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, we are back. We have another episode of Beyond the Sessions segment on the securely attached podcast. I’ve got Dr. Emily Upshur here and Dr. Rebecca Hershberg. We are here to answer your listener questions, and today we have an email about positive parenting. So this listener wrote in, I’ve tried my best to follow a positive parenting approach with my children, but now that my son is 10, I’m a little lost with how to continue with the things that seem to work for toddlers and young kids, but feel a little odd as they get older. Wondering if you could do a podcast episode about how I can still support and nurture my child’s development in a positive way and still incorporate more age appropriate boundaries, consequences, and life lessons. Thank you so much. So I feel like this is a perfect question to punt to you because this is the age of your children. You are doing this in real time. So Emily, what are your thoughts off the top of your head?

Dr. Emily (01:45):

I mean, well, I can’t say anything until I say I think positive parenting never means that you’re not using boundaries and consequences and those sort of behavioral things with your children. So I just want to get off the bat by saying that’s not really the definition that I function with. So even with older children, I think that the idea of positive parenting, to me, positive parenting to me, and we probably say this a lot on here, is number one with older children. For me in particular as the parent, right, it’s very hard to really speak to what’s going on behind the curtain with your child. We talk a lot about that. There’s these behaviors we see and there’s these things going on, or it’s age appropriate to be a little contrarian or talk back or some of those things are lie. Those are really age appropriate things.


As you get older in children, and if you take them at face value, you’re very likely to get dysregulated as a parent. And so for me, my number one, if I were to pick one thing, it would say take a deep breath as a parent, calm down and try to look behind the curtain and not at the overt, potentially provocative behavior that’s going on. And really try to speak to what you think is going on with your child in a more reflective way. Did you have a bad day? Did they, have they eaten? What’s going on? Is it really about what’s happening on the surface or is there something we can unearth behind the scenes? And I can only really do that unless I’m not yelling at my kid about what’s going on on the surface.

Dr. Sarah (03:30):

And I think you bring up a really good point. I actually think it’s a lot easier to get triggered with an older kid because they do things, they up the ante. They do push the boundaries way differently. We have much higher expectations of them. But we also have to remember, I think this is so important, yes, your 10-year-old is going to be able to be a 10-year-old sometimes, and we can have 10-year-old expectations of our 10-year-old a lot of the time. And also when they’re dysregulated, they’re going to drop down to a seven, even a five. And we could get really shocked by that and really affronted by that and then feel very compelled to correct them at that 10-year-old level. But sometimes our 10 year olds, it’s not like just because they’re 10, they’re always 10. Our development is not that linear and annual.


It’s not cumulative all the time. It comes and it goes, and we can regress. Our kids regress. Think about when I go see my parents, I totally regress. I have way more immature interactions with my mom as an adult. We just do. And so I think if that’s super important, what you’re saying to me makes me immediately think of are we always holding our 10-year-old child to their absolute highest bar, or are there times where we can zoom out and be like, you know what? I’m really dealing with a five-year-old version of my kid right now. And that’s actually okay.

Dr. Emily (04:56):

I mean, I think what’s hard about that though are these outside pressures. It isn’t developmentally appropriate for your 10-year-old to have a tantrum in the grocery store, for example. And as a parent of that, not that it doesn’t happen, definitely

Dr. Sarah (05:12):

Happens all the time. It definitely happens.

Dr. Emily (05:14):

But as a parent, your experience of that with your 10-year-old in the grocery store and your experience of that with your toddler in a grocery store could be very different because it feels very different from a parental responsibility standpoint. And so I do think there’s how can you hone in on the type of parenting you want to do despite or in spite or in the face of some of those developmental differences as they get older.

Dr. Rebecca (05:43):

And I think that goes for adults too. I mean, we talk a lot about when you’re dysregulated, you’re just not functioning in your prefrontal cortex. And that’s true if you’re a toddler because your prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed or you’re a grownup where you’re just not operating from that place even, right? You flipped your lid. You’re regulated. And so what I was going to say to this listener, and it’s funny because then Emily, everything you said afterwards mirrored this is the things that are useful for toddlers are still useful for older kids and for my husband. I mean, validating feelings goes a long way. It doesn’t look that. It’s not like, oh, you are mad. It’s not that same level of perhaps animation or slow speak or whatever it, but it’s really saying, I get that you’re pissed off. You got cut from such and such team and you’re really looking forward to being on it.


That totally sucks. As your kid’s walking around and slamming doors, let’s say, and goes to what Emily was saying is you’re not going to necessarily in that moment get on the fact that they’re slamming the doors. You’re going to say what’s behind that? And usually when you look what’s behind what a kid needs, not every time, but is some version of a feelings validation or a limit, and often both, I get that release things, what happened today at soccer and you can’t walk around slamming the doors in our house. I think what’s freeing about 10 year olds as opposed to toddlers and hopefully grownups also, is that when they are not dysregulated, you can actually have a conversation with them and you can do some kind of collaborative problem solving. I know we’ve talked about Ross Greene on here and unmet needs and lagging skills and this idea that you can really talk to your kids.


It seems like you’re slamming doors a lot. I know that feels really, really good when you’re angry. What’s another way we could deal with that? Since I really don’t want you doing that and I keep getting mad at you, and then you keep so you can have a conversation like that because actually they are so much more developed in their moments of regulation than younger kids, whereas younger kids, it really is kind of once they’re out of the moment, and I learned this the hard way, as many parents too, you’re not going back and reflecting necessarily in a productive way the way that you can with older kids and with older kids, you can pregame too. There’s this big thing coming up this weekend, it might be hard for you. You might want to stay up late. I’m concerned about your staying up late. How should we compromise? You can have those kinds of conversations and collaborate in a way that help kids, help kids feel validated and seen and respected while also knowing hopefully that you are in charge as the parent, which I think is key.

Dr. Emily (08:46):

Yeah, I mean, I think that’s so important because for positive parenting, for me, I think what’s out there a lot doesn’t have some of that collaborative problem solving or even boundaries and sort of more structured approach. I think in reality it does, but in practice it’s tough. And I think what happens, what’s so important to me is that we talk a lot about obviously leading with validation and reflecting back what your child was having, but then that can fall short with older children. That’s not the end of the story. And so I think that that’s really important. Maybe you have to move on to collaborative problem solving. Maybe you have to have much more structured interventions for your child if they’re having patterned behavior. Maybe I do a weekly chart with my son, what time you’re expected home, when is your homework complete? And those are really helpful.


Those aren’t, I don’t think commonly thought of as positive parenting, but they are to me. So I think that you can lead with, it’s really hard for you to figure out your homework or you get really frustrated and it can turn into a really hard thing and you can reflect that back to them. But that’s not the end of the story for me. I do want to be able to say to parents, maybe you can work with somebody. Maybe you can do it on your own. But putting some more structures in place to help you with some of those systems and feeling like you have a plan around pattern behaviors is also totally positive parenting in my book.

Dr. Sarah (10:22):

Yeah. I fully agree, and I think you sort did this at the very beginning of this episode, but circle back at this idea of when we talk about positive parenting, what are we talking about? Because these terms are everywhere and they’re confusing and they’re not really operationalized or systematic in any way. Like positive parenting, gentle parenting, attuned parenting, conscious parenting, respectful parenting response. We’re all kind of talking about the same thing, but everything’s got a slightly different flavor. And I just feel like for our purposes to get real specific, what I think this listener is writing about and what I think we talk about on this podcast, and frankly I don’t have a name for it because all the names kind of blend together in my opinion, but if we wanted to get to the quality of it, it’s about seeing your child for who they are, being flexible about what your developmental expectations of them are in terms of you have a general appropriate level of developmental expectation for them that maps onto their unique individual developmental kind of range, but it’s flexible in that you can kind of understand when they’re able to reach that potential and when they’re not, and you can meet them where they’re at.


It’s about being self-regulated like you were talking about Emily, so that we can really turn off our interfering noise and just really tune into what they’re needing in that moment. It doesn’t mean we don’t meet our needs. There’s a balance, I think, in really effective parenting where our needs get factored in to the equation, a family systems approach. We’re parenting from the lens of what does the entire family system benefit from this, not just my child in a vacuum. I think that’s where we get into the sort of permissive stuff of like, it’s not about just making my kid happy and meeting my kids’ needs. It’s about how do I help my child integrate into the larger family system in a really developmentally appropriate and cohesive and harmonious way most of the time? Sometimes it’s just going to be messy and they won’t be able to go with the flow. That’s fine. But I don’t know. I wish someone would just come up with an actual definition and title of a single type of parenting that’s effective because we have all these different names and they mean slightly different things and people get confused.

Dr. Rebecca (12:40):

I don’t actually think they mean slightly different things. I think they all mean the same thing, which is even more maddening.

Dr. Emily (12:45):

I agree. I could not agree more. I think it’s semantics, and I think that can be really frustrating.

Dr. Sarah (12:52):

And this is the problem I think when people are dismissing of these types of parenting strategies, they say it’s permissive, but anyone who’s living them and practicing them effectively understands it’s anything. And so we just want to be clear, and I think this listener is very clear that she wants to incorporate age appropriate boundaries, consequences, life lessons. That’s not permissive parenting, that’s positive parenting or attuned, whatever you want to call it, effective parenting.

Dr. Emily (13:20):


Dr. Sarah (13:21):

Parenting, right? But it’s about looking at the child you have, helping them live within a larger system and being a regulated person to mirror them, attune to them, reflect their experience back to them, coach them a little bit like you’re saying, Emily, zoom out, look at the spaces where they need more structure, more support, more scaffolding so that they can succeed. It’s setting them up for success. To your point, Rebecca, what are the lagging skills? How do I scaffold those skills so that they get to there where we can get there if it’s how do I help them problem solve situations that they can’t solve on their own, but not solving it for them so that I am helping them get to the finish line, cross it on their own, that’s also important. I just think that’s worth saying.

Dr. Emily (14:17):

I couldn’t agree more. I mean, I think the thing that tagline for what you said that sort of solidifies the solve for me, which is really figuring out the child you have and tailoring your parenting to that child…

Dr. Rebecca (14:32):

And who you are. And who your family is, and your community, and your culture. None of it is in a vacuum.

Dr. Emily (14:40):


Dr. Rebecca (14:41):

Sorry, I just spoke over you, but that’s because…

Dr. Emily (14:43):

I totally agree.

Dr. Rebecca (14:44):

I get so, it’s not just about your kid, it’s about you. It’s about your partner. It’s about the sibling situation. It’s about your community, the community that you live in, the culture that you are, how you’re perceived by others. I mean, there’s so many things that go into it, and so many of these parenting terms are just reductive in an insulting way because it’s just, it’s easy to want to latch onto because they make everything sound simple, which I get.

Dr. Sarah (15:08):

And they create a bunch of rules that parents then feel compelled to follow when maybe they have a 10-year-old, not a 4-year-old, and the rule or the script or the whatever applies to a four-year-old, and then they feel like, I can’t keep doing this, so I’m lost. And I think what we really, yeah, exactly, and what I really think we strive very much on this podcast is to help parents recognize you’ve got these skills. If you can do this with your toddler, you can do this with your 10-year-old. You just kind of modify the language, you modify the expectations. You still do the same stuff though, you co-regulate, then co-regulate. When they’re in a space where they have access to their prefrontal cortex, you help them build the skills that were missing in that tough moment. You help them plan ahead. You help them cope ahead.


You help them have a system or a structure that they can follow so that they’re more successful like Emily with your schedule that your son gets to see, so he knows what’s coming down the pike, what his expectations are. It gives him bumpers so he can stay in the lane that he wants to stay in. It feels good for kids to have bumpers on their lane. It’s like my family’s been doing a lot of bowling lately. It’s like, if you’ve ever gone bowling nowadays, they didn’t have this when I was a kid, but when you go bowl now, they have these ramps that you literally scooch up to the line and you drop your ball right down the ramp and it just gets you a nice little easy shot to the pins. They also have the bumpers that come up. It’s like when you’re parenting a toddler, it’s like you’re going to do a lot more of the ramp.


You’re going to really facilitate a lot. You’re going to meet them at their developmental level, but they’re still rolling the ball down the thing. They’re still trying to hit the pins when it’s a 10-year-old. Maybe you’re not doing the ramp, but you’ve got the bumpers. There’s still something you need to support these kids, so they know where they’re trying to go. They know what the expectations are. They’re set up for success. We’re meeting ’em at their developmental level. We’re modifying it a little bit. And you know what? When they’re older, we can really trust that they can do this without the bumpers, and that is, it’s a step wide process. It’s about editing as we go, but the strategies, the core strategies remain pretty much the, it’s kind of the delivery that changes.

Dr. Rebecca (17:23):

Yep. I agree.

Dr. Sarah (17:24):

If you like bowling, that’s my metaphor.


Well, thank you. I hope this answers your question to your listener and anyone else who is feeling similarly. Clearly, Rebecca and Emily and I are hot under the collar about the whole defining parenting styles, but I bet you all are too. So I want to hear from you if you have questions about this idea of defining these parenting styles and what’s positive parenting versus gentle parenting. I think we kind of covered that, but if you’ve got specific questions about that, I’d really love to hear from you because that I think is, it’s in the zeitgeist right now. It’s confusing and it’s frustrating, and it’s also inspiring sometimes, and I think people genuinely want to aspire to this level of intentionality in their parenting, and I applaud that, and I think it can be a confusing landscape to navigate sometimes. So please send in questions about that if you are interested in learning more about our opinions about it.

Dr. Rebecca (18:26):

Thank you.

Dr. Sarah (18:27):

Thank you.

Dr. Rebecca (18:28):

Always a treat.

Dr. Sarah (18:31):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 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! ✨

205. BTS: How can I use a positive parenting approach with my older kids?