Dr. Sarah (00:00):
Does your child feel their emotions deeply get overwhelmed around lots of people or noise, have trouble with transitions or changes to the routine and seemingly go from zero to 60 in an instant? That might mean that they have a sensitive nervous system. Kids with sensitive nervous systems require parenting strategies that deviate from the generic one-size-fits-all scripts, tips and hacks that you’re finding all over social media today for these kids. Customizing your approach and tailoring it to suit the needs of their unique brain and body and temperament can be a game changer, and that is exactly what I help parents do in my coaching program. Parenting By Design. In this program, you will learn exactly what to do before, during, and after your child acts out. You’ll learn strategies for effectively parenting in these tricky situations and learn how to feel flexible and nimble by being attuned to your child’s nervous system at any given moment in time, rather than having to hold a million scripts in your head, not necessarily knowing which one is going to work in a given moment.
So if you feel like what you’re doing to try to support your child’s big feelings and dysregulated behaviors isn’t working or worse is adding fuel to their fire, you won’t want to miss joining my coaching program before enrollment closes on Friday, February 9th. So go to drsarahbren.com/parentingbydesign to sign up and learn more about this program or hop over to Instagram and DM me the word design and I’ll send you everything you need to sign up. That’s drsarahbren.com/parentingbydesign or DM me the word design on Instagram. I can’t wait to see you there.
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.
Welcome back to Beyond the Sessions. We are on the securely attached podcast. I’ve got Dr. Emily Upshur here with me to answer a listener question. And thank you for being here. Love you. Hey, it was a pleasure. For those of you guys who are new or don’t know, Emily and I have a group practice in Westchester called up your brand psychology group, so we don’t see enough of each other and feel like we should also be doing podcasts together. We also went out for drinks the other night. I love working with someone who I love working with and being friends with too. It’s
Dr. Emily (03:08):
Good. And also, we’ll get into this in this episode, but shared parenting advice always is nice.
Dr. Sarah (03:15):
And in addition to being psychologists and moms, I actually think not to be too cryptic, I’ll read the question, don’t worry guys. But I think Emily, when I first read this question to her before we hit record, we both were like, oh, this could be me. So it’s nice to go through parenting with a friend who knows what it’s like to have a kid that I’m just going to describe in this question. So this woman named Tara sent us an email and she said, I’ve heard you talk on the podcast about spicy kids. I definitely have one of those. My five-year-old is a super sweet little girl, but she gets hot fast and has big outbursts. I feel like I’m constantly having to be on my parenting a game with her. I try not to lose it, but I feel like I am more and more because I’m so burnt out from having to give her so much support. Any advice you can give to a mama at the end of her rope would be gracely appreciated. Maybe you could even do a podcast episode on this topic. Thanks so much, Tara. Oh yeah. I mean, we could have written this question to somebody to help us. I feel like I call you to be like, Emily, well, I’m at the end of my rope.
Dr. Emily (04:29):
I mean, I have to say just authentically that the best thing that you ever said to me was don’t overthink the lava. Right? And maybe we need to describe that a little, but I really think that that’s extremely important and I’ll let Sarah speak to what that is. But I think that to this listener, I think it’s about you do not have to be perfect. Of course. It sounds like you’re trying really, really hard and it is okay if you spew and spill a little hot sticky, very toxic lava a little bit into that relationship. And I think for me, just to get to the heart of this person asking for advice, it’s repair is still really valuable. And I think that if you spill lava, you can clean it up. You can still reconnect, you can really still repair. So I’ll just start it off, kick it off like that.
Dr. Sarah (05:25):
Yeah, I love that. And honestly, even the metaphor of lava, I will explain it in case anyone hasn’t ever heard me talk about it, but I talk about it kind of in two different contexts, but it’s still lava. Lava is lava. We all have it. But oftentimes parents, like for example, if a kid who’s really explosive or any child who is exploding, a lot of times they spew lava. And what I mean by that is they say stuff when they’re in that explosive. That can be pretty hard to hear as a parent. And we sometimes want to pick it up and dissect it and respond to the content of the lava. So for example, if you have a kid who’s like when they’re really mad is like, I hate you and you don’t love me and no one in this family cares and I don’t like anybody in this family, and if we experience a child saying that one, it’s horrifying to hear kids say that. It’s horrifying to think that they might feel that way in real life. It activates all our defenses to be like, I don’t hate you, or there’s a reason why people are acting this way and it’s not because we hate you, it’s because you’re being a pain in the, but all that’s true. That would be our lava by the way.
Dr. Emily (06:43):
Dr. Sarah (06:43):
Lava, we all have it and lava can beget lava, but what my advice to parents all the time, myself included, is like, don’t dissect the lava. If your kid is saying all kinds of crazy stuff, hot stuff, while they’re exploding, just say you’re exploding. Or for some kids, I wouldn’t even name it out loud because they know it and they don’t need you to tell them that, but in your mind to say, that’s lava not, oh my God, they think I hate them or they hate me, or they don’t want to invite me to their birthday party because that’s a big one in my family right now. That’s a weapon to wield.
Dr. Emily (07:30):
That’s Sarah. Sarah. I love that because I think to this listener that actually reframing that in the moment, in those moments, if you can catch yourself and not dissect that love or not believe the content or be sucked into litigating the content, that in and of itself prevents burnout, right? It takes so much out of you to engage in the lava, and I think that that’s what’s so helpful, just doing that saying in your head, even to your point, oh, they’re really having a bad day. This is really tough. It’s very different than activating all the parts of you that have to fix all the things they just said.
Dr. Sarah (08:12):
Yes. And that’s the critical 0.1, yes, it gives us empathy and space between us and them in that moment, which is hard to access when someone’s screaming at us. And that alone is very helpful. But to your point, a lot of times if we are dissecting the lava, interpreting it, interacting with it, we are compelled to fix it. And there’s nothing to fix when a child says, I hate myself, or Everybody hates me or you hate me, or I hate you, or whatever. There’s lots of other things they say in those moments, but if we believe it is our responsibility to respond to that and fix it, we’re missing the function of that explosion and we’re getting distracted. Actually, I call that a red herring. The content of the lava is a red herring. It’s getting you in the weeds about some semantic thing that you feel you have to solve.
When in reality the problem to solve is the explosion, the sense of threat, the physiological response to a perceived threat, and helping that child just regulate back down to safety, which might take a little while and it’s totally okay if that’s a messy process, but ultimately, if we can remember, oh, this is just lava. I don’t need to worry about the content of this lava. If certain things get said during the lava that hurt somebody, we can circle back and help them process the content of that lava later when they’re calm. But in the moment, just don’t touch it. But at register, the problem here that I’m responsible for solving actually is helping them return back down to a sense of safety and connection. That might be something that I can do quickly. It might be something that I can do that might take a little bit of time and some strategy.
And if you find, I’m sure this mom is saying, the more burnt out she gets, the more she’s putting this pressure on herself to constantly be on her parenting aing. The more support this child requires of her, which may be legitimately higher than a child who isn’t so spicy and sensitive because she’s got a bandwidth challenge, a legitimate one. She’s got to be really judicious with how she uses her parenting tools. There has to be when you have a child that demands a lot of you as a parent, for better or worse, you kind of have to get a tighter grip on your energetic resources because a parent who has a really easygoing child, if they aren’t super efficient with their energetic resources, there’s still plenty to go around. If you are a parent of a child who demands a tremendous amount of your energetic resources, and we all know there’s a finite amount for us to provide to put towards our parenting as a human being, you need to be careful.
You don’t have a lot to waste. So if you’re using strategies that aren’t very efficient or effective and you’re kind of got a lot of holes in your tank, you are going to feel burnt out. It’s going to be harder, and it sucks. That means that some parents, just the luck of the draw are going to have more work to do. It’s just true. We have to parent the kid we’ve got, and some kids require more work than others to get to that place of safety and to stay in that place of safety, and they need more support building the tools that they need to get through life. They don’t acquire those tools as quickly or as easily. That needs more repetition. It needs more scaffolding. We need to do more co-regulation work to keep them in a safe space. They can’t move in and out of that space that well on their own. They need a lot more support. That’s going to be a demand on our energetic resources. We have to budget for that, and we can have our own grief too about having to have that demand. It might not be what we pictured parenting to feel like.
Dr. Emily (12:43):
I mean, I think that’s a nice point to sort of grieve a little bit of that, or the thing I always say is, right now that child right now demands a lot of your energetic resources. We don’t know what that will look like and let’s not negatively forecast that. And the other thing I think that this listener said, which I think is so beautifully captures these kids, is that she said, my daughter is so sweet, but also spicy. And we often see that anecdotally, I’m sure there’s some research out there that I don’t want to quote, I don’t know it, but we often see anecdotally, these are highly empathic children who can be very sweet and very attuned, and so you also get that, I don’t know if that’s a consolation prize, but you get a little bit of that too, and I think this mom so beautifully understands her child even from this little question that they’re putting out there, which is how do I stay on my A game and help them be them best, their best selves?
I do think there’s some talking to somebody, maybe a therapist, maybe a parent coach, maybe somebody to tighten up your A game parenting. I call it your prophylactic parenting so that you’re not so drained. So to exactly your point, Sarah, so that your energetic resources are optimized, right? We go to an accountant to see how we can optimize our finances. We go to the gym or a trainer to optimize our workouts. I think it’s important if you have a challenging kid, if you have a spicy kid to talk to your friends, to talk to your colleagues, to sort of get the support in putting the efforts in where they’re most valuable. And I do really think that’s helpful, and it doesn’t have to be some big, long-term thing or your child doesn’t have to be stigmatized as some awful child to get that kind of support. I think that’s really can be most efficient and to use those prevent burnout and use those resources to the best of their ability.
Dr. Sarah (14:42):
Yeah, I love that, and I like that there’s a practical lens that you’re looking at this with. It’s just like, Hey, we have a bigger load of work to do in certain types of parenting situations, and so how do we optimize our efforts? One of the things that you were saying that made me think is like, oh, if I were only as a parent who also has a spicy child, if I only hung out with parents of kids who had the chillest of temperaments and really could spend a lot of extra energetic resources and be maybe not as optimized, but it didn’t matter, I think I would get really frustrated by that and I would feel really alone. And so not to say that if you have friends who have easy kids, don’t hang out with them because you’ll just feel bad. But it’s also kind of critical that you find a couple parents that walk this walk too and know, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. We had the hour and a half meltdown after bath time tonight last night too. I know that feeling. I know what it’s like because it’s hard to be alone in that.
Dr. Emily (15:52):
Totally. I also think multi, I don’t even know how to say it. I don’t want to say multi-generational, but that’s the word that’s coming to mind. Having friends that have older children, I always say my first child, I was like, oof, spicy. Spicy now is like vanilla. There’s a lot of variability. There’s a lot of change, and I think once you’re in the moment of a really tough kid, and obviously this mom knows her kids, the kid is five, this isn’t a new thing, but it doesn’t mean it’s a forever thing either. You might see developmental changes, and if you have friends with older children who can talk to you about that too and give you different perspectives, I think that that actually really helps you feel less alone as well.
Dr. Sarah (16:33):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean this idea of creating community, that’s one of the reasons why I created that, the parenting course that I have, parenting by Design, because it’s literally, I developed it in part because I was trying to figure out a framework for managing challenging behaviors with my own kid and being super optimized, efficient. How do I create a toolbox? I’m so tired, frankly, of the parenting world giving us these scripts. We talk about scripts on here all the time, and I’ll give a script, but every single time I give a script, it’s got the biggest asterisk being like, you have to reframe this in language you use with your child, and you have to be willing to try lots of different things to figure out what fits with your child. Because I’m so sick of cookie cutter strategies that then a parent with a perhaps spicier child, a more sensitive kiddo, they try that strategy, this cookie cutter strategy with that kid.
It doesn’t work because it’s not tailored to the way that they receive that kind of intervention. And then the parent invariably, after trying a revolving door of these kind of OneNote strategies starts to feel, gosh, there’s got to be something wrong with my kid, or there’s got to be something wrong with me, and they’re not unfortunately thinking maybe there’s something wrong with the strategies or the way that I’m using the strategy. How do I optimize a strategy for my child? That’s exactly why I created the Parenting by Design course. I was like, I don’t want to teach people a bunch of scripts and strategies. I want to give them a framework for adapting strategies. The strategies that we teach in our practice, they’re not like these strategies are real legit strategies, but you need to be able to know how to adapt them to your child.
And that’s exactly what we do in that course is just, yes, they’re strategies, but more than anything, it’s a lot about teaching parents how to create a map of their kids like nervous system and how to create a map of their kids challenging behaviors and develop a way to figure out what are the patterns, and then create a map of a behavioral or a relational plan. The interactive, what can I do to shift my dance, my side of the dance so that I can help modify the way my kid is responding to me, and this way I can shift behaviors or increase regulation skills or whatever, fill my toolbox with the optimized strategies for my kid, help my kid fill their toolbox with their optimized strategies for them and their own sensitivities. I just feel like we have to create more customized approaches.
Dr. Emily (19:24):
I think the one size fits all parenting that we get pushed in the media, even as a parent psychologist, and if it doesn’t work or if it’s a little bit more challenging, is really defeating, and that’s our goal is to help you find places that where you feel empowered and that you feel like you have a plan, not that you feel broken down. So I hope this helped that parent.
Dr. Sarah (19:48):
Yeah, me too. Oh gosh. A mama at the end of her rope. I know that. I feel like I know those. I know that mama. I am that mama sometimes.
Dr. Emily (20:00):
Dr. Sarah (20:00):
Yeah, we feel you. We see you, and I hope this helps. There’s a lot of resources out there, but be mindful of just blaming yourself. If a strategy doesn’t work, take a look at the strategy or take a look at how optimized it is for you and your kid. I think that’s a good place to start. I think we blame ourselves when we try things that we see other people doing and they don’t work for us. We blame ourselves. Instead be willing to say, it’s not me or my kid. I need a different approach, or I need to optimize my strategies a bit better so I can support my own bandwidth. A human only have so much of it.
Well, thanks Em’.
Dr. Emily (20:47):
Dr. Sarah (20:48):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.
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