Podcast

If you have a toddler you’re likely no stranger to tantrums, aggressive behaviors or limit testing. Joining me on the podcast is clinical psychologist and founder of Parenting Translator, Cara Goodwin.

 Today’s episode is all about helping you understand what is happening in your child’s brain and body when they become upset, so we can work with their nervous system to help them learn to regulate their big emotions.

Dr. Cara (00:00):

If you don’t know how to ask for help or you’re too emotional, you might hit because that’s a way of getting your parents’ attention and getting them to help you. And so it could just be a way of meeting a need.

Dr. Sarah (00:22):

There is so much rich and wonderful information on parenting out there, but all of that information at our fingertips can sometimes be a double-edged sword. We can sometimes feel really overwhelmed by all of the incoming info so much so that we either buckle under the weight of it, or we start to just tune it out. The reality is that most parents simply don’t have hours, let alone weeks or years, to sift through research articles and pour over studies on parenting neuroscience and psychology. It’s just, it’s too much data to go through. And hi, you’re kind of busy parenting. So that’s where today’s guest comes in. Joining me on the podcast today is Cara Goodwin. Cara is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Parenting Translator. She does the most incredible job of breaking down and simplifying research backed approaches to child development so that parents can use this information to inform their parenting approach.

Dr. Sarah (01:20):

One of the integral pieces that is often missing from parenting advice is helping people understand the why, because sure you can memorize a script and know what to say and when to say it. But if you don’t understand why you’re saying these things, it can really come off flat or robotic or just not authentic to our kids or to ourselves. So today we’re going to talk about the reasons behind the strategies for emotion regulation, everything from dysregulation and co-regulation to addressing aggressive behaviors and functional communication skills. All so you can apply this to your own unique circumstances and adapt the scripts to feel authentic to you.

Dr. Sarah (02:11):

Do you sometimes feel that while you love parenthood, it’s also overwhelming, messy, confusing, and not exactly what you thought it would be. Do you wish you could stop worrying if you’re doing it right, and just feel confident, trusting yourself. If that sounds like you, you are not alone. I kept hearing the same thing over and over in my clinical practice. And that’s exactly why I created The Authentic Parent: Finding your confidence in your child’s first year. Whether you’re a brand new parent, or maybe you’re thinking about how to approach a second or third child with a different set of skills in this six week virtual course, I will teach you the fundamentals of psychology, neurobiology and child development. And I’ll walk you through integrating this new knowledge into your own unique family. I will help you learn to tune out the noise so you can feel confident responding to any parenting problem that arises, connect authentically with your child and truly enjoy parenthood. Because this is a guided course with access to me as your coach enrollment is very limited. Make sure to sign up for the waitlist and you’ll get access to register for the course before doors open to the public. Go to my website, drsarahbren.com/TAP to sign up and learn more knowledge leads to power and power leads to confidence. Don’t miss your chance to take part in The Authentic Parent and learn to confidently move through parenthood during your child’s first year.

Dr. Sarah (03:45):

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.

Dr. Sarah (04:16):

Hello. I’m so excited to introduce everyone to Dr. Cara Goodwin. I’m really excited that she’s here on this podcast with us today. She is a clinical psychologist and she has a background really in looking at the impact of parenting on early childhood development and what she, the amazing work that she’s done. And I’m like so excited for her to be on this podcast, is that she basically created an entire platform and forum that translates psychological research into like digestible, understandable, and useful information for parents specifically on early child development and parenting. It’s amazing. And she just wrote a book too called What To Do When You Feel Like Hitting, which really inspired the idea of this episode, which is really talking about, you know, emotion dysregulation, aggressive behaviors, discipline, all that stuff that comes up in parenting and what we can, what we need to know about it. So we can respond to it actually, from like a research backed perspective. So Cara, thank you so much for being here.

Dr. Cara (05:21):

Thank you for having me.

Dr. Sarah (05:24):

Can you tell us a little bit about how you, you know, got into this work and how you got here doing this particular, like research summarizing and it’s hard work?

Dr. Cara (05:38):

Yeah, so, you know, I have was a child psychologist and you know, spent my days doing what all child psychologists do, which you’re seeing patients, you know, diagnosing different developmental disorders, doing therapy, doing consultations. And you know, I thought I had it all figured out. And then I had kids of my own. And this is actually a lot more complex than I realized before. And you know, having kids on my own really made me realize that there’s so little out there for the average parent you know, we have this huge bodies of research that people have spent, you know, decades upon decades doing that informed child development and parenting. But for the average parent, they don’t have access to that. And even if they did, they, you know, don’t have the time or the training to be able to read and synthesize that information. So my goal is to take all the research that’s out there and translate that into information that parents can use, can make their lives easier, can help them figure out some of the tough decisions that come up day to day parenting. So that’s really what I’m, what I’m currently trying to do right now. And the book I think is, is part of that as well.

Dr. Sarah (07:02):

Yes. And I think it’s because I met you through Instagram. Like we’re both on social media, we’re both talking about this stuff. And like, I know, I know for me, I went on social media about it. It was kind of at the beginning of the pandemic actually was when I started posting on social media in part, because I was online more and I was looking at parenting stuff more because I’m a parent and I was interested in learning more. And I was like, oh my gosh, there’s a lot of stuff out in this world, this platform that is like, frankly, a little disturbing to me as a clinical psychologist and knowing what I did know about child development and, you know, attachment relationships. And that was what kind of, what motivated me to start posting on social media, just to be like a voice of, not that I know everything, but I certainly am a student of parenting.

Dr. Sarah (07:53):

And I know that the information that I’m studying is vetted. So when I share information that I’m learning and reading, you know, and synthesizing and sharing that, at least I know where it’s coming from and I trust it. And I feel like you took that to like the next level, like the stuff you put out, if by the way, if you guys are not following her, it’s Parenting Translator on Instagram, it’s the best account. She literally takes scientific studies and creates the most like succinct summary of the most important information. And not only what’s important, but why it’s important. And she gives it like context and it’s so good. Like, I love what you’re doing.

Dr. Cara (08:35):

Thank you. Yes. I felt the same way about social media. I found that, you know, there’s a lot out there that was not evidence-based and, you know, the problem with not being based in research is then it’s just one person’s opinion and that’s when it can get dangerous because it’s, what does this person really know what they’re talking about? Do they know that that applies to the average child? And I think there’s also a lot of the advice on social media comes with a lot of shame. You know, if you’re not doing it this one way that you are damaging your child. So I think, you know, an important thing that I like to do with presenting the evidence is a lot of it is nuanced. A lot of it is not as clear cut as some people would have you believe on, on Instagram. And, and that, you know, you still have, every parent has the right to still make the decision of what’s best for their child, you know, based on, on the research and, and their own feelings about their individual child. You know, I really don’t want any parents to feel shame about the decisions that they’re making.

Dr. Sarah (09:45):

Yeah. And I think like it’s a landmine of shame bombs on social media, like, I really feel like, like I just had a woman actually write me the other day on Instagram being like, I saw some posts saying, I, you know, I wasn’t supposed to tell my child to be careful. I was supposed to say, look where you’re placing your feet and where are you thinking you’ll do next? And I just went into this sort of like self beratement of like, God I’m messing my kid up. And it’s like, like, it’s not about a script.

Dr. Cara (10:15):

Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (10:17):

It’s not about getting the word absolutely right. Every time. And like, that’s a pretty benign example because I even think saying be careful is perfectly acceptable. But even when we’re talking about like very controversial things, like sleep training and timeouts, which, you know, it’s okay to have really strong opinions on that. And even among evidence-based practitioners, there’s variance on what is recommended. But I think the key there is context and understanding how to understand context and nuance and knowing that it’s about even research is about aggregates versus applying it to an individual child. It doesn’t always work that way.

Dr. Cara (10:59):

Yes, exactly. Yeah. And I think that’s so true that there, there isn’t a perfect script and a lot of it is more about the feelings that are underneath it. And I think that a lot of social media oversimplifies, you know, says, this is exactly what you say to a child when your child is upset, but the truth is that every child is different. And, you know, there isn’t one script that will magically end a tantrum, you know, very it’s complicated and it’s hard.

Dr. Sarah (11:33):

Yeah. And I think thinking that you’re supposed to follow a script every time, not only leads parents to feel like ineffective and maybe freeze in the moment. And it also can make parents feel a little like inauthentic and robotic, even if they’re saying the quote unquote right. Things. It’s like, if you say the same exact thing to your child, every single time, they’re upset. Instead of speaking to them, like really authentically, like sometimes I say to my kid, oh, you’re really upset. I understand. I hear you. What can we do to problem solve or whatever? I say, like the thing that, like, we all say to say, and sometimes I’m like, Hey bud, you know, you’re really, you’re really upset, but I can’t help you right now. Like I got my hands, like elbow deep in soap, like, ’cause I’m doing the dishes. Like that’s also honest and real and authentic. And like my kid, isn’t going to be less securely attached because sometimes I just don’t have the bandwidth to get down and like get close and speak softly. Like we can’t always do that. And that’s okay too.

Dr. Cara (12:41):

Yes. Yes. And I think that’s part of it too, is realizing, you know, what is realistic for a parent, you know, and as a parent of three young children, you know, I totally get, you know, before I had kids, I might’ve advised well, every single time, your child’s upset, you know, you need to stay as calm as possible. But you know, now as a parent, I really get that that’s not always possible. And, you know, we can, we can all try our best, but, you know, I actually believe that it’s good for our children to see us mess up and to see that we don’t always stay calm because then we have a chance to model for them how to calm down, which is the most important lesson of all the modeling is. I mean,

Dr. Sarah (13:26):

Yes, I couldn’t agree more like we can, we can talk til our heads, turn blue and fall off. But if we just show them what it looks like while we do it on our end, that’s got so much more value. And like, I’m thinking too. Okay. So, you know, in, in using research backed information, we’re normalizing, we’re giving parents permission to become educated consumers of parenting media. We’re helping them understand context. What does, when you get the research? Like, so now what, okay. We have this big body of research. What does it say? How do we understand what the research says about aggression, for example, in kids?

Dr. Cara (14:15):

Yeah. So I think, you know, learning about the research and aggression can be really helpful. You know, first of all, aggression is extremely normal in young kids. You know, it emerges as early as, you know, the first year of life and in around, you know, the two to three year eight age range, it’s when it’s extremely common and more kids than not tend to engage in aggression during that time period. So it’s extremely common. And I think that’s a huge takeaway from the research is that aggression is, is very, and another takeaway is that it is not, children are not aggressive because of a lack of empathy. They are aggressive because of a lack of skills a lack of impulse control. And that really comes from their immature brain development. So the frontal lobe of the brain is not fully developed until age 25. The frontal lobe is involved with inhibiting impulses and regulating emotions. You can imagine a two to three year old, you know, if it’s not fully developed till 25, you can imagine how immature it is in a two to three year old. 

Dr. Sarah (15:30):

We don’t have to imagine we watch it happen right before our very eyes every day.

Dr. Cara (15:36):

Yeah. And it’s, you know, it’s hard for us to regulate our emotions with our fully developed frontal lobes. So we can just imagine how hard it must be when they have absolutely no control over you know, their emotions and, and they, they just haven’t developed that part of the brain yet. And I think, you know, thinking of it in terms of, of brain development that is gradually happening is it can help you to understand it. Because it’s not something that, you know, one day it’s just going to be there and they can regulate every emotion. You know, it’s something that happens very slowly and gradually. And although there are things that we can say and do to help them understand emotions better. A lot of it is just going to be development and we just have to, you know, wait and try our best and be there for them. But a lot of it is just waiting on the brain development to happen. And there’s not much that we can do.

Dr. Sarah (16:35):

Yeah. And I think knowing that gives parents like a breath of relief, just to be like, okay, I’m not causing this. It’s not because I’m failing at parenthood. It’s not because there’s something wrong with my kid. It’s because they, along with all of their peers, every single one of them have a three-year-old brain, which is like, I’m not good at math, but like a 15th of the time it takes to cook. Like we’re really working in that early, early, early developmental stages. And not only are their frontal lobes, not that developed, but that the, when, and this I think is what’s confusing for parents. And I hear this a lot where they’re like, but I see my kid do things that shows me they can do this. Like I know that my kid knows not to hit because I’ve seen them inhibit that before.

Dr. Sarah (17:27):

Or I know that my kid knows what to ask for what they need, because I’ve seen them do that before. And I think what’s helpful to understand about the brain for parents is that you could have a skill set. You can have a capacity. The brain has reached a certain level of development where they can do that. And in the literal, like blink of an eye, it can be turned off completely when the medulla gets activated and be, you know, so basically the amygdala is like the threat detection center of the brain, and it’s like a giant fire alarm. And it turns off the frontal hijacks, the frontal lobes and your child, or you, whoever we’re talking about cause we work with the same equipment, goes into like fight or flight or sympathetic arousal. And then it’s like, sort of, it’s like all the skills are in the attic and the door got locked and until the kid can get regulated and calm down that door, isn’t opening. So the skills are there, but they can’t access them. And I think that’s also important for parents to understand that like your kids might be able to do it sometimes and not others. And that’s also really normal.

Dr. Cara (18:40):

Yes, exactly. And I mean, we’ve all experienced that even as adults, like, I mean, we’ve all felt like so upset or so angry or so surprised that you feel like you can’t speak, you know, it’s not like you’ve forgotten how to speak. You still have that ability it’s that the emotions have overridden your you know, your motor skills and your ability to kind of coordinate those motor movements. And even if you have that ability, your emotions can override those abilities. And that even, you know, that could happen up until adulthood.

Dr. Sarah (19:17):

Yeah. And so when our frontal lobes are overridden, when we’re in that state of dysregulation being aggressive, isn’t really a choice. It’s a reflex. It’s just this sort of automatic body response. And that’s, I think another important piece is like, recognizing this isn’t our kids, when our kids hit, they don’t want to hit, even if they say I’m going to hit you. And I know I’m going to hit you like there, that that’s all a process of dysregulation. I don’t, I don’t believe that kids want to be in a state where they want to hit.

Dr. Cara (19:52):

Exactly. Yes, yes. They they don’t have another way of of addressing their feelings or sometimes it’s because they don’t have enough, they have a need and they don’t have another way of getting it. You know, for example, if you don’t know how to ask for help, you might, or you’re too emotional to be able to ask for help. You might hit because that’s a way of getting your parents’ attention and getting them to help you. And so it could just be a way of meeting a need.

Dr. Sarah (20:27):

Yeah. Yeah. And it’s funny because even in that way, they’re seeking connection by hitting.

Dr. Cara (20:34):

Yes.

Dr. Sarah (20:35):

And so it’s like the, understanding our children’s need in that motivates their need in that moment and what motivates them in that moment, isn’t actually to hurt anybody, but that’s the physical of their desperate affect with efforts to get that need met, but the need is connection based.

Dr. Cara (20:54):

Yes, exactly.

Dr. Sarah (20:57):

So interesting. So, okay. So we’re talking about what the research says about aggression and how normal it is and why that’s normal, but it’s now it’s happening, right. Your kid just hit, or your kid is, you know, out of control, they’re not in control of their body. So how do we handle that as parents? How do we knowing what we know about the brain and the body? What can we do to help parents actually respond?

Dr. Cara (21:24):

Yes. So the first step is to stay as calm as possible. And like I said, I’ve realized that’s easier said than done. It is very hard to stay calm. And if you, as a parent need to step away and calm yourself down, that is absolutely. Okay. So you need to make sure that before anything that you are able to be calm in present for your child and to do whatever it takes to get yourself there, you know, you know, assuming you’re leaving your child in a safe situation and you need to step away, that is completely fine. And, you know, give yourself a little bit of a break and realize that it is normal to get upset when your child is aggressive, or they have any kind of challenging behavior that there is nothing wrong with that, because, you know, we don’t need judgment on top of already being upset.

Dr. Cara (22:23):

So, yeah, so the first step is to calm down. The second step would be to be responsive to what your child wants. And this is where it gets kind of complex and nuanced. You know, it, isn’t a certain thing. You have to say a certain thing, you have to do it. You really have to be responsive to what helps your child, you know, for some children, it is to be left alone for some children. It is to have somebody right there with them, helping them through it. For, you know, it really depends on the child. But either way, you don’t want to use a lot of verbal reasoning you want to, in that moment, help your child to calm down and to give them the skills that they might be missing to learn how to calm down, you know, whether it’s through deep breathing whether it’s using functional communication, like, you know, asking for help maybe they need some help learning those skills that they’re missing and, and helping your child to gain the tools to calm down in the moment. And then after everybody’s calmed down, that’s when you want to bring in the verbal reasoning and talk through with your child, you know, what was the problem? How could we have solve that? And save that for when everybody’s calm. In the moment, you just want to focus on getting everybody to a calm space.

Dr. Sarah (23:55):

Yes. And I think too, like I, a hundred percent agree that like, using that, those skills in the moment, those regulation skills in the moment, like breathing, and like, I love this term functional communication, which is really what it is, but like saying I need help with some of that problem solving language. Yes. We want to help them access that. But that’s also something that we have to have taught them prior. Like we also can’t teach them about deep breathing or asking for help in the moment, if that’s not part of their, like, really accessible toolbox, like…

Dr. Cara (24:32):

Yes, that’s a very important point. Yes. We want to make sure you’re practicing these skills, like deep breathing. There’s something else called progressive muscle relaxation, which means tensing and relaxing your muscles. You can also practice going to a calm down space, but you want to practice these when your child is calm. You know, like we’ve talked about with the brain, if you’re trying to get your children to learn when their emotions have overwritten the whole brain, it’s going to be really difficult. So you want to try to practice as much as you can when your child is calm and then they will, and you in the moment can remind them of these skills, but hopefully they’ve practiced enough that it kind of has almost become like second nature.

Dr. Sarah (25:20):

Sometimes I think modeling them ourselves. It’s helpful for them, even if they don’t do them. Like, I always tell parents, instead of telling your child to breathe, when they’re having a dysregulated episode, just breathe yourself. Take big deep breaths in front of them and allow their body to sort of just absorb that behavior. And it’s fine if they don’t take the deep breaths, it’s still helpful because your body is communicating to their body, your nervous system, your calm, nervous system is communicating to their calm, nervous system.

Dr. Cara (25:54):

Exactly. Yes. Yes. Like, like we were talking about before modeling is more important than anything you can say. So if you could model you know, a calm, calming down behavior for them, that’s much more likely for them to image. It will be much more likely for them to imitate that then if you just tell them to do it..

Dr. Sarah (26:17):

Yes. And I think too, it ends up being that like, you know, the brain and the limbic system and nervous system are so complex. And they’re so interconnected that when you’re doing something that is innately like a calm and safe behavior, like a regulated behavior, like talking in a calm voice and taking deep breaths and opening up your body, like kind of opening your chest up that actually like limbic system to limbic system, you’re communicating through your body language, to your child amygdala, which is that threat response detect that threat detector that you must be safe because if I can do these things with my body, we’re probably safe. And that’s like a, that’s like a preconscious, it’s not like a conscious thought kind of frontal lobe activity. Right. That’s our sort of midbrains and base brains are talking to each other without sounding too. Woo, woo. We’re not, I’m not talking about like, we’re, we’re communicating through the, I mean, like actually, no we have mirror neurons in our brains that are built to take in this kind of information and encode it into, you know a body response.

Dr. Cara (27:30):

Yes, exactly.

Dr. Sarah (27:33):

And so, okay. So depending on our kids, cause we’re going to like, kind of know our kids know what calms their bodies down. And then we’re going to co-regulate.

Dr. Cara (27:45):

Yes, yes. So co-regulation in the sense of, you know, staying calm and giving our kids, our calmness in almost a contagious kind of way. So helping our children to by, by staying calm ourselves and modeling those behaviors, giving our children the ability to stay calm. And it’s important to remember if at any point you feel yourself getting ramped up, it’s okay to step away, calm yourself down and try again. Because it is very difficult. None of us like to see our child distressed and parents should know that that’s a normal feeling and it’s, it’s a sign of a secure attachment that, you know, it bothers you to see your child distressed. And there’s nothing wrong with that. So if it’s bothering, you just know everything is great with your relationship with your child and that’s, as it should be and, and use every coping strategy you have to try to stay calm.

Dr. Sarah (28:50):

Yeah. I think that’s like, you know, we talked about, you know, busting some myths about co-regulation and how like I do, I do think like that’s a term that’s like, it’s a newer term in the parenting world. I like that it’s out there. I’m a big fan of co-regulation, but I also feel like it’s not totally that well understood. And I think that there are some myths that parents believe to be true about co-regulation and it might be kind of, what we were talking about earlier at the beginning of this talk is like, when we don’t fully understand something or when it’s kind of put out there as like a platitude, we can feel a lot of shame or guilt if we’re not doing it, quote unquote. Right. And so like what, what can we kind of break down about how we, what the function of co-regulation is and how we, how it varies?

Dr. Cara (29:43):

So, yeah, so co-regulation doesn’t mean that you need to be on the floor with your child holding their hand through every difficult situation in tantrum. Co-Regulation is is really a process in which we our kind of state of our body is transferred to our child. So if you are calm, your child is calm. If you start ramping up, your child’s going to start ramping up and it’s really involves being responsive to your child. So, you know, for example, if you are noticing when you get on the floor and you’re holding your child’s hand, when they’re in a difficult moment, they get more ramped up. Maybe they need some time alone. Maybe they need some space and recognizing that and backing off. So, so co-regulation, I think is really being responsive to your child’s needs and to your own needs. In the moment.

Dr. Sarah (30:45):

I think that is like the, again, you are the queen of succinct, like summarizing it in like the perfect nugget, but like that I think that’s totally it. It’s like, it’s about sinking up with your kid, but also thinking up with yourself, I think that parents have this sort of belief that, you know, in order to co-regulate I have to be this like Zen mama and like, no, that’s such an unrealistic expectation of ourselves. We, we do get overstimulated. Yes. It’s distressing and upsetting. And we have our own like cognitive, our thoughts, interpretations of our kids distress that can make us upset, but even on a more base level, it’s just very loud and it’s very intense and it’s a lot of, it’s physically over, physiologically sometimes very overstimulating from a sensory position, especially if you’re a parent who has a sensitive, nervous system. A child’s tantrum can send you completely in a tailspin physiologically. And that’s okay. Like you, if you know that about yourself and you know that about your relationship with your kid, then you’re going to have a whole system of co-regulating with your kid that looks different than a parent who has a really, you know, sturdy, tough as nails nervous system. That’s like can handle hours of screaming and it just doesn’t ruffle them at all.

Dr. Cara (32:07):

Yes. Yes, exactly. I think it’s, you know, being aware of what your personal triggers are and kind of having a plan for what you’re going to do when those triggers come up. You know, I know for me when one sibling hurts another, that’s definitely a trigger for me. And it comes from a very, you know, primal place of somebody just hurt my child. It doesn’t matter if it’s my other child, like somebody hurt my child. And for me, the plan is attending to the child that was hurt first because that helps me to calm down enough to then attend to the child who did the hurting. So, so just being aware of what is it that really distresses you as a parent and coming up with a plan, a realistic plan for, what am I going to do? How am I going to stay calm in that moment?

Dr. Sarah (32:59):

I love that. I love that idea of creating a plan ahead of time, how you’re going to cope. Not what you’re going to do to get your child to be in a better place, but how you’re going to be in a better place.

Dr. Cara (33:11):

Yes. Which will then help your child.

Dr. Sarah (33:13):

Yes.

Dr. Cara (33:14):

Hopefully.

Dr. Sarah (33:15):

Yes. But I feel like that’s something you can control in the moment far more effectively than controlling your child’s emotional response, because you can’t necessarily. You can help it, but you can’t control it.

Dr. Cara (33:29):

Yes, exactly.

Dr. Sarah (33:32):

I liked what you said too, that likes each child’s going to have a different response and paying attention to know I might be following all of the rules, but my kid’s getting more revved up. It’s too stimulating for them. And like, I always talk about like, what works for one doesn’t work. The other, like my son, he is the kid that when he’s upset, he like curls up in a ball and wants to be held. Right. He wants like physical touch and almost like squeezing, right. That helps calm him down. That’s what he seeks out. My daughter, if you touch her, when she’s having a tantrum, she, her back arches, her arms flail, and she wants, does not want, it’s not calming to her at all to be touched when she’s upset. And for her, I say very little, like I just like a couple, I’m here, and the rest is like me nodding and just breathing myself. And it takes a while for her to calm down. But the more I go in there, the worse it is for her. And if I just follow that script that I used for my son, I’d be so lost with my daughter. So you got to figure out each unique child.

Dr. Cara (34:51):

Yes. Yes. It’s amazing. Every child is so different. Like even within the same family, it’s amazing to me really.

Dr. Sarah (34:59):

Yeah. And so, okay. What if we mess all this stuff up? What do we do?

Dr. Cara (35:04):

Well, first of all, it’s so important to know that every parent does mess up, you know, even psychologists, child psychologists. I think we can both attest to that. And it’s so important to normalize that and to take away the shame from that, that we all mess up. And then it’s an important learning opportunity for our child to apologize to them. So, you want to model, you know, again, the importance of modeling model, apologizing to them in a way where you fully take responsibility. Just in the same way, we don’t want them to say, you know, I’m sorry to their brother, but you know, you were the one who started it. We don’t want to say, okay, I’m sorry I yelled, but you shouldn’t have done that. You know, we want to model for them taking full responsibility, which involves a little bit of swallowing our pride, but, you know, say, I’m sorry that I yelled, I shouldn’t have done that. This is what I’ll, I will do next time. So that it’s better. Because that’s what we want them to do. You know, when we want them to apologize, we want it to be genuine. And we want them to look to the future and think about how they will make it better. So we want to apologize in a way that we wish they would, because eventually the idea is they will learn to apologize in the same way.

Dr. Sarah (36:29):

Right. And I realized like, we’re talking about us, apologize to our kids when we become dysregulated in response to their dysregulation. And I can totally hear parents listen to his podcast being like, wait, my kid just hit my other kid. And you’re asking me to apologize to my kids. Like, where’s the discipline? Where is like the, it’s my job part. You know, where is there space for both of these things?

Dr. Cara (36:57):

Yeah. I mean, I think that that we want to tell them, explain to them what they’ve done, that that was wrong. You know, you hit your brother, did you see how he cried? That made him sad? You know, what could you have done instead? So we’re going to slowly work with them on thinking through would their part, even if they don’t spontaneous apologize, because most of the time they won’t. But work through thinking, thinking through their part and you know, the research shows the best way for them to move on from that is, you know, not really a forced apology, but more thinking through how can they repair the relationship. So, you know, what, what could you do to make your brother feel better? You know, maybe it’s bring him in ice pack from the refrigerator. Maybe it’s ask him if he wants to play with you. Maybe it’s you know, go and give him a hug. So thinking through concrete ways that they can repair the relationship and then modeling apologizing in hopes that they eventually learn that this is how we interact with others. When we make a mistake, we apologize, we take full responsibility for our part. And then we work to repair the relationship with, you know, concrete behaviors.

Dr. Sarah (38:26):

Yeah. And I feel like too like, honestly, I’m not really trying to plug your book, but I swear it just makes so much sense, like talking about it afterwards at bedtime, when you’re comfortable, when you’re connected, when it’s calm, reading a book, like, what do you feel like, or What Do You Do When You Feel Like Hitting that’s the, I mean, really, honestly, that is the time to do it. I always say to parents that, you know, the best time I call it a debrief, which is like, after there’s been some type of meltdown or tantrum or some, you know, destructive behavior, whether it’s aggressive or, you know, maybe they broke something when they were upset, the debrief can happen like right afterwards, like you’re saying, like, what can you, you know, we’ve calmed down a bit. The frontal lobes are like a little bit back online, and now we can say, well, what can you do to make your brother feel better?

Dr. Sarah (39:18):

You know, help them practice that, that empathizing with their position. But oftentimes I think the debrief happens even later, like hours later, in these like totally separate settings where like I often will debrief with my son, happens more with my older son than my youngest, because she’s two. But like, you know, when we’re getting ready for bed, when we’re calm, when we’re sitting in the chair cuddling, when we’re feeling really connected and we’re reading books, that’s a lot of the time when I’ll go back with him and revisit something that was problematic during the day, like what happened, like what was going on for you? And what can we do different and reading books about similar situations where other kids are navigating these kinds of same challenges. And they see other kids’ minds work through it, they see other kids’ minds get aggressive and then, you know, go through the process of repair.

Dr. Sarah (40:16):

Like, I think that that’s a great way to help. It’s like not, you know, when you think about discipline, really that word means to teach like that is the definition, like disciple. Like the word comes from teaching. It doesn’t mean punishment. And so discipline is really about teaching and you can teach later, you don’t have to punish a child in the moment because they hit, if you understand it. I think from this place of like we were talking about before, like it’s a reflux from a dysregulated brain, what we really want to do is help them learn what to do different in the next time. So I feel like your book would be very valuable for that.

Dr. Cara (40:57):

Yes. Thank you. Yes. And, you know, research does show the more that parents talk about emotions that they see in books, the more emotionally skilled their children are. So, you know, while you’re reading those books, bring up the emotions that the characters bring up, you know, what could they have done it if, if it’s a book that, you know, the child’s aggressive, what could they have done instead, you know, talk through those things in a way that’s non-threatening. And I think books are a great way because it’s not directly targeted at them, making them feel like they are in trouble. You know, it’s a great way to kind of be like, oh, this kid, you know, read a book that’s relevant to something they did and talk about the character rather than them. I think that can be a great strategy.

Dr. Sarah (41:43):

I love that. So we, how can people learn about what you’re doing connect with you, tell us a little bit about

Dr. Cara (41:55):

You can find me on instagram @parentingtranslator and my website www.parentingtranslator.com. And as Dr. Bren said so, well, I try to take the research and summarize it into, as succinctly as I can, into information that I think is useful to parents. And my book, What To Do When You Feel Like Hitting is available on Amazon at Target and other book retailers. So you know, I would love for parents to check it out and please let me know what you think about it.

Dr. Sarah (42:34):

Awesome. Thank you so much. And do you, I think that you have some like resources on aggression for kids.

Dr. Cara (42:41):

I do. Yes. I have a guide on my website that kind of goes through all the evidence on aggression in toddlers, all the research evidence on aggression and toddlers is free on my website.

Dr. Sarah (42:56):

Okay. We’ll put a link to that in the show notes too, so people can, can go get that cause that sounds like a great resource. Thank you so much for being here. Please come back. We should do more. I feel like there’s so many evidence-based conversations.

Dr. Cara (43:12):

I would love to!

Dr. Sarah (43:12):

Thanks so much.

Dr. Sarah (43:21):Thanks for tuning in. If you still have questions, you can always find me on Instagram @drsarahbren. I try to answer as many people as I can, and we have really formed a wonderful community of supportive and empowering parents over there. So I really encourage you to join us and don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter so you can get all of this information straight to your inbox. You can sign up by going to my website, drsarahbren.com scrolling all the way to the bottom and clicking sign up for my newsletter. And while you’re there, check out the resources tab to discover everything from articles about navigating childcare transitions, to support for growing families, to understanding the neurological and psychological causes of fight or flight mode. There’s a lot for you to explore at drsarahbren.com. That’s drsarahbren.com. Thanks for listening. And if you enjoyed what you heard, please go ahead and rate and review the podcast and together let’s spread the word and help more parents hope to see you back here next Tuesday, until then don’t be a stranger.


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24. The psychology behind dysregulation

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