Child Development

In our culture, we often look at the surface behaviors our children exhibit and think it is our job as parents to control those. Instead, if we can look at behaviors as clues to how our child is making sense of the world, we’re able to get to the root of what is causing the behavior in the first place.

Joining me this week is child psychologist and the author of the new book, Brain-Body Parenting, Dr. Mona Delahooke. We’ll talk about the ways you can begin to look past your child’s behaviors, creating a roadmap for each unique child, Dr. Mona’s color-coded framework to help you understand the nervous system, and how that understanding can be our secret weapon in parenting to raise resilient, self-confident and healthy children.

Dr. Mona (00:00):

You can hear so much noise. And I wanna cut through that noise and let parents know from child development, what we know to be true, that produces resilience in humans and flexibility. And somehow that information hasn’t reached the general public yet.

Dr. Sarah (00:24):

When we make that pivotal shift between viewing our child’s behaviors, as something we need to manage and control to viewing them as clues to how our child is making sense of the world, we begin to move beyond behaviors. And that just happens to be the title of my next guest’s first book. I am so thrilled to welcome Dr. Mona Delahooke to the podcast today. Dr. Mona is a licensed clinical psychologist with more than 30 years of experience, caring for children and their families. And she is the author of one of my absolute favorite books, Beyond Behaviors: Using Brain Science and Compassion to Understand and Solve Children’s Behavioral Challenges. Her new book, that I absolutely cannot wait to read, Brain-Body Parenting comes out next week on March 15th. When we focus on connection over correction, our job as parents become simplified. And when we use the parent child relationship as that vehicle for connection, everything else starts to flow.

Dr. Sarah (01:27):

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 (02:00):

Hello. I’m so beyond excited. Welcome to the podcast today, Mona Delahooke. She is a clinical psychologist. She’s an infant mental health specialist. She’s the author of Beyond Behaviors. And now the about to be released new book that she just wrote called Brain-Body Parenting, which I’m so excited to read. Welcome. Thank you for being here.

Dr. Mona (02:24):

I am so excited to be here. Thanks for having me, Sarah.

Dr. Sarah (02:28):

I I’m a big fan of your work. I actually discovered you on a Janet Lansbury podcast episode a few years ago. When you were talking about Beyond Behaviors and one of the things that was, first of all it was just a really great interview and your whole way of thinking about it, like really spoke to me. But one of the things I also loved about it was the fact that like you, you and I are both clinical psychologists. We both went through that, that sort of traditional clinical psychology training, but yet we sort of in our own very different ways kind of came to where we’re both at right now with thinking about sort of like connection over correction. And from the back door, if you will like, like we, we got new puzzle pieces later on after licensure, that kind of clarified the picture for me. It was discovering RIE as a brand new parent and the work of Magda Gerber and Janet Lansbury and Deborah Carlisle Solomon, and then kind of finding the interpersonal neurobiology work of Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, and that led me to find polyvagal theory and you, and you fit right into that. You went a different route, but you, we kind of ended up in a very similar place and I would love for you to just share your, how you got there and how it’s different from like, you know, what we kind of maybe would’ve come out of just clinical psychology graduate school with the perspective of.

Dr. Mona (03:58):

With a traditional perspective. Yeah. Well, I’m so glad you I’m so glad you found me. I loved that interview with Janet Lansbury. I remember it. And she’s so she’s so awesome. And this whole idea of, you know, oh, this the wave of gentle parenting and positive parenting and affirmative parenting is just amazing. It’s so amazing. So my story actually started a long time ago, like maybe over 30, yeah, like over 30 years ago. So I, I graduated, I went straight from high school to college to graduate school. So I got my doctorate in psychology when I was 26. And, you know, that’s like, you don’t really have much life experience at 26. And I was, I was fresh outta graduate school, but I’d have to say that I was pretty cocky because I did my dissertation on attachment theory. And I was like, oh man, I’m not even gonna get this. I’ve got this parenting thing down. I know everything you need to know about a, about a healthy attachment with your child. And so parenting was so humbling for me, so humbling, you know, and, and it didn’t help that probably because of the stress I was under to get licensed that I had my first baby prematurely. And, and when you, if you have a baby with differences and who’s premature, especially there’s like so much that goes on and it was just overwhelming. And after, after about a decade of working with the traditional tools and techniques, which are usually starting at about five and, and have to do with, with cognition and thinking and language and, and behavioral you know, cognitive behavioral theories, then I realized that, you know, I, I just did not have enough tools in my tool chest. So very lucky for me around the nineties, the end of the eighties, early nineties, I’m in LA. And there was this really exciting group of people who were in that relational affective neurobiology world. There was Alan Shore, there was Dan Siegel. There was one of my colleagues and, and mentors, Connie Lilith. And I was in a study group that was looking at the latest neurobiologists application to parenting and to basically little humans and therapy during the decade of the brain. It was unreal. So I had support for decoding, from people who were way smarter than me, because I’m a clinical psychologist. I am not a researcher. And in that decade, in that in the nineties, I was introduced to the work also of Dr. Stephen Porges, who brought in the nervous system and who brought in this idea that we’re just not a brain. You know, we, aren’t just a brain, we’re a body in a brain connected. Our brain gets its operating instructions from the feedback from our body. Yeah. And in graduate school, that concept is lost. It still is not, is not there.

Dr. Sarah (07:32):

No! I’m later on, I mean, I’m later on in the timeline than you and I still wasn’t taught that stuff.

Dr. Mona (07:40):

That’s right. My daughter just went through graduate school in psychology, like five years ago, she wasn’t taught that stuff. It’s just, I mean, it’s taught as an add-on like, oh yeah, read. The Body Keeps The Score, you know, read Common Form Care. It’s amazing. But I’m talking about the intersection between early child development, interpersonal relational neurobiology, and this idea about individual differences. So there are three big catchment areas. Again, I was also really lucky to, in addition to Dr., to knowing about this work on the autonomic nervous system, through my, mainly through my colleague, Connie Lilith to study with Stanley Greenspan and Serena Weeder who developed the DIR model. And that was what their, their work ended up being. They were founding members of the Zero to Three Foundation. So I became an infant mental health specialist, which was a, almost a six year process of postgraduate work and training. So while my little babies were growing up, I was becoming an infant mental health specialist. And that changed the trajectory of my professional career. I went on to work in my private practice for almost 18 years before I started to write and talk about it because I just, I loved it. I loved private practice. It’s a great fit for me. And, and I wanted to make a sure, I wanted to see over a decade or more. And some of the clients that I saw as, as toddlers, I still have contact with it really worked. And that’s when I, and I wrote Beyond Behaviors and now Brain-Body Parenting to, to apply it to all areas of development, not just behavioral challenges, everyday life with our, with our babies, our toddlers, our children, and our teenagers.

Dr. Sarah (09:41):

Yeah. And it’s, you’re so much more patient than me. Like I’ve been doing it for like five years and I’m like, I’ve got to get this out, everybody. Like, I can’t hold it in anymore. Like this thing, this, this way of thinking about children and connecting with children and using the parent-child relationship as the vehicle, through which all of your parenting interventions flow, it works. I see it work every day in my practice.

Dr. Mona (10:09):

That’s right. And you’re working with a lot of young ones like toddlers, and you, I’m sure you’re working with older people too. But that’s the problem like infant mental health is an actual subspecialty of, or of early intervention. And to me, the concepts in infant mental health need to be taught to everybody who works with children and to parents. You know, your pediatrician has maybe a quarter or a semester at most of generic child development. And yet those pediatricians and the nurses at the pediatrician’s office are so important to us as parents of young children. So, but you’re getting so much noise. You’ll, you’ll get, you’ll still hear things like, oh, you’ve got a strong willed child of a four month old or a nine month old. A pediatrician or a nurse or, or your practitioner, your nurse practitioner can tell you stuff. You can hear so much noise. And I wanna cut through that noise and let parents know what the research says, but also, so from child development, what we know to be true, that produces resilience in humans and flexibility. And somehow that information hasn’t been hasn’t reached the general public yet.

Dr. Sarah (11:33):

Right. And it’s so interesting cuz I, you know, I do this work clinically, but I also kind of work in this parenting sphere, this social media parenting sphere. And I see very similar noise, you know, a lot of very polarizing and judgmental and scary stuff that’s being thrown at parents that makes them doubt themselves. That makes them doubt their child that has them parenting from like a fear-based space. And that is actually what prompted me to start this podcast and just start posting on social media in general is like, ah, this stuff is terrifying that I read on Instagram. And I don’t, I just want there to be more just research back information, like take it with, take it how you want. Right. I don’t, I don’t prescribe how people should parent. I just wanna give them information that’s valid so that they can go take that and internalize it in a way that works for them. But I think that’s not, I mean, we have, there’s so much polarization even in, in our field. And this term, like evidence based treatment gets thrown around very intentionally and some ways in a, the implication being that, that certain ways of treating families and children that are maybe more relational or psychodynamic are not evidence based. And I think that it’s a very dangerous message to be communicating. And it’s, it’s just straight up inaccurate.

Dr. Mona (12:58):

It’s straight up inaccurate. And it’s also misleading because the, the most people don’t understand what evidence based means. And it’s a very narrow meaning and it’s also very categorical. So you measure one thing and you measure one outcome or several small outcomes and it just, yeah, it’s, there’s a lot of noise out there. And, and ultimately to me, what is most important isn’t you know, knowing a one size fits all approach, but understanding where your parenting is landing in your child. Yes. So you could know everything about every evidence based model in the whole world and not understand your child’s nervous system and where your interactions are landing in them. And if you don’t know that that’s the missing piece, our children receive our parenting. Essentially we, we nurture their nature. But if you don’t know where it’s landing in their brain and body, how are you going to, what roadmap are you using? What’s your north star. And to me, the north star is my baby’s nervous system. That was the thing that was missing on my preemie. No one told me that my certain way of talking to her or singing to her was stressing out her nervous system, sending her into distress. And that’s why she was crying for hours on end. When I was actively soothing. Her attachment theory said, be present, be kind sooth the baby. But what about how that baby’s nervous system is taking in sounds, lights, movements, smells, who talks about that? And that’s what..

New Speaker (14:53):

You do!

Dr. Mona (14:55):

I do.

Dr. Sarah (14:56):

I try to, I think it’s important that we, that we do, we need to understand that our child’s communication, all of these things, whether it’s outright behaviors or just nonverbal cues that our kid is showing us with their body is their body are their shoulders up by their ears. Is their face in a grimness are their fists clenched? Are there, you know, or is their body calm and open and receptive? Are they meeting our gays? Are they, you know, reciprocating, facial expressions, these things that are child body tells us are just as important as their quote unquote behaviors.

Dr. Mona (15:35):

Their body, their body really does. Send us so many cues and clues so many clues. However, again, the two words that we have to keep in mind are individual differences. And if you have a child who is neuro divergent, for example, if you have a child who is has brain wiring differences, sometimes they may have a flat look on their face, for example, or their motor control is not matching what their internal process or their, their nervous system looks like. So you might have a, a, a child who looks calm on the outside, but inside they’re very activated. So their nuances that we want to also keep in mind that sometimes a child’s body isn’t able to tell us, but there are other ways that we can go around that to, yeah. There’s a for every child.

Dr. Sarah (16:32):

Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about roadmaps. You know, I think that your, I love the way you use roadmaps, not just as getting to know our child, but kind of as this like dual conversation, right. The roadmap is just as much about us, the parent, as it is about our kid. Like, cuz we can’t really read a roadmap unless we ourselves are kind of calm and tuned into our kid and observing cur with the like curiously.

Dr. Mona (17:02):

Yeah. And let’s just say it’s impossible to be curious all the time. If you’ve parented a toddler or even an infant, you know that it’s, this job is ridiculously taxing on our nervous systems and the more you wanna get it. Right. And the more of a perfectionist you are, maybe the more hard you’re it’s gonna be because it’s, you know, it’s yes, we are the tool. But as I always say, I want parents to listen and, and have a no blame, no shame zone for, for, for hearing this information. Because if we start saying, oh my gosh, I blew it there. I blew it here. That’s only gonna make us more vulnerable. So one of the things I share about in Brain-Body Parenting is the work of Ed Tronick. And he did he’s like one of the, the experts in child development, early development infancy. And he found his work consistently found that regular parents get it get their, the baby signals right only about 30% of the time. So you will miss your baby’s cues, especially in the first year, about 70% of the time that’s normative. And the magic is that most caregivers and what we want caregivers and moms and dads to do is to once you’ve, once you realize you’ve hit a a mismatch is that you make a repair. So you have that little baby and the baby is fussing and crying and you think maybe they are, are, are, are cold. So you wrap them up with more warmth and they’re still crying like, huh, maybe it’s not that. And then you and then you go and change their diaper and you realize that they have a poopy diaper and the baby starts to cool when their diapers changed. Cause they have a little rash like, oh I, oh sweetheart, you had him, you had a wet diaper. So it’s all about repairing mismatches in the first year. It gets easier as your toddler grows older, although toddlers are a whole game unto themselves. And we could talk about the them forever. But the, the, the idea is that you don’t have to be a perfect parent. All you have to do is be willing and able to try to repair when you get it wrong or, or have compassion for yourself when you have a mismatch, how do we do that? We, we really have to be well rested enough. Well, nutrition enough to, to be a good tool. We are the biggest tool in our tool, chest, our physical and our emotional bodies. And I, I just wanna say that over the past couple of years, I have never seen parents on their knees as much as I have ever. And the pandemic took us from stressed out. Many of us working parents to parents who can barely make it through the day. So if that’s you please have so, so much compassion for yourself, know you’re not alone and be gentle on yourself, just be gentle, get through the moment, get through the day better times are coming. Yeah. You know, it’s, it’s coming, but our bodies don’t realize it because we’re going into the third year. And hopefully by the time this podcast airs things will, will be on the upswing a little bit. But I just wanted to mention that that there’s so much exhaustion out there that it’s almost normative and I’m very concerned about the impact that’s having on parents’ mental health.

Dr. Sarah (21:07):

Oh my God. I couldn’t agree with you more. I have seen the, the level of depression and anxiety I see in parents right now, the sort of learned helplessness, the, the, the blue pathway. And we’re gonna talk about your pathways in a second, but I feel like parents are moving into this blue pathway and that’s you. And I both know that’s not where we wanna see people, optimally, like I’d much rather see parents in the red pathway and maybe you can explain what these pathways look like. We talk, you talk about it in terms of our kids, but we all work with the same equipment and we all use these same mechanisms for showing up in the world. And can you break down your take on polyvagal theory and, and your, your color pathways?

Dr. Mona (21:48):

Yeah. So I use the the colors that were described by Connie Lilith in 2009. And if you’re, if you’re a professional they may sound like something called the zones of regulation, but they’re not that that came on later. And these are for parents and caregivers. They’re not to teach our children about. This is what’s happening, so she used colors. And I used, I used the same colors to describe three main pathways of our autonomic nervous system that’s described through the polyvagal theory. Now just let me say that exciting new research is showing that there are overlapping path ways. So this is a simplification. There are a lot of cool variants and variations of these pathways that I talk about in my new book. But for now it’s very useful to think about three basic pathways that Dr. Porges has theorized our in our autonomic nervous system. The pathway basically reflects a human being who is calm and alert. Your body budget is flush, and you are open to learning you in the, in, in the child’s body. You’ll see relaxed posture, rhythmic rate of movement, nice vocal tone child. Being able to look at you and look away as they need. You know, you’ll, you’ll be alert, you’ll have bright eyes. This is where children wanna play, you know giggles, joyful expressions. It’s just a really it’s, that’s where we love to see our kids and ourselves in the green. Now, of course we can’t live green as humans because we are we’re, we’re not robots. We’re humans stuff happens. It will happen. And when your body detects stress from the outside or from the inside, if you’ve got a tummy ache or constipation or, or a tooth coming in, something, you’ll be a little bit more vulnerable to going or lack of sleep to shifting into what we call the red pathway, which is this fight or flight system. And in the red pathway that child’s nervous system is detecting threat, even from things that are, that are, we don’t see as threatening, right? Like being asked to take a bath or get dressed. You’ll see, fast movements. The child might be trying to run out of a room. They may be hitting, kicking, screaming red faced, snotty nose, heart beating fast. Basically you’ll, you’ll see kind of a clenched sense, like, like their body’s not relaxed, their face facial muscles, their may be clenched. Their eyes may be wide open it’s it’s a child who is kind of looking agitated or an adult it’s physiological. This is not a system that we shift into on purpose. It’s automatic, it’s autonomic. So when you see that happening in yourself for your child, the first thing is to just like be aware of, of what’s happened. I’ve had a state shift, I’ve had a pathway shift in my nervous system awareness of that, or in my child awareness of that is a game changer because then we can help ourselves not, not be in the red when we, our child is in the red. That is not a good combination. That’s when we do or say things that could potentially be harmful.

Dr. Sarah (25:24):

Yes. That’s where we pour gasoline on their fight is how I always describe it.

Dr. Mona (25:28):

That is when, and we’ve all been there and it happens. You feel lousy afterwards and, and, and please know, it’s a, the repairs where it’s so magical, we can repair ruptures anyway really quick. The, the last, the final pathway of the larger ones is what we call the pathway. This is more rare. And it’s actually significant for children who are beginning to lose hope. Maybe their bodies are starting to work so hard that they start to conserve energy. So you’ll see less movement. They are they may be checked, looking like the are checked out drowsy. They don’t wanna play. Their mouths are downturn. Their eyes are not really searching for looking for people. They’re looking through you rather than at you. Their voice might be cold or soft or sad. So it’s, it’s basically a child who is not contact seeking. And the characteristic of the two vulnerable defensive pathways the red and the blue is that the child doesn’t wanna play. They are not able to play, which is a child’s natural language of feeling calm is when they wanna play. So we, again, we’re in the, we’re not in the green all the time. We would like to see our children in the green pathway, a majority of the time and the other two less, you know, less so, but if you see your child like high red mood movement, not able to focus, not able to really play with others or with you and in their hearts beating really fast. And their face is all scrunched up. We really want to to, to discover what the root cause is for the child’s vulnerability.

Dr. Sarah (27:18):

You know, the, if you have this sort of behavior based under standing of child of like our parenting approach, right? So our kids do a behavior. We don’t like that behavior. It’s our responsibility to change that behavior. And now there is just kind of like this hodgepodge of like prescriptive strategies for changing the behavior. And they all contradict one another and they, they, they’re very complicated. And parents all often are like, well, I tried everything that you told me to do, and it didn’t work. Then I tried everything that you told me to do, and it didn’t work. And then they just, eventually they, they just get exhausted and they wanna give up. And I feel like when you just say we’re missing the actual problem, we’re mislabeling the problem as the problem. And we’re continuing to try to of like, treat that problem. And instead, if we can say, hold on, let’s just flip this whole idea on its head completely. Maybe there isn’t a problem in the first place. And maybe in, in reassigning, the, the paradigm, you know, to just say like, what is, what is actually being asked of us right now as parents in this moment, if we think about it in terms of what you present in beyond behaviors and in a lot of the work that’s more relational and attachment relationship based, which is a lot of what in kind of influences the work that I do with parents and families as well is now we’re just talking about the relationship and we’re talking about connecting with our child and using that parent child relationship to, to gonna turn a dimmer switch down on the moment. So it’s more like we can all handle it a little bit better. And then just focusing on helping our child feel safe. If that’s all we have to do in the moment, all of a sudden our responsibility shifts.

Dr. Mona (29:01):

Our responsibility shifts and our, our lens shifts from looking at deficits or getting afraid of what we’re seeing to seeing everything as a clue and as such valuable information that we don’t have to judge as good or bad. We could just judge it as whoa. This is so useful. I’ve just learned something about my child’s nervous system. I’ve just learned something about my child’s brain and body and how they are making sense of a situation. We don’t have to judge it and yet, and, and I understand why we do because our field of psychology, our field of mental health and the field of education judges, behaviors by labeling them or by seeing them as through the lens of compliance or noncompliance good and bad.

Dr. Sarah (30:05):

Intentional and, and…

Dr. Mona (30:06):

Intentional and yeah. Like, misbehavior, we have to teach you better. And I get that, but that’s the paradigm I’m, I’m trying to flip on its head to say, yeah, instead of viewing behaviors as something we need to manipulate consequence, reinforce, we view them as these valuable clues and cues about what’s going on in what I’m calling our child’s platform. And that platform is the brain body connect, right? It’s the nervous system. And specifically one of the nervous systems I’m looking at is the autonomic nervous system, which is basically responding to everything we’re taking in as humans from the insides of our bodies and from the outside of our bodies, from our sensory. So once we shift to looking at that, we start to get a roadmap for every single child, both in the moment and in a bigger picture when we add their social, emotional development to that bigger picture. So I’m all about roadmaps. And we create, you know, when a, I see families and children, we create a roadmap that’s just for that child because you can’t use generic approaches. It’s not, every human is so different, both in, in how we are made, but also in real time, our physiology is shifting in real time. And that’s why you could have an incredible parenting script, but it might just fall short and don’t worry, it’s not you. And it’s not the necessarily the script. It’s, it’s just that humans. Aren’t quite that predictable.

Dr. Sarah (31:54):

Yeah. I’m right there with you on parenting scripts. I have a whole, you know, you know, I have a personal, how do I even say this? I feel like I’m always trying to qualify. Every time I put out a suggested way of talking to our kids. It’s like, I couldn’t put a bigger asterisk next to the script being like, you have to take this and think of it as a template, not a script. You have to think of it as like, why would this particular phrase work in the moment? What exactly am I communicating to my kid? And then use that framework, that template to create the appropriate communication to your kid in the moment. Like you have to go underneath the script and the words and figure out why it is doing the thing that the person who’s offering it is suggesting.

Dr. Mona (32:48):

Absolutely. And to me, the way we do that is to first of all, make sure that our child is in a place of receptivity. Yeah. And if a parenting script doesn’t work, it’s likely because the child’s brain body connection that I call the platform is vulnerable. And when you have a vulnerable platform, you’re defensive. And so the information is gonna land on parched soil. But if you are receptive and your nervous system is open to learning, and we know now that there are different pathways of the nervous system that allow us to have the energy, to learn new things, to have the energy, to take in our mommy’s and daddy’s advice and, and words, if you, if you don’t understand the difference between a vulnerable nervous system and a defensive nervous system, you’re gonna be running in circles and may feel confused as to how to reach your child. Right?

Dr. Sarah (33:53):

And this is such an amazing framework because I think this is where we move beyond behaviors, right? If, if our kid is hitting and we just feel on the hit and what do we do to teach our kid not to hit, we’re so narrow in our view, but when our kid is hitting and we say, Hey, hitting is a red pathway response. Hitting is a sign that my child’s in the red pathway, all of a sudden, the behavior’s kind of irrelevant. It’s a red herring, and you can say, my kid’s in the red pathway. My kid is in this fight or flight state. How do I help them move out of this state? And now all of a sudden our directive is clear. And I think this is where your roadmap is. So just beautiful and elegant because it’s like, you don’t have it just guides you.

Dr. Mona (34:33):

Oh, thank you. I think it does. I really think about just using these three pathways as a general to where, first of all, just like you said, Sarah, where am I? We ask where we are first. If we’re in the red, we, the outcome will not be good because we can’t, co-regulate in the red. Then we have to take a moment. It could be a micro moment. It could be, or make sure your child’s safe. It could be, maybe you need a minute or two or longer to, to do some, some maybe some deep breathing where your exhale is longer than your inhale or whatever you do. Maybe you put your hand on your heart. Maybe you go wash your hands or, or go to the bathroom. I mean, just get a little grip because again, those few micro moments can save you from doing or saying something that you might later regret and that won’t help your child get better behavior. When you, when we co-regulate the natural tendency of the child to want to cooperate comes online, children want to cooperate with us. That’s their natural tendency.

Dr. Sarah (35:49):

Yes. And so if we can see, okay, Hey, my kid’s on the red pathway. Let me help remove them into the green. Guess what your job’s done. You get to, you get to relax now because you’ve done the thing that’s in your power to do. And instead of being like, I have to teach my kid a lesson, and now I have to come up with a discipline plan and we have to come up with a sticker chart so that they never do this again, like all that work you don’t have to do. You just don’t have to do that. Don’t have to put on your plate. It’s really about staying clued into our kids’ nervous as them and saying, I’m gonna help them ride these waves. And that’s my job. And once my job’s done, then we can do something else.

Dr. Mona (36:23):

It’s really remarkable. Yeah. You know, it’s almost less work because yes, sticker charts are hard to make if you’re not an artist. I mean really, and, and again, there’s, you know, if you enjoy doing stuff like that and that’s fine, but the point is, do you really need to, because if you believe the children do well when they can, as my, as my colleague Ross green says then we don’t have to work so hard at reinforcement schedules. We just need to remember at the relationship and our, our ability to be in the green and to be patient as much as we can, and to get support from our network when we need it in our community and our partners and our family, whenever we can, is the way to building resilience in lifelong relationships.

Dr. Sarah (37:20):

Um but I also think, and you know, we talk about perfectionism and parenting. We know that that’s you, and I know that’s not optimal. And I think part of the way that parents are receiving this, their parenting information is a big product of why people get so hard on themselves because they see all of these sort of perfectionistic and idealized images of parenting on social media. And think that that’s the way it’s supposed to be. And this, this study that you’re citing, where 30%, 30% of the time we’re getting it. Right. Yeah. Maybe social media is really only showing us that 30% of the time. And we’re not really getting a realistic picture of how much every parent out there is missing it. And it’s not a problem if we miss it. It’s only a problem if we beat ourselves up to Smith res when we miss it and we don’t repair with our kid.

Dr. Mona (38:18):

Yeah. Wow. I, you know, there’s actual data on the power of social media, on our, you know, on our self feelings of self image or our stress levels and a photo, you know, and, and again, I have no judgment for social media influencers whatsoever. It’s just a different, it’s a, I, I’m just really glad that when my kids were growing up, social media didn’t exist because when I got a flip-phone, you know, they were in elementary school. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. I had a flip phone. You couldn’t even text. And thank goodness because I have a busy mind busy body. And if I would’ve had a cell phone, I would’ve that would’ve, I would’ve had to lock it away anyway, that’s, you know, that’s all that to say is that when we compare ourselves to an imagined ideal, we’re going to feel like we suck. And there, the imagined ideal on social media is where people are paid millions of dollars to look beautiful and look pretty. And, and to, to make it seem like parenting is easy or cooking, a gorgeous meal is easy and you too can do this. If you buy these ingredients or, you know, or subscribe to something, we are bombarded with these, with these ideals that make us feel like I’m not met. I’m not you know, measuring up and depending on, on you. But also a lot of the research that came out of the zero to three foundation, which is, which did a huge study of many thousands of parents recently. And they found that over 90% of parents, when they’re out in public with their kids feel judged most of the time. So parents, we feel judged whether that’s from being perfectionistic or, or, or not, we are not we’re, we’re all in this boat together. We’re all judging ourselves.

Dr. Sarah (40:37):

I know and that makes me think about the fact that, and this is where I think your, you know, the stuff that you write about is very helpful because I think one of the reasons why we feel so judged and we maybe are judging ourselves is cuz we think like, okay, I’m out of the supermarket. My kid is having a meltdown. I’m failing right now at getting my kid to be this polite cooperative child I’ve failed. And, and then we are, we call upon all of these internalizations that we’ve made through societal pressures or even intergenerational transmission of our, of traumatic family history around parenting. That it’s my job to control my child’s behavior. It’s my job to teach the a lesson when they’re quote unquote bad. And if I don’t, then I’m failing, but this is this, this is the paradigm that you are suggesting we shift, right? You are saying, it’s not about controlling your child’s behaviors. It’s about how do we help them feel safe in the world? And if we could help them feel safe in the world, then everything else is gonna flow. Like I, the way I sort of read it was like, I think as parents, we often think that teaching will lead to regulation. But in fact, I think the opposite is true. Regulation will lead to learning. We don’t actually have to teach that much. Really.

Dr. Mona (41:55):

Yeah. Yeah. It’s the, it’s this whole idea of not personal, first of all, not personalizing. We all know what it’s like to be in a, in a, you know, in a grocery store and our child just smacked us across the face. They are outta control. And this lady next to you is staring you down. Like, oh my gosh, what are you gonna do? You bad mother, whether or not you’re feeling that or sh or that those looks are giving you that it doesn’t really matter. We’re like on the, we’re on the line. We’re like, oh my gosh, is this the a child I’ve raised? You know, but what we need to do, I think, and I hate to sound. So you know, I, I hate to sound so certain about it, but I really believe that it’ll help us to not personalize it when your loving child and may, let’s say they’re three years old or four years old is at the grocery store and they slap you or throw something and it breaks. It’s not that you’ve done something wrong as a parent, it’s that your child’s nervous system has shifted into a vulnerable, protective state where they need to move. And that movement landed on your face or on or something on the floor. And you, the message is I need to help calm down this nervous system right now. This is not my fault. This is the child has reached their level. Their body budget been shot and they need, we need to get home right now, or we need to get in the car and I’m gonna do those things that I know calms. My child’s nervous system. It’s a compassionate way of looking at our child and also at ourselves, knowing that this idea of self-regulation is grown and self-regulation does not happen in your, in your young, early childhood. It is continue on through teenagerhood and early adulthood. So every interaction we have is an opportunity to turn it into where we are compassionate with ourselves and with our child. And it just, it just opens up a whole new door. We’ve been thrown off by viewing behaviors as our target. And there’s a whole field related to this called behaviorism that is making us think that you can really manipulate behaviors and get to the bottom of things. No, you’re just manipulating a behavior. What about the heart? The soul, the emotional life of that little child. Who’s not yet in control and they don’t know it. They’re not supposed to know it. We’re supposed to know it as the caregivers. And that’s the that’s a I’m presenting in brain, body parenting is a whole way of viewing child development, whereby your expectations are in line with what your baby toddler child can do.

Dr. Sarah (45:02):

Yes. And I think this is really hard for parents on a lot of levels. It’s a really new way of thinking. It’s likely gonna touch some exposed nerves for us, right? We are gonna have to unlearn a lot of things that we have come to believe are true, not just about our kid, but about our responsibility as parents. Right? Like, I, I, I can’t tell you how many times I’m working with a, you know, a, a parent couple who, and I have a least one, if not both parents are like, wait, you want me to just co-regulate and then what, where, where do I teach them the lesson? Where do I teach them? That’s not okay for them to do this. Where do I punish? Where do I show them their consequences for their behaviors? This is really hard for parents to sit with. It’s challenging.

Dr. Mona (45:51):

It absolutely is. And I, again, I totally get that because it can sound like codling. It can sound like, or, or parents can wonder, is this spoiling? My child, is this not transmitting the values that I need to get to my child, to my child. And, and to that, I say, it’s absolutely compatible with setting firm limits, owning your family values, teaching your child, what you believe is right and wrong in your family’s system, in your culture, in your, in your religion. All of that is you own that as a parent. And I don’t wanna take that away, but I, I do understand that it can feel that way because many of us weren’t raised this way. We were raised. And, and again, we have our children in schools where you, you are focusing on service behaviors and raw or wrong, and things are kind of categorical, but our bodies are not categorical they’re dimensional. What does that mean? It means that there are nuances to things. And once we understand the difference between a stress response and a stress behavior and the child’s response to their body budget, being in the red, rather than in the black, you know, there it’s like a financial budget as Lisa Feldman Barrett says our allostasis, our bodies’ physical homeostasis shifts when we need help. And oftentimes when our children are behaving badly, it’s a sign that they need our help. Not that they need more discipline, so you can still be a disciplinary, but when your child is suffering and you are treating them as if they are purposefully misbehaving, and please again, so much self compassion, I did this as a parent. And so I understand it’s not like don’t beat yourself up about it, but once you understand the difference between a stress re reaction and a purposeful misbehavior, then you can make sure that you’re not giving your child the, the idea that they’re choosing to be bad. And many of our toddlers feel so deflated when we misunder their inability to comply with, with purposefully misbehaving, we need to be gentle and patient with our, especially with our toddlers.

Dr. Sarah (48:41):

Yes. I always say that when kids are dysregulated and dysregulation, doesn’t always look like a full blown tantrum. It can look like kind of what I call cold signs of dysregulation, which I think fall into your red pathway also is like, when they like giggle, when you, when they hit or when they like, like my son will always, he’ll hit my daughter and I will, you know, address it. And he will say, ha funny in this like creepy, uncomfortable way. And he’s not laughing like that. He’s laughing. But like that laughter compared to like his joyful, authentic laughter not the same laugh. Like I know the difference. He’s uncomfortable. It’s this what I call kind of cold dysregulation where they hide and they run from you. Or, or they, they like can’t look at you, you know, they’re like kind of hiding their face from you. This is, this is also dysregulation. And it’s also a sign that they need our help. They don’t want to feel this way. It doesn’t feel good to them. They’re so biologically hardwired to have this like warm and connected at tension from us. And so in anything that they might be doing to undermine that is not purposeful. It’s just like you discuss it’s, it’s, it’s a stress response. It’s this it’s rooted in this adaptive protective place that their body and brains go to. But it’s, we are misreading that adaptive behavior as a problem that then we get stuck trying to solve or treat. And then we get further derailed from our goal, which is helping them feel seen by us, feel understood by us helping them bring that, that, that response down, trying to like calm their body a little bit so that they can get their thinking. Then we can teach. Then we can talk about parenting values, but not until they’re out of that red pathway

Dr. Mona (50:38):

And not until they’re receptive. And, and also, but let me just say how hard that is because there’s, there’s a perfect example of something that really infuriates parents. And again, I so get it like when a child does something wrong and they have that weird laugh, like a stressed out laugh. Okay. First of all, that is, that’s really a bell ringer for parents because it can us, and it can send us straight into the red. Like you’re laughing at that. And then in your head, you might be going 10 years in 20 years into the future. Are you like a social outcast? You’re thinking like, are you a sociopath? I mean, I’m just saying our minds go into this fight or fight ourselves. And we are automatically thinking, I’m going to discipline that out of you because I want you to survive in this world. Right. And I get that, see, that’s biological for a parent for us to want to discipline harshly because we want our children to survive.

Dr. Sarah (51:41):

Cause we’re scared in that moment. We get scared.

Dr. Mona (51:46):

Yeah. And we, again, if you have a, if you have a bigger context, we have to have our context that is aware of social and emotional development. Once we’re aware of social, the basics of social and emotional development, you’ll understand that a child will a toddler who is hitting, you know, stealing stuff from their older sibling. Udoing quirky things is basically in the process of trying to predict their environment, their little scientists, they’re figuring things out and shoot. When something goofy happens, they are stressed. And so they’re gonna know have weird looks on their faces. They may laugh. They may run, they may hide. And if we are big and overpower them, they may come back later to say, mommy, are you happy? Or are you mommy? You happy, you sad. You know, cuz they know that they disappointed us, but they don’t know that they’re not well enough developed to control their emotions and their behaviors. And that happens over time. So let’s just say this parenting gig is so difficult and thank goodness they’re adorable and we love them. And that’s what matters. You don’t have to get it. Perfect.

Dr. Sarah (53:14):

No, well, I can’t thank you enough for spending this time with us and sharing your wisdom. I’m super excited to read brain body parenting. I loved beyond behaviors. I thought that it was such a validating book as a clinician and a parent. And I think the way that you create kind of a framework for parents to, to just think about behaviors from a complete, the different lens, which takes the onus off of them to quote unquote, fix the behavior and be able to just have a different goal. So if you haven’t read Beyond Behaviors, I cannot recommend it enough. Especially, definitely if you’re a parent, but especially if you’re a clinician, cuz I know that a lot of clinicians listen to this podcast as well. And I actually really think that if you are working with parents and families and children, you should, you should absolutely read this book. It’s, it’s just a, it’s a really good book. So I, I can’t wait to hear the new, the new one that you’ve got. And I, I have a feeling it’s going to blow our minds a little bit. The book coming out very soon.

Dr. Mona (54:28):

Yeah. It’s coming out soon and it’s available pretty much everywhere of course Amazon. But it’s available, it’s even available at Target and Walmart. So yeah. I’m really excited for people to to, to find even some more, I hope some more relief and some, some compassion for themselves and some insights that will actually make your life easier. Yes. By understanding some of these principles.

Dr. Sarah (55:00):

Yes. Let’s simplify things. Let’s give them let’s well thank you. And I hope have a wonderful day and you welcome to come back and talk about the new theories that you’re presenting in the book as soon as they are out and about. We’d love to have you back anytime.

Dr. Mona (55:17):

Oh, thank you so much. I’d love to come back. So take good care and thanks again for having me.

Dr. Sarah (55:23):

Thank you.

Dr. Sarah (55:30):I really hope you enjoyed this episode. It can be a big transition to make this paradigm shift. So if you need, go back and listen to this one more time to help it all really sink in. And if you’re interested in additional resources, head over to my website, drsarahbren.com, where you’ll find free guides to help support you in your parenting, from planning for your postpartum, to fostering resilience, to creating successful toddler bedtime routines. There’s lots of there for you to explore at drsarahbren.com. So thanks for listening to the podcast and until next week, don’t be a stranger.


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41. Using your child’s brain, body and nervous system to guide your parenting: A conversation with child psychologist Dr. Mona Delahooke

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