June 18, 2024

Building Mastery with Special Guest Dale Rubury – Reprise

Today’s episode is a revisit of the conversation between Leslie and her adult daughter Dale. It focuses on the skill of building mastery with new information and resources.

Parents can use this skill to build their children’s sense of confidence and competence. Building mastery can also provide a sense of accomplishment for all adults. This is an inside look at Leslie as a mother using this skill to help her anxious daughter. This episode is also a unique opportunity to hear these parenting skills from the child’s perspective. And in an unexpected move, Dale turns the tables and puts the spotlight on Leslie’s own building mastery.

About the guest: 
Dale Rubury was a producer and special guest in several episodes. 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 enrolled in a graduate program to become a Physical Therapy Assistant. Dale is proud to say that she has a healthy relationship with her anxiety.

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.


Leslie-ism:Building a sense of accomplishment comes from challenging ourselves.


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

 0:03  Dale Rubury:  I remember really struggling with making even just that simple phone call to a grandparent. And then it made me feel bad, because it was, like, this seems like just a simple thing. I want to talk to my grandfather, and so then you pile on shame to that…

0:21  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  Sometimes it’s hard to understand why our children can’t do something that seems so simple, like making a phone call, playing at a friend’s house or asking a question in class. But for many people, those aren’t simple tasks—they bring an enormous amount of anxiety and shame. 

I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury, and 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. So, today we’re talking about a skill called building mastery that can help your child overcome those anxieties. This skill helps your child build a sense of competency so they can feel capable and confident. Those are the moments when a child says, enthusiastically, “I did it,” and that’s parenting gold. 

And that’s why I invited my daughter, Dale Rubury, to talk with me about putting this skill into action. Building mastery was essential for helping my anxious, sensitive daughter grow up. This conversation first aired early last season. But with all skills, repetition is key to learning. So we decided now is a good time for some review. Dale is currently enrolled in a graduate program to become a physical therapy assistant. She’s proud to say that she has a healthy relationship with her anxiety, and I’m really thrilled to have her back on the show. 

As a reminder, though I am a licensed clinical social worker, this show is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for therapeutic intervention. So let’s get started. 

2:15  Leslie:  Hi Dale,

2:16  Dale:  Hey, Mom, how’s it going?

2:17  Leslie:  You’re so far away. So, this is a real treat for me just to spend a little time with you.

2:21  Dale:  Yeah.

2:17  Leslie:  So Dale, you came to me with an idea. What was your idea? I’m so curious.

2:26  Dale:  Yeah, well, it was after listening to the Michelle and Emiliano episodes. And then also your recent newsletter I read, which was all about building mastery. And with the Michelle and Emiliano episodes, their daughter Willow struggles with a lot of anxiety, and the kind of anxiety that prevents her from doing the things she loves. And I really related because as a kid, I also had kind of a crippling anxiety that just prevented me from doing a lot of things that I actually wanted to do. So it really gets in the way. And that just felt like it described a lot of my childhood. And so I really related to her and you talking about the steps on how to build mastery, with Willow. And it just kind of felt like a topic that felt pertinent to talk about. And I feel like that you and I have had a lot of experience doing…growing up.

3:27  Leslie:  Just seeing you grow up, you wanted to do things and struggled to do those things. It is important to talk about it because—I don’t know what your memories are and I’d like to hear more about that—but there were so many opportunities and so many situations where your anxiety got in the way of you being able to do what you wanted to do. I really did see that a lot.

3:49  Dale:  Yeah. And I mean, it’s still something I…through, I mean, through the skills you taught me as a kid I still utilize today because it’s not like not like my anxiety went anywhere, but it’s definitely gotten easier. So for those who might not know exactly what the building mastery is, will you explain that to them?

4:09  Leslie:  Sure. So if we’re using it technically, it is a skill inside the Dialectic Behavior Therapy skills modules that is taught to help people gain some confidence, and—key phrase—build a sense of accomplishment. So what we’re trying to do is help people slowly take the steps that they need to take in order to do the things they want to do. So building mastery would be identifying the problem, and then breaking down the steps. And what’s very important is to know that when you’re building mastery, you have to pick something that is not too easy, and not too difficult. Because if it’s too easy, anybody can do that: “Oh, that was no big deal.” And that’s not building a sense of accomplishment. 

So if it’s too easy, you’re going to dismiss it. If it’s too difficult, you’re going to fail. So finding that sweet spot of what is doable, what is achievable, is the key. And I think in parenting, finding that sweet spot with a child is so challenging, like, how do we plan for success? Because the child is standing there going, “No, no, I don’t want to do that,” or withdrawing and saying, I have a stomachache or a headache, and they’re not making it up, they might have the headache and stomachache. 

So, Dale, I think when we talk about what you needed to work on what you wanted to do, whether it was play an instrument and go to the recital, whether it was your sports, and even taking you to your practices or your games, it was a really big deal, because there was so much anxiety. So building mastery often refers to the emotion that’s tied with a task or an activity, or a goal that you wanted to accomplish. It’s broad.

6:08  Dale:  I remember struggling to do lots of different things. Like you said, I played baseball growing up, and I love playing sports, but I struggled a lot with performance anxiety. And so going to any game was just really heightened anxiety for me. So I was just wondering, did you have other examples of how you saw me as my mom, struggling with building mastery, because of my anxiety, and then how you walked me through it and, and helped build that mastery so that as an adult, I was at least a bit better at accomplishing things I wanted to.

6:46  Leslie:  Yeah, slow and steady, steady and slow. That is, that’s really an important concept. The other thing that was important was to realize I wasn’t going to get you to do everything right now. When there’s a pressure…I knew you had a love for sports, and a talent for sports. And when parents see that, sometimes we forget to see the child and we see the ambition and we see the…we really want to push it and it didn’t matter how good you were or how much desire you had, we had to really begin with what you were capable of dealing with. So, do you remember when I asked you to call Poppi, your grandfather?

7:27  Dale:  Yeah, yeah…as probably a lot of kids do, and at least a lot of adults, my friends do these days, is making phone calls can be nerve-wracking. Like, having to call Poppi my grandfather as a kid was, for some reason, scary…was worried there’d be kind of those awkward moments. And as an adult I still…I mean, making doctor’s appointments. As an adult, you have to make a billion of these calls. And so just from exposure and having to do it, I’ve gotten better at it. But yeah, I remember as a kid, dreading it, whether it was calling him for his birthday, or anything. And then it made me feel bad because it was like, this seems like just a simple thing. I want to talk to my grandfather. And so then you pile on shame to that. But yeah, I remember really struggling with making even just that simple phone call to a grandparent.

8:58  Leslie:  Right. And so this is not every child’s reaction, but I just want to share: your reaction was huge. It was yelling at me saying, “No, why do I have to do it? It’s unfair.” There was a big reaction.

8:35  Dale:  I guess I’ve sugar-coated it in my memory a little bit.

8:41  Leslie:  Yeah. That’s how I knew. That’s when I talk about in the podcast going below the surface, I knew that you weren’t the monster, I knew you weren’t an oppositional child. What it was, is your anxiety was incredibly uncomfortable for you. And the only way for you to tell me how uncomfortable you were was to say no, and to be adamant and to try to refuse. So that was the first step, is recognizing you had anxiety. Then it was, “Okay, how do I help her accomplish this?” 

So sometimes I would work backwards. It’s a really good trick. So when you’re…just as an aside when you’re trying to teach a child to tie their shoes, you start from the last part, you actually let them pull the little bunny ears with the laces. And they get to say, I did it. Look, I tied my shoes, and all they did was the last step. So what I would do is I would dial the phone, I would get Poppi on the phone, I would talk to him. And then I’d say, oh, Dale wants to wish you a happy birthday. And I’d hand it to you. Maybe I would put a hand on your back and smile at you and make it a warm environment for you to do the thing that I knew was so difficult. I never wanted to make you feel, “Dale, what’s wrong with you? Just call Poppi, just say something.” I knew that that was climbing Mount Everest for you. So do you see what I did?

10:04  Dale:  And I do remember, actually, now that you say that, I remember you doing that first lead-up part, which actually took away a significant amount of that anxiety, of that anticipatory, like, “Will he pick up? Will he now pick up? What’s he going to say?” That lead-up really helped take away just enough anxiety so that I could kind of push through the remaining bit. And yeah, a big component was not layering on any shame. Like, I’m already going to have shame about it for myself, but as a parent not layering that on I think made a big difference.

10:40  Leslie:  Yes. And then you get off the phone feeling better about yourself, and you don’t focus on, “Well, Mom made the phone call.” Maybe I don’t…I never saw you thinking that way. And so obviously, we’d call Poppi a lot. And I would do that for a long time, I’d let you say hello, after I dialed the phone. Eventually, as you were building confidence and having exposure to, “I can do this, I can do this, I can do this,” then I would sort of turn up the heat a little bit. And I would give you the phone after I dialed it. So it’s like, “Oh, here, Poppi is going to answer the phone, say hello.” So now not only am I not saying hello to Poppi first, but I’m cueing you, “Say hello to Poppi.” So that you don’t have to think about, “What do I say? What do I do?” So there’s the second step. And then we just kept going. We just kept going and making it a little bit harder and harder each time so that it was doable.

11:38  Dale:  Yeah. And I think doing it step-by-step…I mean, some people might work better with getting thrown in the deep end. But for somebody with so much anxiety and a sensitive kid like me, I think doing it step-by-step was the way to compassionately address my anxiety in a way that I actually could do those steps. I know even as an adult, I still like having those kinds of step-by-step gauges, even building the mastery step-by-step to get there helps to do the overall task. The thrown-in-the-deep-end method for me, I think, would have put me deep into an anxiety hole that I’m not sure how I would have gotten out of. So, yeah, your step clearly works, because I’m now able to call the doctor’s office and make an appointment for myself.

12:30  Leslie:  Yes. You said some people might like to get thrown into the deep end. So I do want to just say that for you—and for a lot of people with high anxiety—the step-by-step approach is recommended. Getting thrown into the deep end is what I call life. Sometimes life doesn’t give you a chance to do this step-by-step approach. Life sometimes just presents the challenge of:  jump into the deep end. And we don’t want to overwhelm someone with it. But when they’ve had practice, sometimes they are going to be willing to do it in that moment. Sometimes they’re going to miss that opportunity. 

How about for you? And that relates to it– when you didn’t want to try something. Because I believe you wanted to be good at what you were doing. You wanted to be perfect or really good before you even tried something.

13:21  Dale:  Yeah, I think that goes into kind of my maybe somewhat perfectionism but just also this idea that there’s a right and a wrong way to do something and I never want to do it the wrong way. I don’t want to make a mistake. And so pushing through that and trying something where it’s like, yeah, I might make a mistake. Or even doing certain types of art, like creative endeavors. There’s this idea that I have to do it the right way. And so I don’t want to do it the wrong way. So I always look for a way to try to build up to it or do the baby steps of it so that I don’t have to just jump in and do something that I might not be good at.

14:12  Leslie:  So, in terms of trying those small things and perfectionism, you did have signs when you were very little of OCD tendencies, obsessive compulsive disorder tendencies. Do you remember, you had your karate belts hanging on your wall above your bed? And every night going to bed, I started to realize that you went up and touched each one before you went to bed.

14:41  Dale: Yeah, that was probably one of my main routines I did; kind of my little side routine things that I always want to do. But that was probably my most regimented one, which is, I always needed to touch them before I got into bed to go to sleep.

14:58  Leslie:  So one of the things I did—and I’m curious how you remember this—one of the things I did with you is I said, “Okay, we are going to practice being mindful to the feelings of not touching your belts for five minutes.” So when I got in your room to put you to bed and have our good night tradition of reading books and talking, I would say, “Let’s practice being uncomfortable.” So practicing being uncomfortable in those moments, learning to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation is one of my Leslie-isms:  that’s where it came from. It was, like, we are going to practice you being comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. 

So, again, a lot of my Leslie-isms come from our time together, Dale. You really made me who I am. I got to name one other one, that when you were talking, I just thought about, which was: can you give yourself permission to make a mistake? Oh, my heart broke for you. Because if you spilled milk, or if you went and tried to draw something and you made a mistake, that’s when I would just say…because parents often want to say, “Oh, don’t worry, I make mistakes,” or, “Mistakes are fine.” But I knew that you understood the concept that people make mistakes; you just didn’t give yourself permission to make a mistake. So I would say to you, and here’s one of my Leslie-isms that came directly from you: Can you give yourself permission to make a mistake? I would say it, and I would leave the room. So that maybe you would think about it. Did you think about it?

16:37  Dale:  Yeah, I thought, “No, and that’s dumb.” [Laughter] So for all the parents listening, you won’t get a great response probably from your kid at that age with these Leslie-isms. But I will say they made the difference today, they are still in my head. And they now, as an adult, have a more kind of immediate effect when I think of them or use them. And so planting that seed and getting me familiar with them as a kid, I think made all the difference. Even if at the time I hated it. I mean, when you made me sit in my discomfort wanting to touch the karate belts and not, I felt like a tea kettle that was already at a boil, just screaming inside. 

And just being like, let’s just sit with that. And let’s just hear this whistle go off. And it was…it felt almost physically painful to sit in that discomfort. And the only thing in my head was:  I just want to touch the belts, I just want to touch the belts, I just want to touch the belts. And so at the time, it honestly felt like torture and less like an effective parenting method. But clearly what you did worked because I do not have those tendencies like I did as a kid.

18:00  Leslie:  Thank you for sharing that. It’s so interesting hearing you say that because now I’d go back and do it a little different. I’d add another step, which I do now with people and I did not know then…hey, give me a break. [Laughter] I didn’t know what I was doing. I was inventing this stuff as I went along. I never heard of building mastery when you were little. That was something I was making up. 

And then when I did discover dialectic behavior therapy, I was like, “Oh, someone put into theory and put into practice what I was actually doing.” So in that instance, what I would do now is I would add the mindfulness to riding the wave of the discomfort. And I would help you understand, “Let’s watch these feelings come and let’s watch these feelings go,” and I would give you awareness. And I would say, “So what are you feeling in your body? Oh, you’re feeling or you’re having repetitive thoughts? Okay, let’s just watch those thoughts go like clouds in the sky. Those thoughts are going to come then they’re going to go.” 

So there would be a lot of things that I would do now, to help you realize, “We’re just going to notice the thoughts. We’re going to notice the body sensations.” So I would bring a big mindfulness component too, “Let’s watch your body get uncomfortable,” and I would give you skills—I would give you breathing skills. Did I ever give you the breathing one? No, I think I just gave that to the grandkids.

19:19  Dale:  No, didn’t learn that one. But yeah, and I was…as you were explaining that I think what I always struggled with, with sitting in the discomfort or trying to fix some of these behaviors, was this desire to just be able to fix it—quick. And I can imagine if a parent is also in the mindset of being, like, I’m trying to fix it, then you can have this thought of, okay, well, what good is this doing if they’re just going to sit in discomfort for five minutes, and then I’m going to let them touch the belt anyways—that doesn’t seem to be fixing it. I’m still giving in and letting them touch it, this is not going to fix anything. 

And I don’t know the science behind it, or why it actually works. But there really isn’t that kind of quick fix to it. And doing those steps like you’re describing, even though you still let me touch the belts at the end, you never prohibited me from touching the belts at the end. But those steps helped, because at some point, I was able to go to bed and I just did not feel the need to touch the belts anymore. Again, you weren’t throwing me in the deep end and going, “Alright, now you can never touch the belts again. Good luck, good night.”

20:34  Leslie:  So we didn’t avoid it, I could have taken the belt away, you would have found some other way to have that need met or the compulsion. But what you did learn was the value of distress. In today’s society, in raising children, we have this need to be happy and positive and not understand that there is value in sitting with discomfort, there is value in knowing you are capable of sitting in discomfort. 

And I think that’s what you may have learned: that you can handle it and that there is a value to sitting in discomfort. Not so that you’re just miserable. That’s not what I need to teach you. But that you can handle the difficult things that show up. There’s inflammation, right? There’s inflammation in our distress, there’s inflammation in the difficult emotions. They’re not bad emotions. So sitting with that discomfort. I’m like, “Okay, we’re just sitting, we’re okay.” 

And so in the long run, it’s knowing that, but there’s something that’s running through my mind right now about you trying to get to sports and the performance anxiety and the anticipatory anxiety of taking you to practice or a game. I can’t tell you what those car rides were like. Do you remember those?

21:49  Dale:  Yeah, I mean, I’m surprised I didn’t give myself an ulcer playing sports growing up because the day of a baseball game, or even the day before baseball game, I just would feel nauseous and just knotted up in my stomach with nerves. And so yeah, those car rides were emotionally and physically, just painful and full of discomfort. And I can even kind of feel it now, as I think back to it. 

22:05  Leslie:  And on the surface, you complained and complained and complained and complained. You were like, Why do I have to go and dadada.  It didn’t come out as, “I’m scared.” So, it was hard. And I probably lost it some of the time. But I think what worked when I wasn’t losing it was being cool, calm and collected, and acting as if you’re going to survive. “This is okay. We’re going to keep going.”

22:48  Dale:  I think it was balancing doing the kind of validation without doing the dismissive version of, “You’re fine, you’re gonna be fine. This is just a game, it doesn’t matter.” It’s a fine line between doing it in a dismissive way, like, “You’ll be fine, you’re gonna survive,” which is dismissive, versus the way you were able to do it; in a validating way, that didn’t add on anything. It didn’t magically make my nerves disappear. But it also didn’t make them worse. It didn’t add on shame. It didn’t add on dismissiveness. It didn’t add on to my already existing anxiety.

23:30  Leslie:  So when you were complaining, instead of saying stop complaining—just so everyone understands—the example would be…I would say something like, “That’s your anxiety, talking. You’re really nervous about going to practice. I know you want to do everything really, really well. And that’s some of the anxiety that’s showing up with us. Let’s go. Let’s take your anxiety and go to the game.” So that’s a way of validating it, where I’m acknowledging it without making, hopefully, without making you feel shameful about it.

24:01  Dale:  Yeah, exactly.

[Music: Forest of Dreams by Olexy]

24:18  Dale:  I wanted to go back to you talking about the sitting in the discomfort when building mastery and when doing these little steps and ask you or talk about what that discomfort actually looks like for the parents. And the reason why this kind of came to mind was, I realized, when reading your newsletter about building mastery, is that doing this podcast with you and watching you go through this podcast feels like I’m watching you build mastery in some ways. [Laughter] And even though I’m sure I’ve seen you build mastery throughout my life, I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly watched you build mastery. I mean, this is a completely new undertaking, you were full of insecurity and nerves about it and anxiety. And it was the side of a parent you kind of never want to see [Laughter], because, even as a 33-year-old, you’re just still hoping that your parent doesn’t struggle with the same stuff you struggle with. 

And so, seeing you do this podcast, I started realizing, “Oh, I’m actually watching you build mastery and work through these.” And it can be kind of unsettling and scary. And I’ve watched you question yourself and, and look to me for advice, which was also terrifying. And I wondered if what I was struggling with was maybe something that parents would struggle with too, which is watching a loved one push through anxiety and sit in discomfort. I can imagine, I mean, I’m not a parent, but I can imagine that a parent wants to shelter their kid from any negative feeling and sitting in that discomfort. And it feels like part of this building mastery and being a support through that process is watching somebody you love sit in that discomfort and almost kind of sitting there with their discomfort and with your discomfort.

26:30  Leslie:  Oh my god, you said that so beautifully. Okay, so you turned that around, nice job. So let me…I want to respond to both parts of that—the building mastery for myself and that being a parent is one huge experience and exposure of building mastery. It is a huge…and sometimes that feels almost too difficult. Remember, I said in the beginning that this skill works when we pick that sweet spot. Well, what happens when you get the very, very challenging child, when you get a child that’s highly sensitive, or has big emotions and intense behaviors. Now all of a sudden, building mastery almost feels like you’re in the deep end. I don’t know what I’m doing. And with all my confidence, I said this before, with all my confidence and my two master’s degrees, I thought, “I know what I’m doing.” But when you came along, I really said, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” And so that was the other time, the big building mastery was when you came along. And I now needed to really say, “Okay, this is scary. This is hard.” And yes, sitting and watching a loved one be uncomfortable is extremely important in parenting for us as parents to work on it ourselves. 

And that’s one of the reasons why I’m doing this podcast for parents. I love helping kids. But I want the parents to develop that skill to be able to sit with the discomfort, truly sit with the discomfort. Knowing how to do that is a very important thing. So part of the building mastery, which I can talk about for myself with doing this podcast, was, one, we need willingness, willingness to be uncomfortable. I need to be able to say I am going to open myself up and be vulnerable to being uncomfortable. So part of that Leslie-ism of learning to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation is practicing vulnerability. Practicing that feeling of being uncomfortable. I practice. You may not see that, but this was my Ph.D exam of, “I’m going to do this big time by doing a podcast.” 

So I know and I have confidence that I know how to be uncomfortable. And that’s developed from little things. The little things like being uncomfortable and it’s not so little—being uncomfortable while I clean out my closet. That same vulnerability of I don’t like this feeling is familiar to me when I’m cleaning out my closet and familiar to me when I’m putting out a podcast. So people think that building mastery is if I want to give a speech or if I want to go play a new sport or something like that. You think, oh my god, that’s really, really big. But it’s the same feeling and the same skill when you practice in smaller ways. 

So in order to get through these tough times of building mastery around this podcast, I did have past experiences of practicing being vulnerable. Whew,it was hard. And yes, I loved reaching out to you. So I had my support system, I had my willingness, I had self-talk, where I’d say to myself, keep going, Leslie, keep going, you can do this, it’s going to get easier. I had my producer telling me, it’s going to get easier, it’s going to get easier. I had family support. And you know what, not everyone has that. So I do say find the people that can support you, know how to self-encourage, I’ve been talking to myself since I was a little kid. Because remember, I was the monster in my family, and I didn’t think I could make friends. I didn’t think I was a good person. I didn’t think I was smart enough. So I actually learned to self-talk and encourage myself: “Keep going. Do it, Leslie, you can do it,” at an early age. And that’s important. And then to learn not to attach to all those negative feelings that show up, like, “Ah, I can’t do this.” There’s nothing wrong with that self doubt. But if I attach to the self doubt, I go down that spiral of, maybe, shame and doubt, I notice it. I acknowledge it. And I just sort of put it on the shelf and say, “Okay, self doubt, I see you’re here with me. I’m going to keep going.” The self-doubt is part of the process. 

30:56  Dale:  And even sometimes, I’m assuming kind of naming it out loud. If you’re the child, as the parent letting your kid voice some of that out loud. You voice some of that out loud to me, I haven’t always responded well, and I’ve caught myself because I’ve noticed my reaction has come back as when you’re showing me self doubt, or those uncomfortable emotions. I’ll respond with impatience. I’ll respond with sometimes a little anger, I’ll snap at you. And I’ve noticed, I’ve had to take a look at what’s actually going on because it’s like, why am I getting angry at my mom for showing anxiety for showing fear? And that’s how I kind of started working backwards and noticing, okay, it’s because I don’t want to see somebody I love with this discomfort. And so I can imagine that parents might have a similar reaction of a short temper, or that kind of knee jerk reaction of negative. And so I don’t know if you have any words to that. But all I can say is I’ve noticed it, and then I’ve tried to just come back and apologize, because it’s like, there was no need to get angry and then naming, “Okay, I’m just uncomfortable that I’m seeing my mom anxious.” I’m the anxious one—if you’re anxious, then then we’re all screwed. [Laughter] And we’re going down on the ship. But which is not actually the case. But I’ve had to do the work to kind of stop myself from going down that spiral as well.

32:34  Leslie:  So you just did a beautiful job of describing what I think parents need to do as well. I couldn’t say it better than you just said it just now. So it’s noticing that irritability was showing up. And then giving it some question, an inquiry as to, “Wait a minute, where is this coming from?” And then realizing what it was, which was great work on your part, and then taking responsibility for it. I love taking responsibility for our own emotions. And believe me, I’m always like, “Oh, my daughter just apologized to me. And this was the coolest thing.” So it feels really, really wonderful that way. I will sneak out one more Leslie-ism that comes up right there. Which is: Whose problem is it? And that’s a really important thing to hold on in your mind. Because if you say to yourself, Dale, “When I’m uncomfortable, whose problem is this? Mom’s uncomfortable. I’m not uncomfortable. I came to this meeting, I came to this phone call with Mom feeling great. So why am I all of a sudden irritable? Because I picked up…I’m a sensitive person. I picked up on Mom’s discomfort. Now I don’t want to feel uncomfortable. So now I’m mad, I’m uncomfortable. And I’m mad that you made me uncomfortable,” kind-of-thing. So I think when we ask ourselves whose problem is this, you would stop and say, “Oh, Mom’s uncomfortable. Let me listen. Let me validate. Let me acknowledge. Let me actually bear witness to her discomfort.”

34:03  Dale:  So if caregivers wanted to implement building mastery with their kids, how can we get started? What’s the beginning step, because this can feel like an overwhelming kind of task to do.

34:17  Leslie:  So If it helps them, they could make a list of all the things they’re trying to help their child accomplish. And then look at that list and say, “Great, this child has a lifetime.” Because when we look at the list and think we have to get that whole list done in the next 18 years, or even this year—”I’ve got to make sure my child plays an instrument, and does well in school and is social with all their friends.” And if I try to accomplish all of those things, in a short period of time, of course it’s going to feel like a pressure cooker for the parent. And really, for the child, no one wants to feel that pressure. And I do think we pressure children to do it all, all at once. 

So instead, if we make a long list of all the things we want to accomplish, and say, “Okay, my child has a lifetime to accomplish these things.” Then I look at the list and say, “Where do I want to start?” And I might show that list to my child and say, “Do you want to add anything to the list? Or where do you want to start looking at this list? Where would you like to start?” And so that’s the first thing I recommend with parents, is just breaking it down. And so they may say: becoming more social. Well, if that goal, it’s a big goal. If I want my child to be more social, there are many, many, many smaller objectives underneath that goal. It’s sort of like an upside down pyramid. Start with a lot of different things you want your child to accomplish, narrow it down and pick one or two big goals. Then narrow that down and pick some objectives like:  becoming more social, is it connecting to their cousins a little more? Is it helping them find a new friend? Is it to maintain a friendship? 

And so you would narrow down the objectives. And then you would pick small steps, and you would work together on that. Then after that whole step is done, you would work on helping the child name the hard parts of meeting new friends or spending time with her cousin and I would name: What gets in the way? What’s the hard part of playing with your cousins? Okay, feeling left out if the cousins are all together. It might be thinking that my cousin doesn’t like my ideas. So then they would name the things that would be obstacles or things that emotionally might get in the way or actually, I don’t know what to say to my cousin. So is it a behavior getting in the way? Or is it an emotion? Then you build skills into helping them do that. “Oh, okay. So you think that not knowing what to say to your cousin is getting in the way? Great, let’s make a list of three things that you could say to your cousin. And bring that piece of paper with you. So if you forget, before you see your cousins, you can look at your paper and ask them one of those three questions to start the conversation.” 

So you would break it down. And then okay, what do you do when that anxiety shows up? I would teach them some breathing techniques. So yes, then there’s a whole lot of skills and I’m going to say, come listen to the podcast, I’m sharing these skills with you over and over and over again, I may get repetitive, but it’s okay. Because when you see that these skills weave together, weave together…I’m talking about mindfulness. And I’m talking about building mastery, and exposure, all of these things weave together. So listen to each and every episode, so that you can learn these skills that will help you really develop the skills for building mastery.

37:55  Dale:  All right, well, Mom, well, thanks. Thanks for talking about this with me and and I guess a bigger thanks to helping me build mastery so I can do the things in adulthood that I struggled with as a kid.

38:08  Leslie:  You know, it’s a journey we’re both on. I’ve got to thank you for helping me build my mastery and I am so thrilled to be on the journey with you

38:17  Dale:  And I’ll be there for you like you did for me.

39:19  Leslie:  We’re together. Thanks, Dale.

38:21  Dale:  Love you, Mom.

[Music: The Beat of Nature by Olexy]

38:33  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  There are a few things I didn’t say in this episode that I want to mention now. One important aspect of this skill is changing your child’s expectation from doing something when it feels comfortable and safe to actually doing things when it feels uncomfortable, because you don’t need to feel comfortable to be safe. Okay, so that’s a lot of words. Let me break that down for a minute. So if you want your child to feel safe, help them learn that they can do difficult things even when it feels hard. The learning only happens when they get through the challenge. That’s how you build confidence and competence. 

So try this at home. I invite everyone in the family to pick a challenge that’s not too easy and not too hard. If it’s too easy, you don’t feel that sense of accomplishment. And if it’s too hard, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You want to plan for success. And remember, this is in the eye of the beholder. For example, getting in the shower is super-easy and delightful for some people and extremely challenging and overwhelming for others. So just to be clear, the three steps of building mastery are: plan for success; take small, achievable steps; and then when it’s done, use those three magic words, I did it. 

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

Next week, tune in for my first session with Louise and George, where we explore how to parent when parenting feels like a slog. 

You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and if you’re interested in learning more parenting skills, check out my YouTube channel, where I’ve got lots of short videos breaking down different skills. You can find it by searching Leslie Cohen-Rubury. Links to everything are 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. Our theme music is by L-Ray Music. I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury. Thanks so much for listening. And this week, keep in mind: building a sense of accomplishment comes from challenging ourselves.  

Transcribed by Eric Rubury

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