February 27, 2024

Salimah Part 2 of 4: When Your Teen Shrugs Their Shoulders

Welcome to part 2 of our 4-part series with Salima, a single mother of three children with very different needs.

Last week we discussed her middle child, 7 year old Rene. This week we focus on her oldest, 13 year old Alani. Alani has been getting in trouble at school and uses the “shoulder shrug” to dismiss all of Salimah’s attempts to connect. Tune in to hear Leslie talk Salimah through ways to give your child the time and space to open up to you.

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.

Resources: 

Leslie-ism: Turn your challenges into opportunities.

TIME STAMPS:

  • 13:10 and 17:30 Narrate what you are doing so others can learn
  • 13:30 Choosing your words more intentionally
  • 14:00 Using imagery such as the ring of fire to increase the learning and understanding of a concept or skill.
  • 15:27 Starting with validation before we start problem-solving
  • 17:54 When you ask the direct “why” questions, it can be like flashing a flashlight in someone’s eyes. Instead make statements or observations
  • 19:30 Shifting  your expectations – short term vs long term parenting
  • 20:09 Role play
  • 21:33 Getting your reserved or shut down child to engage in conversation.
  • 22:51 Say less and give them space
  • 23:11 The dominoes metaphor
  • 27:20 The 5 communications of the shoulder shrug – it means different things at different times
  • 29:31 Parent’s job description – helping a child understand who they are. To know who you are.
  • 31:18 The gift of connection – when our children think we know them better than they know themselves
  • 34:12 The six levels of validation (show notes link and possible newsletter or sample video)
  • 35:57 Validation is in the eye of the beholder

TRANSCRIPT OF SHOW:

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

0:03  Leslie:  What do you know about being thirteen?

0:06  Salimah:  It was hard. And I did it by myself. I did it by myself. I know that my mother was there, but I did it by myself. And I don’t want that for her.

0:19  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 38 years of experience helping families navigate this question. And no, your child is not a monster. 

The first family on this season, David and Emily, had a six-year-old who said, “I don’t know,” anytime he was asked how he felt. And I hate to tell you, it isn’t only six-year-olds who do that. Today, in Salimah’s second session, we’re focusing on her relationship with her 13-year-old daughter, Alani, who has a different way of saying, “I don’t know.” Alani shrugs her shoulders in response to many things, which is deeply frustrating to her mother. 

Not only that, but Alani is getting into a bit of trouble—she’s fighting with her friends and talking back to authority figures. This kind of thing is common and happens at any age. When your child is shrugging their shoulders and not allowing you to help them, this is when your patience gets tested, and is doubly important. So it’s essential to be skillful in how you approach them, so as not to make the problems worse. And just to note, Salimah is a busy mom of three, and sometimes childcare falls through at the last minute. So you may hear her children in the background today. 

Okay, as a reminder, all the names and identifying information have been changed. And this show is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for therapeutic intervention. So let’s begin. 

Leslie:  How’re you doing today? 

 2:14  Salimah:  I’m good. I’m not as tired as usual. It’s my day off. 

2:18  Leslie:  It’s your day off. That certainly gives us a little more energy. Actually, last time we spoke, you hadn’t started your new job. So congratulations on being at a new job. But that is tiring, isn’t it?  

Salimah:  It is and thank you. 

Leslie:  Okay. And you’ve got another full-time job. You’ve got your parenting full-time job. So would you start off by sharing—this is our second session—what you took away from the first session? Did anything really stick with you that you want to give me any feedback on, what worked, what didn’t work?

2:51  Salimah:  My understanding of the “Ring of Fire” really made a difference for me. And so I have worked really hard not to meet her where she is because it’s like: Come on, doesn’t make sense, you can burn up your arm trying to get your babies, I’ll put that fire out. So when she gets upset, I give her a minute. I veer away from being angry myself. And I might start laughing and it throws her off. And it’s, “I’m not laughing at you. Mommy just doesn’t want to be mad.” 

So Mommy is choosing not to be mad. And then we’ve been talking about the zones of regulation. And so I’m like, “Mommy’s in the yellow. I need you to just go away. Just go over there. You don’t have to leave the room. Just go over there. And give me a minute.” And so I’m seeing her when she’s interacting with her brother. She’ll go, “Terrell, you make me so mad. I’m in the yellow.” And I’m like, “Oh, go ahead. Go ahead.” And I look at him and go, “She’s in the yellow back away. Back away.” And so I’m hoping that he’ll start picking up on it. It’ll be a household thing. 

3:50  Leslie:  Oh my goodness, that’s wonderful that you’re modeling it. You’re not asking her to calm down, which of course you want. But you’re saying, “I’m going to regulate myself. I’m choosing to regulate myself.” Wow. We also talked about the words you use, and you’re already shifting those words from, “I’m tired of fighting you,” or any of that language into, “I’m choosing to calm myself down.” And it sounds like it’s so much fun when you see her using the same language. 

4:18  Salimah:  Yeah, it definitely is an encouraging moment. And it makes me happy. I also do it at work now. So I narrate what I’m doing. And I announce to the kids when I’m making mistakes, so that I can, like, “It’s okay, you see me—I’m making a mistake.” I asked him, “How often do you see an adult mistake? I’m telling you, I made a mistake. This is working for me, full circle. 

4:36  Leslie:  Oh, that’s beautiful. And one thing I noticed in our last session, which I think is very true in terms of learning styles, is when I gave you a metaphor that had a visual to it, it worked for you. And you’re nodding your head. Like, that ring of fire was not just words. It was a visual for you. Am I correct about that?

4:55  Salimah:  Right. It gave me a picture that I could see and relate to. 

 5:00  Leslie:  And metaphors can do that for us. It takes us out of a cognitive point of view; of a literal, this-is-what-the-words-mean, to more of a feeling and an understanding of what the words mean. So that’s cool—that worked for you. Anything else? Any other things you tried that maybe didn’t work?

5:18  Salimah:  Trying to talk to her, trying to talk to her in the moment—that’s not a thing. She doesn’t do it. It doesn’t work. Other people try it, it doesn’t work. So you just have to see where she is, engage it from there. Don’t try to get her where you want her. 

5:35  Leslie:  You’re actually describing something that will work for you, which is: don’t talk to her when she’s in that place. Words don’t work for her, in that moment. Learning what doesn’t work is almost just as important as learning what does work.

5:51  Salimah:  True. It makes a very big difference. Absolutely.

5:55  Leslie:  Beautiful. So, it’s been several weeks since our last session. What are you bringing to today’s session? 

6:03   Salimah:  Today, I would like to switch over to Alani.

6:08  Leslie:  So tell me about Alani.

6:12  Salimah:  So, Alani got herself into some trouble at school where she had hit another student and that parent called the police. And so we were already dealing with some behaviors and some bad choices. But that kind of was an eye-opening experience for her where I had to explain like, “Listen, you’re not a little kid anymore. The things that you do matter. And Mommy cannot always save you. Mommy cannot always save you. I can sit there and I can advocate for you. But Mommy doesn’t make the rules when it comes to this.” 

 And so she’s becoming more mindful of her decisions, but it’s hard. And I know emotionally she doesn’t really speak out. If I even tried to ask her how she’s feeling, she does the famous shoulder shrug. And it grinds my gears so bad. That gesture I do not like—I don’t like that body gesture from anybody.

7:04  Leslie:  Let’s start with that last point; but let’s go backwards first. Again, her age—I know she’s a teenager. How old is she?

7:11  Salimah:  She’s thirteen.

7:12  Leslie:  She’s thirteen. Okay, and in, like, seventh grade…?

 7:15  Salimah:  Just about, yeah. 

7:17   Leslie:  So the last thing you said is that shoulder shrug really gets you. Do you know why that shoulder shrug gets to you?

7:27   Salimah:  It’s not an answer. It’s the equivalent of I don’t know. To me, it’s: you are shutting down. You don’t want to answer me. And it leaves me in limbo. I can’t do anything with a shoulder shrug.

 7:37  Leslie:  That indifference can feel very helpless as a parent, where you don’t know what to work with, when she gives you that shrug. You said, “She doesn’t want to give me an answer.” What if she’s not capable? 

7:51  Salimah:  That has been my recent thought. In the beginning, it would just make me angry. It would be an immediate rage of, “Why aren’t answering me, why don’t you give me an answer? Why don’t you let me help you?” And then I was like, “Well, we’ve been going through this for years. There’s no way that you could just be this person. So maybe it’s not processing for you. You don’t know why.” And then, is there a deeper issue?

8:20  Leslie:  Which she may not may or may not understand. 

Salimah:  Yeah. 

Leslie:  I love that you’re bringing a new perspective to what has been going on, one, repeatedly. So one thing I say to parents, because parents get really confused with when is it a problem, when is it not a problem? When I say it’s historic, and it’s been going on, it’s consistent, that is a part of who your child is. It’s not out of the blue. It’s got history to it. 

So let’s understand it as: this is who she is, this is probably who she will be. And we want to understand it for both deeper issues to help her live with that part of herself, which is: she seems to shut down. I’m going to call that protective, but we don’t know why she’s trying to be protective of herself. But she’s shutting down. She’s not speaking. And we want to understand why she’s not speaking. What is the I don’t know about? Is it that she doesn’t know how to ask for help? Is it that she’s afraid to ask for help? 

9:23  Salimah:  Thinking back to what you said before about verbiage. So when you said, you know, that’s a way of protecting herself from me, I use the word, defensive—that’s her way of defending herself. Because I think maybe she doesn’t feel safe. Or she does feel the tension in the moment. And she’s like, “If I don’t answer, you don’t know what to do. You can’t react.” So I think she’s trying to find control in that moment.

9:48  Leslie:  Okay, control and safety. 

Salimah:  Yeah. 

Leslie:  You know, to be very honest, I have a husband who thinks before he speaks—the opposite of what I do. And so he needs time when I ask him something. And sometimes—it used to be historic—that I would talk to him, keep talking at him, and keep saying, “Why aren’t you talking to me?” And I just had to stop, give him a moment. So in this case, it may be what you’re doing. 

And remember, in our last session, we talked about, you feel like sometimes you’re at combat with your children, or you’re fighting your children. And maybe she picks up on that tension, because you use the language of she’s being defensive. So we want to get her into a state where she feels safe, and willing to be vulnerable. We want to teach her about the power of vulnerability, because someone who doesn’t want to speak or someone who keeps it in—those kids, those adults tend to be vulnerable. 

Look at that face. Tell me what you’re thinking.

[Laughter]

10:49  Salimah:  You’re describing me. You’re describing me and I get it. I see where it’s coming from: this is a learned behavior.

10:59   Leslie: Learned or genetic if it’s coming from you. 

11:03  Salimah:  Right. Wow. She needs to learn to be vulnerable. So does her mother. Okay.

11:13   Leslie:  And your vulnerability, it’s here, it’s present. It’s nothing more than you’ve already said: do you know in what ways you could practice being vulnerable? 

Salima:  No. 

Leslie:  Okay. So I’d like to start there. Because I think you’re willing. I love the fact that you’re here, you’re growing. The way you show vulnerability is in those moments when your children are not giving you what you hope for what, you want, and what’s even good for them. So if Alani could share and speak, that would be great for her. But when she’s not speaking, I believe that’s when you feel vulnerable, because you don’t know what to do to get her to talk.

11:54  Salimah:  Recently, I’ve noticed that I feel like I’m rushing. I’m always rushing, and we’re trying to get something done. I’m trying to complete something. So if I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong, I’m trying to solve a problem. And if you’re not letting me solve the problem, you’re holding me up. And I’m trying to keep moving. That’s what that is. 

12:08  Leslie:  So your vulnerability in that example is: not getting something done. 

Salimah:  Yes. 

Leslie:  Because as a single mother, you are working very hard to raise three children, work, take care of a household—there’s a lot you have to get done. You need that skill to go, go, go, go, go. But maybe your children don’t need that skill.

12:29  Salimah:  I will agree one hundred percent. Even Rene will be, like, “Stop rushing me. I don’t like to be rushed.” And I’m like, “Well, I don’t like to be late.” So where do we meet, in the middle? 

12:38   Leslie:  That’s a beautiful question. So that’s one area of vulnerability you could think about. That, yes, it makes sense that you are on an agenda, you have a schedule, and you want to get through the problems. If you have a problem, you want to fix it. I do believe that not all of our problems with our children get to be fixed. Oftentimes, we have to accept the moment; accept the vulnerability of the moment; accept the rawness, the unknown, the discomfort of the moment.

13:09  Salimah:  So, interactions with her and these moments are going to be where I need to narrate, like I do with Rene. And just explain, “Okay, I’m trying to help you. You’re saying you don’t know, I’m just going to back off. I’m going to give you some space, But just know: this is killing Mommy, but I’m going to walk away.

13:30  Leslie:  Do you want to use that language? “This is killing Mommy”…?

13:34  Salimah:  Okay, if we’re trying to change things, maybe not. It would lighten the mood for her because that is how we interact. So I do see the value in changing the verbiage, but I don’t think it would be too much of a negative where she would impact it like, “Oh my gosh, I’m doing something negative to my mom.” But just to be safe; yeah, I see the point of changing that.

13:57  Leslie:  And if you want to bring a little humor, I see nothing wrong with it. Like, “Oh, I’m thinking of swimming through the mud here. I’m just in a pool of mud swimming through the mud. Give me a moment.” You can help her viscerally understand that you are, “Look what I’m dealing with,” and make it a visual as well for both of you. And then, “Just give me a minute, I’m getting through that mud. I’ve got to clean myself up. I’ve got to figure out what to do here.” 

Salimah:  I like that. 

Leslie:  Good, beautiful. In the process, when you say you’re taking care of yourself, it automatically assumes, in a good way, that she’s got to go take care of herself, because she’s not responsible for you. You’re taking care of yourself. So you’re leaving her space and you’re giving her the permission to, “Now go work on yourself because I’m going to go work on myself.”

14:51  Salimah:  Yeah, it’s just a little frustrating when you come back to the table and it’s like, “What did you do?”

14:55  Leslie:  [Laughter] Yeah, well, we have to give our kids time—about ten, fifteen years. All right, let’s go back to the example. You said she’s making some choices that are getting her in trouble, that are having consequences; this one had big consequences. In terms of fixing problems, could I point out that when she came home and you said, “Hey, Mommy’s not always going to be able to be there for you, there are consequences to your behavior.” That’s all great. And you can add just a little space, before you get into problem solving, where you just say, “Wow, the police showed up, the police were called. And I can imagine that at 13 years old. That’s pretty scary.” So what I’m offering is: can we start with validation before we get to problem solving?

15:47  Salimah:  Yeah, that would be something that has to be practiced. I would need examples of things like that. Because although I know validation is needed, I don’t necessarily know what it should look like, or how to fit it into certain situations. 

16:03  Leslie:  One way—and this may not be what works for you; let’s just see if it works for you—is if you can put yourself in her shoes. “I’m thirteen years old, the police got called—how do I feel in that moment?” So you could actually…it’s equanimity of trying to figure out…validate from a place of: you’re not her mother, you’re not better than, you’re not one upping her. You are simply trying to acknowledge and validate what would it be like to be in those shoes.

16:33  Salimah:  Okay.

16:33  Leslie:  Does that help?

16:34  Salimah:  A little bit? Because for the situation, I received a phone call, the school didn’t notify me. And so I was the one telling her that it happened. In her mind, it was over with—it happened and the weekend went by. And then it was Monday. And I’m like, “Whoa.” So, she thought it had already passed. So I had to re-bring it to her, like, “Okay, this is what happened. This is the phone call I got. This is what they want to do.” And she was really upset about it. And I guess I could have, you know…I won’t say that I validated her, but I did ask her, “How do you feel? Now that you have all this information, how do you feel about this? 

17:10  Leslie:  And that’s when she shrugged her shoulders? 

Salimah:  Yeah. 

Leslie:  So validation gives her a moment, she doesn’t have to answer anything. Even, “How do you feel,” can feel a little intrusive or interrogating, it can feel a little harsh when you see it. So again, I’m going to stick with what’s already working: narrate. “Wow, I noticed that you look a little shaky now. You just shrugged your shoulders. I don’t know if you know what’s going on now. You might be overwhelmed with what’s going on inside your body, inside your head. Now that you just heard that, I bet that’s a bit overwhelming for you.” So you can guess. And you can say, “Did I get that?” 

 And I want to back up for a second. When you ask questions of how or why, like, “What did you do? How did you do it? Why did you do it?” All those kinds of questions is a little bit like putting a flashlight in someone’s eyes. Instead of asking questions, I like to make statements and the kind that I’m talking about, which is to observe what’s going on. “I can see a shift in your whole body, you look very surprised, you look a little unsettled. What’s going on?” So give her something to work with. Because then she can either confirm or deny it. “No, I’m not shaky, I’m angry.” It’s like all of a sudden, she has something to work with, as opposed to, “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do.” 

18:36  Salimah:  It makes sense to me. But I feel like, for her, she would just be silent. She wouldn’t give me anything. And that’s what starts to get me going. Because it’s like, “I’m talking to you. I’m trying to help you. Why are you silent? Why are you shrugging your shoulders. I can’t do anything with this.”

18:51  Leslie:  Okay, let’s start with that, then: “Hey, you’re silent, you’re shrugging your shoulders, I’m going to sit here with you in silence; to give you a moment.”

19:02   Salimah:  This would be where I narrate how much this is going to take for me to do. But I’ll do it for you.

19:09  Leslie:  [Laughter] That’s it. “This is hard for me to sit in silence and wait. And I want to make this a safe space.” And that’s often lovely to state. “I want to make this a safe space so that when the words come to your mind, when the feelings show up in your body that you might be able to verbalize that. I’m here. I’ll sit in silence with you.” 

And I would pull back on your expectation that you’re going to get this 13-year-old to shift and all of a sudden become a talker. So sometimes in parenting, we have to do what we know is going to work, but be able to hold our horses and really sit back and wait—maybe years—before we see the results of our work 

19:55  Salimah:  I think I might need a shift in what the small signs are, that I’m getting what I’m looking for. Because it’s not that I’m looking for her to become a talkative person. I’m looking for her to trust me. 

20:06  Leslie:  Okay, let’s roleplay—is that okay with you? You can be Alani.

Salimah:  We can try. 

Leslie:  Okay. So, “Alani, I got a phone call, quite surprising, quite upsetting. I got a phone call that the mother of the child that you hit, called the police. And now the police are involved.”

20:26  Salimah:  “What do you mean, I didn’t even really hit her.”

20:29  Leslie:  “Okay, I’m telling you what just happened. And I’m telling you that it’s now an issue. And I want to know how you feel and what are we going to do about that.” 

Salimah:  …shrug shoulders…

Leslie:  Okay. That was practice number one. You know how you felt just now when I said that to you. All right. version two. “Alani, I just got a phone call that I was not very comfortable with. And I don’t think you will be very comfortable with what happened.”

Salimah:  “What happened in the phone call?” 

Leslie:  “I got a call that the parent of the child you hit called the police and the police are involved now.”

21:07  Salimah:  “But I didn’t even hit her that hard. And I said I was sorry.”

21:09  Leslie:  “I don’t know that they heard your story yet.”

21:12  Salimah:  “But that’s what happened. I said, sorry.”

21:14  Leslie:  “That sounds good to me. And I don’t know what their version is. But that’s not their version.”

21:22  Salimah:  “So what do I do?” 

21:25  Leslie:  “Maybe we just talk about it and we’ll figure it out. I don’t know what we’re going to do. Here’s what I know.” 

Okay, let’s stop that one, because you’re nodding your head. Was there a difference in the second version? There

21:38  Salimah:  There was. It wasn’t as accusatory. I felt like, “Okay, you’re giving me information. And I can do something with the information you’re giving me. And so now you’ve given me information. And I can see that I don’t know what to do with it. And so I’m asking you, well, what are we going to do? Because I don’t know what to do.” 

21:57  Leslie:  So you actually got her to do what you want, which is to ask for help.

22:00  Salimah:  That was like magic.

 [Laughter]

22:04  Leslie:  It is. And this is new for me because I relate more to version one as a parent. So obviously, what works, through years and years of experience, that you’d recognize that she doesn’t really give information. She doesn’t necessarily feel safe to give that information. That’s an assumption, when either she doesn’t feel safe, or she actually doesn’t know how to find the words. And did you notice my very first trick was, “I got a phone call.” I didn’t tell her who it was from. I immediately got her asking me questions. 

22:41  Salimah: Because I’m like, “Um, so who called you? Are you going to tell me the rest of this, you going to leave me on the cliff, what’s going on? 

22:46  Leslie:  So I’m giving her a chance. So it’s really: say less, give her space,

22:54  Salimah:  I can see this space, and a difference in the two approaches. 

Leslie:  Beautiful.

[Music: A Walk in the Forest by Olexy]

[Music should fade out]

23:11  Leslie:  One way that I do this, viscerally, when I have my teen and parent groups, is I actually put up dominoes, and I line up dominoes. And when they’re really close, if I say one thing, all the dominoes fall. And that’s where it’s a mess. I say one thing, my child says something, and we’re at the end, we’re just all on the ground. It’s a mess. But if I space the dominoes out, they all don’t knock down. So you’re giving space between your comment…her comment? 

23:44  Salimah:  I can see that. That makes sense. 

23:46  Leslie:  So we know that she’s the child that keeps things in? 

Did you resolve that issue? 

23:53  Salimah:  Oh, she got very lucky. The person in charge of taking on the case looked at everything and basically was like, these two girls are underage, we’re not really going to pursue this. And so I did, however, ask the officer to speak with her. And so I brought her in, so that he could explain to her, “You’re not a kid anymore. You’re getting older, and you have to be conscious of the decisions that you make, because they can get you in trouble. They can get your mom in trouble. There can be repercussions for your entire family.” 

And so she understood what he was saying. I also had a pep talk with her before we went in and was like, “You know, don’t say anything. Just listen, you will be okay.” And so she did it. And it was kind of funny, because when he asked her a question, she looked at me and I was like, I said, don’t say anything. And so she would nod her head and I was like, good. So when we came out, she was her regular perky self and I really hope that she got the message and she doesn’t just let this fly out of her ear. 

24:51  Leslie:  And that’s where parents need to have a little faith—we don’t need to pound it into her anymore. You did it. It’s done. You don’t have to revisit it.  I sometimes revisit it if you feel like she’s a little off. If you think it’s in the back of her mind, if you know that she’s not someone who lets go of things or recovers, then I might go back to it and help her recover. But other than that, it’s really okay to let it go. 

25:19  Salimah:  Yeah. So after that situation, we haven’t had any more calls about hands-on situations. We got maybe a call or two about language and disrespect in the classroom. But I associate that with the age and also her surroundings. But from conversations with her, I put her in therapy, just in case she had anything going on that he didn’t want to talk to me about. She’s set goals for herself. And I can see her working towards them. She doesn’t know that I know them. But I see her working towards them. So I just leave her alone. I’m like, okay, she’s doing it.

25:54  Leslie:  That’s beautiful. So, was therapy a recent addition?

26:01  Salimah:  She’s been going for maybe a year, and I hadn’t had any feedback. So I was ready to change and pull her out. But then I got those goals. And I was like, “Oh, I see it. Okay.” 

26:12  Leslie:  Okay, that sounds great. And that also addresses the part that maybe she’s not talking because something underlying is going on, and you’re giving her that opportunity. I do love to check in with kids—not just with the therapist—is: “How is this working for you?” Not just “Do you like your therapist?” That’s a good question. “Do you get along? Is it a good fit?” I like to speak in the language of, “Is it a good fit?” But also, “What two or three things do you feel like you’re getting out of your therapy?” 

Because we need to teach children how to be good consumers of therapy. Like, “Do you feel like you’re able to speak? Does it feel like a safe environment? Are you learning skills? Are you setting goals?” That’s really all good stuff.

26:59  Salimah:  That makes sense. And definitely, with me trying to explain to her, “Just because you’re a kid, doesn’t mean you’re not a person,” that’ll definitely go alongside with that. Because she wouldn’t be able to express it or tell someone how she feels or what she’s getting from it, if it’s not asked. So I definitely will be doing that. But I kind of also feel like she’s going to hit me with that shoulder shrug.

[Laughter]

 27:19  Leslie:  So, let’s go back to the shoulder shrug, because it’s not new. You said this has been going on her whole life. Do you have other examples where that happens?

27:27  Salimah:  It can be when she’s tired, and she just doesn’t want to be bothered, she’ll hit me with a shoulder shrug, because she knows that it’s going to put me at a thousand; and I’m going to be like, “Just go.” It can be a situation where she just doesn’t know. There’s different volumes to the shoulder shrug, sometimes the shoulders go up really high, sometimes they go up and they stay at her ears. Sometimes it’s a very quick up-and-down. You’ve got to learn the shrugs.

27:51  Leslie:  So I would like the two of you to sit down–maybe–get out paper and pencil and write down: different shrugs mean different things,

28:00  Salimah:  She would think that’s funny. I don’t know if she would do it. But I know she would laugh.

28:04  Leslie:  And even if that’s as far as you get, that’s great. Because it’s the shrug of, “Mom, just give in. I don’t want to go up to my room and get whatever you asked me to get.” So the shrugs can mean different things. 

And you’re giving her insight again. My job description for a parent is not necessarily to control them and get them to do what you want—which is obedience. But, rather, to make them responsible means, by the time they leave the house, they understand who they are. She’s going to understand her five different shoulder shrugs. And when she gets in relationships with friends and partners and things like that, she’ll say, “By the way, I have five shoulder shrugs that mean different things.”

[Laughter]

 28:48  Salimah:  That sounds perfect. That’s all I want. I want them to leave and be able to navigate the world and know who they are. I don’t want anyone to tell them what they’re doing, what it means—No, you control you. That’s it. 

 29:01  Leslie:  Then we are on the same page, because that’s my goal here. And when you narrate it and you sit down and you make it light and say, “Okay, so your five shrugs, I’m getting to know them, you get to know them. Her first date will be, “Let me tell you about my five shrugs.” Okay, so she does have different shrugs. She has the shrug to get out of something, so you just give in. She has the shrug to say, “I don’t know what’s going on” when she really can’t figure it out. She might have a shrug of being overwhelmed.

29:32  Salimah:  Yes, that one…it’s not so much the shrug but the face and the body language that goes with the shrug. So it’s like her body is kind of caved in and slumped. And her face is very unhappy. And she’s looking off to the side.

29:48  Leslie:  Oh my goodness. I wish she was in this room with us. You’re giving her a lot of good information. If I was Alani, and you said that to me, I might be irritated but really what I feel is, “Mom you know me better than I know myself. How do you know that about me, Mom? You know me, Mom. Wow.” And what a gift of connection that is. 

30:10  Salimah:  I’m going to make a statement that’s very, very deep. So, recently, she does a lot of “Oh, I love you’s” randomly. And I’m just like, why does she keep doing it? “Why do you keep telling me that?” And now that you say it that way, I kind of feel like she does understand that I know her. And so it’s like I’m explaining her body language to her. And I’m doing it in a negative way. But she still picks up on it and she’s like, “My mom knows me so she can get around my negativity, and I’m happy that she can do that. And she’s not going to pick that up from me.” 

30:50  Leslie:  That’s beautiful.

30:51  Salimah:  I’m working hard with this one. 

30:52  Leslie:  Yes. And I’m giving you a moment to feel those feelings. Because that is very deep. You said it. That’s deep. Is it in your chest? Is it in your belly? It’s deep down, right?

31:04  Salimah:  Yeah. Like a skin hot?

[Laughter]

31:08  Leslie:  Yes. 

31:11  Salimah:  Well, she’s receptive.

31:13  Leslie:  She’s receptive, you’re aware, and: keep doing this, this connection. We’re always going somewhere, we’re trying to get somewhere, we’re trying to give our kids meals, we’re trying to take care of them. We’re trying to fix their problems. And these moments of connection are extremely powerful. They are a source of safety and well being and knowledge so that she knows you know her better than anyone.

31:43  Salimah:  With just the three of them, there’s no one else to take them or to plan things and she really takes initiative with that. She’s like, “Mom, take me to the store, but go over there.” And I’m like, “Okay.” She’s like, “Oh, wait, give me some money.” And I’m like, How much?” And then she’ll get all the stuff. And she’ll take her brother and sister upstairs and they’ll start putting stuff together. And then she has this whole thing. And it’s the small details of what she did. So last year, she went to the Dollar Store, she got flowers, she had glued them to a jar, she did a science project in a jar with glitter and water. 

And she knows that I like science. And she knows that I love those jars. She knows that I hate flowers. I hate flowers because they die. And so she used fake flowers. And I was like: this little girl is amazing. She is the best thing ever. But I don’t say it—I just think she is the best thing ever. And then I have to be mindful of my reaction. When she gives it to me, I have to make sure that it looks like I care. And that it sounds like I care. And sometimes I don’t have the energy, but it’s like, “Nope, she deserves it.” She has to get it. She has to, because she went above and beyond. And that was before she was thirteen.

 32:50  Leslie:  That’s beautiful. That’s so wonderful. Now let’s go to…you just brought up a very important issue. What do you know about being thirteen?

33:00  Salimah:  It was hard. And I did it by myself. I did it by myself. I know that my mother was there, but I did it by myself. And I don’t want that for her.

33:09  Leslie:  Being thirteen is not easy. There are hormones, there’s a lot going on in the environment around you. It’s really, really a tough time. So we want to remember that. And first of all, I want to acknowledge that you went through it alone. And you’re a beautiful person. So we can get through hard times. But I don’t wish that on anyone. So you’re aware of that. Bring that information with you, on both sides. One is: it’s going to be tough, even if you’re there for her, still being a 13-year-old can be tough.

And then the other part—and sounds like she’s figuring it out—”Where can I be powerful and curse? And where can I use my power? And if I want to hit, what’s okay and what’s not okay? How do I show this kind of individuality and power?” So while she’s being this 13-year-old self—and you remember you want to be there for her because that is not what you experienced—I would say validation is going to be really key for you. I have a sheet, a handout, on six different ways of validating. Isn’t that cool? There are six different ways of validating; I’m sure people have invented more. But this list comes from Dialectic Behavior Therapy. We teach the six levels of validation. What you’re doing right now is the first level of validation. Do you know what you’re doing right now in this conversation?

34:30  Salimah:  No. What am I doing?

34:32  Leslie:  You just nodded your head while I was explaining that to you. You are validating me by saying, “Oh, I would like that. That sounds good. I like that idea.” You were validated me. And when someone…I’m looking at you and I see that you’re nodding your head, I feel validated. So the, and, you’re doing two things: you are nodding your head and you’re looking at me. So eye contact, listening, and little, “Mmm Hmm,” or little nods. That’s the first level of validation: show that you’re listening.

35:03  Salimah:  The sociology class is coming back. 

[Laughter]

35:07  Leslie:  So I’m going to send this to you, so you can practice the six different levels. The second one is: reflecting back or mirroring. You start off with things like, “So, it sounds like you think that you didn’t hit this person.” You just repeat what she said to you. It’s like a parrot. You don’t have to get fancy—you just parrot right back what you heard.

35:31  Salimah:  So I feel these are things that I do, I just don’t do it in the right context. So if I switch it up a little bit, she’ll be more receptive,

35:42  Leslie:  And it actually may be more effective, because using skills at different times is what makes them more effective or not effective. So if she’s screaming at you, it may not be effective to look at her and nod your head. A lot of parents say, “I tried validating, and my child was yelling at me.” Validation is in the eye of the beholder. So if you’re trying to validate her, and you’re using words, but she wants space or quiet, her form of validation is, “Why don’t you sit there and just be with me, Mom. I don’t need you to talk to me.” 

So we’re going to fine tune that, where you’re going to try something, you’re going to see if it works. And if not, you can do what you just said—tweak it a little bit by changing the timing of it. Or that was a good point that you brought up—these skills, you might name them, you might put this list on the refrigerator. First, you have to learn it. And then you can teach it.

 36:46  Salimah:  Yeah, that level one validation statement sounds more like me. I’m definitely the one to do that. Because I know she’ll hear it. And then she’ll do it. And then people will be more interested in her because she did it that way. She don’t know what she’s being built for; like, she don’t understand.

 37:00  Leslie:  Right. And sounds like she’s got a lot of similarities that you have. And you love this stuff, it seems like. You’re soaking it up like a sponge.

37:09  Salimah:  I’ve referred to Rene as a mirror. This is a different mirror. I feel like Rene is the long mirror that you use to get dressed. And then Alani is the bathroom mirror that’s used to do your makeup.

 37:22  Leslie:  Oh, that’s beautiful. 

 37:26  Salimah:  I don’t know about that other one, though. [Laughter] I don’t know which which mirror he is. 

37:30  Leslie:  Well, what if we save that for next session? How does that sound?

37:36  Salimah:  Most definitely.

37:37  Leslie:  So let’s wrap up there. Do you have any questions about what we talked about?

37:42  Salimah:  No, I don’t have any questions. I’m excited to get those six methods of validation. And I’m also excited because, in my head, I’ve already started thinking how I’m going to convert those into a child-friendly version.

37:54  Leslie:  Beautiful, just beautiful. Well, I love that the things that you did from the first session, that you held onto, this is just an addition to all those things. So keep going back to what’s working. And keep discovering, keep trying this stuff out. You’re doing a great job. I love it.

38:15  Salimah:  This is the fun part of parenting for me. 

 38:19  Leslie:  Yes. When we turn the challenges into opportunities. Thank you so much, and we’ll talk soon. 

38:28  Salimah:  All right. Thank you, I enjoyed this.

 [Music: Flowerpot by Olexy]

38:39  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  In therapy, we often send people home with homework. If you’re interested in the worksheet I sent Salimah home with, check out the show notes. Therapy homework is a sign of commitment. It means both you and the therapist are committed to making real behavioral changes, not just talking about them. In order to learn skills, you have to practice what you learn in a variety of settings. 

Many of my clients, both on the podcast and in my therapy practice, go home with homework. And I’m so grateful Salima has chosen to share that part of her journey with us. Learning is vulnerable. You’re doing something different without knowing if you’ll succeed. She’s making a shift in these sessions from attempting to control her children’s behavior to helping them understand themselves better. What a gift. 

Join us next week where Salima talks about her five-year-old son, Terrel, who appears to be a fun-loving kid; but surprises everybody with mean words and outbursts of anger. 

[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. Join the conversation on Facebook and Instagram. You can find links to everything in the show notes and 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, give your child the gift of connection

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

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