We all want our children to succeed. But, the way they get there can feel counterintuitive to many parents and mainstream parenting approaches. We need to let our kids stumble, let them make mistakes, and allow them to struggle a bit.
Here to help parents understand how to support their child’s autonomy in a way that promotes family harmony is psychologist and author of Autonomy-Supportive Parenting: Reduce Parental Burnout and Raise Competent, Confident Children, Dr. Emily Edlynn.
From allowing for boredom, teaching our children to find balance, tuning into their intrinsic motivation, and giving them space to learn their body’s cues, this episode will help you harness the power of treating your child with respect.
Dr. Emily (00:00):
When you try to control your child’s psychological experience through shame and guilt, bad things happen. If you instead support your child’s individuality and who they are developing as their sense of self with an open and curious autonomy supportive mindset, they have better outcomes.
Dr. Sarah (00:25):
If you have a child, chances are their need for autonomy. But how can we support their appropriate and developmentally healthy desire to do things themselves without getting trapped into a never ending cycle of power struggles? Dr. Emily Edlynn is a practicing psychologist, mom of three and the author of the new book, Autonomy Supportive Parenting: Reduce Parental Burnout and Raise Competent Confident Children. This book gives parents a roadmap to move away from hovering and over helping to raising self-sufficient children ready for the world. And it comes out today, this idea of a failure to launch. It’s become a growing problem in our society. So what can we do as parents with younger children to minimize the chances they’ll face these challenges As teens and young adults, this episode will offer you tools and mindset shifts to help you do just that.
Did your kids just start back at school? Are you noticing more meltdowns, power struggles and dysregulation as a result of this big transition? Then now is the perfect time to download my free guide, Strengthen Your Child’s Emotion Regulation Skills through Play. In This guide I teach you five simple and easy games to play with your child in the fun, calm, connected moments that will not only help them stay more in control of their emotions when they’re at home, but also when someone inevitably takes the spot they want at story time or won’t share the markers or when they’re just feeling antsy. They’re going to have the tools they need for staying calm then too. So go to drsarahbren.com/games. That’s drsarahbren.com/games to get this free guide.
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. Welcome everyone. Today we have Dr. Emily Edlynn here with us. You have this amazing book out called Autonomy Supportive Parenting, and you are a psychologist. Can you tell us a little bit about why you wrote this book, how you got to this work?
Dr. Emily (03:07):
Sure. Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here today and talk all about autonomy support. So like you said, I’m a trained child psychologist and I have three children now ages 13, 11 and eight. And in my early years of motherhood, I quickly realized that my whole training in child development, child behavior, family systems did not prepare me for motherhood.
I was floundering like the rest of us. And when I started looking for guidance and support, I became so aware that the information out there was flawed and not very science-based and absolutely misleading at times. And I felt that experience of shame, kind of a sense of failure that I couldn’t do some of these practices. For example, I could never wear my baby. It never worked. I tried those wraps and the little newborn kept slipping down and I became more anxious. So I just started to pay more attention to the world of parenting guidance and was very aware of the limitations and downsides, and I really wanted better for other parents who were facing this huge life change. And so I thought to myself, I want to write a book. I didn’t know what that was going to be when I first had the thought, but I actually grew up as a major reader and writer.
I was an English major, and so writing was always one of my passions. And so a few years ago I had a professional crossroads with a move for my family, and I kind of had the opportunity to reset my career, which had been in academic medicine, and I realized it was the perfect opportunity to find some more balance and start writing again and do work in private practice. So I kind of shifted my whole life around and that created the space for me to start writing my blog The Art and Science of Mom. And then that turned into this book. So here we are, and I’m really excited because I think it’s an excellent time for this book to be coming out.
Dr. Sarah (05:40):
It is. I think one of the things that I like the most about what you’re saying about the parenting guidance, I relate so much to this kind of conundrum of both being a consumer of it and a producer of it. And I have this big push pull and love hate relationship with this because I too was like, okay, I started out as a consumer of parenting content as a mom, and I was like, huh, A lot of the stuff I’m reading either makes me feel like crap or as a psychologist makes my skin crawl. Like this is not based in any research and I don’t know where, or it has what I sometimes refer to as the telephone tag phenomenon where it’s like, yes, it’s based in attachment theory and research, but it’s been diluted or distorted so many times that we’re the message it’s actually communicating is not actually accurate anymore.
So you’re saying it’s, but it’s actually not accurate anymore, which is kind of doubly dangerous because it’s claiming to be research-based and scientifically informed, but it’s in fact not accurate and it ends up scaring parents or like you said, making them feel ashamed or doubting their skills. And I was like, that’s horrible. And I feel like I can be a counterbalance to that, but I’m also so mindful of I post on Instagram and you try to distill something down to a soundbite and you lose the nuance. So it’s very, very difficult. And I think books like yours where you’re trying to educate parents, not so much about here’s a script, go do this thing, or here’s a prescription, follow it, but saying not everything’s going to work for you, not everything’s going to work for your kid. How do we kind of think of it more like a framework?
Dr. Emily (07:31):
Exactly. And I really was committed to writing this book in a way that felt like an expert, while also the feeling of having coffee with a friend, the feeling of we’re in this together. I get it. I share a lot of my own experiences and I really relate. I want to relate to the reader as a parent of this is really challenging and this is really tricky. And in the writing I balance here are ideas. I mean, this is a starting point for you to understand how I’m illustrating the research, but this isn’t exactly how it has to be done. You customize it for your family and your children and what works best for all of you in your home.
Dr. Sarah (08:21):
I love that. So let’s get straight into this idea, like autonomy, supportive parenting. This is a new term. Can you explain what you mean by this?
Dr. Emily (08:29):
Yeah, so actually it has been in the research for over 30 years and when I started digging into the articles, I mean there’s just no way I could read all of them. I mean not even close. And so I just realized this is a huge treasure trove of evidence-based parenting that’s not making it into the mainstream.
Dr. Sarah (08:54):
Not even in the psychology mainstream. I have never heard of this term before. I’ve heard of the, I mean at face value, the concept of supporting autonomy in children makes total sense. But the idea that there’s a whole body of research around this that even as a psychologist who studies a lot of this stuff I’m not familiar with, I’m super interested. What does the research say?
Dr. Emily (09:15):
So it all starts with what’s called self-determination theory. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, but it’s basic. The premise is that every human has three fundamental needs, and that is autonomy, competence, and relatedness. So the idea of gaining mastery over skills, having a sense of self and being in connection with others and having a sense of belonging. And so this has been shown, this theory has been proven across cultures around the world. There’s been a ton of research in this theory. So autonomy supportive parenting comes from this theory and the idea is there’s a set of strategies within this autonomy supportive framework that has been shown in the research to meet children’s fundamental human needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
Dr. Sarah (10:09):
Okay, amazing. And when did this research start? What’s the timeline of this? And does it map on at all to other contemporary parenting frameworks that are a little bit more mainstream?
Dr. Emily (10:23):
So in my research of the history of this, what I found is it was around the early nineties that the parenting research started studying autonomy supportive parenting as a framework and was actually in response to studying controlling parenting. So it was set up as the opposite even though it’s not technically an opposite, but it was set up as the contrast to controlling parenting. So to compare, when you try to control your child’s psychological experience through shame and guilt, bad things happen. If you instead support your child’s individuality and who they are developing as their sense of self with an open and curious autonomy supportive mindset, they have better outcomes. And so this is how it was kind of set up in the research. A lot of the strategies in autonomy supportive parenting have absolutely been used in popular parenting approaches like gentle parenting, positive parenting.
So most primarily is the idea of using empathy and perspective taking and really trying to understand our children’s experience in the moment, especially when there’s a conflict or a disruption of having this curious mindset of what is going on with my child and then checking in with them, asking them what’s happening and trying to put yourself in their position and understand, okay, they haven’t eaten since this morning. Hunger could be the culprit. Just trying to understand where they’re coming from. So I think that’s been very well established in these other mainstream approaches as well as things like offering choices and involving your child in decision-making, seeing them as a partner and a collaborator. But what that does that I think has gotten lost, I haven’t seen it in the other parenting approaches, is increasing a child’s internal motivation to do certain things. So the key ingredient that’s really supported in the research is internal motivation. So for example, you don’t focus as much on grades because that is an outcome, like an external outcome. You focus on how a child feels when they do well in school.
Dr. Sarah (12:54):
So process over product, helping them build that reflection on how do I notice when I’m in a process, how does it feel to be in that process? How does doing inside of this process build my natural intrinsic motivation like you described? And then allowing for that versus I think the most well-intentioned parents do this, and I don’t blame them. I think most of us are products of parents who did it, but the focusing on the outcome, because here’s the thing I think, and I’m curious what you think about this, but I think as adults, our brains really have evolved to be outcome focused. Yes, the kids’ brains are not, kids’ brains are inherently process focused. You look at babies playing and they don’t care if they reach the ball, they might just stretching their arm towards the ball because it feels good. We project that outcome goal onto that baby by saying, oh, you want the ball?
Let me give it to you. Versus sitting back and saying, ah, you’re reaching for that ball. End of sentence. There’s no need. That’s the process versus the outcome. And I think we live in an outcome oriented society. We live in an achievement oriented society. We live in a, what is the grade, what is the medal, what is the prize, what is the paycheck, what is whatever? And so it makes sense that we are kind of conditioning our minds as parents to think in terms of the product. And I think it is a big unlearning to think about the process, but it’s very interesting how that’s related to this.
Dr. Emily (14:42):
I think that this is a really important piece to bring up because our culture is absolutely focused on external validation and what’s coming along with that is a lot of social comparison and social media is amping that up exponentially. And so we are hardwired by evolution as humans to compare ourselves to others because that helps us stay part of the species and stay alive. But where that’s getting completely hijacked in our modern world are these very unrealistic comparisons that are driving us as parents to try and keep up with what it looks like other families and kids are doing. And so we have the hyper competition of youth sports, for example, the crazy increase in college competition and feeling ready for college, which I know is way off for parents with younger kids, but I feel like I hear stories of stressing about which kindergarten or preschool a child goes to because of thinking about their future in college.
Dr. Sarah (15:56):
Yeah, I was going to say, I work almost exclusively with parents of very young kids and I could tell you they are thinking and worrying about college now and a lot of their anxieties and decision-making pressures can be traced back to that. Well, will this get them into college? Will they be an Ivy League school if they don’t do this math tutoring at five years old? This idea of everything being an enrichment, everything being about stimulation, everything being about squeezing the maximum out of everything, it’s like totally. Again, we live in a society that really promotes that and plants that seed and really kind of fans, it fans the flames. I’m mixing metaphors, but so it makes sense that we go there, but at what cost?
Dr. Emily (16:54):
And so that’s where I’m really passionate about this messaging right now because I’m seeing in my therapy practice the downsides for the teenagers I work with who are developing migraines and depression and anxiety from all this pressure and these high expectations. And so what I really am so happy I have an opportunity to talk about is that this hyper competitive environment in parenting right now is making us more controlling because we’re thinking our child needs to be this certain way to succeed in life. So again, it’s taking our hardwired parenting biology of we need to prepare our child to survive and succeed and warping it into, well, they need to be Ivy League material to have a good life, which is not actually true, but we get this sort of false belief. And so when we are controlling and have this idea of what our child needs to do and who our child needs to be to succeed by nature, we are not supporting their autonomy.
Dr. Sarah (18:06):
We’re not seeing them, we’re not seeing the child in front of us.
Dr. Emily (18:10):
If we see a future scientist and they feel like an artist, we’re not allowing the autonomy.
Dr. Sarah (18:17):
It’s true. And I think even on a more granular level, if we are out of sync with seeing our child on those big scale things, I want you to be a scientist, but you want to be an artist, think about the day-to-day granular, right? I don’t want you to wear that shirt, I want you to wear this shirt. This is the more appropriate shirt, or No, we’re not going to eat that because that’s not healthy for you. Now again, I say that I know parents are like, wait, it’s important that they eat healthy food. Of course it’s, it’s important that they dress appropriately for certain situations and also in the aggregate, right? In the micro moments, I think parents have a hard time being able to say, I give myself permission to not pick up this battle right now to see where it goes to allow my child to make a mistake, to get a stomach ache.
They ate too many cookies to go outside when it’s too cold with a t-shirt on and learn oof, I might need a jacket next time. But the child kind of getting to cross that finish line themselves to come up with that solution to this problem on their own, we devalue the magnitude that has for potential change in a child’s behaviors because when you realize on your own a solution to a problem, you are 10 times more likely to return to that solution in the future. If someone is imposing that solution on you and you aren’t getting there by yourself, you are not nearly as likely to pull that. Even if it worked, even if it did make you warmer, you’re still going to resist taking the jacket next time because now you’ve introduced a power dynamic into this that makes them, like you said, you’ve stripped me of my autonomy and my agency and my sense of competency and mastery, and now you’ve tainted this potential. Now, if I accept this, I’m in conflict with my sort of sense of self a little bit.
Dr. Emily (20:24):
Right? It’s not mine, it’s not my thought, it’s not my idea, it’s not my agency.
Dr. Sarah (20:31):
And with little kids where, oh my God, how many times have you had a three-year-old that says, I do it my way. No, I want to do it, we all know, all know that period of development, whether we understand it’s appropriate developmental process or we look at it as like, oh my God, I have a threenager, our perception is informed by society also, my perception of that behavior is fantastic. They’re moving into that developmental stage of autonomy and decision-making. They’re going to have to figure it out and it’s going to be messy, but whoa, yay, we’ve hit this milestone. Whereas I think a lot of parents see it as they’re being defiant, they’re being difficult. This I think is part of where you and I have been like, I want to just set the framework here a little bit. Let’s rewrite the script. These are important developmental milestones.
Dr. Emily (21:22):
And I would include that one reason raising toddlers is so challenging, and I admit not my favorite parenting season is because it really clashes with our autonomy. I mean, that’s how I felt. I was like, this world tiny thing is ruling my life. I have no free time. I have to hover and make sure she doesn’t make a bookcase fall on her. And it just felt like it was so demanding. And so I think it’s really critical to remember that our autonomy is important and if we realize that, think about it, and then actually prioritize it with our own needs being met, we are then better able to support our child’s autonomy because our cup is full of it and then we can do it for our kids. Because I’m not going to lie, I’ve been practicing this since I’ve been writing the book. I’ve been very intentional in my home with my three children, and it can be tiring. It can be hard when you’re stressed and exhausted, being controlling is 10 times easier. And so we’re taking care of ourselves better. Then we have the energy and the mindset to do that for our children and everyone’s better off.
Dr. Sarah (22:45):
It’s so true. I mean, I feel like when I have a lot of parents that come to me for parenting support and they’ll come to me because there’s a behavioral challenge their kid is having and they’re at a breaking point with it, and I’m like, fantastic, let’s focus on you. What is your bandwidth? What’s draining your tanks? Are you sleeping? Are you eating? Are you getting outside at all? Are you having a walk with a friend? Everyone says no to all of those things because also in the season of parenting, those things are not easily accessible. Who gets a lot of sleep when you have little kids? Nobody. But that’s also a big reason why we revert to that sort of easier in the moment strategy of parenting, of yeah, if I can control behaviors.
Dr. Emily (23:34):
Right. It makes my life easier.
Dr. Sarah (23:39):
And again, to be very clear, I absolutely control my kids. I absolutely am like, you’re doing it because I said so stop asking questions. We’re getting in the car now. Deal with it. Right? It’s not like you have to be sometimes you cannot wait 14 minutes for your kid to put their sock on. You need to just be like, we’re getting in the car and we’re leaving, and that’s just the end of it. And you can cry, but I’m picking you up when we’re going because it’s a balance. But again, just like everything, if that’s the only way I approach it, I’m displacing a lot of opportunities for my child to practice getting there on their own. So it’s like you are allowed to lay down the gauntlet as the parent and say, sorry, we’re doing it my way right now.
Dr. Emily (24:27):
Dr. Sarah (24:29):
But we have to kind of think about where is my balance there? Am I always leaning on that? If I’m always leaning on that, that’s probably not an intentional strategy strategy. It’s a desperation strategy out of bandwidth. I didn’t plan the time well enough or I didn’t take care of my needs well enough and now I’m frustrated and stressed out and I need that quick reaction for my kids. Whereas like you’re saying, I think if we can do the work for increasing our bandwidth, slowing down, figuring out the moments, we’re like, you know what? Let’s take an extra five minutes. Let’s see if they can do it on their own first.
Dr. Emily (25:10):
Yes. And I will say, I mean I hadn’t really discovered this when my kids were toddlers. So my poor children grew up with me shoving shoes on their feet at Montessori, even though the Montessori school told us let them put their shoes on. I’m like, I don’t have time for that.
And they’re okay. So something I want to say too is it is the bigger picture. It’s not about every single interaction. If we feel pressure on every interaction that stresses us out and that undermines a whole thing. So the idea is big picture taking a step back. Do we think we’re creating an autonomy supportive home overall? And I actually have in the book some quizzes to help with self-reflection, and these are adapted from what’s been validated in the research, but I just sort of modified them to be a little easier in the book. But the idea is just to do some self-checking of where am I? And another big thing is that each child can have a different perception of how controlling or autonomy supportive you are based on that child’s temperament and personality. And it’s just that whole thing where we have to kind of flex who we are as a parent with each kid too. So I may be very autonomy supportive with one kid and very controlling with another kid.
Dr. Sarah (26:38):
Right? No, and that’s really interesting because just like our children have their own temperament, which is going to inform how much they push back and demand autonomy and how sort of compliant and flexible they are, so, so I might be a parent who temperamentally is wants more order, feels more comfortable with a sense of control, is less flexible, is more prone to want to micromanage because it helps manage my anxiety or it helps manage my lack. I might not feel comfortable gripping, and I might also be a parent on the other hand who’s incredibly flexible, but if I have a child who needs more containment needs someone to support them a bit more. So it’s not just you got to know your kid and you got to know you and you got to know sometimes there’s a mismatch that doesn’t necessarily mean you got a problem. It’s just you need to be aware of it so you can control for it or modify in ways that are going to be most beneficial to you guys being in sync with each other.
Dr. Emily (27:58):
And this is again, part of understanding your child’s experience and putting yourself where they are to understand with their temperament and personality, what do they need from you as a parent? What is that balance of limits, like healthy limits with freedom and that balance is going to shift depending on the kid, it’s going to shift depending on how stressed everyone is. So even day to day, it’s kind of a practice of evaluating where things are.
Dr. Sarah (28:34):
Constant fluidity. I love that. I think too, this makes me think about, okay, if we’re talking about normative neurotypical or normative development, just a baseline, everybody kind is going to struggle with some degree of this, right? Kids are going to push the boundaries and we have to decide how much we want to control or let them figure it out on their own in the moment. But then I think of kids who have an anxiety disorder or kids who have dysregulation issues where they’re, there really is a lot of potential for meltdowns and there’s a way in which it’s not just child parent interplay. There’s an extra variable thrown in there that’s kind of messing up the system a bit like the family system. And I wonder if you could speak to that a little bit. How do you see this play out when you have a kid who has an anxiety disorder or a kid who has a dysregulation challenge?
Dr. Emily (29:44):
And this is exactly why I have a chapter on neurodevelopmental kiddos, so AD D and autism and then a chapter on anxiety and depression as very common mental health issues we’re going to likely see at some point as parents, because I think often when reading parenting guidance, it feels like that is left out. So like you’re saying, other than what we consider typical normative in the middle experience of a kid that’s already stressful and challenging on its own, adding these layers of neurodivergence and mental health issues, these parents often feel left out like, you’re not talking about my kid, so I can’t use any of this. So I just want to say each could have their own book. So it was challenging to distill it down. But I think what’s important is, for example, with anxiety, a huge part of autonomy supportive parenting is expressing trust in your child and expecting them to be independent.
And kids and teenagers with anxiety are going to struggle with trying to be independent with new skills because that triggers their anxiety often. So really what some advice around that is, yes, there needs to be a lot of empathy. There also needs to be scaffolding, which is the idea of meeting your child where they’re at with their skills, even if it’s not what you would expect. And then helping them gently supportively grow their skills. So if let’s say a four year old is anxious about going to a birthday party and once they get there, they’re actually going to have fun, but it’s the whole lead up to it and anticipation and there’s these worries and they get really anxious and it’s hard to get them out the door, then it’s good to help them understand through empathy, labeling their feelings, especially for a four year old who’s learning that vocabulary and how they feel doing some co-regulation, some physical touch of comfort to help them calm and regulate, and then having a plan together.
You could even ask them, let’s come up with a plan to help this feel better so that you still get to have the fun birthday party, but it doesn’t feel as scary. And you can have ideas, especially with a four year old, we can have an exit strategy if things go terrible, this is how we’ll leave something like that, that helps an anxious child at least get started, maybe planning a reward afterwards to say, yay, you did something really hard that was really hard to go and you did it, and so now we’re going to have this special mommy sun time, or something along those lines. So in this literature I want to point out rewards are considered beneficial as long as they are not coercive. So it’s the idea of acknowledging that this was something hard that you did rather than if you do this, then I will get you a Lego set, right?
Dr. Sarah (32:59):
Yes. I always say that’s sort of the difference between a bribe and a reward. Usually a bribe is a last ditch effort in the moment to coerce your child to do something like, okay, if you do this, I’m going to give you this. Whereas a reward is more like something you want to think about in advance as a way for them to help plan out their choices and motivate their decision-making. Like, you don’t have to do this, but if you do this, this is what you can look forward to happening afterwards. And like you said, I love that you said the reward is special. Mommy and me time, I always say when rewards are relational, there’s that intrinsic good feeling attached to it versus external. You get your video game or you get this treat or you get to pick out a toy or you get candy. And again, sometimes I do that, sometimes definitely do that, and sometimes I bribe my kids. Sometimes I’m like, if you just get in the car, I will take you to the park after we’re done, whatever, just get in the car. So again, we’re human, we’re not going to be perfect. And it doesn’t matter if you do that every once in a while, but in the aggregate, are you thinking about orienting your child to, Hey, what’s going to make you feel a little more encouraged to try this hard thing, to take this risky step?
Dr. Emily (34:27):
Well, and with anxious kids, I mean, part of anxiety is not feeling confident or competent. And so if we keep rescuing them from those feelings, by avoiding what’s triggering their anxiety, then we’re not giving them the opportunity to develop those skills and believe in themselves. And so with the birthday party example, let’s assume it goes well just for the sake of argument and afterwards talking it through of you did it even though you felt all those butterflies in your stomach and you had all those worries in your head, you did something hard and now you know can do that next time you get those feelings. And so it’s putting words to that for them. And with these anxious kiddos, it’s really important for parents to express that belief in them, and then that becomes part of their internal voice. So I think that’s important.
Dr. Sarah (35:23):
Yes, I would say too, it’s also really, like you’re saying, yeah, it’s important to reflect back to them, Hey, you did it. It’s also important if you know your child’s about to do something, that’s tough for them to do that after they do it, we’re not rushing to the next birthday party or we’re not rushing to the next thing. We take a minute and we slow down and we let their nervous system get a break because they did something that really was a big task for their nervous system to tolerate all that cortisol and adrenaline and all the stuff that comes with that fight or flight response and that they get to have a moment to rest after that. I think sometimes, as we were saying with our go-go-go culture and all of the activities and all the stuff is to, we have to build in time for our kids after they do something that is a stretch for them to sit with them for a minute. Even if it’s just a minute, maybe you get back into the car after the birthday party and there’s this buzz of excitement. They did get all the candy and the cake and the friends and you were scared, but they did it and now they’re buzzing to sit in the car. Don’t just go immediately drive, just sit in the car for a second. And just like you model for them, if it’s four year olds, they’re not going to come down on their own. You have to kind of just be like, that was a fun birthday party. You had a good time. You didn’t think you could at first, but you did it. And so you’re modeling not just the reflect, the reflection and that logging of that cognitive piece of, yeah, I did this thing. I could do these hard things. But you’re also modeling that kind of physiological pause of like, okay, now you get to rest a bit, which is super important. I don’t think we do that enough.
Dr. Emily (37:12):
Right? No. It’s the decompression that we all need. And yes, I mean, this is a little bit tangential, but I have so many issues with our go go go culture and how it affects mental health in general and the family system. And just as kids get older and they get more involved in activities and sports, how crammed the schedules and weekends get and how worn out our kids get and we get. So I think mean, this is just general that I think valuing our family time and valuing rest and downtime is a huge gift to give our children.
Dr. Sarah (37:54):
It’s critical. And I don’t think it’s totally tangential because I think it’s embedded in this belief that when we support our child’s autonomy, it means we back up a bit. It means we don’t overschedule everything that they do. It means we give white space, blank space so that they have some autonomy to fill in things based on their interests. And a kid, it’s going to be hard for them to identify their interests if there isn’t any space to play around, to have nothing, time to have wander with their thoughts. I mean, so many kids, oh my gosh, I have so many people in my practice who are my kids. They can’t be bored.
Dr. Emily (38:35):
Dr. Sarah (38:35):
They cannot tolerate being bored. And so it’s a constant battle over how do we fill the time? And it’s like it’s a legit issue. I mean, I have all the most empathy and sympathy for parents who are struggling with this because my kids don’t like being bored either. But I think we have to reverse engineer that a little bit and go back to like, well, how often do you solve their boredom problem for them? And if it’s always or most of the time, then that might also be contributing to their low threshold for the experience of boredom. And the reality is talk about soapboxes. We have a very skewed perception of boredom in our culture. We think boredom is a sign of laziness or a problem to be solved. But in reality, boredom, so many amazing things come out from the other side of boredom. That’s where all invention occurs, all creative problem solving. It’s like boredom is critical. You need to sit and have nothing to do sometimes to be able to figure out what the next great thing you’re going to do is.
Dr. Emily (39:48):
I also think what I see in my practice and just with people I know is how hard it is for kids in this go-go culture to be tuned in to their own internal, I’ve had too much or I don’t have enough. So every kid’s going to be a little different in terms of their personal battery. How much is a good medium window of stimulation and activity and how much goes overboard and how much is under stimulating and allowing our kids, if we’re not doing all the scheduling for them and packing schedules, it allows them to speak up and say, this is, I really want to do this because X, Y, and Z. And it’s again, coming from them. It’s important to them. I have kids that really, and maybe it’s because I’m their mother and I’m the same way. They really like their downtime. I mean, I have just learned they cannot have too many activities. And actually I’m good with it because it means I’m not driving around everywhere. I drive around plenty. I have travel soccer and competitive gymnastics, so it’s not nothing, but I hear these stories of competitive gymnastics and three other sports, and I’m like, I can’t even imagine. I know. So I think it’s letting our kids tune in and learn their internal cues of, I’m getting overloaded or I need more. And listening to them too when they speak up about that.
Dr. Sarah (41:21):
Yeah, I mean, I think all of the things we’re talking about today are in the service of when you allow a child to figure out where they are trying to go and solve the problems that based on their attempts to get there, their clunky attempts to get there. What also as a byproduct is exactly what we’re talking about, is that internal awareness of like, Ooh, this didn’t work. I got to try something different. Or I don’t like the way this feels. I need to kind of retool. But if we don’t let them kind of struggle a little bit sometimes, then they aren’t going to develop one, the awareness of those sort of negative, but motivating experiences, internal experiences, but two, they’re not going to develop a tolerance for them. And the awareness of, and the tolerance for those distressing cues is critical. Critical.
Dr. Emily (42:18):
Well, because we want, I think we all want to raise kids who become adults who have balance. We’re all terrible at it, let’s just admit it. And so we want better for our kids. And so I think modeling that balance, encouraging that balance, promoting it is a really important piece of this too. And along with that comes the messaging. You are a worthy person without all these achievements. You don’t need to do all this and be valuable.
Dr. Sarah (42:51):
Oh, what a fantastic message to send to a child. If parents are listening and they’re like, okay, this is all very helpful, but where do I start? What’s the first thing I could do to start this if I’m not doing it already? What would you recommend?
Dr. Emily (43:07):
Well, is it bad to recommend reading my book?
Dr. Sarah (43:09):
Not at all. Absolutely.
Dr. Emily (43:14):
But also, I actually have a sub stack, and again, I’m not trying to be super self-promotion here, but in my, no, but this is helpful.
Dr. Sarah (43:21):
Dr. Emily (43:22):
I love to do is really take it down to the granular daily living of parenthood and real issues with kids. And so in my sub stack, I really get into that. One of my sub stacks was, is it too controlling to have a summer schedule? How do we manage free time for kids home, not in school? How do we do it without being controlling? So I take real dilemmas and illustrate autonomy supportive responses. And so that’s in my substack and it’s also on my blog, emilyedlynnphd.com. Yeah.
Dr. Sarah (44:00):
Okay, so people, emilyedlynnphd.com. And then how did they find your sub stack and where can they get this book?
Dr. Emily (44:07):
Sub stack is the Art and Science of Mom. I think if they just put in my name, they could probably find me.
Dr. Sarah (44:14):
Okay, well, we’ll link everything in the show notes too, so people could just click.
Dr. Emily (44:17):
And then my book can be ordered on Amazon, Bookshop, target anywhere. You can order books. And it should be out in bookstores today, September 5th.
Dr. Sarah (44:28):
Yay. So definitely go get this book. Check out Emily’s substack and her website. And thank you so much for coming on. It was really a pleasure talking with you.
Dr. Emily (44:41):
Thanks so much for the awesome conversation. I had so much fun.
Dr. Sarah (44:44):
(44:50):While we can all agree it’s super important to foster autonomy in our children, this can be a very trying process for parents to endure. Helping build your child’s emotional regulation and distress tolerance skills along the way can have a major impact in keeping them from completely losing their cool during all those inevitable stumbles and struggles in life. The key is to teach these skills outside of the heat of the moment and calm, connected times. So there’s no better time to strengthen this ability than by integrating it into your child’s play. And that’s why I created a free guide with my five favorite psychologist approved games that allow your child a fun way to practice using the same skills needed for calming their little mind and body when they’re upset. Go to drsarahbren.com/games to grab your free guide. That’s drsarahbren.com/games. So give those games a try. Let me know how your kid responds. And don’t be a stranger.
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