177: Three ways to be a good parent, even on bad days
In this episode I take a look at the main reasons why we have these hard days – from our child’s temperament to our temperament to attachment relationships, trauma, and neurodivergences – all of these intersect especially tightly on the hard days.
Jump to highlights
(02:44) It can be difficult when we have a temperament mismatch
(03:25) But having the same temperament can also be difficult
(04:36) Children will often take on a role in the family
(05:29) Our attachment style impacts how we perceive other people’s behavior
(10:40) Making a non-cognitive shift so you see difficult days differently
(21:05) We don’t always have to fix everything in the moment
(25:59) The challenges to meeting your needs more often
(29:43) The part we often forget is that your child has needs as well
Click here to read the full transcript
Do you get tired of hearing the same old intros to podcast episodes? Me too. Hi, I’m not Jen. I’m Jessica, and I’m in Burlesque Panama. Jen has just created a new way for listeners to record the introductions to podcast episodes, and I got to test it out. There’s no other resource out there quite like Your Parenting Mojo, which doesn’t just tell you about the latest scientific research on parenting and child development, but puts it in context for you as well, so you can decide whether and how to use this new information. If you’d like to get new episodes in your inbox, along with a free infographic on 13 reasons your child isn’t listening to you and what to do about each one, sign up at yourparentingmojo.com/subscribe and come over to our free Facebook group to continue the conversation about this episode. You can also thank Jen for this episode by donating to keep the podcast ad free by going to the page for this or any other episode on yourparentingmojo.com. If you’d like to start a conversation with someone about this episode or know someone who would find it useful, please forward it to them. Overtime, you’re going to get sick of hearing me read this intro as well, so come and record one yourself. You can read from a script she’s provided or have some real fun with it and write your own. Just go to yourparentingmojo.com and click read the intro. I can’t wait to hear yours.
Jen Lumanlan 01:26
Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Today I want to talk about the hard days that we have as parents. The days when we’re trying our absolute best to do this parenting thing right, but still it seems like it isn’t enough. What do we do on those days? How can we get through them with some grace? How can we know they aren’t hurting our children, or our relationship with our children? In this episode I want to think through some of these things with you. We’re going to take a closer look at what causes some of these hard days, and then I’m going to offer three main ideas to help you navigate those hard days to make them a little easier for you.
Jen Lumanlan 02:01
So I know that our children’s challenges can be really big. Even when they’re having a good day they can be bouncy and exuberant and joyful and loud, and when we’re having a good day that can be a lot to deal with. Maybe our own parents looked at the qualities we had and found difficult to deal with and told us that those would be great qualities when we’re adults and they become marketable – things like our ‘answering back,’ which would one day make us a great lawyer – simultaneously legitimizing what they saw as an annoying habit of ours and anticipating a day when they would be recognized as ‘good parents’ for raising a ‘successful’ child. Even if we aren’t doing that, and we can see how our child’s qualities are good qualities today, that doesn’t mean that they’re always easy to live with.
Jen Lumanlan 02:44
I think this can be especially difficult when we have a temperament mismatch – which can mean we have the opposite temperament as our child, or sometimes it can even mean we have a similar temperament. So if we don’t like to be active a lot of the time, and we like to do the same things at pretty much the same time every day, and we’re pretty persistent and stick with things that are difficult, and our child wants to be running around from the very moment they wake up to the very moment they fall asleep, and taking our child out to endless activities to keep them occupied means we can’t follow the routines we prefer, and our child flits from one thing to the next and never sticks with anything for more than three minutes at a stretch, it’s not hard to see how contrasting temperaments can make things difficult.
Jen Lumanlan 03:25
But having the same temperament can also make things difficult! If you’re both highly persistent, you might each get an idea into your heads about how things should be, and not be flexible on accommodating the other’s ideas. If you both react to things with a high degree of intensity, then even simple issues can throw a real wrench in the works. If your child has a big reaction because their purple shirt is in the wash, and you have an intense reaction because you can’t believe they’re making a big deal out of the purple shirt being in the wash, then it’s a lot harder to recover than it would be if each of you didn’t react so intensely.
Jen Lumanlan 04:00
If you’re both highly distractible, you might find it difficult to plan, and your child’s distractibility is likely to pull you even more off course. Some people have a generally more positive mood than others; you may see this most clearly if you have more than one child and one of them is usually in a more positive mood than the other. You might perceive the happy, bubbly child as ‘easier to love,’ while the child who appears more sad and gloomy seems more ‘difficult to love.’ Whether you label this explicitly by saying it in your mind (or even to them) or just subconsciously and implicitly, this can end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. Children will often take on a role in the family – the funny one, the smart one, the happy one – or the sad one, the difficult one, the annoying one. We communicate these ideas to our children, whether we intend to or not, and we get into a cyclical process where they’re feeling a little bit sad, or doing something we find a little bit difficult or annoying, and we see them as sad or difficult or annoying, which reinforces their own view and they become more sad or difficult or annoying. And if we also have this slightly sad or gloomy outlook then we’re more likely to put this interpretation on our child’s neutral behavior, and to respond to even their neutral behavior as if it was negative, which continues the cycle. This kind of dynamic sets us up for difficult days even when nothing else is going ‘wrong,’ and makes it harder for us to be with our child in ways that are neutral, never mind ways that are fun and enjoyable and warm and loving.
Jen Lumanlan 05:29
Then of course there’s the layer of our attachment style, which is how we learned to receive affection from our own parent or caregiver, which impacts how we perceive other people’s behavior today. So if we developed a strong attachment relationship with our primary parent or caregiver then we may be able to do the same with our children, and be in a relationship that is generally warm and loving. But if we developed an anxious attachment relationship with our parent then even in our relationships today we’re constantly looking to the other person for reassurance that they really do love us, and if our own child has an avoidant attachment relationship with us, where they’ve learned that we won’t consistently be there for them, then they may find that constant checking in to be highly irritating. On the flip side of that, if our child has an anxious attachment relationship with us then they will be the one constantly doing the checking, and if we have an avoidant attachment style then we may find that to be highly irritating, and wonder why on earth they need so much attention, and why they can’t do more for themselves. Two anxiously attached people together are constantly checking in with each other to see if they are OK with each other, and two people with an avoidant style are basically staying at arm’s length from each other, each giving the other one the bare minimum of care and attention in the interest of self-preservation.
Jen Lumanlan 06:41
On top the layer of temperament there’s the layer of the trauma we’ve experienced when we were children and may even still be experiencing today. Even if our parents were good parents, they probably didn’t model healthy ways to be in conflict. They may have dismissed our ideas and told us we were fine when we clearly weren’t. They may have rewarded us for being happy – especially if we’re female-identifying – and withdrawn love and approval if we expressed sadness or disappointment or anger. Maybe the conflict we witnessed between them was scary so we avoided it, and now we don’t know how to understand our feelings, and think we can’t express certain feelings, and if a situation becomes too volatile we have to get out of it as fast as we possibly can. Maybe we learned a placating, fawning response and we ran around making cups of tea for everyone, or kept our anxious feelings bottled up deep inside and gained so much praise for being what everyone saw as “just the best-behaved little girl.” Or if you’re male-identifying then maybe you lashed out at others and the adults told you to stop doing it, but they still sort of expected you to do it because you were a boy, and nobody ever tried to understand all the hurt in you that blew out in hitting other people when it seemed like there was nowhere else for it to go.
Jen Lumanlan 07:54
And then of course, another layer in all of this is the diagnosed or diagnosable things we have going on – so if we have ADHD then maybe it’s really hard for us to plan anything or to stick to plans once we’ve made them. If our child has ADHD as well then that pulls us off track even more. There are all the challenges like depression, anxiety, alcoholism, over-eating, under-eating, excessive work, excessive social media use, and even ADHD which I’m becoming increasingly convinced are not very different at all. They’re all different presentations of the same underlying cause, which is chronically unmet needs. All of these diagnoses are society’s way of saying ‘we have expectations for you, and as long as you aren’t meeting them, we’re going to say that you are the one who is ill. Your job is to start meeting our expectations, and then we’ll consider you functional again.’ There’s no potential for the system that we live in to change, so we use these coping strategies to get us through – to numb us, to distract us from being present with what’s actually here in this moment. When we’re depressed or anxious or using substances or eating or not eating or working or scrolling through social media then we’re distracted. We aren’t present with what’s here in this moment. We get used to being numbed, and when something like our child’s ‘misbehavior’ drags us back into the present moment, it’s hard to cope with! It hurts! And it drags up all the old hurt that we haven’t dealt with yet. It’s no wonder we’d prefer to get back into our numbed and distracted state as soon as possible.
Jen Lumanlan 09:24
So all of that stuff is there all the time, shaping the ways we’re able to be in relationship with our children on a daily basis, and then something happens and we’re having a bad parenting day. Maybe our child does something age-appropriate and because we have this temperamental mismatch, and attachment stuff, and diagnoses or diagnosables, it doesn’t take much to push us over the edge.
Jen Lumanlan 09:48
So the big question for this episode is: what do we do when that happens? What do we do when one thing pushes us over the edge, and we shout at our kids, or we’re rough with them, or we shut them out because their big feelings are too much for us to cope with? How do we get out of that? Maybe we’ve become experts at apologizing; the “I’m sorry I did that; I’m having a hard time and I’m trying not to yell at you,” but it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. Maybe it feels like we should be better; that we’re supposed to be better, and instead we can’t get the needle out of the grooves of the old record of exploding and apologizing, exploding and apologizing. Maybe these are interspersed with moments of tenderness and affection but the difficult times are happening far more often than you want. So does it have to be like this? What would it take for things to not be like this? How can you recover when you have a difficult interaction at the beginning of the day so it doesn’t derail your entire day?
Jen Lumanlan 10:40
Let’s look at the first of the three ideas to help you navigate difficult days, which is making a non-cognitive shift so you see the difficult days differently. I had a conversation recently with Margaret and Amy on the What Fresh Hell podcast – I have to say I really appreciate their show. They have great conversations with guests who are doing great work in respectful parenting, and it’s so obvious that Margaret and Amy do their research before doing these interviews, which of course I always appreciate. They did an episode on pattern breaking a few months ago that I listened to in preparation for the conversation and Margaret said that she doesn’t think it’s possible to break the patterns of our reactions to difficult situations. She says we can change our responses after we’ve entered into the pattern, and we can remind ourselves to use different tools and change the outcome of the interaction, but the actual pattern of getting triggered in the first place is set. And I had to respectfully disagree with that because I have seen parents change their patterns. For some parents, simple awareness about why they feel triggered can create a shift. Some parents can learn for the first time: “Oh, I thought I was having these big reactions because my child was doing something so inappropriate, but now I see that it isn’t really about my child at all, and I can trace this directly back to something that happened to me when I was young, and now it all makes sense.” And for those parents, that’s enough to make a shift – suddenly they don’t feel as overwhelmed by their child’s behavior anymore, and the knowledge of what was causing it was enough to make that happen.
Jen Lumanlan 12:12
For most parents that isn’t enough, and I think that’s where this idea of “you can’t break a pattern” comes from. Maybe a lot of us have seen a lot of memes on Facebook and Instagram about how we can see our challenges differently and we think ‘yes! That’s true for me! And that’s how I want to parent!’ and we think: “OK; now I see why this is true, I’m going to do things differently.” But aside from that different cognitive understanding in our heads, nothing else has really changed – so the next time the difficult situation comes up, we still react in the same way we’ve always reacted. But I don’t think that means that we can’t break patterns; I just think it means we haven’t broken our pattern yet. And I know it is possible to break these patterns, because I’ve seen so many parents do it. It would be nice to think that it’s knowledge that I provide that really makes the difference here but if I’m genuinely 100% honest, it really isn’t. Really what makes the difference here is other people. Other people who are in the same boat as you, processing new information along with you. I’ll never forget meeting parent N., who took the Taming Your Triggers workshop a year ago, who gave me permission to share her story if I only identified her by her first initial. N’s mom was an alcoholic when N was growing up and has very few memories of N’s formative years. N had been in therapy for years with all the issues she had struggled with herself, and her therapists would always say: “you know this all goes back to your Mom, right?” and N would say “NO! I’m sick of talking about my Mom!” She had known for a years that she needed to forgive her mom, but she could never figure out how to do it. If she brought the words to mind they just seemed empty and meaningless. There was no feeling behind them.
Jen Lumanlan 13:56
It was actually on the very first day of the workshop that N had what I call a non-cognitive shift, which is an understanding that isn’t just in your head; it’s where something shifts in your body. When this happens you aren’t getting started in the old pattern and then having to remind yourself of your new understanding and what you want to do differently; you’re just in a new pattern. In N’s case, she saw the hundreds of other parents who had enrolled in the workshop on that first day introducing themselves and talking about their triggered feelings and the difficult experiences they had and suddenly something shifted. She was able to see her mom in a different way for the first time, not as an alcoholic who wasn’t present for N when she should have been, but as a struggling twenty-something new mom with a whole lot of unresolved trauma of her own, who was genuinely doing the very best she could. N had had sympathy for her before, but she had never had empathy for her mom until that moment.
Jen Lumanlan 14:53
And suddenly the forgiveness happened. It wasn’t a cognitive change, and somehow she had convinced herself that she forgave her mom now. She explained it: “I needed to be it, I needed to be forgiveness. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s like a whole-body forgiveness. And not once in my life of learning and working on this. I felt this deep inside. But I did now during this program.” Her mom was out of town, so N sent her a text saying she forgave her, and her mom sent a beautiful response saying that she felt like a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders. And N had been carrying her own weight around in her interactions with her child for so long, and suddenly that wasn’t there anymore – not because she had decided to do things differently, or convinced herself to do things differently, but because she just was different. This stuff happens all the time in the workshop, as people uncover triggers they never knew they had, and understand, perhaps for the very first time, that they have needs, and they can articulate these to themselves and other people and even meet them. They learn to see the needs underneath their child’s difficult behavior and suddenly they aren’t in a me vs. my child relationship anymore where any time and energy spent doing what my child is demanding is time and energy being taken away from things that are important to me. Instead, they can see that oh; maybe that behavior that seemed so wrong before is OK, but the parent is going to modify the environment so it feels less overwhelming. We’re definitely not becoming a permissive parent, but we’re asking: do I really need to draw the line here? And when more of our needs are met more of the time, we often find the limits we had been setting that had seemed so necessary and inflexible actually aren’t needed as much anymore.
Jen Lumanlan 16:31
The important thing that’s happening here is the learning in community. The difficulties we’ve had in life didn’t happen in isolation. We didn’t just wake up depressed or anxious or addicted one day; these patterns formed through the relationships we have with others. They’re how we learned to cope with our relationships with others. So it makes sense that healing happens in relationship too. It doesn’t have to be in a course – it can be in therapy, if that’s available to and affordable for you, and you have the time to do it. One thing I would like to see more of is community-based healing, where we work with friends and other non-experts to process our experiences. The people who developed Internal Family Systems therapy explicitly say that you can practice their methods on yourself, and that a supportive friend can help you to do it, because you aren’t digging deep into things that are traumatic. You’re looking at the parts of yourself that are protecting the hurt parts, and maybe a little bit at the hurt parts themselves, but you don’t actually have to relive the traumatic experiences to be able to support the parts of you that are doing the protecting, which is where the problems come from. So you don’t need a lot of special training to be able to do that, and I’d love to see more groups forming where people work together to support each other, and perhaps therapy might provide some additional support with particularly difficult issues. But how would we find those people? How could we get over the shame of asking them to participate? How would we decide what format our conversations should take? How could we stay accountable and actually keep showing up?
Jen Lumanlan 17:53
That’s why we created the AccountaBuddies program within Taming Your Triggers. I’m always tinkering with the program because I can’t help myself from working to improve it. We first introduced the AccountaBuddies a year ago, and we help you match up with a partner inside the workshop, and you get together based on your availability and communication preferences. You might end up getting matched with someone from the other side of the world because your morning availability matches their evening availability and you both like to text, or Marco Polo, or do Zoom calls, or whatever. In each week of the workshop, we give you prompts to discuss, so you never have a call where you’re sitting around wondering what the heck you’re supposed to talk about. You don’t have to use the prompts, but they’re there if you need them. Some people join the workshop and think: how could talking with another person who has no more expertise in this topic than I do possibly help me? What the vast majority of them find is that they don’t need to talk to an expert; they just need someone who can hold space for them in all of their messiness, even on the worst days, and say: “I’m here. I see you. I see how hard you’re trying and that it all fell apart today. Anyone would have struggled in that situation. You aren’t a terrible person.” And they end up performing that role for each other on different days, witnessing all the messiness of a person who is learning and healing and growing, and many of them do go on to develop deep friendships that far outlast the workshop. I’ve heard of some Buddies planning to visit each other across the other side of the world, and we see that significantly more participants who match with AccountaBuddies complete the whole workshop compared with those who don’t. Last October we tested a new process of optionally matching with TWO buddies to give you more chances to connect, and in case one person decided they weren’t able to participate as much as they’d thought, and this year we’ll add a mechanism to check on you and make sure your match is working out and give you a chance to re-match if not. What we’re trying to do here is bring the best of the idea of community-based healing and take all the pressure out of it so you don’t have to stick your neck out and find people who want to do it with you; you’ve got a hundred or more people who are all eager to match with you, and we help you with that process too. And of course, we’re also helping the non-cognitive shifts along not just by giving you new knowledge, but by discussing it, and your questions, in the private community. I’ve seen people say: “Oh, I never realized that issue was a trigger for me until you said it, but it totally is!” and people building on each other’s understanding as they go. It speeds up the process because you aren’t just relying on yourself to produce new understanding, but you’re getting the benefit of everyone else discussing how they’re processing the information as well, which helps you to incorporate that into your learning as well.
Jen Lumanlan 20:23
So that non-cognitive shift is easier to make when you’re processing the new information with other people, because you don’t have to generate all the insights yourself. Seeing other people generate insights can create real shifts for you as well, and at that point you may well find that you just aren’t triggered as often, because you aren’t relying on cognitive processes to remember what to do in the difficult moments, but something in your body is actually different. It’s like you’ve taken on a new way of being without having to force yourself or convince yourself or remind yourself to do it. It takes some mental energy to do it in the first place, but the mental energy savings on the back end is profound.
Jen Lumanlan 21:02
The second of our three ideas is that we don’t always have to fix everything in the moment. Yes, if siblings are fighting and one or both are about to get hurt then absolutely you’re going to step in and separate them. I’m thinking back to when I took a Wilderness First Responder class several years ago, which is about coping with medical emergencies in the wilderness. The first question you always ask when you get into an accident or when you come across someone who has an injury or medical emergency is: “is the scene safe?” The second is “can the scene be made safe?” Only then do you get permission to treat the patient and actually apply any first aid. So when you’re approaching a situation with your child or your children, you can ask yourself: is the scene safe? Can the scene be made safe? And then we’re going to do what we need to do to make that happen. So perhaps a baby can be picked up, or we can stand up if we’re on the verge of being hit, or we could stand between two children who are struggling.
Jen Lumanlan 21:58
From there, you might feel an enormous pressure to do something. Anything. The Right Thing. To Fix the Situation. But the real thing to do at this point is…nothing. Nothing at all. You’re creating a pause so you can re-regulate yourself. You’re taking a breath, you’re taking a break if you need one. You might think you need to be in another room to get a proper break, and if you did that then your child would just follow you and try to grab you and bang the door down so how can you even take a break? But what if it wasn’t true that you needed to be in another room to take a break? What if you could just stand up to physically remove yourself from danger, and maybe put some earplugs in or put some noise-canceling headphones on, and take a little mini-break without leaving the room? Is it possible that that could give you enough of a pause to take a breath and re-regulate a little bit, and then another breath and a little more re-regulation, and from there, we start to think about what we’re going to do. At that point, if it’s helpful to have a script to get you started, one of the easiest things to say is: “It seems like you’re having a hard time right now, huh?”. And if you’re still pretty dysregulated yourself or you’ve been dysregulated, you might change that to: “WE’RE having a hard time right now, huh?” Then, more nothing. Sit down near them. If they and you are calm enough and it would feel good to both of you, you could put your arms out to see if they want a hug. If there’s more than one child, perhaps they might each like an arm. Then some more nothing. There’s nothing to do and nothing to fix in that moment. All you need to do is be present, which is hard! All of the messages from our culture say that everything is urgent! Do something! Fix it now! But that’s how we got into this dysregulated state in the first place! The constant go, go, go leaves us drained, and we don’t know how to be with someone in hard stuff without trying to make it better because it hurts, and the go, go, go and do, do, do seems like it will make the hurt go away fastest. But remembering the right thing to say and do is hard too, and when we try to do it when we’re stressed, it never goes as well as we want. So we don’t have to do anything in that moment. We can just sit with our child and acknowledge that they’re having a hard time and maybe we’re having a hard time as well, and that nothing else needs to happen in this exact moment.
Jen Lumanlan 24:23
Then when everyone is a little better regulated and you can form a coherent thought, you can say something like: “would you like to tell me what happened?” That non-judgmental statement invites your child to share what’s going on with them, instead of making them shut down, which they might well do if we lead with something like: “Why were you hitting your sibling?” or “What on earth were you thinking?” or “why won’t you get dressed?” Even if you say them gently, those kinds of openings place the blame on the child and make it clear that they need to change their behavior. If you imagine someone else saying one of these statements to you, you can get a sense for what it’s like to be on the receiving end – the effect on your child is about the same as it is on you, although perhaps more difficult because you have other places to get support in your life when you feel judged, while your child really mostly has you. At that point you can explore together what happened and what you want to do about it, and there’s no rush to get to a solution. If there is a rush to do something like get out the door, you might want to just try to make that happen as gracefully as possible, even ‘giving in’ to your child’s wishes/demands if necessary, and saying something like: “Let’s talk about this later, OK?” The tone you deliver that question in is super important; it can never mean: “Let’s talk about this later, when I’ll convince you that I was in the right and you should have done what I said.” It has to convey: “Let’s talk about this later, because I’d like to know what was going on for you and share what’s going on for me, and figure out how we can meet both of our needs.”
Jen Lumanlan 25:50
The third of our three ideas today is one you can do anytime, before a difficult situation, during one, and after it. And that is: try to meet your needs more often. There are two challenges I’m guessing you’re going to have with this. The first is that you’re saying: Jen. Seriously. I have four kids and two jobs, and I barely even have time to shower, never mind get my needs met. And I hear you. I really do. And I would ask you to cast your mind back to the last time your child didn’t want to do something you wanted them to do, or wanted to do something you didn’t want them to do, and you reacted in a way that you didn’t want to, whether that was yelling or shutting down or walking away, and what effect that had on your child, and how long the whole thing took from start to finish. If I’m right, it probably took quite a while, because when you got dysregulated that fed your child’s dysregulation, and putting the shoes on or not jumping off the sofa turned into a huge thing that completely derailed you leaving the house on time, or your child getting to bed on time, which sapped a whole lot of your time and energy. It might seem right now like there’s no time, but really it’s that you’re taking the time in the moments when you’re most dysregulated, instead of spending it on taking care of yourself. So you’re taking the time either way; it’s just that in one scenario you’re able to be present with your child in a way that’s aligned with your values, and in the other you regularly feel like you’re at the end of your rope, which kind of sucks. I did some calculations a couple of years ago and found that if you’re regularly spending 10-15 minutes negotiating little things like tooth brushing, getting dressed, not running around the house on a regular basis, and it’s taking you an hour to get them into bed in the evenings then you could potentially save 90 hours a month by understanding needs, because all of those things will happen so much more efficiently. Could you use 90 hours a month?
Jen Lumanlan 27:39
The other challenge I see when parents are new to these ideas is that parents mix up their needs with strategies to meet those needs. So I often hear parents say: “I need five minutes by myself,” or “I need to be able to get out of the house by 8:30am” or “I just need my child to listen to me,” which is sort of code for “I just need my child to do what I tell them at least some of the time.” The key thing to recognize is that none of those things are needs. None of them. Those are all strategies to meet your needs. And when we get attached to using certain strategies to meet our needs, conflict results. Let’s take getting out the door as an example – and let’s say you’re going to work, and we’ll go through a non-work-related example in a minute. So it’s 8:15am and you can already see that you’re not going to be out of the door by 8:30, which means that by the time you’ve done preschool or school drop-off you’re going to be late for work. So what are your real needs here, if it isn’t to get out of the house by 8:30? Let’s look at the macro scale first; at the needs you have every day that routinely don’t get met. You may have macro-scale needs related to rest and movement and self-care time doing things you enjoy. And when those needs aren’t met on a regular basis, you’ll find yourself dysregulated much more often and more easily when your child does those age-appropriate things that drive you up the wall. Spending even 15 minutes doing something that meets these macro-scale needs can really set you up for success because when your needs are met on a more regular basis then you won’t be so depleted when you arrive in these difficult moments. Then when 8:15am rolls around and it seems like your need is to get out of the house in 15 minutes, your real needs might be for responsibility, because you’ve committed to your boss and your co-workers that you’ll be there at a certain time. You may have a need for competence in your work – to know you’re doing a good job, which means arriving in the right frame of mind, and with enough time to do your work. You might also have a need for connection with your child, which isn’t being met when you’re so dysregulated, as well as collaboration with them – to know that you’re both on the same team, and not working against each other all the time.
Jen Lumanlan 29:43
The part we often forget is that your child has needs as well. Your child’s needs are most likely related to connection with you, and perhaps comfort, and maybe also safety, if they’re struggling at preschool or school or wherever you’re dropping them off. And all of those needs are coming together in that moment when they’re refusing to put their shoes on. So you can see that this really isn’t about putting shoes on at all. It isn’t even about them not listening to you. And it’s not that your needs conflict, because they don’t. It’s just that they seem like they conflict when you’re working at the level of shoes, because there’s only two positions in that conflict: put the shoes on, or don’t put them on. You pick one position, and your child picks the other, and you’re both inflexible about the other’s position. But when we can forget about the shoes for a minute and come back up to the level of needs, a whole host of potential options becomes possible.
Jen Lumanlan 30:33
Maybe today we can call our co-worker and let them know we might be a few minutes late, knowing that we’re going to work on putting systems in place so we won’t be having this struggle every morning in the future. Or if we work in a type of job where we really can’t be late, then we’re working with our child to just get through whatever is the struggle that morning so we can get out of the house. We’re going to help them get dressed, and brush their teeth, and put their shoes on for them. We’re going to help them meet their needs for connection as much as we can so we can just get out the door today. Then when we come back together later, we’re going to try to understand why this is so hard. Is it because your child is looking for connection with you in the morning, and is doing that by asking for help getting dressed, even though they are absolutely old enough to do it themselves, and you know they can do it themselves because they’ve done it before. Is it that they find the clothes uncomfortable? Is it that they know getting dressed leads to brushing teeth leads to putting shoes on leads to getting in the car leads to being apart from you, which they don’t want? Is there something about preschool or school that they’re finding difficult, so they’re stalling along every step of the way to postpone going? The key is that they don’t have the tools to be able to tell you that just by themselves, so they do all those things you find irritating instead. And we were trained so well by our own parents that we just needed to behave and do what we were told that it seems like we need to get our children to do that too. But when we only focus on the behavior; the refusal to do what they’re told, or what we want them to do, then we miss the opportunity to understand their needs, and that’s why we keep having the same old fight over and over again. Once we understand their needs then we can find a fun way to help them get dressed, or avoid the shirt with the itchy tags, or talk to the teacher about what’s happening at preschool or school. By working to meet our child’s needs, we end up meeting our own needs for responsibility and competence at work, as well as connection and collaboration with your child. And all that’s required is that we be willing to suspend our ideas about what a child should be able to do and should be doing, and then we can actually get both of our needs met.
Jen Lumanlan 32:34
When we look to understand both of our needs, we can apply this knowledge in any situation. So let’s say the child isn’t just protesting leaving the house on school days, but even when you’re on the way to the park. At that point you can imagine that things going on at preschool or school are less of an issue, and maybe it isn’t even connection with you, because you’re going to play with them at the park. Perhaps it is more about the clothes, or maybe feeling uncomfortable in the car seat, or feeling bored in the car. The situations in which the behavior occurs help you to narrow down what the potential needs might be, and once you meet the person’s needs, the struggle goes away. When your needs are routinely for ease and collaboration, meeting your child’s needs has the happy side effect of meeting your needs as well. You might be wondering how you can do this with a child who won’t or can’t speak, and the answer is that you absolutely can. The real challenge is getting ourselves into a headspace where we can actually empathize with our child, instead of getting hung up on how hard their behavior is making our life. When we can do that, we can look more closely at when their resistance pops up, and even ask them: “I’m wondering if you’re having a hard time because you want to feel connected to me in the morning?” And our child doesn’t have to be able to describe what’s happening – they could just tell you ‘yes,’ or nod, or grunt, or glance at you in the way you already know means ‘yes.’ Even if you can’t get an answer, many parents I work with find that just the process of coming toward your child and trying to understand their perspective loosens something up in the interaction, and that maybe your child becomes more willing to collaborate with you.
Jen Lumanlan 34:03
That’s how we can work to meet both our and our child’s needs during and after a difficult interaction, and you might find that working on this helps you to greatly reduce the kinds of interactions that you’re currently finding to be triggering. The other thing you can do before you get into any kind of triggering situation is to assess what needs you have that aren’t being met. Once again, the important part here is to get out of the idea of looking at strategies to see what need we’re trying to meet by using the strategy. So we might think to ourselves: “I need 30 minutes to myself to read a book!” and that would be a strategy, rather than a need. Our need here is for self-care, and for learning or relaxation, or both, depending on the content of the book. So taking 30 minutes to yourself to read a book is one way to meet both of those needs, and there are so many other ways to meet them as well! Maybe you could listen to your book on a podcast while you rub your child’s back to help them to sleep. Maybe you could meet your need for self-care on a walk, or meditating on a park bench while your child plays on the playground, or through exercise where you run while your child rides their bike, or by doing some sort of workout in your bedroom while your child hides and “surprises” you between sets. If we can let go of the single idea that we’ve latched onto as the only way we can meet our need, we can find many other ways to meet our needs, and many of them end up meeting our child’s needs as well.
Jen Lumanlan 35:22
Alright. So to recap, we’ve looked at some of the things that can make it difficult for you to show up in your relationship with your child in the way you want. There’s the temperament match and mismatches, the attachment issues, the difficult experiences you’ve had that seemed like they were under control before you had kids and now it’s painfully clear they are very much not under control, as well as the diagnoses that we have or that have been missed our whole lives and only now are we wondering how they might be impacting us. All of that shows up in what seems like a simple interaction where if your child would just put their flipping shoes on, there wouldn’t even be a problem. But we know those events are going to happen, and they’re going to build into those days where it just seems like we’re a terrible parent, but that doesn’t mean we are a terrible parent. And that doesn’t mean that once one of those days has started, it has to end terribly. It is possible to break these kinds of patterns, not immediately, and not always predictably, but by working to heal ourselves using new knowledge and processing that knowledge in community with others, which could be friends or a group of people you convene to create a therapeutic community, or through a workshop with people who are learning alongside you and who are matched up with you to provide support. This can help us to make a non-cognitive shift, so we don’t have to drop into the old pattern and then remind ourselves of the right things to say and do to get out of it; when we’ve experienced the non-cognitive shift the old pattern just isn’t there as much anymore. We can do a lot by slowing down those difficult moments when they do come up, knowing that we don’t have to fix anything right then and there. All we have to do is acknowledge that we’re having a hard time without blaming anyone for it, and wait until we’re all a bit more regulated until we actually do anything, and then we’re moving into understanding what’s going on for us and for our child.
Jen Lumanlan 37:10
Finally, we can work to understand our needs and our child’s needs in these difficult situations. We may be able to do that after we’ve re-regulated when a difficult situation has just happened, although more likely when we’re new to doing this it’s going to be much easier to do it several hours later when you’ve had time to think, and then come back to your child with a conversation about what happened. And when you’re doing that, you’re making sure to look beyond the strategies that you may have considered needs up to now and look for the real needs underneath those strategies. Once you can do that, you can find many strategies that could address both your and your child’s needs. If all of this sounds great but you can’t create that pause to acknowledge the hard time you’re having because you’re just too overwhelmed, then a non-cognitive shift will really help. And if you can’t understand what your child’s needs are, or you can’t understand what your own needs are, the Taming Your Triggers workshop will really help, because I and the amazing peer coaches are in the community every day. We’ll offer you a lot of guidance in the beginning of the workshop so you can see exactly how to use and apply the tools, and as we move through, we back off a little bit and help you see how to use them yourself, without us providing the answers at every step. My goal is not to make you dependent on our support, so every time your child does something that drives you up the wall you come to the community and we help you decide what to do. My goal is the opposite of that – we want to give you all the support you need in the early days of the workshop so you can see how to use the tools, and over time we carefully dial the support back so by the end you’re self-sufficient, and you don’t need us anymore because you’ve taken on this new way of being in relationships. We focus primarily on your relationship with your child, but most parents who take the workshop find that it also helps them to navigate their triggered feelings related to their partners and parents and siblings and even colleagues more effectively as well. To learn more about the Taming Your Triggers Workshop, just go to yourparentingmojo.com/tamingyourtriggers. If you sign up for the wait list now, we’ll send you a discount coupon to sign up even before registration is officially open between February 19th and March 1st. I hope to see you there!
Hi, this is Jess from Burlesque, Panama. I’m a Your Parenting Mojo fan and I hope you enjoy this show as much as I do. If you found this episode especially enlightening or useful, you can also donate to help Jen produce more content like this and also save us from those interminable mattress ads. Then you can do that and also subscribe in the link that Jen just mentioned. And don’t forget to head to YourParentingMojo.com to record your own message for the show.
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