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Big kids can mean big problems. As tweens and teens start to find their independence and exert their autonomy, parents may feel a little lost as they face new challenges.

One of the best ways to break through is to learn how to communicate with your growing child in a way that helps you both to feel seen, understood, respected, and appreciated. Joining me to offer parents tools to do just that is the author of the book Courageous Conversations: A guide for parents to understand and connect with their teen, Elizabeth Bennett.

Whether your child is already at this stage, or you just want to lay the groundwork from the start, my conversation with Elizabeth will offer parents strategies for helping your child to feel safe being open and honest with you, no matter how old they are right now.


Elizabeth (00:00):

To recognize that you don’t lose your ability as a parent because you don’t discipline right away. You are making a mature choice not to lose it right at that moment, but rather let’s have a conversation about this tomorrow.

Dr. Sarah (00:21):

Wow, I absolutely cannot believe, but it has been two years since starting Securely Attached! Over these past couple of years. We have tackled such an array of topics from postpartum psychosis, to parenting support, to paid family leave. The list is amazing to me. I’ve also gotten the opportunity to interview some of my professional role models and have just been so honored to create such a deep and personal connection with so many people in this incredible community. And now I am so excited to announce something brand new.


Starting this week, there will be a second podcast episode dropping every Thursday. One of my biggest challenges with creating content for parents is that you send in amazing questions and it kills me to answer them in a soundbite. There’s just too much nuance and research and context that I want to share with you when I answer these questions. And so I needed to find a better way to actually do your questions justice. And so I’ve gathered two of my best friends who are also moms and psychologists to help me tackle all the questions that you send in and give you the advice that we’d give to each other. These are the conversations that are usually reserved for the break room. There’s laughing, debating, venting. It’s the advice and support we’d give to each other, but now we’re sharing it with you. So make sure to tune in this Thursday for our first installment of this new series, Securely Attached – Beyond the Sessions.


As for today’s conversation, let’s talk teens. As tweens and teens start to find their independence and exert their autonomy, which is a very developmentally appropriate phase by the way. It can sometimes feel like there is a gap between us and our growing children, and it can be hard for parents to know how to bridge that space and feel connected again here today to help parents find middle ground with their kids by helping them to learn to communicate in a way that’s actually going to get through to them instead of resulting in defensiveness and increased defiance is Elizabeth Bennett.


Elizabeth is an award-winning principal with over 35 years of teaching, administration and coaching experience. Her new book, Courageous Conversations: A guide for parents to understand and connect with their teens, presents solutions that parents can use to better and more meaningfully relate with their teens. So whether your child is already in this stage or you just want to lay the groundwork from the start, my conversation with Elizabeth will offer parents strategies for helping your child to feel safe, being open and honest with you no matter how old they are right now.


Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology, and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.

Hello everyone. Welcome. I’m so thrilled to introduce you all to Elizabeth Bennett. She is here to talk to us about this awesome new book that she’s written called Courageous Conversations. And you know kids, you’ve been doing this for a while, Elizabeth, welcome.

Elizabeth (04:10):

Thank you. Great to be here, Sarah.

Dr. Sarah (04:14):

I’m really glad you’re here. So you, I was saying you really know kids. You’ve a 35 year career as an educator, administrator, principal. I’m curious what made you think this is the book? This is the book that I want to write. I imagine you have lots of possible routes you could take to write a book given the amount that you have have experienced in your work.

Elizabeth (04:38):

So first of all, thank you for allowing me to share this time with you. I’m so excited about our conversation and I’ve done K to 12. So I’ve taught kids as young as kindergarten and right through actually the university because I taught a couple years at my local university. So I have the diversity of knowing what goes on in a grade five class or a grade seven or grade eight girls and all kinds of places in between. The book itself really has been in the process of being created probably over a span of 25 years. And it first came up really in retrospect. Some of it came up based on my own background. I was bullied as a kid. My mother would say, go to school, have a good day, and do good things and just enjoy yourself. And what she didn’t know was I didn’t go to the washroom during the day because there were bully girls in there and I was harassed and all kinds of other stuff.


And I just put that behind me because I thought, no, well, I’ll figure out something and life will be good. And then when I started teaching, I really noticed that that kids were, they had a strange and unusual attitude and they were busy picking on each other and it continued to grow throughout the years. And I thought, there’s got to be something that can be done about it. And then I thought, oh, well, I’m going to be the person that’s going to have the ultimate solution. I’m going to have the magic bullet for bullying and people will be able to come to me and I’ll be able to solve the problem instantly. And what I noticed throughout the remainder of my journey was that it’s not about that. It’s not about one person and it’s not about one solution, but rather it’s about community and it’s about connection, it’s about responsibility, and it’s about being able to be together and understand each other so that then there’s a new place to get started.

Dr. Sarah (06:49):

Yeah, that’s amazing. And I can’t tell you how much I can relate to that. I was bullied when I was a little kid, and I actually will say that I had parents who really did say, I see what’s happening. And it’s not just like, oh, just buck up, you’ll be fine. And I’m very grateful for that. But I also think that, you know, got to have that, you got to be modeled that to be able to do that. And so it’s like these are intergenerational passing down of these patterns. And I think it sounds like there’s a way that you kind of actively disrupted that pattern in the way that you started to work on things, whether in your professional world or so what made you, how does this book, Courageous Conversations, how does that reflect that insight?

Elizabeth (07:42):

Well, when I look from the standpoint of having kids come to my office or being in the hallway or chatting with them or so on, and they’re saying things like, I don’t think anybody respects me. Nobody listens to me. I don’t have a voice. All we do at home is yell, scream, or we’re chaotic. And so I run to my room and then from time to time I would have parents come and see me and say things I don’t know how to connect with my kid. I don’t know what to say. All we do is yell and scream. And I get really frustrated because they don’t listen and I don’t listen to them. And so then we have this huge chasm and all I want to do is try and fill that chasm and bring those two can because they’re saying the same things. They just don’t know how to connect or relate to each other. And so we need to look at that differently and provide different strategies and different perspectives to be able to have them come together.

Dr. Sarah (08:39):

Yeah. So tell me, what’s an example of a way to help bridge that gap for a parent and a child who both want the same thing but don’t have a great sense of where to start?

Elizabeth (08:52):

Well, where to start is with an invitation and being able to say what I recognize as the parent, that this is how I show up for you, and I can talk about that because that comes from our past and this is how I recognize for myself that yes, I do get angry and yes, I get annoyed and so on. And give some examples of why that happens, but also be ready to be vulnerable in terms of saying, and this is what I recognize. I recognize that that’s not working for either of us. So I’d like to invite you into a conversation so that we can come up with something different so that we can have these conversations and being present to the whole idea that this is not a one time sit down and we remedy at all at once, but this is a new practice and it’s going to have times where it’s not going to work because you’re going to be frustrated or you’re coming from work and something’s gone on in your day and the first person you see in your house is the one whose face you bite off. And being able there too to say, oh my God, I’m so sorry that happened. This happened at work. I didn’t mean to take it out on you. And that that’s that continual, that’s why I call the book Courageous Conversations because it is about stepping out of your own comfort zone and being vulnerable and being able to take a new avenue or a new pathway to having conversation.

Dr. Sarah (10:24):

I really like that because I think it really centers the parents’ agency. I think a lot of times we get stuck in, well, how do I get my kid to do this? Or How do I get my kid to stop doing this? Or How do I change this thing that my kid is always doing or change this way that my kid is feeling? And I mean, I have those questions too. I think about that all the time. But I think the most effective strategies tend to be where we zoom out and say, well, there’s two of us here and we’re doing some sort of dance. And so how do I as the parent change up my moves? Because if we truly believe that our children are biologically hardwired to stay in sync with us because that’s like attachment, like that’s the attachment system at work. If we shift up the way we’re showing up, there’s a pretty good chance that they’re going to shift too. And it might not be super smooth and graceful. It might be a really rocky and clunky dance for a minute there, but they will sync up if we’re consistent and we’re sort of courageous. And I wonder what you think about that metaphor of the dance.

Elizabeth (11:36):

Oh, I think it’s great because we’re always trying to navigate, and that’s part of what I do is help parents navigate that world, right? Because it’s not simply just, okay, I’m going to go here and we’re going to sit down and have this conversation. Everything’s going to be good. No, it’s about being able to dance is a perfect thing because particularly if you’re dancing together, then there are going to be little slips and falls and they’re going to be okay. And those are opportunities to reflect, and those are opportunities sometimes to have a laugh together and have the enjoyment because I think that’s missing in our lives these days. We’re so, so serious, so busy, so everything that we forget to just enjoy each other’s company. And that’s going to take some time if there is turmoil, and that’s okay too, to put it on the table and say, look it, we’re not getting along.


I recognize that and lots of it is over here with me because part of what I usually talk about is the whole idea of, and I point back there because that’s our past and we think we have it together and we’ve done the professional development or we’ve worked with a therapist or whatever, and all of that is fabulous. But here’s what I know is that even with it all packaged back there and protected and so on, and we’ve now moved into this new space, we have what I call filters. And so we have filters of the way we hear and the way we speak and the way we see and so on. And our children have them too. And it doesn’t matter what their age is because certainly I just celebrated my mother’s 90th birthday and we still collide from time to time. But with those filters, you need to recognize that if your child continues to hear you raising your voice or being aggressive or being whatever that is, that’s how they’re going to always listen to you.


That’s what they’re always going to expect. And so with changing that and being in that vulnerable space of recognizing and saying, yes, I realize as your parent, this is how I typically or sometimes show up because they’re not always willing to accept the whole enchilada, but they can say, yes, I know from time to time this is what happens and this is how I show up, and I don’t want to continue to be this way for you. Can we do something in order to have a different kind of conversation? Because I recognize the impact. And that’s important too for parents and children both to be able to recognize the impact of how they are when they show up in that relationship.

Dr. Sarah (14:30):

What I’m hearing there is like, okay, there’s us in the moment having this clash perhaps, and that doesn’t feel good. And we have all kinds of ways that we defend against the not so good feelings that come up there. But the clash isn’t just the clash. There’s all this sort of bigger than us fallout that continues to ripple out afterwards. Now we’re avoiding each other in the or now there’s an elephant in the room, and so it introduces all these other pieces. Or maybe now you’re having a hard time paying attention in school because you’re distracted because stuff doesn’t feeling good at home or whatever. How do we look at the fallout? How do we look at that sort of, there are these bigger consequences to not resolving these conflicts?

Elizabeth (15:19):

Well, there are a couple of ways to look at it, and one of them is, and it’s part of the five strategies of dedicated listening that I talk about in my book, and the first piece is really about understanding versus judgment. And so parents really need to, because remember I spoke about that filter before, and they need to be able to move that their own perspective out of the way for a moment. That means, and that means not saying anything either so that you are allowing your child to really express what’s going on with them and where they’re coming from. And so that’s where we need to be curiously engaged. So tell me more about that. Or if there’s something that you’ve noticed about their attitude or behavior lately and you say, Hey, I, I’ve noticed that you are looking angry or upset. Now if you pick the wrong adjective, they’re going to tell you.


So pick another one and just say, well, that’s just what I’ve noticed. I’ve noticed that something is unusual right now, so why don’t you tell me a little bit about it so that I can help you through it or if you want me to, and that’s part of other segments of other strategies. So would you like me to listen or would you like me to help solve the problem? Because we are really good as adults, and it doesn’t matter what profession you’re in, we are really good about wanting to solve the problem right away so that you don’t get hurt so that you don’t, don’t fall down, you don’t do anything. And sometimes we need to allow ourselves that space for you to fall down and for you to figure it out and for you to at least not necessarily struggle with it, but just listen and be okay and understand where you are coming from.


And so part of that helps for them then to be able to have more conversation. Granted though, it’s not going to happen as soon as they walk in the door after school, because as a parent, you haven’t seen your child all day. And so you say something like, Hey honey, how was your day? And their response is because this is a typical four letter word, fine. Well, what did you do today? Nothing, right? What do you mean you did nothing? Right? So there you are escalating and they’re going into this place of apathy. Well, what do you mean you did nothing all day? You were away for eight hours. And that up goes the hoodie, Ingo, the earbuds out comes the cell phone and they’re out of there.


And your kids are typically heartbroken too because they’re frustrated. And I’ll go into a bit more of it in a moment, but they’re frustrated with the idea that you didn’t ask them something about them. You asked about their day. They’ve had that day for eight hours. They don’t want to be attached to that day for the moment. It might take them an hour or so to process. There might just be a bunch of stuff that’s going on. And in the meantime, you’re standing in wherever it is, you are in your home and you are frustrated and heartbroken at the same time because all you want is a connection. Now the question wasn’t a bad one, but if it’s the only one you ask every day, then that’s not going to be something that’s going to want to connect you. And we need to be responsible as well for seeing that. You know what? Sometimes when we walk in the door, at the end of the day, we don’t want to talk about our day either.

Dr. Sarah (18:54):

So what’s a better question for parents to ask? Or if it’s not even, maybe there’s a specific question, what’s a better mindset for parents to enter into when they’re, a kid comes home from school and they’re noticing, I really want to connect, but I don’t know, I don’t usually get connection from my kid when they walk in the door.

Elizabeth (19:11):

Well, but to be able to recognize it. So if you say to them, I know that hey, it’s been a busy day and you can say it for yourself, you know what? I had a really busy day. I’m just going to make a coffee or I’m going to do something. Can we connect in maybe 20 minutes or so? And it gives you ti and then you can continue with that conversation by saying, it’ll give you some time to put your backpack away, change your clothes if you want to do what you need to do. And then let’s just sit and have a conversation. And so even as younger kids in that kind of space, if they know that they have that chance just to let go of the day, go to the bathroom, wash their face, do whatever, then when they come back in, there’s a different kind of space because there’s a new opening for invitation, for being welcomed, for just starting something new.


So then you can ask different kinds of questions with that, right? And particularly if it’s a younger child, you can say, so what was the best thing that happened today at school? Or did somebody make you laugh today? Tell me about that. Or Did somebody make you sad? Was there something? And so those are the kinds of things where then once you ask that question, you need to stop talking because we want to ask six or seven, and it’s one at a time. Just ask that question and allow that space of silence to be okay. Yes. Because I know for us as adults where we want, we want to be talking or we want something to be happening all the time and we’re not very comfortable with silence. And that’s a space where we just need to allow that space and that quiet to be really okay.

Dr. Sarah (21:06):

Yeah, I so agree with that. I think mean I’m super guilty of that too, where I’ll ask a question and then there isn’t an answer, so I’ll jump to the next question. Whereas there’s this parenting philosophy that I follow that I have followed as a parent called RIE, resources for infant educarers. And it was created by Magda Gerber, but there was another woman, I can’t remember her name, but she sort of coined this term, tarry time, which is very, it’s sort of a fundamental thing that you do in rye, which is after you tell a child, and this is for rye is zero to three kind of, so it’s very young, but perhaps you might tell a child, I’m going to pick you up to change your diaper now. But then before you pick them up, you pause, you wait a moment, you allow them time to process what you said and take it in, even if they’re completely preverbal, just the tone, just taking it in and then you pick them up. Or when they’re older, the same thing applies if I ask you a question to pause and wait and allow them time to process and to decide if and how they want to answer. But sometimes we don’t leave that space. And so in rye, we call it terry time, but I think it’s kind of just different, call it what you want, but it’s like we forget that kids need, especially young kids, but I would imagine older kids too really need, they need a moment longer than we do.

Elizabeth (22:34):

Well, and that’s what I’ve noticed the most in school though too with teaching kids. We need to allow that space because I mean all kinds of research, it might be something that depending on what the relationship with, if either with their teacher or their parent is there’s a trust element there. And so how do you navigate and negotiate that piece too?

Dr. Sarah (22:58):

Yeah, no, I think that’s really smart to think about. And you bring up trust, which I think is incredibly important. How do we foster trust in our kids, trust in us and communicate to them that we trust them, especially if maybe perhaps in the past with the older kids that trust has been broken.

Elizabeth (23:17):

What it is, that’s all part of the courageous conversation that is about being able to address it. We often have many elephants in the room and we don’t just sort of walk around them and we pick up their legs and we walk underneath them or climb over them or whatever. And this needs to be a place where we start having different conversations where we start addressing some of those things like, Hey, an incident happened with your child a couple of weeks ago. You allowed them to do something, or they were supposed to be home at a certain time because that’s a typical one. They’re supposed to be home at a certain time, or they weren’t, were supposed to call you or they didn’t. And so then you have a brief conversation about that and saying, we talked last week when you came home that you know promised you would be home at this time and you weren’t.


Okay, well, we’re going to try it again. So please do your best to honor that because here’s the impact. And then the parent can share what the impact is. I get worried. I wonder where you are. And so I just want to tell you that that’s why I ask you. That’s why I ask you to call me or that’s why I want you to be home at a certain time because I want to be able to know that I can trust you that you’re going to keep your word, because that’s really important. Integrity and keeping your word and trust, they’re all blended together in relationship with each other. And so if you can follow along with that, then I know that you’re going to say, I won’t have any concern about it. Because if you say you’re going to be home at 10 and you’re home at 10, then that’s great and I want to acknowledge you, and I want to be in a space where I can trust what you say. And then you show up in that trusting way.

Dr. Sarah (25:14):

So would that be an example of a courageous conversation, having to explain it to a child who’s perhaps not been following the family’s rules or following the expectations, and to address that discrepancy in a way that, because my thought is that’s a hard conversation for parents to want to go down, and it usually ends up being a fighting match because the parents are mad and the kid’s defensive. So how do you bypass or manage as those feelings in order to beget to that place of we could still have this conversation and I can see you and I can validate your position and I can still hold the boundary. It’s a lot for parents to have to do. How do you help parents get to that place where they can do that?

Elizabeth (26:10):

Well mean it might come as the conversation might come as a result of something that’s already happened that wasn’t the best. And so reflecting on that, let’s just go back to that conversation for a or that situation for a moment and say, this is what happened. And when you said you were going to do this, or when you said you were going to show up at a certain time, or you said you were going to call, here’s what happens when you don’t. Just so that they get the bigger picture of the impact, because the impact is really important because that will be something that will be a gift and a treasure for them when they get into relationship with other folks too, because it will continue to show up. If they say something, then they don’t show up. People won’t be able to trust them.


So that’s the bigger, longer picture of moving forward. This isn’t just about our argument right now, but here, this is a space where I want to help you build that capacity to say that if you’re going to do something or if you’re going to be someplace or you’re going to call me or whatever the scenario is that you need to understand that that’s your word, and I’m counting on your word to be truthful and to be honest. And then to be able to say too, if the child doesn’t do what they’re supposed to do that they need to honor, honor and be respectful of the whole idea that they didn’t and not some lame excuse someplace. But you know what? I’m sorry that I said I would do this and I didn’t. And how can we move forward? So there’s a space for both of them to be able to reconcile so that that’s not brought up again in a negative kind of way, but simply as a teachable moment because I come from education, so everything is a teachable moment.

Dr. Sarah (28:12):

Yeah. But I also think when a teachable moment is effective matters, you can’t teach when a kid’s super defensive. You can’t teach when they’re rolling their eyes at you. You can’t teach when they’re feeling deep shame or embarrassing .

Elizabeth (28:28):

Or when you are that either, right?

Dr. Sarah (28:30):

Exactly. So when are the best times to have these kind of conversations? When do you recommend people look for windows?

Elizabeth (28:41):

It’s better if the situation is already calm, so at a different time and not on the heels of the activity happening, but rather being intentional about choosing a different time to talk about it and not five minutes before they’re going to their next activity because that just then everybody’s in disarray again, but rather a time when it needs to be significant enough so that there isn’t any emotion attached to it.

Dr. Sarah (29:13):

I always say I it, and I talk about this with little kids, a lot with where your kids, they just hit their sibling or they just try to run away from you in the middle of a parking lot where holy crap, we’re all really stressed about what just happened here. We’re all frazzled, but we also feel tremendous pressure in that moment to discipline right then and there. And I often tell parents, we have to reframe that rule. I say rule in quotes, we want to teach when the brain’s receptive to learning when these hot moments are occurring, there’s probably not a lot of the prefrontal cortex has been hijacked. They’re in fight or flight. When your teen comes home at 1:00 AM and you’ve just been up for the last three hours hysterically panicking about not only where could they possibly be with what’s the worst thing that could have happened, but also that little punk, I’m so mad you said We’re working up, we’re worked. That’s not a great time to teach.

Elizabeth (30:22):


Dr. Sarah (30:23):

But we feel very responsible as parents in that moment to teach because I think we’ve had been told and have internalized this sort of responsibility that if something bad happens, I’m supposed to correct it in the moment. And so I definitely work with parents a lot to sort of say, well, actually in the moment, safety, interpersonal safety, and we’re reestablishing. That sense of connection actually is far more important. And it’s not permissive to wait until a calmer moment to do the teaching.

Elizabeth (30:55):

Because then all you do is you make that chasm bigger. You do that separation thing, and now you have to start a bigger conversation to reengage. Whereas if you say, I’m glad I’m you’re home and I’m glad I’m to see you, I have to tell you that you know, because you can be honest with some of that emotion that you have at the moment, as long as it’s, as you hold it together and say, you know what? I’m glad you’re home. I’m really annoyed about you coming in at this late time. Let’s just, I’m glad you’re safe. Let’s get to bed and we’ll speak about it at another time. Because then you are disrupting your own attitude and your own behavior and your own flipped your lid piece from Dan Siegel’s work, but at the same time you’ve recognized for them and they can see that you’re real angry and annoyed.


But both of you have that space. Because I think what happens, and you mentioned a little bit about this before, and I think what we need to do is recognize that you don’t lose your ability as a parent because you don’t discipline right away. You don’t lose that control. You don’t lose that. All of a sudden you’re no longer a parent. You are making a mature choice not to lose it right at that moment, but rather, let’s have a conversation about this tomorrow. And you can say it in a calm kind of way. You might be really angry, and you have to work that out for yourself at that moment in time and don’t let it impact the relationship that you have with your child. But rather put it aside. Take a deep breath. It’s a little bit like that 24 hour rule. Don’t answer an email when you’re really angry if you’ve read one or a text message when you’ve read one, or in this particular case when you’re having this conversation with your child, sometimes you need that space for yourself to calm your own brain, to put yourself back in some semblance of order.


And then when you discuss it the next day, it’s a much more mature, less emotion. And it’s really just about the facts. This is what you said you were going to do. You didn’t do it. This is what I was hopeful of, and that didn’t happen. It made me worried, it made me concerned, it made me whatever it is, and you’re still in a place, just a fact. This is how I felt about it. I was really quite worried about you. I didn’t know what happened. Any number of things as you’ve seen, and you see them every day on the news. So this should not be a new thing for you either to recognize that kids drink and drive or they do drugs or they’re out late or any number of things. So you need to understand so that they have more to work with as well in that conversation. Oh, I get it. I get that she’s angry or upset or concerned because these are the possibilities.

Dr. Sarah (34:26):

And they’re more able to imagine your emotional states because they’re not just being smacked in the face with it and then activating their own defenses. They’re able to actually, they’re calm enough to sort of see, oh, she felt this way. The regulation goes both ways. So if our we can cut, can regulate ourselves and come at this when we’re ready to have the conversation and articulate ourselves well, but also calmly, then our kids have a better chance of imagining our position and having that empathy, right? Because most of our kids are capable of empathy when they’re not defensive. The thing that gets in the way of empathy is defensiveness and so on both ends, right? And so if we want our kid to be able to imagine why we felt the way we feel and use that information next time to perhaps inform their decisions, then we have to be able to share it with them in a way that doesn’t elicit a ton of defensiveness on their part.

Elizabeth (35:34):

And those are transferable skills too, because they’ve been modeled in a positive kind of way in their home, then they can see the possibility of things that could happen as a result. So sometimes they might be able to see the impact of the decision that they’ve made either with a friend or if they’re playing on the field in soccer or whatever, they can see those other things, not just the instinct or the quick thing that they just did at that moment.

Dr. Sarah (36:11):

Totally. I mean, it’s modeling, modeling effective communication and conflict resolution and perspective taking and empathy and all those things, those so that they can do go and do that in their own life because it’s transferable skills.


Makes total sense. Another thing, so we’ve talked a little bit about, okay, if I’m the parent and my kid’s doing something that really upsets me and I get really mad, how do I pause enough to give myself space, get some clarity, come back so that I’m not coming at this really hot? But I also think there’s another piece that’s really important, which is that we come back to it, right? Because I think that’s the other risk parents sometimes take, which is, okay, well that was really bad the other night. I really didn’t like that, and I almost lost my cool, but we avoided that conflict. We avoided that explosion, and things feel kind of fine today. So maybe I won’t bring this up right now, or this doesn’t feel like a good time to go into that courageous conversation because that’s a lot of emotional energy and work. Well, maybe I’ll kick this can down the road, and then we sort of just eventually avoid having the conversation. And I think that’s, tell me what you think about that pot, that pothole or that potential pitfall.

Elizabeth (37:33):

Well, the thing that happens with that, then that one you avoid and then the next one you avoid, and then the next one you avoid. And then when you do blow up, you have 10 things that you could be talking about, right?


Yeah. So it’s better to address it. So then that way they’re clear too. And what you’re also modeling is you’re modeling the idea of having those conversations of being able to address those issues or concerns that tomorrow they’re going to be okay, but addressing them so that you can demonstrate to your child how to do that because they’re going to continue to need those skills as well. Because if we do the avoidance thing all the time, if we do the thing where we don’t demonstrate our emotions or we don’t show our children that we can have an argument but still come to a peaceful resolution of some sort, then they are not going to have those skills because they don’t get a chance to see that anyplace else when they’re in school. There are bits and pieces of it. The teachers try to do their best to teach things besides the curriculum, how to get along with other kids and how to take turns and how to do those kinds of things.


But the modeling really is important so that they can generate and create a space of positive self self-esteem, being able to have courageous conversations, doing things where they can now create new emotional stability and regulation for themselves as they grow. Because if we don’t teach it, how are they going to learn? And we see that in adults too. I mean, we see that from the standpoint of oftentimes with divorce, because people have never, they have emotional dysregulation and they don’t talk about it, and they just ignore it, or they just stuff it, or they just do whatever, and then they don’t want to be together anymore because they don’t see how they can relate to each other. Well, if you put some of that on the table and have those conversations and explain that, Hey, this is the impact of what happens when we don’t have them, when we don’t show our emotions, here’s the impact, then we don’t know how to have really sustainable relationships. And so that’s all in the power of the courage to step forth and do things. And kids can be five or six when you begin to have those conversations with them. When you say have kids that are dysregulated or they’re hitting or they’re punching or whatever, and you address it and say, mommy doesn’t like that when you do that because here’s what happens. You could hurt that other child, or you could hurt me, or you could even hurt yourself. And so if you’re struggling with that with how you’re feeling, then let’s talk about it.

Dr. Sarah (40:43):

Yeah, I think it’s a really good point. I mean, I always am talking to parents about how do you set this framework from the beginning with your child of how do we feel like a safe enough person to them that they can come and talk to us about how about really tough stuff when they’re teens? And I think while your book is centered more on the teen experience, I think if you want to be able to have those kinds of conversations with your teenager, you could start in your teen years, but you’re going to have a lot more work ahead of you if you can lay the groundwork.

Elizabeth (41:22):

It’s more challenging.

Dr. Sarah (41:24):

If you can lay the groundwork from when they’re younger, it’s going to be a lot easier. And so I think all the things that you talk about in this book are really relevant to parenting young kids. And certainly what I see with parents of little kids, but honestly all parents is there is this tendency to catastrophize things. If I mess this up, my kid’s going to be totally destroyed. And I think there’s a duality there. On the one hand, it’s like we have to figure out a way to give our kids these skills to be able to talk about hard stuff and not sweep it under the rug, not avoid it, not tell them everything’s going to be okay when maybe that’s not how they’re feeling, but also not to, like you were saying earlier, not solve all their problems for them, not jump in and sort of say, I got to rescue you from this.


I’ve got to keep you happy and make everything good. And I think both of those end up in these extreme places where we have kids that are either incredibly dependent on us to solve their problems, and they don’t have that confidence that they can handle tough things. Or you have kids who are, they feel so misunderstood and so unseen that they either just don’t come to you anymore and they go somewhere else, or they feel like they have nowhere else to go. And so these are obviously the, if you look at the bell curve, like the extreme ends of that spectrum. But I think, yes, there’s a ton we can do in the middle too, to help bolster our children’s sense of connection to us, connection to the world, connection to themselves, seeing themselves as having agency, not needing to be rescued. And I think a lot of what you talk about in this book is about how to lay that groundwork so it is really protective.

Elizabeth (43:13):

Well, and I think the space too is parents are often concerned about, oh, well, if I mess up, well, the messing up is part of the learning journey too. The learning journey for the parent as well as the learning journey for their children. And so if you can have conversation about that, oh my gosh, mommy did made a mistake and did this, or as an older teen and saying, oh, yeah, I really screwed this up and be able to talk about it right then, right? Say I wasn’t thinking, because then it also demonstrates that it’s okay to make mistakes. Yeah, it’s okay to fail. It’s because they’re just new opportunities for learning. This is not the end of the world. This is just something that we get to say, okay, well, how do we move forward? What do we do to make this different?

Dr. Sarah (44:11):

Yes. And that modeling resilience in ourselves is, like you were saying before, modeling is the best way to teach. If we can model resilience in, when we mess up a little bit and say, oof, I yelled there, oof, that came out wrong. Let me try that again. Not everything has to be this deep and powerful repair. Sometimes it be right in the moment, and it’s like, you know what? Hold on. That came out in a way I didn’t really love the way I sounded there. Let me try that again. It could be playful, it could be light. Sometimes it needs to be a more serious repair. Sometimes we really need to cool off, calm down, take our time, and then come back and say, listen, I really want to own what I did just then.

Elizabeth (44:56):

Yep. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry. And that’s stuck to be part of it too, right?

Dr. Sarah (45:00):

Yes. But those little micro repairs have a ton of value too, because I think they’re modeling two things. One is how to repair, but also that not everything has to be a level 10, not that we can move through. It’s a bit of a roll with it kind of attitude. Like, oh, we can pick back up and keep going here, A stumble versus everything feeling like, yeah. And I think there’s something there too with parenting. We were talking a little bit before we hit record, but about this idea that there’s a bit of a pendulum swing that’s happened kind of culturally around this idea of how serious does everything need to be, and this pressure parents feel to be perfect at everything they do with their kids or the sky’s going to fall. And I think there I’m cu Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about that too, this idea that maybe before in historical, in other generations it’s been a little bit more like, well, we’ll see what happens, and I don’t really, and then now it’s like we’re so scared that every, we’re hovering and helicopter parenting all the time.

Elizabeth (46:11):

Yeah. Well, and then I think we need to come into that middle balance. So I came from a time, because I was born a minute or two ago where children should be seen and not heard. Money doesn’t grow on trees, don’t cry. Or I’ll give you something to cry about. Boys shouldn’t cry. They should be able to suck it up. And any number of things that happened then. And there were other elements to that too. Everything was secretive. So if something happened in your home, if there was domestic violence or if there was bullying or alcoholism or anything else, that was very secretive. And so we’ve come from that part of the pendulum and we’ve swung way in the other direction. And you mentioned that about, I live in Canada, we talk about snowplow parents and lawnmowers and oh my God, helicopters, and you name it, every moment there’s a different label for it, but we’ve either scooped that way or cleared that way.


So that absolutely nothing. We are going to do every single thing for our children. And what will they learn with that? They won’t learn to be resourceful. They won’t learn to have resiliency. They won’t learn to have their own personal self-esteem or anything else that makes them a good decision maker, a good leader or so on, because we’ve done everything for them. And there won’t be anything that they can even fail at because that would be so incredibly miserable. And then on the other side, with that edge of the pendulum, then there are parents who want to be their kid’s best friend, or they declare that to the world, my child is my best friend. And it’s like, what are you talking about? Children need to have children. They need to have kids of their own age so that they can learn and they can develop and they can grow.


You’ll have your child forever be their best friend when they’re 30, have a drink with them then, or a pizza or go out for dinner or something with them. But we need to be able to swing that pendulum back into the middle so that we have a space of boundaries. And boundaries aren’t a bad thing. They’re a safety net for everybody. And I could bet that, I certainly know for myself, I pushed them because I wanted to see where the end was. I wanted to see whether the boundaries had a little bit of elasticity so I could push on them and then bounce back, or that sometimes, sometimes I did push the limit and there were consequences for that. And I’d learned from those consequences. And I learned from those conversations that I had. Yes, some of them, not the greatest conversations, but we’re moving into this new space of being able to have conversation and understanding and demonstrating the impact and having kids really learn the bigger picture and not just saying, go to your room.


Well, that doesn’t make any sense to me because going to your room doesn’t teach them anything because they can’t, if they knew the choice or if they knew what was going to happen when they made that choice, perhaps they wouldn’t have made it, or maybe they would’ve and just they wanted to see what was going to happen. But sending kids away doesn’t make sense because they don’t have a chance to be able to learn. They don’t have a chance to have that other space of that loving concern when they’ve made a mistake, because that appears to be a space that’s missing now too, right? Yeah. Is the luing concern, right? I agree. And the joyful experience of good things. And then the other piece, a part of what I talk about too is when kids have shared something that’s meaningful to them or that’s really heavily weighted, and I’ll give you an example that that’s really heavy.


If a child has disclosed to you that they’ve been sexually abused, or even if it’s a friend who comes to them that says it as a really heavy example, the important thing for you to do as a parent besides the investigative things and the being curiously engaged and finding out more information about it, is to acknowledge them for the courage it took them to share that with you. It’s really, it’s very powerful, and it’s very important because then that’s a sense of safety for them too, knowing that they’ve shared something that’s been heavy on their heart. And part of what you can say to that is, I what I thank you for sharing it with me, and not in an offhanded kind of way, but thank you for sharing, because I can’t believe you carried that all by yourself for so long.

Dr. Sarah (51:30):

Yeah, no, I think to really acknowledge how much bravery it takes to say that out loud and to come to me, and that’s that reinforcing thing of if your kid does come to you again, whether it’s little stuff or big stuff, if you give them that validation and that acknowledgement of the, and that reinforcement for coming to you and something’s tricky and you make it feel safe to come to you for the little stuff, they can come to you for this big stuff. It doesn’t just happen. You’ve got to earn that trust. And that’s when I’m working with parents of younger kids. That’s the thing that I’m saying is the groundwork when your kid falls down and you say, oh, you’re fine. Don’t cry. No, nothing happened. Which is, again, we all say that it’s totally in, we’ve been taught to say that. But when we say that instead of if instead we say, oh, ouch, you fell, that surprised you, that hurt.


Are you okay? And then it’s you help them move out of that, and then you can use the sort of distraction or the soothing or whatever to get them out of. You don’t want to linger in that, but at the same time, you’ve got to see it. You got to name it. You got to acknowledge that it’s real. And then that’s a moment where we’re teaching them, oh, when something doesn’t feel good, when I need to be seen, when I’m in pain or when I’m scared, or when something doesn’t feel good, someone reflects that reality back to me. They see it because when we tell our child they’re not having a feeling that they’re having or that something that feels important to them is not important, then they don’t feel like at best they just are like, oh, you don’t get me there. At worst, they might actually cut off that part from themselves.


Like, oh, I get, I’m like start to really doubt their experiences, which is really not optimal. We want our kids to trust that when they have a feeling it’s real. When they have an experience, it doesn’t mean we can’t help them think critically of it and question it and challenge it a little bit. If they’re scared, it doesn’t mean that they’re in danger necessarily, but the fear is real. So let’s talk about that. Let’s name that it does. They fall down and hurt themselves. The pain doesn’t mean that we have to go to the emergency room, but the pain’s real. Let’s name it, let’s acknowledge it, and then we can help them move out of it into the most based on where reality is. But it’s those little things when they’re little, that helps, I think, create that sense of safety around coming to us when they’re older with the tougher stuff.

Elizabeth (54:26):

Well, because it builds the levels of trust, right? Yes. Because trust isn’t just a linear kind of thing. I mean, we go up and down and we make mistakes and we do whatever. And sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t. But I think what that does is it reinforces it. Yes. So if they come with something that we deem to belittle, but it’s big for them because when we’re looking at kids’ behavior or we’re looking at their brain, so all the things that kids have shared with me through the year, so they’re worried, they’re scared about exams, what is it that they, they dressed the right way? Do they have the right hair color of the moment? Do they have the right shoes? And all of those things build up. They might have test anxiety, they might really be in love with someone and they don’t know how to say it or de demonstrate it or so on, and they’ve got stress and they’ve got athletics, and they’ve got this and that.


So all of that is going on in their brain all at the same time. Now, granted, it is for us too, as adults, we can manage it more or less better than they can because we have more skills, we have more strategies, we have more experience. But as younger kids, and whether we’re talking about someone who’s in kindergarten or we’re talking about someone who’s in grade 12, they just build because those things become bigger for them. And sometimes they don’t know how to navigate all of that at the same time. And so those are the places and spaces that we need to be having more conversation to find out what’s going on for them.

Dr. Sarah (56:07):

Yeah. No, I think that that’s totally a really important way to think about it. How can we look for those places and spaces to be supporting our kids when it’s small or big? And yeah, this is a really important thing. So I’m glad you wrote book on it. And if people want to learn more about your book or your work, how can they find you?

Elizabeth (56:30):

courageousnetwork.com. So there your listeners can pick up a little report if they want. So it’s some tips and tricks. They can purchase my book on the website. They can book a call with me and I’d gladly have more conversation. I have a couple of other courses that I give too. So if someone’s interested in individual coaching or family coaching, then I do that as well.

Dr. Sarah (56:57):

Amazing. All right. Well, we’ll put a link to that in the show notes so people can find you. And thank you so much. Thanks for coming on the show.

Elizabeth (57:04):

Oh, it was a pleasure to have conversation with you. Thanks you so much, Dr. Sarah.

Dr. Sarah (57:15):

In this episode, Elizabeth shared that she doesn’t think that separating from a child when they misbehave is the most effective form of discipline. Since you’re not helping them to build skills or teaching them behaviors you want to see instead, and I cannot agree more with this, but with so much often really contradictory information out there, knowing what exactly to do and how to do it can be really confusing for parents. Our time out’s good. Our time out’s bad. The answer is not that simple. Timeouts are a tool, and just like all tools, how effective it is, depends on how we use it. A hammer is great to bang in a nail, but it’s not going to get you very far with a screw.

(57:58):So that is why I created a guide that simplifies the research on timeouts and offers three additional effective discipline strategies that parents can add to their toolbox that prioritize mental health and wellbeing, and still work to increase cooperation, listening, and more appropriate behaviors. To download my free guide, 3 Psychologist-Approved Discipline Strategies to Use Instead of Timeouts, just go to drsarahbren.com/timeout. That’s drsarahbren.com slash T I M E O U T. And thanks for tuning in. Don’t be a stranger.

I want to hear from you! Send me a topic you want me to cover or a question you want answered on the show!

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✨ And check out drsarahbren.com for more parenting resources 

108. How to talk so your teen will listen (plus lay the groundwork for this when they’re little) with Elizabeth Bennett