helpful information while remembering to see Jack as a whole person.
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.
- Video of throwing up analogy
- Handout of feeling words for kids
- Dr. Liz Angoff’s Website and resources: How to explain testing to kids
- Leslie’s sample list of books she likes to read with children
Leslie-ism:Let’s honor the individual learning styles of child and adults alike.
- 10:55 Throwing up analogy: a way to not take your children’s words personally
- 12:05 Neuropsychological testing and school accommodations
- 17:35 How to teach your child about emotions- books, model it, watch other people, tell stories
- 24:01 Concept: being able to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time
- 24:41 Bibliotherapy: using books to help teach children
- 26:50 Receiving a diagnosis, and how to make it helpful and useful
- 30:45 Movement breaks
- 37:27 Childrens are like puppies: they all have big paws that they grow into, just like children and their big emotions
TRANSCRIPT OF SHOW:
[Music: The Wilds Beyond by L-Ray Music]
0:00 Emilee: He’s only able to recognize two emotions, anger, and being bored. He doesn’t have the words to explain. And that’s why it’s just coming out in a very frustrated way.
0:20 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. I’m a parent and a therapist with 38 years of experience helping families navigate this question. And no, your child is not a monster.
Today is my third and final session with Emilee and David, parents of a six-year-old son, Jack. David and Emilee have been working hard on not working so hard, and experimenting with other approaches. Curiosity is something I encourage with all of my clients, regardless of their children’s age. It’s so important to approach parenting and your child with openness and willingness, which includes asking the question over and over, “What am I missing here?” And throughout these sessions, David and Emilee really start to embrace that philosophy. We also talk about Jack’s recent neuro-psych testing, and how best to use that information in an open-minded, flexible, and curious way. We bounce around in this session quite a bit, which happens in therapy because—just like raising kids—it’s not a linear process.
Okay, now, as a reminder, all the names and identifying information have been changed. This show is for informational purposes only, and not a substitute for therapeutic intervention. So let’s begin.
Leslie: Hi Emilee, hi David. How are you?
2:05 Emilee: Good. Hi, Leslie.
David: Good, doing well.
2:07 Leslie: Good. Good to see you today. It’s been several weeks. I left you with some work to do in terms of don’t-work-so-hard.
2:17 David: So, I do feel like I’ve been working a little less hard. And if nothing else, that just takes a little bit of pressure off. Just kind of letting things go a little bit more. I don’t know that we’ve seen that impact on Jack’s behavior very much. I wouldn’t say we’ve been through it…I would say a tough few weeks since we last talked, behavior wise. But I do feel like that advice kind of just took some pressure off myself a little bit, which was nice.
2:50 Emilee: I also tried the advice that you gave us last time and just be less involved. I’ve tried, but I find it hard. So I don’t think I’ve done as much as I could have or should have. I don’t know. I think we have been dealing with crisis after crisis, so it’s just been…but it’s just knowing that it’s in the back of our mind that we do need to do less. I think it’s been helpful because I was more conscious of it.
3:21 Leslie: Okay, I have two comments about that. One is, I’d like to understand a little bit more of what, in your mind, you’re working toward; like, what does that look like to you? What do you think you’re trying to accomplish by working less, stepping back a little? So that’s one question. And the other comment is that I want to acknowledge that this is very much a long term project. We don’t want to burn out as parents. I mean, parents can burn out in the first week of parenting, right? So we want to make sure we’re thinking about this as a long term endurance, “I’ve got to keep going with this. I’ve got to be a parent for many, many, many years. I’ve got to keep showing up.” So we want to have a little less pressure on ourselves. Also, the idea that you don’t have to see big changes in one week—it’s not like I expect you to come back and say, “Oh, Jack is totally different.” And I heard you say and I’m very curious to hear what’s been going on: sounds like it’s very intense. But it’s not an emergency at this moment, so let’s take a moment getting into that. Can I hear what you think it looks like to pull back a little bit, to work a little less hard? Emilee, what do you think it looks like?
4:34 Emilee: For me it was…I had to work more or actually on being more confrontational with him a little bit. So it was less, for me, a question of holding back or being less involved. But being less involved means that, when we had kids over, I tried to let them do their own thing. So sometimes they would come up to me and just say, “He hit me or he did…” And I was, like, “You sort it.” So I think that was helpful and feeling less guilty that I don’t need to intervene all the time.
5:08 David: Do you think, in terms of not working as hard, that this sort of effort you put out to sort of distract him when he’s feeling disappointed and upset, do you think you’ve been doing that less, or the same?
5:21 Emilee: I’ve tried to say, “No,” more; and just to say, “No, you’ve reached that limit, and therefore, I’m putting those limits, and you can’t continue this behavior.” But in some cases, it just doesn’t work. And I think the key learning for me is just you need to choose when you do that—there’s some circumstances where it just doesn’t work. And it escalates. And if you have all the time in the world, that’s all great. But if you’re trying to get somewhere, it gets complicated.
5:54 Leslie: You’re talking about what I call the art of parenting. There are many people who follow the same recipe. So in parenting, if you add the same instructions to this, to this, to this, to this, it’s not going to come out the same, because there’s the science of parenting and the art of parenting. Which are the fine tuning: “Do I do this now? Do I not do this now?” And yes, I think it’s not prescriptive. We’re not going to tell you, “Do this, and this will happen.” It’s, “Here’s what we know.” There is a science, there’s absolutely a science to what’s reinforcing, what’s not reinforcing, what skills will help. And your job as a parent is to figure out what works, what’s effective.
So I like that you’re thinking that way, which is, “I’m not going to say no, all the time, I might use my distraction, I have to figure out when to use what skills.” So that’s very good. I want to reinforce that comment that it’s not easy to figure it out. And that’s what you can say is the art of parenting; that fine tuning of, “Okay, what do I do in this moment? What’s going to work? What’s going to be effective?”
7:04 Emilee: Yeah, I feel like you need to be in the right space and mindset to do that. And so if it’s a Saturday, and there’s no obligations, then you can take that fight. I’m conscious that I need to do more of setting limits, but I need to choose when to do that.
7:23 Leslie: Okay, and a quick question for you. You called it the fight, conflict…does it feel like you’re going to war with your son? Does it feel really, really painful? I don’t want you thinking about it in those terms. Conflict is maybe a disagreement that he wants to do something and you’re saying no, but I wonder if there’s something in your background that makes you sort of allergic to this kind of conflict.
7:53 Emilee: Oh, gosh, that’s a good question. Maybe it was the wrong word that I used, but I haven’t been used in my family to be in conflict. We avoided conflict. We never talked about things. So for me, it’s very hard. It’s something I’ve worked on with David when we met because I had a hard time sharing my own feelings, or telling him when I wasn’t happy with something because this is not something we did with my family. So it’s work to open up and to explain that I’m not happy with Jack’s behavior. So it doesn’t come naturally.
8:32 Leslie: Thank you for sharing that information about your family that people avoided conflict in your family. For whatever reason, you grew up without the practice of dealing with conflict. Not every family’s like that, and your experience absolutely shapes your behavior as a parent. And I believe that children help us grow. So being conflict-avoidant is lovely at times, but actually isn’t great, if you’re going to have your marriage grow, and you’re going to raise your child. There are times when we need to be in those uncomfortable situations, and say that we disagree with someone or speak up about our needs.
So I’m so glad I hear you doing that. You learned that early in your relationship. Raising Jack will also give you practice at finding ways of dealing with conflict that may feel unfamiliar. Let’s change the word from fighting with him about something to: this is an unfamiliar feeling. I’m doing something that’s not in my repertoire, so it’s unfamiliar.
9:37 Emilee: Yeah. And I would say what happened in the last few weeks, it’s as if I detached myself from what’s happening with Jack. So if he’s having a moment where he just reacts because we’ve set a limit and he’s not happy, I don’t take things personally. I’ve been able to put some distance and say, “Okay, he’s having this moment—whatever he’s saying, it’s meant to be hurtful. But he’s going through this moment. It’s just not against me.” I really noticed, like, I don’t react as much.
David: I haven’t been able to do that as well. [Laughter]
10:11 Leslie: Oh, my goodness. Well, great—let’s learn from each other. Emilee, that is a huge step to not personalize our children’s behavior, because it’s a reflection of what’s going on emotionally for them. It’s really beautiful. It’s respectful to the child. That’s beautiful. That’s a big step. I don’t know if you gave yourself enough credit for that. That’s fabulous.
10:35 Emilee: It felt better. I didn’t need to recover. [Laughter]
10:41 Leslie: Right, which means you’re more available for your child. If I can use this not -so-pleasant graphic: if your child was sick, and they had a stomach bug, and they were throwing up, in order to help them, you’re probably going to hand them a bucket or get them to the toilet. You don’t say, “Go ahead and throw up on me—I’m here to help you. [Laughter] You don’t say that. But in parenting, when you take it personally, you’re like letting them throw up on you. Well, that creates two problems. Instead of my child’s sick, now I’m a mess. They’re sick, and I gotta go take care of myself by getting in the shower.
11:24 David: That paints a very memorable picture, Leslie—thank you, I won’t forget that.
11:29 Leslie: It is really important to just say you can be a support to your child by handing them a bucket when they’re emotionally upset.
11:37 David: It’s good. No, it’ll flash through my mind, I’m sure. [Laughter]
11:42 Leslie: And that’ll help you take that extra step to not personalize it. And it still implies that I want you to be there to support that your child…respect their emotion without taking it on. Because then you as you said, Emilee, now you don’t have to recover.
All right, we can move on to what’s been going on.
11:59 David: Okay. So one thing we definitely wanted to chat with you about is that, sort of in parallel with the sessions we’ve been having, we’ve also been having Jack evaluated by a neuro-psychologist, which felt a little bit like overkill. It’s not like things are so extreme that we really felt like we needed a diagnosis of something or whatever. But it was nearby, it was easy to do, and we thought: why not? And this person came highly recommended by some other families that we know that have engaged with her.
So we decided to do that. And it’s taken several sessions and several weeks, but just a few days ago, got the results of that. And I think we were a bit surprised that he tested as being in the 99.7 percentile on some kind of battery of various kinds of intellect. So he tested quite high. And when we mean, we knew he was a bright kid, we didn’t doubt that, but we sort of expected to hear, you know, you have a bright kid, he’s maybe a little bored at school. And so that frustration that you’re experiencing might be bad. And here’s maybe some ways to address that. And that’s kind of what we expected to hear.
And then he’s a little behind on emotional intelligence, but that will probably come—that was, that was sort of my expectation. But we heard was: you have a kid who’s extremely bright, and needs and is entitled to some accommodations at school to make sure that he is stimulated enough to not be experiencing frustration. Also, that he needs to work on some emotional intelligence as well.
And then she has proposed some kind of behavioral therapy with a colleague of hers to begin to address that, plus some coaching for us; I think probably similar to the kinds of conversations we’ve been having with you. So that’s daunting for us. I mean, part of us—or me—is kind of happy to hear that my kid’s really bright, that’s not a bad thing to hear. But obviously, it comes with some challenges too. And it’s not a case of, “Just be patient, it’s going to be okay.” It’s a case of, “No, you need to take some actions to make sure his environment is giving him what he needs.” See how you react to that. It did click for us: if he’s really bored at school, if the teacher has told us, he’s behaving really well at school, he’s holding all this in and then coming home and then kind of unleashing it on us…
14:28 Leslie: Absolutely. In terms of the neuro-psych testing that you did, it can provide a lot of information, some of the nuances of the processing speed, what areas of the brain work stronger, working memory versus long term memory. So there are pieces of information that they probably explained to you, which can be very helpful, especially when you’re talking about accommodations in school. Yes, I think that information is all very, very helpful.
Right now, from what I’ve heard, there’s no surprises. This is a great opportunity for you to do some advocating. It will be different at different times. You now have the data to go into the school and request that. There may be outside things that can also help him stimulate his thinking and address those strengths that you can do at home, or as extracurricular. But definitely, this gives you information to go to the school and do that. And he’s a rule follower. So the big thing is, he goes to school, and even if he is bored, he’s—like you said—holding it together. He might be masking. He actually might find it very comforting to be in school and finding it easy.
15:48 David: He often complains about having to go but it seems to be motivated more by just feeling bored. Once he’s there, once we get him up to the front gate, and he sees his friends, he usually seems really happy. I don’t think he’s miserable at school.
16:03 Emilee: I do think he’s got a teacher who will be listening. And so we just learned this information this week. So I’m still processing on how we need to adapt and change also what we do with him or how we interpret certain behaviors. It was helpful to know as well that he’s only able to recognize two emotions, anger, and being bored. So I think that really helps us in terms of he doesn’t have the words to explain. And that’s why it’s just coming out in a very frustrated way.
16:45 Leslie: Absolutely. So a lot of the work that we’re talking about is very, very much confirmed by those findings, that when you’re asking him questions and questions you’re getting a blank slate because it wasn’t there. And I do want to be careful that we don’t make him feel broken.
17:02 Emilee: Yes. I’m having a hard time with that. Yeah.
17:04 Leslie: Okay. So again, we want to provide it as information. We talked about a lot of strategies of naming other feelings, rating it. So there’s much more in terms of backing off, but then providing a bigger rainbow of emotions that you can provide to him. And just modeling it, like I said: people watching and seeing the emotions and other people, reading it in stories.
One of the things that you’ve talked about is trying to teach him, teach him, teach him. And I want to say, let’s expose him, expose him, expose him. If child grows up in a home with a lot of reading, most likely that child, through modeling, is going to read. Not where you’re always, always trying to teach him. But a gentle exposure to that out there. There’s so many incredible children’s books about emotions, and all of that, and not just positive ones, the negative ones, too.
18:04 Emilee: He’s been asking to have a pet. And we were wondering if that could help with emotions, or whether it’s just something else to take care of.
18:20 Leslie: He wants a hamster. So when parents say their child wants a hamster, I look at the parents say, “Do you want a hamster?” [Laughter] It is going to be your responsibility, it is going to be mom’s responsibility. Yes, it’s a wonderful thing. I think it’s lovely. It really is up to all of you. Personally, I love that children have the opportunity to grow up with animals. But I want to be realistic that there’s going to be a lot of, “Okay, if I get you a hamster, then you’re going to be the one to take care of it. And you’re the one…” And that’s possible. And certainly you can do that with your child. But the expectation that they are going to take care of their pet because it’s their pet and they want it…Yeah, you’re shaking your head. It doesn’t work that way. All they want is the idea.
19:14 Emilee: No, I think we had sort of ruled out the idea of having a hamster, or even a dog, because we know we’re going to have to take care of it. And I think it would be a source of tension because he will not take care of it. And I think David is going to be after him all the time. So the only reason we would get one is if it could help with developing his emotion somehow. But I think it’s more empathy, and empathy he does have. So…
19:42 David: That’s the thing. I definitely don’t want to add another thing in life to take care of. There are enough things to take care of, people and things. And so I don’t want an animal for that reason. But if we thought it could be therapeutic for him, that it could help him with empathy or emotions then we’d do it, for sure.
20:00 Leslie: So I will say—I’m going to contradict myself and say—one, you get to make a decision and, two, yes, for a highly sensitive child that might be having trouble verbalizing, just having that soft, emotional thing that just represents, “I don’t have to talk to this, it’s going to give me unconditional love.” It’s less about developing empathy, because I think he’s already got that—I don’t question his empathy. I love an animal for the sake that it gives the child unconditional love. It’s like coming home and your dog wags its tail no matter how long you left it, no matter how much it has to pee, it still says, “I’m happy to see you.” And a little hamster is soft, and he will pet it. And it does serve the function of connection. It serves the function of, “This is my safe space. When I get to pet my little hamster, I feel safe. He’s my little friend.”
It teaches a lot. It teaches about frustration. It teaches about death, ultimately, because they don’t live that long. And David, you saying, “Well, I don’t think I can handle one more thing.” I’m like, “Yeah, go ahead, try it. It’s good work for you.” [Laughter] I don’t make life easy for parents. And at the same time, my whole job is to make life easier for parents. So I don’t know that I’m helping here with this decision. I think from his point of view, he would love to have a hamster. And that’s understandable. And I don’t think you can convince yourself that he doesn’t need it. I’m going to tell you no matter what, he would love it. He would benefit from it. It just has to be sort of a little bit of an adult decision as well.
21:39 David: When when I said to him, “If you get a hamster just so you know, there won’t be any screen time after school until your homework is done…” which we’re doing more of, “…and the hamster is taken care of, if his cage needs to be emptied or needs to be fed or whatever—those things will have to happen first.” And then he said, “Maybe I’ll get a hamster when I’m older.” [Laughter] So it’s a little bit hard to know. I think he’s kind of aware that he really likes the idea more than the reality. But still, if it’s therapeutic…
22:13 Leslie: It’s up to you guys. Do you sit down with him and the hamster and play with the hamster? Is it that it’s only looked at as a chore? Or is it looked at as a little family member who’s now, you know, we’re going to spend time with this little creature, so that he gets more contact with it rather than just the idea of it. So it also showing him how to take care of another creature.
22:39 David: While we were talking there, about modeling emotion and showing emotion, I didn’t think of a story that happened just today that I think maybe does show some progress because it was unusual. We were watching a video online. I forgot what we’d been looking at. But something about Mr. Rogers and the puppets on Mr. Rogers. It was a video clip of one of the puppets, Henrietta, who was really upset, really angry. And then something fell. And then she became very sad.
And it was kind of hard to follow, in just a contextless YouTube clip. But we watched that. And then he said, “She was angry. But then why did she become sad?” And he kept asking me, like, he really wanted to analyze it and understand. He was identifying that this puppet was angry and then became sad, which is true—it’s what was happening. So I thought that was unusual for him. He doesn’t usually…I thought that was a helpful sign.
23:36 Leslie: Yes, so that is interesting, because it’s maybe demonstrating that he might only think you can have one emotion at a time, which is actually very common for a whole number of people who think that if I’m angry at my spouse, I forget that I also love them. That is the idea of being able to hold, dialectically, two opposing feelings at the same time or two opposing thoughts. He might be indicating, “I didn’t know you can have two emotions at the same time,” because that’s sort of what happened. She went from angry to sad. And so I’d show him two hands and I’d say, “Yeah, you can have more than two emotions at the same time.”
And then you start to maybe play with, “What happens if Mommy says you can’t go over to your friend’s house? Well, you might get mad, you might get angry first, and then you might get sad because you’re going to miss seeing your friend.” So you can see if you can find some scenarios like that. Again, bibliotherapy—which is using books to help teach children—it’s so beautiful. Authors have done such a beautiful job of children’s books where they teach it, you don’t have to even add any extra words. The story teaches it and children can learn a lot from just reading over a variety of different books.
Leslie: So, what I love that you guys do is you’re very observant, your son is providing you with little opportunities for more development or curiosity. And I want you to sort of write them down, use them, use them now in the moment or use them later where you say, for example, when you’re upset, you might say, “I’m upset, I’m angry. And I still have a lot of love. I have my love inside, I have my love and my anger, both of those things are here right now with me in this realm.” Because he might think, “If you’re angry with me, then you stop loving me.” This might be mind boggling to him that it’s like, “Wow, I didn’t know that.” He could do math on probably a ninth grade, tenth grade level, but he may not be able to give you an emotional awareness at that same level. And that’s okay. And certainly starting young, you can offer some opportunities, slowly.
Emilee: That’s helpful.
Leslie: You got plenty of time, I don’t want it to feel rushed for you or for him,
26:15 Emilee: You know, because when you get some kind of diagnosis, you’re like, “Oh my gosh, how am I going to handle this? We need to talk to the teacher, we need to work on his emotions.” And I was just a bit afraid that, as you said, there would be some kind of stigma or that he would be the bright kid to get angry. So I just don’t want…my first reaction is, I told David, I don’t want people to know. But now I feel like we actually need to adapt, how we are and what we do. So, yeah…
26:49 Leslie: What I really like to say about a diagnosis is: sounds like the medical model, because a diagnosis is used in the medical model. And it sounds like a problem. What you did with the neuro-psych testing, is you got a lot of information. There are times when a diagnosis is extremely valuable, really valuable. In this case, I’m hearing information as to who your son is. And it’s limited—she wasn’t able to cover everything. So you have information about your son. And what I love is: remember to present him as a whole, well rounded person. And when you talk to him, and when he says “I’m smart,” say, “Yes, you’re smart.” And sort of make a pie graph and say, “And you’re curious.” We want to see ourselves as well-rounded people; not everything is our strength.
27:49 Emilee: Now, we’re digesting. But for me, it’s important information, just like he needs to move. It’s just who he is, he just can’t sit, or if he sits he just has a hard time. And instead of telling him to come to the table, stay at the table for dinner, I’ve kind of let him go around the table, and then sit down again. And I feel less frustrated. So I think it’s also helping with how we react.
28:23 Leslie: Exactly. So now you’re showing him some respect, that this is who you are, the more we respect our children, the more they feel like they’re being seen and understood. So when you go to a restaurant, he’s going to know the difference between, “I get to run around at home, I probably I’m not going to run around the restaurant.” Because again, he might be a rule follower. And so it’s nice to see that he knows how, and if he doesn’t know how that’s a different issue. But if he knows how to discriminate and discern the difference between, “I can get up and walk around at home. I can’t necessarily do that at the restaurant, or they don’t let me do that in the school cafeteria.” So that’s a very intelligent thing to know the difference between what-I-can-do-here-what-I-can-do-somewhere-else. That’s a beautiful thing.
29:12 David: And he does make that…in that particular example he absolutely does that. He is different in a restaurant than…not that he’s not he’s running around crazy all the time at home either. But he does seem to just sometimes just need to get up and…He got a new scooter for his birthday recently. And it’s in the house, because we had snow and now we have rain and so we can’t really go out with it. And so he’s ridden his scooter around the dinner table a bit. [Laughter]
Leslie: That’s his excitement, and you get to say, “I see your excitement.” And yes, when you don’t make a big deal out of it, it actually doesn’t become a big deal. We’re fighting against part of who the child is. And so the fact that you have this information which can help him understand himself. “Oh, you need to move, you have energy. And when we sit at the table, sometimes getting up makes a lot of sense. Okay, we get it.”
30:05 David: We can be a little more explicit about that, like, “Oh, we see that you’re feeling like you need to move, you’ve probably been sitting still at school most of the day, and you just need to move around.”
30:15 Emilee: It’s a compromise between the rules that you need in society—it can’t just be all about you, yourself. And you have to also be part of a…adapt some rules that exist. So it’s, it’s a compromise between what you need, and what society…
30:37 David: Yeah, as long as he’s adhering to those rules at school, or a restaurant or someone else’s house, then…
30:44 Leslie: Excellent. And I know schools will give kids movement breaks, there are some kids that need a movement break. I don’t know if in the morning, you guys want to do some fun, maybe an early walk or scootering around the house before he goes off to school, recognizing some of that energy.
31:06 Emilee: So we’ll see how things evolve in the coming years. Because I think, right now, it’s fine. He’s still grade two. Still learning through play, you get to move around. But I think the more he goes up, the harder it will get with the system.
31:24 Leslie: Yeah. So this will be information that you grow with him. Like we said, he is who he is. And that will stay consistent. So you keep an eye on the different environments that he’s in, because it’s all about the fit. And there are times when you’ll notice in his behavior—his behavior’s the form of communication, I want you to remember that. That when he starts acting up, there’s something that the adults in his world are…either he’s not able to communicate, or the adults are not understanding. You got 18 years to learn about your child and reflect that information back to him.
32:01 Emilee: And I think observing him and understanding what he needs to thrive. And now that we know about him that he needs to have a lot of stimulation, so much activity, like go biking after we go biking he wants to do something else. And we’re exhausted. And we’re like, “Oh, maybe we’re overdoing with him. But in fact, no, he needs it.
32:26 Leslie: Yeah, he really, really loves it. You said before the idea of dealing with the environment, like, he has to know how to sit in a restaurant or sit in school; and also then respecting his need, and maybe doing it at home. Yes, we don’t necessarily want to live in any extremes, where it’s an extreme on either end. We want to find a balance of walking a middle path, as it’s called in DBT. But that middle path doesn’t have to be fifty-fifty. At home, you’re going to see a more challenging side of him—that’s true for all of us. Be careful not to judge yourself. He’s like, behind the curtain: he’s saying, “Okay, you get to see me in my most vulnerable state.”
33:13 David: I wish we could do…you talk about his behavior coming and going as a sign of something else that’s going on. And we’ve tried to really think about: what’s the pattern? Because it definitely comes in waves. And it does feel like each peak and trough is kind of your shorter, and less intense than the ones we went through earlier on, where it felt like a year and a half have just really difficult time. And now it’s, you know, a few days or a week and things seem to get better for a few days. But we’ve looked for what’s going on behind. Does it line up with when he’s in school or out of school on holiday, not on holidays, line up with when one of us is traveling for work? And we just can’t see the pattern.
34:04 Leslie: So the idea is, you’re looking for prompting events, you’re looking for what sets off the big emotion. So write it down and actually stay curious. It’s very, very hard to do and therapy can help you figure it out—you know, the coaching that this person might recommend, because that’s what I was doing when we talked about the piano. We were looking at: is this something that he worries about, how people think of him? Is it that he thinks his teacher’s going to be upset with him? And then we got to: is it when he thinks he’s going to disappoint you.
And you start to get to understand him when you see some patterns, even though you don’t think there’s a pattern there. I would say being highly sensitive—he doesn’t like being vulnerable—I think these are all different prompting events for him not wanting to be vulnerable. Like with his friend making a mistake, not wanting to make a mistake, feeling some shame. These are all possible prompting events that lead to the bigger emotion or the outburst of emotion. Or if he thinks he can’t do something well enough.
So go ahead and make some hypotheses, and then watch to see—if the next time and the next time and the next time—if those hypotheses sort of come true. There’s probably going to be about four or five things, like I just named. I think not having the language—it’s what you really came to me about. You’re trying to get him to say what’s going on and he just doesn’t have the words. And I wouldn’t force it. That’s where I took the pressure off of him, and you. But I do think that’s a challenge. To be able to express what he’s trying to express: that is very challenging for a child who can intellectually do a whole lot of other things on a verbal-linguistic level. But when he doesn’t have the words to do it on an emotional level, that’s just very frustrating.
36:06 Emilee: I think talking about emotion is one thing. But I’ve noticed with him, what works is storytelling, working with puppets. And when he was going through a hard time—I think he was having a fight with a friend at school—he couldn’t explain what was going on. And so I read stories. And he said, “That’s not what my friend did.” And then he started talking a bit more about it. So he related to the story. So this is how I tried to get him to speak about what’s happening, but he can’t really verbalize.
36:45 Leslie: Absolutely beautiful. Hopefully, you have a lovely library system where you can go and ask your librarian to help you find some more books. The stories are great, whether you make them up or whether you read them. I have a list—I have my favorites—so I’ll send you my list of books that I love to read with children. And you’re on this lovely path of trying to understand your son. I know it’s a little frustrating that you don’t have all of the prompting events figured out. And he’s six years old, so. So stay curious.
I love that you can stay curious. Actually, I will add one more metaphor I’ve used it before. And that is children are like puppies with big feet. And puppies are very clumsy. They look clumsy when they’re flopping around, especially a big dog because they have such big paws. But those dogs grow into their big feet. And what I like to tell children is when they have big emotions, and they feel like, “There’s something wrong with me, I’ve got these big emotions, I can’t control it.” They don’t really say that. But that’s how you know they must feel. I like to say, “You’re just like the puppy with big paws. Don’t worry, you’re going to grow into those big emotions.”
And it’s a statement of hope. It’s an image of hopefulness that, “Oh, yeah, that dog’s going to grow into its paws, and you’re going to grow into your big emotions, being able to handle them.” I really like to give children that positive kind of image that, yes, this is hard to have big emotions that you don’t know what to do with. So there’s that image too. And so I hope that you’re also taking away this idea that you’re curious about who he is, respecting him, helping him understand himself. And then also being willing, which has been a beautiful thing to watch the two of you, be willing to look at yourselves as well. So Jack’s really lucky to have you guys as parents, and keep giving yourself that permission to learn to grow and to be imperfect, because that’s the kind of parent he needs.
38:58 David: Thank you so much, Leslie—thanks.
Emilee: Thank you.
39:12 Leslie Cohen-Rubury: A lot of parents think their child is the problem, or they need to change something about their child. Sometimes what you need to change is your perspective. And you just need to learn how to understand your child. Emily and David got more information to help them understand Jack through these sessions and through neuro-psych testing. And all this information has helped them decide how to move forward.
This was our last session, but Emilee gave us an update. Jack has started psychotherapy to help learn about his emotions. David and Emilee are working with his school to modify his curriculum to better suit his needs. And Emilee is still working on doing less and letting Jack figure out things on his own. Emilee shared an instance where Jack complained about going to the doctor. And the change she made was to let him feel the feelings without distracting him. And to her amazement, by the time they got to the doctor, he had forgotten he was mad. And as Emilee said, sometimes working less works!
I want to thank Emilee and David for their willingness to rethink their parenting strategies. Emilee felt a big difference. When she stepped back from her son’s big reactions, she felt like she no longer personalized his behaviors. That’s a huge achievement. And David said he felt less pressure on himself as a parent, and that’s also a huge achievement.
Just to come back to the testing for a moment — David and Emilee both felt like it was a lot to digest for themselves and to explain to Jack. Thankfully there are some resources to help you do that. One of my favorite websites is explaining brains dot com. It was created by Educational Psychologist Doctor Liz Angoff, who just so happens to be next week’s guest, our first special guest of the season. Dr. Angoff works with families to help understand and empower neurodivergent kids. And I am so excited to chat with her about her work.
[Music: The Wilds Beyond by L-Ray Music]
Subscribe to Is My Child A Monster? wherever you get your podcasts, so you don’t miss an episode. And if you like what you hear, please rate and review on Apple podcasts. You can find a full transcript to this episode and sign up for my newsletter at ismychildamonster.com. The Is My Child A Monster? team is Alletta Cooper, AJ Moultrié, Camila Salazar, and me. Special thanks to Eric Rubury and Mia Warren. Our theme music is by L-Ray Music. I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury. Thanks so much for listening. And this week, let’s honor the individual learning styles of children and adults alike.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai edited by Eric Rubury