June 25, 2024

Louise & George Part 1 of 3: When You and Your Kid “Flips Their Lid”

Leslie delves into one of the most common challenges parents face: how to navigate a strong-willed child who doesn’t do what you want them to do.

This is first session with Louise and George who have a 6 year old daughter Anna and a newborn baby. They bring to light the frustration many parents feel when their child refuses to do simple tasks, like brushing teeth or following a bedtime routine. And it is understandable when the frustration leads to the feeling that parenting is like a slog. This episode also focuses on the different parenting styles and how that might be impacting their child’s behavior.

6:35 Start with Compassion for yourself as a parent since this job is really hard
10:05 Mirror Neurons  Children pick up on what the parent is feeling and visa versa
10:40 Patience is needed for when seeking changes in behavior
14:13 Strategies for stepping into a conflict between parent and child

  • Be a reporter and name what is happening – give information to others
  • Do nothing
  • Bait them with “I think you have something very important to say”
  • Connect with your child especially when they are pushing you away with their behavior  “I am here and I want to hear you”
  • “Hitting is working for you but its not working for me”
  • Shape the behavior
    • hitting—->yelling
    • yelling—–> using a talking voice

20:35 Yetzer Hara and Yetzer Tov  – two ideas from Wendy Mogel’s book The Blessing of A Skinned Knee
23:35 Engage the child in “a plan” in order to problem solve challenging behaviors such as brushing her teeth
27:05 The theme of connection and how important that connection is
27:43 Getting at the root cause using the phrase “you must have a very good reason for (not brushing your teeth) or whatever the behavior is.
29:50  Communication is more than just the words: 70% of communication is nonverbal.  Your child is responding to your tone, gestures and facial expressions. 
33:10 Ask yourself how can parents have fun at the job of parenting
37:07 Connect first and then ask for the cooperation

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: Connection is the foundation for cooperation. 


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

0:03  George:  One thing I worry about that is that it’ll turn parenting into a slog, where I’m just stoically going through the motions to make it through, and I just don’t enjoy parenting in life.

0:22  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  It’s not uncommon to feel like parenting is a struggle, and today’s guests are trying to figure out how to navigate their child’s behavior without feeling like they’re just going through the motions. 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 in therapy sessions recorded live. 

So this is the first session with Louise and George, who have a six-year-old daughter, Anna, and a new baby. We delve into one of the most common challenges parents face: how to navigate a strong-willed child who doesn’t want to do what you want them to do when you want them to do it. Louise and George bring to light the frustration that many parents feel when their child refuses to do these simple tasks, like brushing their teeth or following a bedtime routine. But these are the topics and issues that I love to deal with. 

Refusal is just another way your child is trying to communicate. We explore the underlying expectations that parents often carry, the notion that their family must operate like a well-oiled machine, where every task is completed smoothly and without resistance. This idealized version of parenthood, however, rarely reflects the messy reality that most families experience. But amidst these challenges lies a glimmer of hope—the power of connection. 

So now as a reminder, all the names and identifying information have been changed. And 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 begin. 

Leslie:  Hi George, hi Louise.

Louise:  Hi.

2:18  George:  Hello. Hi, Leslie.

2:19  Leslie:  You’re here to talk about, I think, your older daughter. But I’m going to let you start and explain what’s going on and what the situation is, because I’d love to hear how to help. 

2:31  Louise:  Yeah. We have two children. We have an older daughter named Anna, who is six, and a baby who was just born three months ago. And Anna has most of what we are dealing with. It predates the baby. So I’ll just say that—this is not about the baby so much, necessarily. It’s mostly emotional regulation and how do we deal with upsets and a lot of—for me, at least—how do you coach a kid through something without punishments or rewards?

That’s something that’s been really hard for me, when she’s just not listening and she’s doing something that we don’t want her to do for whatever reason. How to get her to stop doing that, or change her behavior in some way without a punishment of some sort, or a bribe of some sort. And then there’s also been conflict with George. So I’ll let him tell you about that. 

Leslie:  George, you go ahead.

3:33  George:  Yeah. So I think I get really wound up interacting with Anna, and I want to have fun with her and get things done and have things work. And one thing I get really bent out of shape about with Anna is just repeating myself and then just getting really upset eventually. And I feel compelled to deal with it physically, like, “Oh, so you’re you haven’t gotten ready for school? Let’s pick you up and bring you downstairs.” Or, “You’re not brushing your teeth, and it’s been 30 minutes, okay? Well, I’ll hold you down and brush your teeth.” 

That’s where I want to go. And I know I’ve made a commitment not to use force to get things done. And so I hold myself back from that. But then I end up just kind of being this, like, pressed-in kettle that gets really upset, and eventually just needs to walk away from the situation. And a number of times, there’s been something where I repeat myself, she’s ignoring it, I get upset, then she’s upset that I’m upset, and then we’re fighting, and then I walk away. And then Louise comes in and kind of de-escalates and works on getting Anna to do the thing, she does the thing, and then the night moves on. But essentially what happened there is that it was in a very elongated process of just like, “Oh, let’s just do it with Mommy instead of Daddy.”

4:53  Louise:  If I could add into that, I think that a lot of the conflict between George and Anna stems from sort of feeling fundamentally a little disconnected. Because Anna often reacts to Dad in a negative way to start with. And, I don’t know, there’s like a chicken and the egg here going on, I don’t know which one comes first, her reacting to him negatively, or the way that he is with her, like, what started it. 

But he’ll go to wake her up in the morning, because I’m downstairs with the baby. And he’ll gently knock on the door, do everything that she’s asked him to do, basically, so that her morning goes the way that she wants it to go. And even if he does everything to the letter of what she’s requested in the past, that you knock gently so she doesn’t get startled, that you announce yourself coming, whatever it is, we’ve had conversations about this, he’ll walk in the door, and half the time she’ll be like, “Go away, Daddy. I don’t want you here.” And so, that’s part of it, is that she is already kind of putting negativity on him, and then he just doesn’t feel good. And then the whole interaction gets a little poisoned. But then sometimes he’s coming into it with a kind of a resigned…

6:08  George:  This has happened enough times that I kind of know how this is going to go. So I go in, saying the right stuff without really believing it underneath.

6:15  Louise:  But your voice is also kind of like you’re kind of resigned, and you’re kind of already a little resentful of her as you’re talking to her, and then she’s reacting to that and being extra emotional with you or combative, or whatever.

6:29  Leslie:  It sounds like you’re both trying really hard, and it sounds like you’re both caring. So let’s start by giving you a moment to take a breath and say, “Wow, this job of parenting is hard,” and I bet it just got a lot harder. You’re both nodding your heads. It’s hard, and it got harder because you now have a second child, and even though a lot of Anna’s behaviors were there beforehand—which is a very important assessment piece, a very important piece of information—it’s still important for me to take a pause and give you a moment of compassion. 

This is hard work, and you’re dealing with a six-year-old, and you’re like, “Wait a minute, I should be able to figure this out. How hard can this be right?” It is hard. George, it’s not so easy. You think it should be easy, right? 

7:27  George:  Yeah.

7:28  Leslie:  I mean, everybody says parenting is the hardest job. Whatever they say it’s like you don’t really understand it till you’re in it—and you’re in it for sure. Sometimes when you’re in it, it’s hard to see clearly. It’s very easy to be confused by the chicken or the egg idea, which came first, and how do we intervene? And I love that you’re asking very specific questions about some behavioral approaches that can help deal with some of these things. 

All right, so let’s start with the fact that you both need support, and you’re dealing with different parenting styles. So are you supporting each other, or are you feeling a lot of tension between the two of you? It’s not what you want, but is that what’s happening?

8:16  Louise:  I mean, there’s a little bit of that, certainly. Like, when they’ve blown up at each other, and I feel like neither one of them is really being kind to each other, and I do end up stepping in. It’s hard because maybe George is doing bedtime so that I can do something else. Like, the baby is crying, or I need to nurse, or before that, I had something to do for work, and then I get pulled away. I don’t get the non-parenting time, the release time, the whatever it’s supposed to be while George is doing primary parenting, because I end up stepping in.

And it doesn’t happen all the time, and I’ve gotten better about not stepping in. So that’s one thing, and then the other is sometimes Anna’s behavior towards me, when she’s in an upset, she’ll get a little violent sometimes, and it’s usually towards me. She’ll want to hit me because I didn’t give her what she wanted, and I’m holding the line and or she’ll kick me or something. And George gets really upset when that happens, and he wants to rush in and protect me from Anna, but in a way that kind of scares Anna sometimes, and makes it worse. Because it’s like physical force, like you said, that instinct to pick her up and take her away. And I’m like, “I was working through it,” and now it’s so much worse, because now not only do we have whatever the original upset was, but we also have the upset at whatever then happened with Dad.

9:48  Leslie:  Okay, so we’re going in an interesting direction here. If it’s okay—and you tell me if this direction that we’re going works for you. If not, we can change the direction. You want to get to some ideas about Anna. But I actually want to talk about the fact that our children mirror us. And there are physiological things called mirror neurons—those are big, fancy terms—to say that our children are feeding off of us. Animals can feed off, they see the nervousness, they can pick up on the anger. Children are really, actually very good at picking up on that kind of energy, because we are putting out nervous energy, angry energy. If you’re escalating, they’re escalating, and vice versa. As they escalate, you escalate. 

So it is a lot easier for me to work with you, hence the reason why we’re here together, than for us to actually expect Anna to change. I don’t think it’s easy for you to change. I don’t think it’s easy for her to change. I know I’ve worked on changing myself, so I have a lot of non-judgmental patience as I ask people to change. So that’s one thing. Second, in terms of what we want to work on is, yes, what’s going on when either one of you step in to help the other. And I have a great way of supporting you so you can step in, but we step in effectively. Oh, I know you got excited about that. Let’s say she’s hitting Mom. She’s hitting you, Louise; and Dad, you get that strong impulse to protect Mom. In your head, you have an alarm going off. Tell me if this is correct. You have an alarm going off saying, “This is not okay, this is not okay, this is not okay.”

11:37  George:  It’s less of a panicky response, more of just like I’m angry and I want to shut it down.

11:43  Leslie:  Okay. Why are you angry?

11:45  George:  I don’t know. I just get really angry when she gets violent. 

11:49  Leslie:  So, anger is a justified emotion when someone we care about is getting hurt. That’s why you’re angry. You see someone you care about getting hurt. 

11:58  George:  That’s part of it, but also it’s a six-year-old hitting Mommy, so she’s not actually doing much damage; like, once in a while, maybe some pain. So it’s like the principle of the thing, like you would resort to violence, or, I don’t know what it is. It really gets me.

12:14  Leslie:  Okay, great, great, great. Let’s go with that. So I bet it’s anger based on fear, fear that she’s going to be a violent person. Have you ever thought that? If she’s doing this now, will she grow up to be a violent person, an out of control person? Do you worry about what’s going to happen down the road?

12:29  George:  I don’t worry that she’s going to be a violent person in the future. I think it’s like a controlling-your-emotions thing. Like, you lost it. You got so emotional that you started doing things that…you’ve lost it. You know when we get up so upset that somebody has lost their mind, in a kind of literal way? And adults do this, and kids really do this. And it’s that…the discipline of, like, you know what we get upset sometimes us, but we don’t lose our mind.

12:58  Louise:  We used to talk about flipping our lid, right? Like, once your lid is flipped, your ability to reason sort of shuts down until you’re able to calm yourself down, and then you can be reasonable. But it activates George when Anna’s lid gets flipped, and at that point you can’t really reason with her. Like, getting her to stop is not going to happen.

13:19  Leslie:  So the irony is, you are jumping in with big emotion. You’re nodding your head…you know what I’m going to say?

13:25  George:  Oh yeah, my lid is flipped. She flips her lid, but then I flip my lid. I’m not doing things I’m going to be proud of later. 

13:32  Leslie:  So if you’re flipping your lid and she’s flipping her lid, and you’re both being emotional, I can understand both of you. I can understand there’s a reason that makes sense, that you’re very upset, that she’s very upset…and it’s not what you want. Because if you want, in the long term, for her to learn to regulate her emotions, one of the very important places we need to begin is you regulating those emotions. Okay, can I work there? 

George:  We can start there. 

Leslie:  So before, I said there’s a way that you can jump in that might feel more effective—that might be more effective—and that is to walk in and just pretend you’re a reporter, reporting on the scene. “Here I am standing in the bedroom of Anna, and Anna is swinging her arms, hitting Mom. Mom is not happy. I see Mom’s face. She does not appear to be happy at this moment. She has repeated these words.” And you just report. 

And I’m not being sarcastic. When we name what’s going on, our wise mind gets on board, and it’s like, Whoa, whoa, I am hitting Mom, and Mom is upset.” And you’re just giving people information. You’re not adding fuel to the fire. You’re actually trying to put the fire out by naming what’s going on, because you need to do something, right? You’re bursting at the seams. You want to do something. Do you think that would work? I have other ideas. If you don’t think that will work.

15:06  George:  I don’t think it would work in the moment. Usually, when she gets upset, she’s lost in it for about 15 minutes. You could set a clock to it—15 or 20 minutes—and in that time, once in a while, she’ll get herself out. But sometimes it just needs to run its course. And I’ve tried many different approaches, me being forceful is just one of the things. And one way I justify it to myself is I need something to get her attention, and that gets her attention, and nothing else really does.

15:33  Leslie:  Okay, let me give you some other ideas. So by the way, that’s just one idea, that if you want to walk in to help regulate yourself. Maybe this isn’t going to help her, but maybe it helps you, because, again, we don’t want to make things worse. And if she grows up with a dad who is losing, you know, has a temper, and when he gets upset, he loses it, then she’s growing up, and there’s a very good chance she’s going to model that. Then I would say it is very likely that she might be an adult who loses her temper. So that’s one option for you. 

I do think, like you said, sometimes she just needs to run her course. Why don’t we just try that? One idea is: do nothing. Move yourself away, Mom. Say, “I think you’re trying to get my attention. I’m here to listen to you. I’m not here to be hit. Can you use your words?” And either one of you could say that. 

16:33  Louise:  Well, I was just going to say, I usually do some variation on that where I tell her, “Obviously you’re feeling very strongly about this. It’s not okay to hit me. I’m going to go.” But often she’s so upset that she follows me and keeps hitting me. And then that’s when George wants to intervene and pick her up and take her away…is when she just won’t let me walk away.

16:56  Leslie:  Okay, did you hear the difference between what I said and what you said? I love the fact that you’re still trying to let her know that she’s upset and that hitting is not okay. But there was one thing that I added,

17:10  Louise:  That I wanted to hear what she had to say.

17:13  Leslie:  Yes, and so that’s connection. And one of the things you said early on, when we started talking, was that you said, “One of the things that I think might be going on between George and Anna is that they feel disconnected.” Connection is super important for every human being, and when you leave, she is not willing to be disconnected, so she follows you. So instead of setting up that dynamic, because that’s not a fun dynamic, I want to send the message loud and clear: “I’m here. I’m here for you. I’m here because I want to hear you. Can you use your words so it works for you and I? I know that the hitting is working for you. It’s not working for me. Tell me what you want to say. I want to hear it.” 

And in the beginning, I would let her, believe it or not, scream at me, yell at me, tell me I’m the stupidest person, only because after we get rid of the hitting, then I can shape her behavior to, “Okay, I still want to hear what you have to say. Can you use different words?” How does that sound? 

18:15  Louise:  That, I mean that sounds good. It sounds like, like, actually, something that I have tried. I don’t always nail it, obviously,

18:23  Leslie:  Yes, of course—no one does. 

18:25  Louise:  I think often her upsets are around not getting what she wanted, and it’s not something that I’m willing to bend on. So she manages to calm herself down enough to tell me again what it is that she wants, and then when she hears “no” again, she just goes right back to losing it. So she has some expectation that when she just tells me in a more calm voice what it is that she wants, then that’s magically going to make me change my mind and give her the extra dessert, or the another 20 minutes of her show, or whatever it is that I said “no” to.

19:06  Leslie:  Beautiful. All right, now I have a hypothesis. I’m going to take some guesses. George, you used the word, principle. Something you just said, Louise, right now, made me think that you are principled. I have a feeling you all, including Anna, are very passionate people about the things you believe in. 

19:30  Louise:  Yeah, I think that’s fair. 

19:32:  Leslie:  Okay, so she’s a direct descendant of these two beautiful people who have strong passions, strong principles, and those are beautiful things. And sometimes, when we care too much, it actually is not always effective to be solely motivated by our principles. Strangely enough, sometimes we have to bend on our principles. 

19:57  Louise:  Yeah, I do. But aren’t there times when “no” is just the thing that has to happen?

20:05  Leslie:  So yes…all I was trying to make by that point—that’s a great comment—the only point I was trying to make is, this is why you’re struggling with your daughter. She’s just passionate. And I don’t actually want to take that out of her. I don’t want to burn that out of her, I don’t want to destroy that. Because I need young people to be passionate about the things in our environment that need to change, and things in our social justice. And whatever she chooses to do, I love her to be passionate about it. And so now it’s learning to live with her and survive her childhood. 

I am going to recommend this one book I love. Wendy Mogel wrote a book called, The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee. And Wendy Mogel in that book…it’s such a great book, and it’s based on some Jewish wisdom. She uses Jewish wisdom to help in parenting. And there’s something called our yetzer hara and our yetzer hatov. Our yetzer hara is the qualities that are very hard to live with. Our yetzer hatov are all those easygoing qualities. So, children have this part of them that’s going to drive parents nuts. But it’s yetzer hara in individuals that actually make improved progress in life, make changes in life. They’re the things that make change and the things that bring positive change in the world. And so we don’t want to get rid of that. 

And your daughter has a very strong will. When you say “no” to her, she’s upset, right? So we’re going to embrace her yetzer hara, the part of her that you are just like pulling your hair out and saying you’ve-got-to-be-kidding. And you actually had the answer, George, because you said she just sometimes has to run her course. My best advice for you is, let that big emotion run its course. Don’t try to get in the way of that bulldozer.

22:02  Louise:  The problem is when it happens at times…like, it’s bedtime, and 15 minutes later means 15 minutes less sleep, and that she’s just going to be that much less rested in the morning, and then we’re going to have more conflict in the morning because she didn’t get enough sleep. It’s like we try to do, sort of, natural consequences, like if it takes 15 minutes for her to run her course about not wanting to brush her teeth, then it takes that time, but then that means that we have 15 minutes less for the other parts of our bedtime routine, like reading books or doing “snuggles.” But then that freaks her out. The idea that she wouldn’t get her full 20 minutes of books because she had this big upset brings her right back into that big upset.

22:44  Leslie:  First of all, I want to acknowledge that you both nodded your heads when I said, “Give her some space.” So I know that you appreciate that. And we want to get to some strategies, because you’re right:  a “no” is important, and getting her to do things is important. It’s not the end of the world, so we do want to remember that. We want to be parenting our children so they develop these skills. And we also want to keep the perspective that probably very little of this is life or death.

[Music: Acoustic Folk Music Guitar by ArtMusic ]

23:27  Leslie:  Let’s go back to some ideas about the brushing the teeth or the bedtime. Does she feel like a six-year-old going on thirteen? 

23:36  Louise:  A little bit, yeah. 

23:37  Leslie:  Okay, so we want to engage that part of her. Believe it or not, I want to engage that part. Have you ever tried to do, like, a family meeting, the three of you? I mean, you can invite the baby, the baby’s there with you. Okay, we’re all having a family meeting. Definitely start inviting the baby. And I want to say, “Everybody gets to name one area that they would like to work on.” We don’t want to name all the problem areas, because that’s overwhelming to everyone. It’s overwhelming her and overwhelming you. “We need to do this, this, this and this.” Nope, we’re going to pick one topic. 

Mom, you might get to pick one. Dad, you get to pick one. Anna gets to pick one. “I want more sweets in my day,” whatever—everyone gets to pick an issue that they want to work on. Then you do problem solving. What’s fabulous about problem solving is you start to brainstorm, and everyone brainstorms. So brushing—let’s take brushing teeth—and right now the three of us are going to try and come up with ten ideas for how she could do brainstorming…pretending Anna’s here…I’m going to be Anna…how she could handle this brushing-teeth-situation that takes extra long, and we want to shorten the time that it takes for her to do brushing her teeth. Anybody have any ideas?

24:48  Louise:  So hard, because when she does have the nights where she just does it. And I’ll say this to her, “There are nights where it’s not a conflict, and you just brush your teeth, and you get it out of the way, and then we have so much time for everything else, and the night goes so much better.” And it’s great. I don’t understand why some nights she just will do everything except start brushing her teeth. Like, there’s this other thing that she just has to do, this one more thing before she brushes her teeth. Or she just has to do this other thing, or she just has one more thing that she has to do before she brushes her teeth. And then some nights, I can just be, like, “All right, let’s get your teeth brushed so we can get in the bath and have stories,” and everything just goes really quickly. I don’t know exactly what’s going on, because she likes all the things after tooth brushing—she likes bath time and books and all that.

25:44  George:  I think you’re getting into: what is the root cause here? Why isn’t she doing brushing teeth? But that might be an unknowable thing, and now we’re just like, what are ten ideas of getting her to brush her teeth? We’ve tried playing a little brush tooth video.

25:59  Louise:  She did a very bad job of toothbrushing because she was so intent on watching the video that she didn’t actually pay attention to whether she was actually getting all of her teeth.

26:06  George:  It might have worked. It might have been an improvement over what was happening before. Telling good jokes, but only if action is happening…us being entertaining, but only if she’s making forward progress. All my first ideas are probably things we’ve already tried…

26:20  Louise:  I want her to understand that she’s got weak enamel on her teeth, according to the dentist. And if she doesn’t brush her teeth, she’s going to get cavities. And just do it because it’s the right thing to do. 

26:30  George:  Yeah. Fear. Using fear. “Responsibility kid, because brushing teeth is good.” We could try to brush our teeth at the same time with her.

Louise:  We used to do that.   

26:39  Leslie:  Yep, that’s an idea. Did she like that? 

26:42  Louise:  Yeah. She was into brushing her teeth when she was smaller, because she did it in our bathroom with us at the same time. Our house, at the time, didn’t have two bathrooms. We only had one. So we all kind of did things together, and now there’s two. She has a bathroom, and we have a bathroom.

26:58  Leslie:  So, as we’re brainstorming, you just named…this theme is coming back: connection. She liked brushing teeth in your one bathroom. It is funny that having more bathrooms is so lovely, but it means more disconnection. We are a society right now that is suffering—suffering the ills of disconnection. Disconnection is a real problem, and I think she is sensitive to that, and in a way, maybe not so pleasantly demanding more connection. 

So that’s a possibility, that brushing teeth with you guys in your bathroom may be an idea. Again, we’re just brainstorming. It might be, and we know it won’t work all the time. But I do want to get back to one thing you said, Louise, about—and George you commented on—is, what’s the root cause? I do ask children, young children even, six years old, is not too young. I say, “You must have a very good reason for not brushing your teeth tonight.”

28:00  Louise:  And what do they say?

28:03  Leslie:  Amazingly enough, “Oh, because, Mommy, I have to read this book,” or, “I have to do…” whatever she’s doing in the moment. It is amazing that sometimes they actually can come up with something you would not have seen. “Because I want more time to stay awake.” You know, sometimes brushing teeth means, “I’m going to bed and I don’t want to go to bed.” So, if I said, “You must have a very good reason for not brushing your teeth, she’s, “Because I don’t want to go to bed.” “Oh, because you don’t want the day to end. And if you brush your teeth, we know the day is ending.” 

So looking for the root cause is important, and also, sometimes we don’t need it to help behaviorally deal with this situation. I love just being able to get a child engaged in letting them know what’s going on. They like to figure out why they’re not brushing their teeth, too. So it’s not a secret. 

28:55  George:  One successful thing Louise tried was just sitting down with Anna being like, “Okay, so what’s your plan tonight? We have 40 minutes left. How are you planning to use that time?” And she’d come up with a plan and then maybe follow through on it better than if that conversation hadn’t happened.

29:13  Leslie:  Oh, I love it, love it, love it. Remember, I just said she’s acting like a thirteen-year-old. Let’s engage that. She wants to be treated with the respect of a thirteen-year-old. “Hey, sweetie, what are you doing tonight? What are your plans for the weekend? That’s what you would say to your thirteen-year-old. That is brilliant. And that is the respect that she’s looking for. She’s really looking for connection and respect, and that was the idea of having a family meeting—engage her in the process. We know that it works. When you engage someone in the process, they are much more likely to cooperate, especially if it’s their plan.

29:48  Louise:  It’s possible to say that exact same thing, but in a way that makes her totally not want to be part of it. I was using that tactic with Anna, and it was having some good success. And then I overheard George trying to use it, but I think it was used more of in a, like, “Okay, you’ve got to make a plan because you’re running out of…,” tthe tone of it was just a little bit different. And then all of a sudden it was a fight again, like, “I don’t want to make a plan.” Or, “You’re trying to bully me into following a timeline” kind of reaction.

 30:23  Leslie:  Okay, so what we know about language and communication is that 70% of communication is nonverbal. It’s our tone, it’s our face, it’s our gestures. Thirty percent is what you’re saying. And so you just pointed out that if we say the same words about, “Use your plan, do your plan,” but it’s got a tone to it. That’s what she’s reading. That’s what she’s hearing. 

So again, I started off by saying this is a hard job, and I know you care about your daughter. And there is work that as parents, we need to do. We need to regulate our tone, and things like that. And I am not asking you to do it all the time. I am a highly, intensely emotional person, and I was parenting my children. But I really believe very strongly that if you can listen to your tone, you might find it’s not going to be everything that changes her behavior, but maybe it’ll change twenty, thirty percent of her behavior. She’s a passionate person. We don’t want to change it out of her.

31:36  Louise:  No, I definitely don’t.

31:37  Leslie:  So we’ve got to put up with that yetzer hara that’s going to drive you nuts while you’re raising her. As an adult, you’re probably going to be so proud of her. 

31:45  Louise:  Yes. Fingers crossed.


31:49  Leslie:  Yes. It’s not easy to deal with certain qualities that our children have that are really challenging to deal with, and tap into what’s driving us nuts.

32:00  George:  One thing I worry about with that, because I can definitely accept and even celebrate that strategy and principle. One thing I worry about that is that it’ll turn parenting into a slog where I’m just stoically going through the motions to make it through, and I just don’t enjoy parenting in life.

32:18  Louise:  But isn’t that kind of how you’re feeling a lot of the time anyway?

32:23  George:  Yeah, yeah. I look at Anna and I’m like, “Well, you know what? She can do great things, even when she kind of proposes compromises back to us, and we’re like, “No, we got to go to bed right now.” That infuriates me. I respect the tenacity and cleverness that she has. And I like those things, and they drive me nuts right now, or at least make it not fun. Like, I’m not having fun as a dad, often. I would like to. I don’t think it would be a good idea for anybody, me or the family, for me to be stoically not having fun for the next 10 years.

32:59  Leslie:  I love that you’ve said that. I think that I would like to talk more about that. But just because we don’t have much more time to this session, I do want to just take a few minutes to say: let’s talk about making sure you guys are having fun at this job. Because I don’t want you to burn out and I don’t want you to look back and try to wish this time away. We don’t want to wish it away. We don’t want to burn ourselves out. 

But, how can you enjoy parenting? I mean, I know I’m a person who actually thrives on chaos, which is a good thing for parents, and most parents are people who look for predictability and order and organization. And that’s why you can give me 10 kids, and I’m like, “Okay, I’m in my joy. I’m in my element.” But what is it that you enjoy, that we can bring more—and this question’s for both of you—that you can bring more into your everyday life, that is not easy right now.

33:55  Louise:  Are you asking specifically about what we enjoy about parenting?

33:58  Leslie:  I think so. And if that’s not possible, then yes, it would be okay, “I got to take care of myself as an individual, so that I can bring a more grounded, healthier self, one that has some emotional well being, to my parenting,” if parenting is that hard.

34:17  Louise:  There’s a lot about being a parent that I enjoy. I play with Anna, we joke around with each other. We have a great time. I get to spend a lot more time with her, though, than George does. And so I get a lot more of the playful fun, doing a project together, laughing, watching a show together. And talking it out, you know, I like being around kids. I’m an educator. I’ve been around kids my whole life. Sorry, the baby’s on my chest and she’s making little noises.

34:49  Leslie:  We hear the cooing. That’s adorable. Okay, so you’ve got that question answered. George, and if you don’t have any answer, that’s okay. Do you find any joy in parenting?

35:02  George:  I find satisfaction in raising and being proud of our daughter. I sometimes have fun physically wrestling or running around a playground, being chased by the kids, when there’s multiple kids, and being the foil for them. I find it a lot of fun, a lot more fun than standing around with the adults in one place, talking about small talk things.I find it a lot more fun to physically play with the kids…

35:33  Leslie:  …engage.

35:34  George:  Most things in the home, how it occurs to me is, I’ve got things to do, and this is taking a long time, and she’s not listening to me anyway, and I don’t seem to be effective here, and I got things to do, I’ve got a busy life. I’ve got other things to get done. And, oh, another 15 minutes, great. You know, like, “Oh, Daddy, I gotta go poop.” And I’m like, uhhhg, 15 minutes, 15 minute delay on whatever it is we were up to. 

It’s the uncertainty. Whereas, in the work world, or in other things, things work on a schedule, and you need to get things done by a certain time, and it matters when you arrive. And the tension of needing to be fulfilling on those kind of obligations while having a child who is the opposite of that. I can’t let go of, you know, the preoccupation with what I’ve got to get done in the background while there’s this child who’s just unpredictable. And playing with her and having fun just doesn’t occur.

36:32  Leslie:  So let’s try one thing. We’re going to wrap up, but I’m going to ask you to try, if it’s like putting a basketball hoop on the back of her door and shooting five baskets with each other. Do something fun—engage. Like that fun being on the playground. Find something maybe that you can do. It’s not always going to be basketball and running around. Maybe it’s building a tower or a Lego creation, like creatures, and you both do something. But do it for, like, three to five minutes. Because my guess is, if you take the time to have fun with her and connect, then the 15 minutes that it took might get reduced because she feels full and connected. 

People who feel connected are more likely to cooperate. So my hypothesis—and I want you to try it out, and if it doesn’t work, you come back and tell me—connect in a fun way, in a fun way. Because I want to make you feel like you’re having a little more fun. Connect in a fun way for a very short time, and then say, “I’m going to go make your lunch, and you get to go brush your teeth. I’ll be back in five minutes. Is five minutes good? Get something done, have fun and give her something to do. Maybe move yourself away at that point, because that’s not disconnecting, that’s actually giving her space. It’s a very confusing thing. Does that sound like something you’re willing to try? 

37:55  George:  Yeah, I could try that. 

37:57  Leslie:  Okay, all right, so we’re going to wrap up. Thank you both so much. 

38:00  George:  Thank you, Leslie.

38:01  Louise:  Thank you so much.

[Music: The Beat of Nature by Olexy]

38:11  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  As listeners to this podcast, you know that I love to repeat myself, and I want to repeat what I said in the introduction. Amidst parenting challenges lies a glimmer of hope—that power of connection. The key to cooperation is not just telling kids what to do, it’s forming a connection with your child. Another glimmer of hope for parents is that the quality that drives you nuts in your child and might be making it hard for you to connect with them is often the quality that will serve them well as adults. There’s a great book about this by Wendy Mogel called, The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee. I don’t often suggest parenting books, but this is one of my favorites. And I highly recommend that you pick it up from your library or local bookstore. I’ve also got it linked in my show notes.

[Music: The Wilds Beyond by L-Ray Music

Next week, come back to hear the shift in Louise and George’s perspective and the continued challenge of putting these strategies into practice day to day. 

Subscribe to Is My Child A Monster? wherever you get your podcasts, you can find a full transcript of this episode, or 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, Dale 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, keep in mind: connection is the foundation for cooperation. 

Transcribed by Eric Rubury

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