Today we talk with listener Seanna Mallon about her struggles to be mindful when responding to her two spirited young sons (and I can confirm from direct experience that they are indeed spirited – we actually had to re-record the episode after we simply couldn’t continue the first interview due to her children’s continual interruptions!).
I share some basic tools for staying calm in difficult moments; for a deeper dive on this topic, do join the Tame Your Triggers workshop!
Also, I wanted to let you know that the Finding Your Parenting Mojo membership (which hasn’t been open to new members since October 2018 and likely won’t reopen for at least six months) is now accepting new members! If you love the ideas you hear about in the podcast but struggle to apply them in your real life with your real family, then this group is for you.
We start by reducing the incidence of tantrums at your house, and once we’ve created a bit of breathing room for you we take a step back and get super clear on your parenting goals. Then we learn how to Parent as a Team by getting on the same page with your co-parent on the topics that are really important – and learning when to just ‘let it go.’
I’m looking forward to meeting you in the group!
Jen: 02:00 Hello and welcome to the Sharing Your Parenting Mojo series of episodes where we turn the tables and talk with listeners about things that they have learned from the show and also things they're struggling with in their parenting and ways that they might be able to move forward. Today, we’re here with Seanna Mallon. Welcome Seanna.
Seanna: 02:17 Hi, how are you?
Jen: 02:18 Good, thank you. Thanks so much for being on the show. Can you tell us a little bit about you and your family?
Seanna: 02:23 Yes. So me and my husband, we live in Long Island, New York. We have two boys. My older son is almost five and a half and my younger son is almost two. My husband has two jobs, a regular day job, 9-5 and he also owns his own business. So, he's gone 7 days a week working. Sometimes he doesn't get back until 8:30 or 9 and completely misses bedtime. So a lot of the parenting stuff has been left to me and I'm also working on my Ph.D. I have to finish writing my dissertation and that has kind of taken a back seat to all the parenting things. So, I'm hoping to get back into that.
Jen: 03:14 So, you're not super busy then?
Seanna: 03:18 No. Not at all.
Jen: 03:19 What is this the subject of your dissertation?
Seanna: 03:21 So my degree is in Atmospheric Science. I have a Bachelor's in Chemistry. So my focus is on air pollution and the interactions of particles in the atmosphere with the gas phase.
Jen: 03:35 Oh, I understood everything until you said gas phase and then you lost me.
Seanna: 03:43 It's technical.
Jen: 03:44 Okay. Yes, I understand. So, I think you have spirited children in your home, is that right?
Seanna: 03:50 I do. I have two spirited children and my husband and myself are also, we were spirited children and are still spirited adults.
Jen: 04:01 And have you listened to the episode on Raising Your Spirited Child?
Seanna: 04:05 I have. I've listened to it twice and I've also read the book and I love it. It was one of the most helpful books I have ever read. I've read a bunch of parenting books and I think this one is probably one of my favorites.
Jen: 04:19 Yeah. It's really powerful, isn't it? To understand that there are tools that you can use to help you better empathize with and support children who need that little bit of extra support. Is there one tool that either that we discussed during the interview that you learned from the book that was particularly useful to you?
Seanna: 04:39 Well, I just really loved how she laid out the temperament traits. It was nine traits. So, understanding which of those traits is kind of fueling the behavior that I'm seeing. I mean I'm thinking back to when I was a child, I always was very sensitive and still am and I would have that sock issue that she talks about in the book. And my mom just, you know, she didn't understand why I was crying about my socks and eventually she realized, yeah, the socks were actually hurting my feet and I had to wear them inside out. So, that kind of thing allows me to be more empathetic to the boys. If certain thing kind of seem a little bit like why does that bother you? But then I think back, I say, yeah, I might not see it, but it's real for them.
Jen: 05:35 Yeah. For those of you who haven’t read the book, I guess Spirited Children can find the seams inside sox or labels in closer or anything sort of along those lines to be irritating and yeah, it can be a source of tension when parents who are not spirited don't realize that this is an issue. I'm irritated by labels not to that extent, but not to the extent that I cannot concentrate on anything else. But yeah, I mean you might wonder why is my child crying because I asked them to put their socks on. But yeah, that must be really useful to you to have that degree of insight into your children, the reasons behind what might otherwise seem as just awkward behavior.
Seanna: 06:16 Yeah, you'd think so. But I still talk very much with how they're both very intense and so am I. So, I still get triggered very often by some of the things that they do. It’s a constant work on myself. And that's one of the things that I've learned through this parenting journey is that it's my problem to work out.
Jen: 06:40 Yeah. Wow. That in itself is an incredible thing to know. So yeah, you had mentioned when you filled out the request to be considered for being on the show, that that's one of the things that you struggle with most. And I should mention to listeners, we're actually rerecording this interview. We got to about this point last time and it was spring break week and so the boys were home and I got a little taste of the spiritedness and it basically made it impossible for us to continue beyond this point. And so yeah, I've seen just a tiny, tiny bit of what you're dealing with on a day-to-day basis. So can you just tell us about that aspect of the struggle and maybe sort of focus in on one particular incident that we can kind of walk through a little bit and try and give you some tools to help break that cycle?
Seanna: 07:29 Sure. So one of the temperamental traits that my older son has is he is slow to adapt. So transitions are very difficult for him. He never wants to go anywhere, even if he does. And he never wants to leave anywhere, even if we really have to. So this morning, I was trying to get him ready for school and he just refuses to get dressed or refuses to brush his teeth, refuses to put his shoes on. There's always one more thing he wants to do. One thing he wants to show me and very often we are late for school because sometimes I just give up and say fine, we're going to be late, which I do not like to be late, but it's the reality sometimes, but it seems like nothing I say motivates him to see the bigger picture and get going and get out the door, which I understand logically very well, but he does not on grownup time. He doesn’t care.
Seanna: 08:40 It’s age appropriate and I know that, but I still get very frustrated with it and I just don't know what to say to him. I get very angry with him and I end up making the situation much worse. And then they feed off my energy and then my younger son starts getting upset and then they start attacking each other and it just devolves into a storm. So some days it doesn't happen, but most times, you know, we do have some struggles getting out the door in the morning.
Jen: 09:15 Okay. And so just to kind of tease this apart and sort of walk through it slowly, how are you feeling when you're asking him, okay, could you go and get dressed now, please? And he says, I don't want to get dressed or whatever it is that he says in that moment. Do you have this premonition of what's coming?
Seanna: 09:31 Yeah, it’s usually, no. Okay. This is going to be a hard one.
Jen: 09:36 And how does that feel?
Seanna: 09:38 I mean, it really depends on what my mood is at the time. Some days I'm better than others because I have a bit of a hormone imbalance. So sometimes I'm very, very sensitive to everything and just the noise and the screaming, it just gets to me and I don't have the same patience level, but other days, I'm like, okay, I'll give you five minutes and then we can revisit this. But I don't always know how I'm going to feel at the moment, but yeah, I mean I do, I sometimes get very frustrated and upset with him and I don't know what to do at the moment when I'm in that kind of mood.
Jen: 10:22 And are there any connections that you can draw between the feelings that bubble up in those moments and things that happen to you in your own life when you were younger?
Seanna: 10:34 I mean, I guess I was sent to my room a lot as a child. My anger, I wasn't really allowed to express it too much. So I think I do have trouble processing it in an appropriate way some times and I let it bubble over a lot. And I feel like if my parents had the resources that I have now to kind of use some emotion coaching or something with me, so I can work through my emotions and instead of just isolating me, I might be able to deal with these sorts of things a little bit better, but I'm working on it. I take responsibility now, I am an adult.
Jen: 11:20 Yeah. That's incredibly a powerful thing to understand that the way you grew up sort of didn't allow you to process anger in a healthy way. You were kind of isolated whenever you have this emotion, if you were sent to your room and it doesn't help you to sort of process it in a way that allows for the emotion to happen, not for kicking in the unhealthy and not socially acceptable expression of that emotion, but even the emotion itself is denied.
Seanna: 11:53 Right. Yes. And this is one of the reasons why I always vowed not to do that to my kids because I know I did not go to my room and think, oh wow, I really did the wrong thing. I should really change my behavior. It was always like how am I going to get away with this next time? Just how angry I was, just hating my parents.
Jen: 12:21 Yeah. Yeah.
Seanna: 12:23 It wasn't a constructive time away.
Jen: 12:27 No, for sure. You should be a spokesperson for Alfie Kohn. I think he says something like, what do you think a child is thinking about when they're in timeout? Are they thinking about how sorry they are and how they're never going to do it again? No. They are not thinking about that. And so I assume there are probably moments when you're in this sort of getting ready for leaving in the morning when you're asking your son to do something, he doesn't want to do it. And does he get angry and does that sort of, is that what kind of precipitates the cycle or how does it happen?
Seanna: 12:58 Yeah, I mean I guess he's just like me. He does not like to be told what to do. And then when he sees that I'm getting frustrated and upset, he feeds off of it and it kind of spirals downward. So it doesn't make him want to cooperate when I lose my cool or when I am not working with him.
Jen: 13:25 And so I'm wondering if there is a way that you can kind of recognizing that a lot of this comes from the way that you were raised, kind of in that moment. Is there a way that you can create a little bit of space? You see that this is about to happen, you get that first kind of push back on him not wanting to get ready in the morning. Is it possible that you can take a moment and think what is my underlying need here? Is it that I have a need for others to feel as though I'm responsible to get my child to school on time and that's a legitimate need. I don't like being late either. I don't like how it reflects on me. And so I think it's a very real need to be perceived as responsible by others is my need to have a collaborative relationship with my child.
Jen: 14:20 What is my true underlying need here and is the way that I'm about to respond to my child going to be in service of that need or not? And it sounds like a lot to ask in that moment, but I think that you have some degree of insight because you mentioned that some periods of the month you're able to sort of take that breath and step back. Is that a tool that you can kind of bring through to those other periods of time where it's more difficult and once you've identified the need, then you can start to think, okay, how can I respond to my child in a way that helps me to meet that need but also respects what their need is in that moment, which might be for another couple of minutes. It might be for a different pair of socks, whatever it is.
Seanna: 15:05 Yeah. I think slowing down and looking at the bigger picture and maybe even having a game plan when these types of things come up. But I would have to sit with it and think about it a little bit because I don't always know what my underlying need is because I don't often think about my own needs.
Jen: 15:26 That is so, so true. Yeah. And I can actually send you a list of needs that are very common. There's a tool that I'm actually going to introduce in the show in a few weeks called Nonviolent Communication, which the first time I heard of it I thought does that mean I communicate violently if I've never heard of this before. But one of the tools of this mode of communication is understanding these underlying needs and then it's only until you see this list and you're thinking, oh yeah, I have that need. I can recognize when I had that need and I have that need often. And then you get better at thinking through this by yourself once you've sort of had a bit of practice at identifying it. It’s not like you have to come up with it by yourself. You can sort of look at the list and think that is what I need right now.
Seanna: 16:07 Yeah. Yeah. That might be very helpful.
Jen: 16:11 So yeah, I can definitely send that over to you and then you can sort of connect with, okay, if that is my need, firstly, what's the best way to help me to achieve that need? But also what does my son need in this moment? Is it in connection with me that's going to help him get through this period or is it something else? Does he have a need for order in his room and it has to be just so before he leaves or does he totally not care about that kind of thing? I don't know him so I can't say, but it's whatever his need is, is there a way that you can meet that need and meet your need in a way that gets you both to school on time rather than focusing on, I don't want to go to school, well, we need to go to school.
Seanna: 16:53 Yeah.
Jen: 16:54 Which doesn't get you to understanding the true issues underneath.
Seanna: 16:58 Right. Yeah. I think you probably hit the nail on the head that it is connection with me. The mornings are so rushed and my younger son needs so much attention. I have had much success with making things into a game on days where I do have more patience. We pretend that my younger son is a monster and he chases us around the house and each time he makes a pass by me, he puts on another article of clothing to protect him against the toe monster or the knee monsters. And then we get each article of clothing on that way. So I think incorporating more of that fun stuff is very helpful. It’s just depends on how tired I am and what kind of mood I'm in. So I'd be working on my own mood and my own self is always going to have a positive impact on them. So that's the ongoing project.
Jen: 18:06 Yeah. Isn't that amazing? I mean, it's so tempting for parents and me included to think, okay, there's a problem here. You're not doing what I want you to do. And your behavior is the problem.
Seanna: 18:19 Yeah. I mean, nobody likes being told what to do, especially not children. And I remember when I was younger, just hating being told what to do and I still hate to be told what to do. So, that would be hypocritical to think that they're just going to be like, okay, what do you want mommy?
Jen: 18:40 Yeah. And that's never our goal as parents, right? We never want them to just roll over and say, yes, Mommy.
Seanna: 18:46 I want them to be free thinkers and to challenge the status quo when they're older. And always look for the truth in things and think critically. And you get that with a child with obedience.
Jen: 19:02 Yeah. Yeah. And you can't really say, I want you to think critically, but only when you turn 18 and leave my house.
Seanna: 19:08 Right. Right. Right.
Jen: 19:09 It's a skill that has to be developed through the course of their lives. And if that is something that's important, then yeah, you've got to work on nurturing and developing that skill and supporting it in your interactions with them as well. And not just, oh, demanding obedience under your own roof and promoting critical thinking only at school.
Seanna: 19:29 Right.
Jen: 19:30 Yeah. I think you have an unusual degree of insight into this in terms of understanding the impact that you have on this relationship. It’s not just about changing your children's behavior, it's about understanding yourself more and being kind to yourself as well in terms of not beating yourself up if today is a day when you're not going to be able to respond in an ideal way, acknowledging that you are doing the best that you can do in this moment based on the way you were raised and how your hormones are right now and how much or how little sleep you got last night. And all of those things and none of us are going to be perfect all the time, but we can all take these steps that can help us to better understand and meet our needs in the same time as we try to understand and meet our children's needs. And I think that that's where really true growth happens as a parent and in the relationship between the parent and the child.
Seanna: 20:30 Absolutely. I mean I have grown more as a human being, being a parent than I have in my whole life. I mean they really are a mirror, a mirror to what your flaws are and what's your shortcomings are and where you can improve as a human being. I'm so grateful for this experience however frustrating it is.
Jen: 20:56 Yeah. Isn't that amazing that we can learn and grow so much ourselves and we always thought, oh, I'm just me and my child is gonna fill into my life. But no.
Jen: 21:07 I know that you're in the Finding Your Parenting Mojo membership group as well. And I wonder if has that helped at all in this kind of process?
Seanna: 21:14 Absolutely. Yes, definitely.
Jen: 21:17 Which aspects in particular because I know we've worked through things like goal setting and parenting as a team and has there been one sort of particular aspect of it that has been most useful?
Seanna: 21:27 I think emotion regulation was very helpful. Just having like the resources and the tools to practically put some things into practice, like to help my son through some difficult emotions and he has been very receptive to it. I posted it in the group, that wonderful little chart he made about ways that he can calm down and he told me to try them. But yeah, I think that was a very, very helpful topic with emotion regulation and knowing what is developmentally appropriate for the different ages because certain things for my older son are not gonna apply for my younger son. I mean I've forgotten a lot about what happens during the one to two age. So it was a good refresher on that. I really liked that it was helpful for me to, you know, regulating my own emotions. So yeah, I might revisit that one again.
Jen: 22:33 Yeah. And so for our listeners, there was a recent episode, a fairly recent episode now on Emotion Regulation. So that kind of focused really on the what is normal at different stages and what can I expect. And then in the membership group, the same month that that episode was released, we did a really deep dive into, okay, what are some tools that we can use here to support our children's developing emotion regulation? What aspects of it is going to come anyway over time as their brains developed and what aspects can we support and how do we actually go about doing that? And as mentioned as well, the importance of regulating our own emotions since that is a primary way that children learn how to regulate theirs is by watching us regulate our emotions, which makes it really challenging for us.
Seanna: 23:16 Yes. And the power of the apology is something that I've had to really embrace.
Jen: 23:25 Yeah. And that's okay. Right? I mean, none of us is perfect all the time. We all have moments where things are not going to go perfectly and knowing that that's not only not the end of the world, it's not going to damage your child, but that it gives you this amazing opportunity to come back and reconnect.
Jen: 23:42 And show your child, you know what, I'm not perfect either. Nobody's perfect and this is what we do when we mess up. We come back and we repair and we move forward maybe even a bit stronger than we were before as in our relationship together.
Seanna: 23:59 Yes, absolutely.
Jen: 24:00 Yeah. So awesome. Well thank you so much for coming on the show today and sharing a little bit about your journey as a parent.
Seanna: 24:08 Thank you for having me.
Jen: 24:09 Yeah, we will be digging more into this topic of being triggered and there's going to be a challenge available for all listeners in July. I think what we'll try and do in the group is do an even deeper dive into some of the challenge materials.
Seanna: 24:24 That would be great.
Jen: 24:26 Because I'm guessing you're probably not alone in this.
Seanna: 24:30 I would imagine I'm not.
Jen: 24:31 No. So, we'll sort of take the challenge materials I think and look to really get under the hood in the group and think through, you know, how are some of the ways that we can truly connect with ourselves as individuals and as parents and meet these needs of ours at the same time as we're meeting our children's needs. So, lots more to come on this topic and thanks again for taking the time to chat.
Seanna: 24:56 Thank you.