Dr. Sarah (00:02):
Ever wonder what psychologists moms talk about when we get together, whether we’re consulting one another about a challenging case or one of our own kids, or just leaning on each other when parenting feels hard, because trust me, even when we do this for a living, it’s still hard. Joining me each week in these special Thursday shows are two of my closest friends, both moms, both psychologists, they’re the people I call when I need a sounding board. These are our unfiltered answers to your parenting questions. We’re letting you in on the conversations the three of us usually have behind closed doors. This is Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions.
Hey everyone. Hi, Dr. Emily Upshur. Dr. Rebecca Hershberg. Welcome. Hi. So glad you’re here. So today we’re going to be answering a question from Kaitlyn who wrote: My son is four and he seems to behave way better at school than he does at home. I’ve never had a complaint from his teacher and even at home, he listens to my mom when she comes over and is generally good natured with her. If I tell him to do the same thing, he pitches a fit. Is that normal or is there something I can do differently? It’s so frustrating. Okay, so I really feel you on this one. I think it’s really incredibly common and a huge frustration for a lot of parents.
Before we jump in to answering it, I just want to make a quick little request. If you are enjoying this podcast, I want to hear it. I want to hear about it. If you could rate and review Securely Attached wherever you are streaming the podcast, that would be so amazing, so helpful, and I just really love reading what you have to say. It helps guide the way that we build out this show, and I think it really helps more parents get this information. It helps with the algorithm. So thank you so much for being part of this community and helping to spread the word so we can raise a generation of healthy and resilient kiddos. So speaking of healthy and resilient kiddos, let’s answer this mama’s question. Emily, this can be such a tricky situation for parents to navigate. What are your initial thoughts on this?
Dr. Emily (02:18):
Yeah, I mean, I guess my initial thought is it’s so common, right? You’re not alone. This is actually not a non-normative behavior pattern for kids. There is a lot of what we call restraint collapse, which means kids hold it together all day and they’re trying to quote, behave and listen and follow rules, and then they get home and it sort of all falls out and that’s healthy and that’s okay. It’s not easy as a parent, but that can be really healthy. But I do think there’s a lot of nuance there. How do we prepare for that, manage that and make it the smoothest transition? I think anticipating if your child is coming home from school every day and having a really tough time, what can we tweak in that transition? I call it the transition shoot. What can we put in transition? Shoot, can we put food? Can we put some wiggle breaks? Get your wiggles out. Can we put in some exercise? Can we put in some downregulation? What can we put in that transition shoot to sort of ease a little bit of that behavior that comes bubbling out in the home front?
Dr. Sarah (03:36):
Yes, totally agree with that. Rebecca, do you see this kids that you work with, families that you work with? How do you help parents make sense of this?
Dr. Rebecca (03:47):
I mean, I think it’s tremendously common. I see it all the time. I think it’s a human thing. I mean, I help parents make sense of it by asking them how they are at their jobs and how they are when they get home. And sometimes people are like, I’m really great both places and that’s awesome. Rock out. That means you’re having a great day. Other times it’s like, okay, but let’s say you’re really tired and cranky or irritated or anxious. Where are you most likely to let that show? And people will say at home. And what I think becomes important and perhaps less obvious is the follow-up question, which is, are you doing that on purpose? Are you saying to yourself, I’m feeling really anxious, let’s say about the news or about whatever. And so I think I’m going to keep it together at work, but when I get home, I’m really going to snap at my partner and they will of course say no. And yet that is what happens. There’s something that we understand just on a cellular level about when we are in our safe space with our safe people. We don’t choose to let our true colors out or whatever you want to call it, but it happens. And so our kids aren’t, sometimes I think parents think of them as little puppet. They’re marionettes are pulling the strings, or I’m going to go to school and be awesome and then I’m going to come home and make my mom miserable. That’s just not the way it works. And yet, even when we look at ourselves as adults, it’s what happens.
Dr. Sarah (05:26):
I think that’s a really helpful reframe because one, I actually think it helps us have more compassion for ourselves because yeah, we do do that. We sometimes save our ickiest parts of ourselves for the people that we love. I know I was just visiting my parents and I was like, wow, I regress a lot when I go see my parents. I’m like a teenage kid with my mom sometimes, and I’m like, whoa. And I notice it, but not always. And so yeah, it’s like, yeah, we got to recognize this is a human thing. I also think I’ll say this a lot to parents to try to help them feel better about it. Still really crappy in the moment when your kid is just making it so difficult in the evenings or right after school or whenever. And even what this mom says, even at home with one parent or one caregiver, they might be totally okay and with another, they’re like, I also don’t think one, that’s not a sign that they don’t feel safe with that other parent.
If a kid is really good with dad and really messy with mom, that’s not to imply that they don’t have a safe relationship with dad necessarily. That’s not what that means. It’s just sometimes it’s also patterns. Sometimes it’s also learned responses and learned ways. So obviously at the school level in a totally different setting where they have to keep it together all day, they just kind of intuitively understand. And there’s a lot more structure in those settings that I can’t really, blah, let it all out right now. That’s not a safe place to do it. It’s this more foreign, there’s more things, there’s more risk in that place. I can’t go there. I have to hold it in. I know that kind of, again, on an unconscious level. And then when I get home it’s like, well, I can’t, that’s that restraint collapse you were talking about Emily.
But I also think there’s something about within the home or we’re in that safe space, presumably, and you see it shift with different care providers or parents. I also think part of it is patterns of responses. So a kid is really also unconsciously kind of trying to figure out where are the edges with each person they have a relationship with. And so different parents who have different styles of responding to different behaviors in a child might be tighter or looser with their consistency in their responses. And therefore a child learns these are the edges with this parent and these are the edges with this parent. And so they actually show up a little bit differently with different parents. And I also think that’s pretty typical and normal also.
Dr. Rebecca (08:16):
And parents show up differently with different kids. I mean, they also say that first kids and second kids are raised in totally different homes. And I mean that metaphorically, even if you’re raised in the exact same home, there’s a lot of research showing it’s actually totally different. I mean, I think because we show up so differently at different times in our lives or so I think this pattern that comes through this question is a tremendously common one, but once you dig a little bit deeper, it all gets quite individual and complicated.
Dr. Emily (08:51):
I love to think of it as, I like that you use the word patterns. And I think this is obviously, to your point, Rebecca, very complicated. But I also think sometimes it becomes a habit isn’t necessarily, it’s a little bit of a muscle memory on its own. I come home and I sort of bl, it’s a habit, it’s something I just do because I’ve gotten used to doing it. And I sometimes talk to parents about can we shake that habit up a little? Can we introduce something a little bit different in the routine? Just to be mindful of thinking about how that works in the nuance with different relationships. But sometimes it’s not some big huge psychological things. Sometimes it’s kind of like a behavioral pattern or a habit.
Dr. Sarah (09:35):
To that point, Emily, that just made me think of something that we’ve done and it wasn’t, I don’t think it was so conscious, but it definitely illustrates exactly what you’re describing. So typically when my kids come home from school, it’s a little downtime, dinner, bathtime bed. But since camp started, it was like that just was not working for our family. It was a mess. Waiting for dinner to get cooked was icky, and then no one was sitting at the table and everyone, nobody wanted to eat anything even though they were starving. And then Bathtime was like a disaster. It was just not working. And my husband just, I don’t even know if it was, it wasn’t like a, oh my gosh, this is so bad, we have to come up with a new plan. He was just like, I’m doing bathtime first. It just makes more sense.
And started doing bathtime and then they come downstairs and eat dinner and then we go brush teeth, do our bedtime routine. And it shifted. It really shifted. By no means is it nice every night, but I think that that is for, honestly, I think it was just the shift, the switching things up, the breaking that habit or those cues for that habit to be enacted. That has been a big help. And I didn’t even think about it in terms of that, but, and it doesn’t need to be that particular switch, but just this idea of can I just shake things up a little bit, move the order of operations a little bit so that I can just reset the cues that might be unconsciously triggering this habit to get played out.
Dr. Emily (11:15):
I think you’ll find, people say this to me a lot, and we know this when we are working with parents of anxious children doing space or supportive parenting, anxious childhood emotions. It’s like if your kid has a pattern of having an anxious habit at home, but then you’re on vacation, sometimes they don’t do it right? They never sleep in their own bed, but then on vacation, they sleep in their own bed. It changing enough of the pattern, the habit, the environment can sometimes shift things. I don’t want to insinuate it’s a magic stick, but it’s worth a shot if you’re feeling a little stuck in that way.
Dr. Sarah (11:54):
Yeah, absolutely. And I think to this mom’s question, to the piece of her question, which she says, is there something I could do differently? You can try switching things up, but if it’s really also just your kid is going to emote more with you, I don’t know that you have to necessarily view it as a problem that you must solve by doing something differently too. Perhaps we can also say it’s okay that they are messier with you. It’s okay that they push more limits with you, which I like to reframe as safety seeking. Just check in. Hey, are you in charge here or am I in charge here? I can’t tell. Let me just make sure I push all the way to the end just to see if you’re definitely going to be consistent and hold that boundary. And so yeah, we can tighten up a little bit, but I don’t even know that we have to change as much as we have to sort of say, yep, this makes sense and it might not change.
Dr. Rebecca (13:03):
And I just want to highlight, you said it Sarah, so at the risk of being redundant, I just want to really highlight it that if the opposite is true, that your child is great with you and terrible at school or great with you and terrible with another parent, and I’m using words great and terrible even though we just did an episode about not labeling your kid that way. But I’m doing it by way of shorthand. It doesn’t mean that the attachment with you is not healthy or safe. There’s a lot of things that can be going on. If your child’s having a really hard time at school and is great with you, it doesn’t mean that they feel safer at school than with you. It may mean a host of different things and it’s certainly something by all means to get perhaps some guidance or support on similarly, if they’re falling apart with your partner and not with you. I just think a lot of times parents, because we all frankly sometimes feel so insecure about our parenting because of cultural messages and whatnot, parents frequently take the message that we’re providing in this episode and just immediately hear the inverse. And I just think it’s really important to say over and over and over again, that’s just not true. We’re answering one person’s question about a very frequent pattern, but it doesn’t, there’s no implications that we’re not saying about any of the inverse things that might be going on with your kid.
Dr. Sarah (14:29):
Yeah, I think that’s a very important point because I do think I’ve heard this question before, I’ve answered it before I’ve heard other people answer it. The general response to the question, why is my kid amazing outside with all these other people? And then they come home with me and they’re like a total nightmare often is you’re their safe place. They can let it out with you and it makes sense that they’re holding it in all these other places. And I do think that while I do think, like you said, Rebecca, in the aggregate, that tends to be the case and can be very validating for parents to understand that there are lots of situations when it is not always going to be able to be explained that way. And it doesn’t mean, to your point, the inverse, right? It is very common for kids to, it is also very common for kids to really have a hard time at school because maybe they’re having a challenge with their teacher and it’s they can’t hold in the eruption or that type of structure is really, really challenging for them.
And like we said, for some kids that structure is harder, which is why they’re able to sort of hold it in. They know I kind of have to have a game on here, but for some kids that a game isn’t accessible and we see all the kind of everything kind of seeping out through the cracks at school, that does not mean that school is their safe place and you are their not safe place. Oftentimes. I think also those kids that are losing it at school are also losing it at home, that they’re just dysregulated kind of in many places because they’re easily dysregulated and aren’t able to hold it in at school either. So I think it’s important. I don’t want parents who do not see this pattern in their kid to immediately assume I’m not my kid’s safe place.
Dr. Emily (16:41):
I think that any dysregulation is just, our approach should be what’s going on. So if it’s happening at home or if it’s happening at school, it just means that there’s something we need to pay more attention to and maybe shift our approach to. So I don’t think it has these declarative statements, sort of like what you’re saying, Sarah. It’s not like your kids school is safe, home is not, home is safe, school is not. It’s more like you’re having a disruption in this environment and why. Can we unpack that a little? Can we shift that a little and can we think about that as the place that something is showing up and trying to figure out how to apply different strategy skills environments to those rather than assume that one is bad and the other one is good, back to Rebecca’s non declarative statements, but I think the question is more, okay, so this is calling our attention to this thing. Okay, how can we think about it differently? How can we change things up a little? How can we intervene in a different way?
Dr. Sarah (17:49):
Yeah, I’m so glad I have you guys here. I feel like this is, I feel validated in my parenting struggles because you guys are like, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, me too. It’s not easy and it’s not easy to give a single answer. As a parent, I feel validated by you guys, but as a psychologist, I feel validated too because I’m like, I want to answer people’s questions, and half the time I do, I give them two completely contradictory answers. Like this could be the case and this could be the case. And so sorry listeners, when we get all like…
Dr. Rebecca (18:27):
Well, because the context always needs to be, and podcasts don’t allow for this, but well, I don’t know. Tell me a little bit more about you and tell me a little bit more about your kid and tell me a little bit more about your family and your culture and your community, and then maybe I’ll be able to answer your question. And so we do the best we can without that information. But of course that should always be the assumption is that that’s the information we need to really be able to answer your question.
Dr. Sarah (18:59):
A hundred percent. And I think it is really hard to get the nuance in this podcast, although that is why I was like, it has to be in a podcast and it can’t be on Instagram because I am like, you really cannot communicate this level of nuance and complexity in a little square, which is unfortunately where a lot of parents are receiving their parenting information. And listen, I post on Instagram, Rebecca, you post on Instagram, go to Instagram, get that stuff, get that information, stay connected, whatever. That’s great. Follow us on Instagram, but be an educated consumer of the content you’re consuming because even people who have very good intentions of trying to explain these complicated things, well, you’re going to lose the nuance in sound bites. And so what I hope you are taking away from this podcast in general, but certainly this episode is you have to sort of know what questions to ask, but you’ve got to ask them and you’ve got to answer them for you and your kid.
But taking this information to help you frame what’s the right question to be asking, and maybe that will help you land on the right answer for you. And if you don’t know how to answer it, then it’s also so okay to get support, like individualized support because sometimes the sort of general support doesn’t exactly address the nuances and the complexities and the unique situations of your family. And individualized support can be really helpful there. And that’s not failing at it, that’s just being effective in the way that you’re gathering your information and building your toolbox.
Dr. Emily (20:57):
Dr. Rebecca (20:58):
Yeah, totally agree.
Dr. Sarah (21:00):
Well, this was lovely. I’ve got more questions and we will answer them next Thursday.
(21:06):Thank you so much for listening. As you can hear, parenting is not one size fits all. It’s nuanced and it’s complicated. So I really hope that this series where we’re answering your questions really helps you to cut through some of the noise and find out what works best for you and your unique child. If you have a burning parenting question, something you’re struggling to navigate or a topic you really want us to shed light on or share research about, we want to know, go to drsarahbren.com/question to send in anything that you want, Rebecca, Emily, and me to answer in this new series Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions. That’s drsarahbren.com/question. And check back for a brand new securely attached next Tuesday. And until then, don’t be a stranger.
✨We want to hear from you! Go to https://drsarahbren.com/question to send us a question or a topic you want to hear us answer on Securely Attached – Beyond the Sessions! ✨