Helping our children learn to understand, process, and make sense of their emotions can be pivotal for fostering their mental well-being all the way into adulthood.
Join me for an enlightening conversation that promises to empower you as a parent or caregiver is the author of the new book TINY HUMANS, BIG EMOTIONS, Alyssa Blask Campbell.
Discover practical strategies to support your child’s emotional regulation, build resilience, and foster empathy, and explore the ways sensory sensitivities can be harnessed as a path to nurturing emotionally intelligent children.
A lot of this work can happen throughout the day proactively, kind of like how we don’t wait until a kid’s hangry and then we feed them, we try to stay ahead of it, we feed them breakfast and then a snack and then lunch, and then a snack, and then dinner or whatever. And we’re trying to not get to a hangry place or not get to an overtired place. And we do the same thing with regulation where when you know what’s regulating for them, then you can be proactive.
Dr. Sarah (00:31):
I’ve been a big fan of this week’s guest for many years and I am so excited to have her joining me on Securely Attached this week. Alyssa Blask Campbell is the CEO of Seed & Sew, has a master’s degree in early childhood education, and is the author of the new book TINY HUMANS, BIG EMOTIONS: How to Navigate Tantrums, Meltdowns, and Defiance to Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children. Her podcast, Voices of Your Village, is a gathering place for parents, caregivers, teachers, and experts, creating a modern parenting village. I can’t wait for you to hear this conversation.
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.
Hey everybody, welcome. Today, I’m very, very excited about our lovely guest. We have a Alyssa Blask Campbell here today, and she is the founder of Seed and Sew, she has a podcast called Voices of Your Village. She has an awesome new book coming out and I have followed your content for many, many years and I’m really, really excited to have a conversation with you.
Thanks, Sarah. I’m super jazzed to get to hang out with you today.
Dr. Sarah (02:11):
Yeah, I can’t wait. And I feel like when I first found you, I found you on Instagram when I was, before I was doing any sort of talking about parenting in the public, I worked in my clinical practice with parents, but I was just a consumer of content and I felt so comforted by what you write and how you speak to parents and how empowering you are because it’s very easy to scare parents or make them feel ashamed even when you’re not trying to. It’s an art form to communicate things that it’s new information potentially to people without making them feel like, oh, I wasn’t doing that. And now in order to do it, I have to kind of reconcile that with myself. That’s vulnerable and you do it very well.
Oh, thanks. I hate shame. I just, the core of who I am, it doesn’t speak to me. I am someone who’s really driven and inspired and extrinsically motivated by words of affirmation or positive feedback. And so I think it a little bit comes naturally to me. What fires me up is being spoken to in a way that is shame-free. And when I receive shame, I was an athlete growing up and all that, and when I received shame-based messaging, I pull back and I shut down and it’s not motivating for me to create change. And so I think delivering shame-free messaging personally for me just makes sense.
Dr. Sarah (03:55):
Yeah. And I resonate with that as someone who, as a parent who receives it and appreciates it and as someone who’s also really striving to do the same of helping parents get information that’s based on neuroscience and child development and psychology, but not in a way that makes them feel like I suck at this.
Yeah, totally. Yeah, that same resonates with me. My husband actually just the other day, Zach was like, you really just hate it when people talk down to you as if you aren’t willing to learn about something. And I was like, that’s very true. I am a really curious human. I’m open to learning and I hate being talked down to. So for me, when I’m speaking to parents, I’m like, yeah, I have a master’s in early ed and I’ve done a lot of this work and a lot of this research, most parents don’t have a master’s in early ed and haven’t been spending time doing research on child development before they have kids. And so it makes total sense to me that they would come into this and be like, oh wow, this feels new. And there’s a lot that I don’t know. And so in terms of connecting with them, I dunno, I guess I walk into it in a way of I don’t expect everyone to know all these things just because you had this kid or you are a parent to this child. I really believe it takes a village of us to do this jazz.
Dr. Sarah (05:27):
Yeah, hence the podcast Voices of Your Village.
There it is. There it is, Sarah.
Dr. Sarah (05:33):
But it’s interesting because there’s two things when you’re talking that my mind goes to. One is as a parent, I think parents that are listening and can resonate with that, oh, I really want to learn from someone who doesn’t talk down to me or think I need some sort of gentle explanation or obviously not a judgmental explanation, but even sort of that, oh, let me explain it real slowly for you, that tone. But yet we, and I do this, I catch myself all the time. We talk to our kids that way a lot.
Dr. Sarah (06:12):
And I think when we as someone, I think you and I both work with a lot of parents, I find that when I talk to parents, it’s kind of a modeling of how I also talk to kids where it’s like, I see this, like you said, I see this genuine desire to learn and this innate curiosity and this good intention here, let me fill in some of these little gaps. So there’s fewer potholes, but you got this. And that’s how I talk to kids too. Obviously the language is developmentally appropriate, the vocabulary is developmentally appropriate. The tone is pretty similar…
Dr. Sarah (06:52):
Across the board.
Very much so. Yeah. Actually mother-in-law had a big birthday last year and we hosted it at our house. We have a yard and a playground, whatever, and there was someone over at our house, and I had, Sage was about 18 months at the time. And we were in the sandbox with some kids and this woman was like, oh, you speak to him, he’s like a five or a six year old. And I was like, huh. And I sat with that and I was like, oh, you mean just with my voice? And she was like, yeah, you don’t talk to him. He’s a young kid. And I was like, yeah, I don’t talk to any kids like that. My tone with them, he and I are in communication and conversation with each other, and I really see it that way from infancy where I don’t do a lot of baby talk doesn’t feel natural for me. It feels really uncomfortable. And as kids continue to grow, I use kind of a regular tone with them that I would use with other folks. And I’ll ask them questions like, huh, are you feeling curious about that? And I would use that same tone with just modulated language with my husband, right. Tell me what’s going on for you here? What’s coming up? And I can say that to Zach, but tell me what’s going on here. What’s coming up for my one year old doesn’t mean anything, but are you feeling curious about that? But it’s the same tone and kind of approach to it. You’re right across the board.
Dr. Sarah (08:28):
And I think, again, I think parents, I also think baby talk, or what do they call it? Parentees.
Dr. Sarah (08:38):
Actually super intrinsically. It comes from a very biological place. It’s very primal. Parents actually very instinctively talk to their child in what is in the psychology world called parentees, which is that sing songy voice. And I want to distinguish, I actually think it’s very appropriate to do that, and kids do respond really well to that, but I think as they get older sometimes we continue that, especially when we’re trying to have important conversations with them. And then that’s where I think it starts to, we hold onto that a little too long or there’s a place for that in playfulness. But when we really want to signal, Hey, this is important and I want to really make sure I understand what you’re experiencing here so we can look at the problem together and figure it out, that’s a time for a really more direct tone or a more, direct isn’t the word. Maybe you can think of the word I’m trying to think of, but a more mature adult model.
Kind of modulated tone. Yeah. Actually, there’s someone in our life who always, when she’ll be engaging with the adults and then when she turns to talk to the kids, she has this other tone that she uses with kids always. And my son pulls back from her, he can’t get there. And I asked him at one point, I was like, did you notice that her voice changes when she talks to kids? And he was like, and I said, sometimes people do that when they turn and they talk to kids, she’s still trying to connect with you and she’s still listening to you. But I think for him it was coming off as like, what are you doing? I just heard you talking to the adults and they’re like, what’s going on here? And I do think that that was a good distinction of, for me, there’s a difference between it’s playfulness, et cetera, versus I see us with kids as just being in a relationship.
I am in a relationship with my child and it is going to forever evolve, but I want him to know that I have respect for him and that I am going to just, like my tone’s going to shift when I’m frustrated or my tone’s going to shift when I’m feeling sad or said that there’s going to be tonal shifts there, but I don’t want it to be perceived as talking down to. And I think this is something that can come up a lot when we’re looking at emotional development, when folks are trying to say the right words. People ask us a lot for scripts to say in the moment.
Dr. Sarah (11:21):
And I will provide some. And always with the caveat of it is so much more effective for you to take this as a jumping off point, but find the script that makes the most sense to you. Because saying the right words, if you’re not feeling connected to the child or it doesn’t feel authentic, it’s going to come off as inauthentic. And so for me, when I was like, the baby talk doesn’t feel authentic, they can perceive that if I’m putting on this show, it doesn’t feel like a connected, authentic relationship. And then kids don’t respond. People will say like, oh, this thing isn’t working. And I’m like, walk me through it. What’s your actual experience in the moment when your kid asks for a red cup instead of the blue cup and then throws a tantrum and tosses the cup? Are you in that moment experiencing empathy or able to connect with what they’re feeling? Or are you like, oh my God, this is so annoying, which also is really valid because it is really annoying and inconvenient. But if you’re just trying to say the right words, but what you’re feeling inside is different, I think then it’s where we can see a shift in tone and we’re trying to sound calm and regulated and say the thing, it’s like, no, I’m not inside calm and regulated and I don’t actually feel this way. And kids can feel that.
Dr. Sarah (12:48):
Yeah, I agree with you so, so much. And I’m curious, do you help parents shift? I’m hearing the parent listening to this being like, okay, so then am I supposed to figure out a way to feel empathy when I’m not feeling it and just figure out how to get to that empathy place? Or is it okay to say, I’m really frustrated that you just threw that cup. I’m trying to get dinner on the table. Why are you doing this? Neither of those are compatible with the, do you want the blue cup or the red cup?
Look, I’m smiling.
Dr. Sarah (13:30):
I’m smiling and on the inside I’m going to fricking lose my mind.
Totally. I’m going to say both. So one of my favorite parts of our research should be Lauren, my colleague and I created the collaborative emotion processing method, we call it SEP for short. We researched it across the us. It’s what our book Tiny Human, Big Emotions is really all about. And it’s five components, and one of them is adult child interactions and the other four are about us. So I dunno about you, but I grew up in a household where’re like I didn’t receive this stuff, got some of these tools, but not a lot of ’em. And so building a lot of it as an adult and building self-awareness and self-regulation tools and understanding my biases and my triggers, and then where do I go from there? And really getting down and dirty with the neuroscience of what’s happening inside me, what’s happening inside them.
And we dive into all that and the set method and then we go into like, alright, who’s your unique kid? How do you respond to your unique child to support them? I don’t believe in a one size fits all approach, but one of my favorite things about our research, it’s not that there was this quantum leap in a child’s emotional development in a short period of time, but what did happen in a short period of time was that the adults were experiencing kids’ emotions differently and then able to respond with intention and authenticity and connection. And that for me is the game changer because if you can then experience empathy, you can connect with them and be like, oh man, yeah, they are really frustrated about X. They really were expecting to have this thing happen and this other thing happen. And I know what it’s like to have certain expectations and have them derailed to be looking forward to something and have it canceled.
I wrote an example in the book about my son’s magnet tile tower crashing and inside I’m just like, you can build it again, not a giant deal. He is really frustrated and disappointed in this moment and I didn’t have a lot of empathy for it. I said the right words, I went through the whatever, but truthfully inside didn’t feel a lot of compassion for the magnet tile tower crashing. And not long after I had folded a bunch of laundry that was in my living room and piles and he came in and knocked down all my piles of laundry. And that was a connecting moment for me where I was like, oh, can I fold this again? Sure. If someone walks in right now and is like, don’t worry, Alyssa, you can fold it again. Absolutely not. I do not want to. I don’t feel seen or connected.
No, I’m frustrated and disappointed. Is it a solvable problem? Sure. Am I feeling these feelings? Yes. And that when we can start to see that, then we can breed more empathy. We’re not empathizing with why they’re feeling what they’re feeling. We’re empathizing with what they’re feeling. And if I know what it feels like to feel disappointed, I can empathize with that feeling. And the set method, we really work to help you understand those triggers and biases so you can really move past the why of should they feel this because kind of a waste of our time, they are feeling it. And when we can get to the space of empathy with the feeling and not stuck in the why are they feeling this way? Does it matter? Should they feel it? It changes how we experience their emotions. And that’s what we walk everyone through in the book diving into that personal work. And it’s okay to in the moment be like, I’m feeling really frustrated by this. I’m going to calm my body so that I can help you. The key with sharing our emotions is also sharing that they’re not responsible for calming us.
There’s no world in which you are going to move through the day, never feeling frustrated, disappointed, upset, angry, sad, et cetera. There’s not a human in this planet unless there’s a hormonal chemical imbalance that is happy, calm, regulated all the time. It’s not the goal. And so if we’re going to feel these feelings, I think it’s actually really important that we voice them, that we say, oh man, I’m feeling overwhelmed, or I’m feeling frustrated and then model. And here’s what I do with that feeling so that kids here, it’s not my job to calm you down. You’ve got that.
Dr. Sarah (17:46):
Yes, that is so important. I think it gives parents a lot of permission to stop holding it in because I think they have, many of us have been told this is, I think one of the tricky things about parenting is we get so much of our information from soundbites on the internet and then there’s a lack of the more robust context or nuance. And so it’s like, yes, we’re told you shouldn’t make your children responsible for your emotions. Fantastic. I agree with that, but what does that look like in practice? Does it mean I hold it in? Does it mean I stuff it down? Does it mean I pretend like I’m happy when I’m really, really pissed? To your point, no, to all of those things, it means I work on regulating myself to the best of my ability to have compassion for myself when I am just overwhelmed by a feeling. And then to narrate that process for my kids so they can understand what’s happening. And it’s in that process that I’m sort of not making it their responsibility. So I can have the feelings, I can show the feelings to my child. I can narrate and name the feelings to my child and it’s the, I’m going to go do this thing real quick to regulate my emotional experience. That’s the part that kind models the boundary. I am in charge of my feelings. You’re not.
And they play a role in them, right? I am a sound sensitive human. We go into the eight sensory systems in the book and helping people figure out what are you sensitive to slash what regulates you? I’m regulated by touch, I’m regulated by proprioceptive input. That deep pressure. I could get a massage for four days and be like, I want more. And I am sensitive to vestibular input, like spinning or swinging is my nightmare or sounds. So just clicking, tapping especially or sound that I’m not in control of. I can put music on as loud as I want, but if someone is just yelling around me, I go a little nuts and I married a drummer and so there’s a lot of sound around me and this can add up for me. And so I will tell my two year old when he is screaming loudly or if this Thomas the Train toy that gets stuck in the corner, sometimes it’s just clicking makes me want to chuck it out a window.
I will let him know I have to take some space because my body’s feeling overwhelmed from all the sound I’m going to calm and then I’m going to come back and help you. But when you’re screaming really loudly, my body feels overwhelmed. I have to calm my body before I can help you. So I’m not saying you need to stop screaming for me to feel calm. What I’m saying is I have sensitivities. This is how my nervous system works. And then we break down his too. We’ll talk about his sometimes like, oh yeah, sometimes your body feels really overwhelmed from touching things when clothes are too tight or if somebody is snuggling into your body for a long time, sometimes that feels overwhelming for you. Here are things that you can do to help your body feel calm. So just normalizing that we all have a nervous system and a part of being in relationship, again, back to the like we’re in relationship with one another. Part of being in relationship is us understanding what are you sensitive to, what helps you calm? And it’s not his job to calm me. And I will still express to him that we all have a nervous system and here are things that I have to do to take care of me. And sometimes that’s proactively setting boundaries or sometimes it’s in the moment setting boundaries. I will finish my breakfast before I come play because that helps my body feel calm and ready to play with you. Things like that.
Dr. Sarah (21:47):
I love that. And I think you said something else that brings me back to what we were talking earlier about this perception of speaking down to kids and I think whatever you want to call it, gentle parenting, respectful parenting, responsive parenting, whatever kind of new age parenting we’re talking about. I think sometimes people will sort of give it a jab at it or make fun of it like, oh, we’re going to explain every little thing to our kids. And they call that talking down to kids. I think what we have to remember is what you just described, the tone we’re talking about before, the tone is a real relatable tone. You would talk to anybody else but the words, the content is developmentally appropriate. You are using words that are actually at the comprehension vocabulary level of a young child. So you do say things like, I’m going to help my body calm down so that then I can come and help you. And I think this is where I think sometimes people will poke fun at this type of communication because they’re like, it doesn’t feel that natural or it feels sort of contrived or pedantic, whatever. And in fact, I think it’s like you can do this so authentically, but it’s about communicating in a way that depending on where your child’s developmentally, that they can understand the words you’re saying because we have to kind of meet them where they’re at.
Totally. And the way that I talk to my husband when I’m in conflict with my husband and I’m feeling frustrated, I’m going to use that same approach. I’m going to let him know, Hey, I need a minute before we can finish this. I’m frustrated and that might be the words that I use. And if I just turn to Sage and said, I need a minute before we finish this, I’m frustrated in his mind he’s saying, am I frustrating her? Is it my job when she says she needs a minute, is she mad at me? Do I have to calm her down? Am I supposed to stop something? He internally is designed to ask himself all those questions. And so when I say I feel frustrated when I hear loud noises, I need to take space and calm my body down, I’ll be right back to help you. It answers a lot of those questions for him.
Dr. Sarah (24:14):
Yes, I think that is the critical piece. I think that’s where, like you said, not every parent has a master’s in child education or a PhD in clinical psychology. We don’t expect parents to always know this stuff. And sometimes if you don’t know the why behind some of these strategies, you can get really overwhelmed. You can feel like I’m just kind of randomly grasping at straws, just kind of following scripts and not really understanding why they work or how to actually modify them to fit a particular situation. You kind of are stuck with these cookie cutter strategies. But really I think the core, the real task for all of us as parents is to figure out how do I comb through the information that’s out there and how do I try to understand the core framework, the fundamental building blocks of this so that then I can use it in my own way with my kid based on the situation that we’re in, based on my way of communicating and their way of understanding. And that is what, that’s really, that’s the magic right there. And it’s hard. Totally.
And within your cultural context, the way that we exist in my household is going to be different than the way that people exist in their households and it doesn’t make one right or wrong or better or worse. My goal in our book and in our work is to, it’s broken up into three parts, and part one really focuses on both kind of the nerdiness, the why, what’s happening in the adult, and then part two goes into the kid. Because I don’t want you to just pop into like, all right, tell me what people always come to us for. What do I say to my kid? What do I do with my kid? And I can give you some scripts and some activities to try, but you’re going to lose the authenticity if you don’t understand the why or it’s only going to apply in certain settings or it’s not going to work for your unique child.
And I would rather equip you with here’s what’s happening inside their body, what’s happening inside your body, and here’s where to go with that. And just as I was saying, I’m sound sensitive and vestibular sensitive, that swinging spinning, my child is touch sensitive and he seeks vestibular input. So swinging spinning is really calming for him. Touch is really calming for me. And so if I did the same things with him when he’s upset, that worked for me, it would actually further dysregulate him and wouldn’t be helpful. And so I think one of the challenges with bite-sized parenting information existing so widespread right now is that you end up with this, I’m going to pull this thing away, this one takeaway. It’s like that doesn’t work for my kid. And I would much rather help you understand your kid’s nervous system, what’s happening inside and your own nervous system so that you can develop tools and strategies for the unique humans that are actually going to be effective.
Dr. Sarah (27:27):
Yes, I mean we’re speaking the exact same language. I feel like it’s so nice and refreshing to talk to someone who’s doing this same work because I also am always torn between, I mean, people want me to tell them what to say and I’m like, okay, but let me give you some asterisk next to that and just say this might not work in any situation. And also how do you take it and make it sound like the way you talk to your kid? How do you talk to your kid? Your kid knows you. If you all of a sudden start talking like someone you heard on Instagram, they’re going to be like the hell, who are you trying to talk? That’s not the way you talk.
In my household will say, oh man, that sucks. My mother-in-law’s never going to say the word sucks. And that’s okay. And so for her, when she is connecting with Sage and validating his emotions, she’s not going to say, oh man, that sucks. She’s going to say it in her own cultural context with her own vocabulary, and that’s how he’s going to just the human in our life who changes her tone when she talks to kids and Sage, you’re like, what’s going on here? That’s not who you are. And it’s that noticing of authenticity. And I would so much rather see somebody say like, oh man, that sucks. Or honestly, drop some swear words around when they are truly being authentic and connecting than say the right script. A little bit ago, Zach had walked into the room and I’ve been crying and he was like, oh no, you look sad.
And I was like, no sh*t. Is it the tears coming down my face? What way to go, bud? And he was trying to say the right thing, right? Instead of like, oh wow, what’s going on? Did something happen? His normal vocabulary went out the window and he was like, what am I supposed to say when I walk into my wife’s crying? And he pulled from the script and it didn’t feel connecting, and so it wasn’t effective. I didn’t feel more connected to him. And I ended up pulling back and was like, yeah, I am crying. I am sad. I get sassy and snippy and sarcastic when I’m dysregulated. More than yelling, that’s my go-to. I’m like, way to go, bud. You figured it out. I’m sad. And it doesn’t then feel connecting. And I think this happens with kids a lot. And so really looking at who are they? And for some kids it’s saying nothing. And for other kids it’s validating their experience and it takes a little bit of understanding who they are and how their nervous system works to know what approach to try or what scripts or whether or not to touch them. Do they want to hug or is that going to not be helpful, et cetera. And we got dive in all the behind the scenes work. I think of it as in the book first before we even go into and hear strategies with your kid.
Dr. Sarah (30:32):
Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s so helpful because I think it is very tempting to give parents exactly what they’re asking for. We all want it. Yeah. Also, I think we’re all conditioned at this point with the access to information to just be like, can you just jump to the part where you tell me what to do please. Because that’s what I’m used to. I’m used to that instant gratification and it’s so frustrating for parents when probably the more helpful people, the people who are probably going to be more helpful in the long run say, let’s slow down. Let’s figure out what’s not working first. When you were talking about the eight senses, and I bet you there are people listening, we’ve done a couple episodes on all eight Senses, so some people listening might be like, Ooh, I know that there are eight. But some parents are like, wait, counting on their fingers. I thought there were 5.
Sound, taste, touch, smell. Where do I go from here? Yeah.
Dr. Sarah (31:31):
Can you talk a little bit about the eight senses and perhaps what are some ways for us as parents to perhaps figure out what our kids’ sensitivities are, what senses they seek and how to frame that for people a little bit?
Totally. So not only could talk about this for a little bit, I could talk about forever, this is something I feel so strongly about. It changed me as a teacher, as a parent, as a human. So there are three more senses besides those five that we often hear about. We have interception, and this is where you notice the feelings inside your body. So if I say I have butterflies in my stomach, you know what that feels like inside or it could be hungry or tired, what does that feel like inside of your body? And kids who are interceptive sensitive, who have heightened awareness of their interception, usually potty trained pretty easily because they’re really aware of when they have to go pee. Kids who have lower interceptive awareness, usually it’s harder to potty train because they don’t notice those feelings as readily. Just as a little example there.
And then we have vestibular. This is your movement sense. So it is located in your inner ear, it’s responsible for your balance, and you get this input through anytime you move the plane of your head. So when a kid goes down to crawl or rolling over or swinging or spinning and dipping upside down is going to give you that. And then we have proprioception and this is in your muscles and joints and it’s, we get it through heavy work or big body play, those big jumps, you can jump on a trampoline and get that input in. When I’m working with kids who are proprioceptive seeking where they’re really looking for a lot of this input, I’m going to do jumps with them. Hopefully I’m like a trampoline. If I can do it, you can really get in there and get some big bang for your buck.
But if I don’t have a trampoline readily available, I’m going to do jumps with them where I hold their hands and on the way down I’m going to give a little pressure so it kind of adds to it in the same way that I might also have them carries a backpack when we go to the car. That adds a little weight to what they’re carrying. If you think of this as going to the gym, it’s like adding weight is going to give that heavy work. I love this. This is really regulating for me that proprioceptive input. I can wear a baby on my body all day long and I love it. It fuels me and my husband would be touched out and is like 20 minutes in, I need a break. We are all sensitive to some things, which means it drains. We think of it as a battery.
The minute you wake up, your battery starts to drain whether you’re doing something or not. Your brain’s job is to say, am I safe? And it does that by paying attention to all of these senses to say, am I safe? Is there somebody coming into this room that I need to be able to see and be aware of? Is there a sound I just heard? If a car drives by my brain says you’re safe, you don’t have to pay attention to it. If my fire alarm goes off, my brain says, you’re not safe. Pay attention to it. So in order to do all of this work, it’s using these eight senses to kind of take stock of the environment all day. It’s draining my battery. There are certain things that each of us have sensitivities to within these eight that are going to drain our battery faster.
And it’s kind of like if you were to stream something on your phone that’s going to drain your battery faster than if you text somebody and some kids, some adults, some humans have a lot of sensitivities that a number of these senses they’re sensitive to. And so their brain is kind of working over time a lot and it can be really draining and overwhelming and they might need more time where they have quiet spaces that they can be in. There’s not a lot going on or they might turn to some of their regulating activities, things that recharge us. Now there are literally to be an OT, now you have to have a master’s degree in occupational therapy to be a practicing OT. So this is something that people get a graduate degree in to really be able to assess. I wouldn’t expect a parent to be like, got it.
I know my child’s exact sensory profile after listening to this, but we can look for little cues and you want to be a detective where if you pay attention and you say like, okay, so for us, I was like, man, every time Sage, my little guy, every time he is in a loud space, he’s sobbing. Anytime there’s background noise on, he would start to cry as a baby. And so if there was music playing in the background, I am one of five kids, so there’s so many people in my life in my family, and if we were in a large group hang, he would just either shut down or start crying. And so we’re like, all right, sound seems to add up for him. As we started to look at those data points. And then we would notice if we run the blender for smoothies or we grind our own beans for our coffee, it was his nightmare.
And so we added headphones for him and now still to this day he’s two and a half. He will ask for his headphones and we’ll say, Hey, we’re going to make a smoothie, and he’ll say, can I have my headphones please? And he’ll pop them on and go and play and wear his headphones to drown out some of that sound. And so part of this was just observing to see how does he react to different things. We noticed every time we would do a diaper change or put sunscreen on or as he got older and he could tell us, this feels too tight or this is itchy, there were a lot of things that would add up around touch that tactile sense where he would feel sensitive to certain things.
And so we were like, okay, cool. Touch is another sensitivity of his. And then when we started to watch him play and just observe and see what does he gravitate towards, what kind of things does he ask for? He loved going on the swings. He and my husband play this game they call wear, wear, wear, where now if we’re going into a restaurant or we’re walking from the car to anywhere, he will ask Zach to play where or where. He’ll sit on Zach’s shoulders, Zach will hold his hands and Zach pretends that he doesn’t know where sage is. Where did Sage go? And he’ll turn, and Sage is now kind of spinning and moving around and he cracks up and it recharges him and fills him up because he’s getting that same input he would get if he was on a swing or spinning on a chair or sitting on a sit and spin.
And so as we just noticed, what recharges him? What does he gravitate toward? And then what are those sensitivities? Then we could look at this whole picture and I can say, okay, every single freaking day we’re going to put clothes on and get out the house. He’s going to have diaper changes, there are going to be things that we have to do that require touch. He’s going to be exposed to sounds all day long, so it’s going to be draining his battery. How can I get him access to the things that will recharge him are two things that vestibular and a sensory break where we can carve out times or spaces where he is in a quiet space that’s predictable, where he’s the only one creating the sound, which honestly right now for us is our basement. He’ll go down and he will play with Zach’s tools down there that he’s learned all about. It’s a predictable space. No one else is down there. He can’t hear a whole lot else. He’s in charge of all the noise that happens. A lot of sound sensitive humans. If we are in charge of the noise, it’s not a sensitivity for us. It’s only if it’s outside of our control.
Dr. Sarah (39:13):
That makes sense because it’s not activating the amygdala.
Yeah, exactly. And so for starters, it’s just observation. It’s really looking at what happens when OTs are detectives that navigate a lot of trial and error of like if I try this, what happens? And sometimes it’s okay, what if I try that a little bit longer? What if I do more spinning or more swinging? Is it helpful? Was it just not enough? Or maybe you’re getting ready for bed and you add in some of this input for regulation. And we have a family who they were playing a jumping game, they would jump on the bed and swipe kids’ legs and they were loving it and it’s really engaging both connected and it was regulating activity for these kids. And then we found if they did it for more than 10 minutes, it was dysregulating, it was too much and they would get hyped up. But if they did it for five minutes or less, it didn’t seem to be enough to fill their cup. So the sweet spot for their family was playing this game for five to 10 minutes. And so it’s a lot of playing with how much once you figure out what those sensitivities are and what’s regulating for you. But I think just understanding that these eight senses exist and that every human on the planet has sensitivities and every human on the planet has regulating activities is a great jumping off point.
Dr. Sarah (40:34):
Yeah, I think that’s so helpful. It makes me think. So my daughter, she’s four and she’s has a much more sensitive nervous system than my son who’s almost six. And I remember my son was just sort of mellow. He’s just temperamentally, he can move through spaces with more ease and my daughter just can’t, she’s way more sensitive to sound like at whenever we’re outside, if there are noises, I will watch her put her hands up over her ears when she was really little. If we put the blender on or the vacuum and she wasn’t prepared, she would have a huge startle response and really need some time to come back down. And interestingly, when we go to the place that she’s on the swing, she cannot possibly get enough swing. You can’t push this kid enough. She’s already learned how to pump because she needs to be in charge. No one will push her long enough. And so she’s like, well, I’ll just figure out my older kid does not know how to pump on the swing because he doesn’t really care.
Because he doesn’t need to.
Dr. Sarah (41:49):
And she’s like, you’re not done. You need to push me more. And even when she has tantrums or meltdowns, she kicks her feet into the floor so hard.
And so now I’ll actually when she lets me, because I know that we were talking about earlier, talking to her when she’s having a meltdown doesn’t work for her. I have to be quiet, but I have learned that if I push my hands against her feet when she’s in the throws, and usually if I get too close I’m going to get swiped at, but if I push my hands against her feet, she’ll push back and will let her proprio receptive input. And I’ve even taught her in not hot moments that if she’s upset, she pushes against the wall with her feet that helps her to feel better. And we’ve talked about this and so I am thinking about giving her tools, either tools she’ll accept me facilitating or tools she can do by herself that touch on those sensory inputs that regulate her and am mindful of sensory inputs that don’t sensitive to sound. And when she’s at a 10, me talking is more sound and so I can’t talk and I just have to accept that that’s the way her nervous system requires. And my son’s a totally different kid if I give him a massage, he’s like, I don’t like that. Whereas my daughter, you can give her a very firm massage and she’s like, just relax more please. She just likes that.
Dr. Sarah (43:26):
And my son, if you put lotion on him, he’s freaks out for days. He won’t let me near him with sunblock, he has to do it himself. We’ve literally tried 10 different sunscreens to find the least greasy one because he’s so sensitive to that. So he’s really sensitive to touch in ways that she’s totally not. It’s like each kid’s got their own profile. We all have our own profile. I’m sure as people are listening to this, they’re like, oh gosh, yeah. It’s like if you almost think of it like a soundboard with those levers, dial up, dial down, find your kids up and down on each kind of spectrum and that might be a good place to start.
Yeah, we dive into exactly this in chapter three of the book. That’s all dedicated to figuring out your nervous system, your kids’ nervous system, et cetera, and little clues to what might help you notice how do these different things present in different ways and at different ages and stages they present real young when we’re able to tune into them. And you mentioned the sensory mismatch, which I think is so challenging is when we, for instance, Sage wants vestibular input and I would pass out or get nauseous if I had the amount of vestibular input he has or requires and I love touch and when he’s upset, my instant desire is to touch him because that’s what’s regulating for me and I have to override that in the moment. I have to be like, Alyssa, that’s what you want because you’re now dysregulated by his dysregulation and it’s not what he needs.
And what he really needs is for you to stop talking for you to give him a little space and if possible, to have access to vestibular input. I think one of the things that’s super cool, and we break this down in the book too, is that it’s not just a reactive game. So it’s not just like when they’re upset, what do we do? But a lot of this work can happen throughout the day proactively, kind of like how we don’t wait until a kid’s hangry and then we feed them and then we wait until a kid’s hangry and then we feed them. We try to stay ahead of it. We feed them breakfast proactively to try and prevent them from being hangry and then a snack and then lunch and then a snack and then dinner or whatever. And it’s all in the effort of like we’re trying to not get to a hangry place or not get to an overtired place.
We’re proactive about it. And we do the same thing with regulation where when what’s regulating for them, then you can be proactive. You can say, alright, I know for Sage that we are going to do certain things in the morning as we’re getting ready that deplete him, that pull from his nervous system. We’re going to put clothes on, he’s going to go to the bathroom. There’s all these things that are touch related that are going to occur. And so he has access to a sit and spin in the morning or we will play games where he’s right now really into somersaults because he just learned how to do them. And so we play certain games where he gets to do a somersault as a part of an obstacle course between the couch and the bathroom and really in the name of how do I get some of this input in the morning proactively so that the inevitable withdrawals don’t bring him to a 10.
Our goal is like how do we help kids hang out in this space between a three and an eight as much as possible that there’s going to be fluctuation, but to really try and avoid the one and two and the nine and 10 where you’re so heightened or so sad and depressed, I want you to have a range of regulation and a range of emotions and what does it look like to have that kind of within this spectrum of a three to an eight. And for us, that is where the proactive work comes in and it requires understanding what’s regulating for them in order to proactively build that in.
Dr. Sarah (47:37):
I think that’s so fantastic. I talk about that a lot too, of can you take breaks throughout the day to just get ahead of it. If you have a kid like my daughter, I know she needs to do something with proprioceptive input pretty regularly throughout the day so she can fill back up. And you also said something, which I think is really smart. So it’s like, yes, we want to add in the things that are regulating, but we also want to create space for the absence of the things that are dysregulating.
Dr. Sarah (48:16):
So, quiet time for her or for your son. For my son, it’s like he needs time in the bath. He loves the be in the water because he doesn’t touches very stimulating, but water is not, it’s like the absence. I think there’s something about being in water, it’s enveloping in a way that doesn’t have…
He’s also probably naked, so there’s no clothes touching him.
Dr. Sarah (48:42):
Oh, yeah, this kid’s naked.
Same. Welcome to my household.
Dr. Sarah (48:48):
The minute he gets home, the clothes are off because he doesn’t like it on. And so if I was going to be like, you have to wear your clothes in the house. It’s like, no. I mean we ask that the underwear stays on, that’s where we draw the line, but he doesn’t want, it’s like we live in New York, outside of the city and it gets cold in the winter all year long. This kid is not wearing any clothes. And if I was like, the rules are you’re going to be too cold, and so you need to put your clothes on, I’d be picking an arbitrary rule that didn’t serve his nervous system at all, which would be putting myself in. I would be setting myself up for a much more stressful day because it’s all parallel too. Us thinking about our kids’ regulation kind of sort of aids in our own regulation because…
Oh, it’s all about us.
Dr. Sarah (49:39):
If they’re regulated, this is way easier to be me. Yeah, yeah, a hundred percent. At the end of the day, I’m like, how do I make my life as easy as possible? And this plays a huge role in that. And if you were to tell him, this is what you need to do to be warm or whatever, we’re taking away an opportunity for him to learn body awareness and to show that we trust him. And when we say something like, Hey, here are the rules in our house, got to keep our underwear on. Here are parts of our body that we don’t have out in public, or whatever your ground rules are and here’s why. And then after that, I trust you to choose the clothes that feel comfortable for your body. The clothes that are keep you warm. I can let you know what the weather’s going to be like. I can let you know can feel what it feels like inside if you start to get cold where things are to put on and you can always ask for help. But if we’re saying, I’m going to choose that for you, we’re missing this opportunity to say, I trust you to listen to your body and let me know what you need.
Dr. Sarah (50:48):
And not only we communicating that, but we are not interrupting a process that they might actually need to be engaging in to regulate their nervous system. Oh man, this is, I think this is such a helpful reframe for parents and I am super excited. Your book comes out today so people can go on wherever they get their books and they can order it right now, correct?
Dr. Sarah (51:20):
Oh, I love Audible. I love hearing your people’s voices in my ear. I’m a mom, so it’s much easier for me to listen to a book than read a book in reality. And so I always love it when the author reads the book because then it’s just so much more personal.
Dr. Sarah (51:38):
Where else can people find you, your work, learn more about all these amazing things you’re doing. You have so awesome stuff, so many awesome things going on.
Thank you. Yeah, so I’m doing a little book tour. I’m 7 billion weeks pregnant right now, so we have a short book tour this fall until my midwives were like, you can’t travel after that. So if people want to see it live, I’m going to do a live workshop where I’m really going to dive into sensory versus emotional regulation and what this really looks like if this conversation was exciting for you. And then it’ll be live q and a sometimes with a fun and little guest there with us in different cities throughout the us and you can find out those details at seedandsew.org/booktour. And otherwise you can find us on social. I hangout on all the social channels except for Twitter. I do Threads. I’m just cool mom over here and it’s at seed.and.sew on all of our platforms there, or seedandsew.org is like the mothership. And the podcast. Since everyone is assuming, I’m assuming I’m tuning to this podcast, you’re a podcast listener. We have Voices of Your Village podcast. We drop a new episode every Thursday.
Dr. Sarah (53:04):
Amazing. Well, I’ll put links to all of that in the show notes so people can follow you. I’m really excited to read this book. I think the work you do is awesome and come back anytime, anytime.
Thanks. I would love to get nerdy with you anytime, Sarah.
Dr. Sarah (53:21):
I feel like we have so many nerdy conversations in the future. We just scratch the surface.
I love it. I love it.
Dr. Sarah (53:29):
Moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and all of you caregivers out there. I am so grateful for everyone who has been so engaged, supportive, and vocal throughout the two years of this podcast securely attached, and I am so excited that with your help Securely Attached, made it onto the top 100 chart for Apple Podcasts and is in the 2% of most downloaded podcasts worldwide. Wow. I am so thankful to you. If you want to celebrate this major milestone with me, one massive way you can help me is to leave a five star review on Apple Podcasts. Reviews not only help me know what topics you are interested in having me explore deeper, but also helps me get some amazing experts on the show to share their wisdom with you. And so if you could take a quick minute to leave a review, it would be so amazing and I’m so grateful for it.
(54:28):And since I could not have achieved this massive milestone without you, I wanted a way to express my appreciation. So I’m giving anyone that leaves an Apple Podcasts review a copy of my Banish Burnout Weekly Calendar for adult and one for kids absolutely free. All you have to do to get this calendar is to DM me the word review @drsarahbren on Instagram. I cannot thank you enough for helping us climb the charts, and I cannot wait to see where we’re going next. So keep those reviews coming and don’t forget to DM me the word review to get your free Banish Burnout calendar. Thanks for being here, and don’t be a stranger.
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