This year has been traumatic for ourselves and our kids but there are things we can do to help our children grow through it. I sit down to talk with Dr. Amy Marschall of ResiliencyMentalHealth.com to talk about parenting beyond the pandemic. Amy has a lot to share including:
@4:19 Tips to help kids express big feelings appropriately without stepping on those feelings
@13:18 Why you want your kids to be a challenge
@14:13 How to tell that you’re doing a good job helping your child with emotional regulation
@18:35 A new way to look at it when your child says “I hate you”
@22:49 The way that emotional literacy develops in kids
@25:58 Why you should look for teaching moments instead of punishing moments
We also talk about how to know if your child needs counseling and how to find a counselor that you BOTH like.
You Are Not Your Mother Podcast #3
Talking resiliency with Dr. Amy Marschall
[00:00:15]Dawn: [00:00:15] Hey everyone, this is Dawn Friedman. Thank you for joining me on the You Are Not Your Mother podcast. For April, we’re talking about resiliency in the membership site and here on the podcast. For this episode, I’m interviewing Dr. Amy Marshall of ResiliencyMentalHealth.com. Dr. Marshall received her PsyD from the University of Hartford and her clinical interests include child and adolescent therapy, trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy and telemental health. She created her website to provide resources to other professionals, including telemental health activities for kids, CBT and mindfulness worksheets, and education about mental health. She works at the child and adolescent therapy clinic at Sioux Falls Psychological Services [00:01:00] in Sioux Falls South Dakota. She provides individual and family therapy as well as psychological assessment to kids, adolescents, and college students.
[00:01:09] Amy is the author of a guided journal called A Year of Resiliency: Growth Through Adversity, which you can find on her website. Amy also wrote a book for parents called I Don’t Want to Be Bad, which is a CBT workbook for you to do along with your kids. And her book is available in paperback and through Kindle direct publishing. Again, you can find more information on her website, ResiliencyMentalHealth.com. Okay. Let’s get right into this interview. She has a lot of great things to share with you.
[00:01:36] Hi Amy.
[00:01:39] Amy: [00:01:39] Hello.
[00:01:39] Dawn: [00:01:39] Thanks for meeting with me.
[00:01:42] Amy: [00:01:42] Of course. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:43] Dawn: [00:01:43] We are here to talk about resiliency. Can you tell me a little bit about your background and resiliency?
[00:01:50] Amy: [00:01:50] Sure. So I’m a clinical psychologist. I’m trained to work with all ages. I work primarily with children, adolescents, and then up through college. And then [00:02:00] the concept of resiliency is really big in psychology of having that ability to overcome stress, overcome trauma at difficult times, and then just the stress of growing up in development on its own. I’m certified in trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy. And in doing that, we talk a lot about the ACEs scores, the adverse childhood experiences scores. And I’ve said several times this year, anyone under the age of 18 is going to get a plus one to their ACEs score just for growing up in 2020.
[00:02:32] Dawn: [00:02:32] What does that mean for parents who are wanting to protect their kids from the trauma of 2020?
[00:02:37] Amy: [00:02:37] It’s meaning that it’s not so much about protecting them from it, but about helping them walk through it and helping them to get through it and overcome it because trauma itself is less of what causes the trauma symptoms.
[00:02:52] It’s more the supports. And the responses you get after the trauma occurs. So a trauma that [00:03:00] might objectively seem less severe can lead to more severe mental health symptoms. If the person who experienced that trauma. Doesn’t have that social support or it say isn’t believed or is told, Oh, it wasn’t that bad. You should just get over it.
[00:03:16]Dawn: [00:03:16] I invited you to come on because of your background in resiliency and working with kids around trauma. And I’m curious, what do you think our kids are going to need as we’re coming out of the pandemic and returning to some semblance of regular life?
[00:03:33] Amy: [00:03:33] I think a big thing is helping them to be able to recognize their stress and their emotions, be able to communicate those things in an appropriate way and having the space to do that, whether it’s, they need some time with a therapist, whether it’s a few sessions or whether it’s more longterm or whether it’s learning from the parents to be able to express these things. Because I say all the time, it’s okay to [00:04:00] have negative feelings. You won’t get in trouble for being angry, but if you express that anger by punching a hole through the wall, you’re going to have a problem.
[00:04:11] Dawn: [00:04:11] You make a really good point there because I know parents struggle with their kids’ negative feelings. We, we want to fix them. We want to help them feel better. How can we help them express it appropriately without stepping on those feelings?
[00:04:25] Amy: [00:04:25] I think a big thing is the parents letting the kids know that the parent is okay with the child’s negative feeling. Because again, as long as it’s expressed appropriately, there’s no such thing as a bad feeling. Kids sometimes link it with anger is bad because anger is a good example of a feeling that ends up leading to some bad behaviors, because I never want to punch things when I’m happy that they tie that in with I’m in trouble if I get mad. So teaching them the healthy ways to express anger, and then also the parents. Being able to [00:05:00] receive that anger. I mean, obviously no one wants to see their kid upset.
[00:05:04] I’m sure we would love for kids. I would love for everyone to be happy about everything all the time. It’s just, that’s not realistic. And sometimes parents in that desire to have their kids be as happy as possible, end up communicating the message. You can’t be upset or don’t let me see you sad because then I’ll be sad.
[00:05:23] And then it becomes about the parent’s feelings.
[00:05:26] Dawn: [00:05:26] When we’re talking about anger, how do we help children? Especially young children who are struggling with language, how do we help them to express anger appropriately?
[00:05:36] Amy: [00:05:36] A big thing with that is, is modeling. So what does the parent do when they feel angry?
[00:05:42] How do they express anger? And are they letting the child know? I feel you can even say, I feel angry. This happened and I didn’t like it. I feel angry and I’m going to, here’s what I’m going to do to cope with that. And then redirecting making sure that if a child has a behavior that needs to be [00:06:00] redirected.
[00:06:00] That it’s very clearly framed as this behavior is unacceptable. Not this feeling is unacceptable. Might say if a child is getting aggressive, say when they’re angry, it’s part of a parent’s job to teach them. We can’t. We can’t be hurting people because the child’s going to get bigger. And eventually if you hurt people, when you’re angry, you go to jail.
[00:06:23] So they do need to teach them, you know, that behavior is not acceptable. The feeling happens. Everybody gets angry. I get angry. I think everybody’s been really angry this year. So it’s the, how do we express that? And how do we. Work through that cope with that, feel that feeling in a healthy way. That, that
[00:06:40] leads me to your book, which is titled I don’t want to be bad.
[00:06:44] Yup. Can you tell me more about that book and why you that
[00:06:47] title? The title came from a lot of my clinical practice. Basically a lot of parents. We’ll say, I don’t understand why they’re B, why they’re choosing these behaviors, why they’re doing this, but [00:07:00] behavior needs a need. And sometimes that need is, I don’t know how to express this feeling in a different way.
[00:07:06] Sometimes that need is I really need your attention on me. And this I know is the fastest way to achieve that goal. And often the negative attention is better than no attention. I don’t know. Like the term attention seeking behavior, because it gets used as an excuse. Oh, they’re just being attention seeking.
[00:07:25] And I’m like, okay. So give them attention. They need attention. Give it to them. Because a lot of things, a lot of behavior is coming from those needs. And instead of thinking, I’m going to punish you. So that’s bad. If we find a healthy way to meet that need a lot of behavior resolves itself. But the kind of the goal of this book is it starts off with helping the parents.
[00:07:49] To recognize their patterns with how they’re talking to their child, how they’re interacting with their child, how they’re taking care of themselves. Also, because like I said, a lot of it is that modeling, what are [00:08:00] you doing? Because your child learns more from what they see you do than from what you tell them.
[00:08:06] Also about parents being on the same page with each other and consistency and that kind of way. And then just basically teaching kids how to recognize their emotions and then express them in a healthy way. What
[00:08:18] Dawn: [00:08:18] are common challenges you see for parents who are trying to do these things? I
[00:08:23] Amy: [00:08:23] think a big one is that we are very punitive focused at least in the United States.
[00:08:31] And that’s seen in a lot of parenting styles. That’s really seen in, in how we treat adults too. I mean the whole justice system, you break the law, you go to jail and it’s not really about restorative justice. It’s not really about how do we make sure that, why did you do that? And how can we keep you from doing that again?
[00:08:47] It’s very focused on you did something bad. Now you’re punished and now you won’t do the bad thing again. But what that overlooks is, again, behavior is meeting a need. So if a child [00:09:00] throws a tantrum because they need some support and they don’t know the healthy way to say, I need some help from you right now.
[00:09:07] They throw the tantrum and then you put them in timeout, you yell at them, you ground them. And they’re like, okay, well that got your attention. It didn’t get your attention in a good way. And it didn’t really solve the problem, but that immediate need of now your focus is on me, gets met. So the punishment doesn’t resolve the behavior because you haven’t taught them the appropriate way to meet that need.
[00:09:31] Dawn: [00:09:31] what, how, what’s a better way to respond to tantrums?
[00:09:34] Amy: [00:09:34] Well, a lot of times it’s you have to get focused on your long-term goal, that the short-term goal. Yes. This behavior is not acceptable. The tantrum needs to end, but the long-term goal is raising a child who has the tools. To regulate their emotions appropriately.
[00:09:53] So it becomes less about punishing and more about teaching of, okay, what’s going on right now? What [00:10:00] was leading up to that? And a lot of times kids who are learning these skills will try them and the parents may be very busy or preoccupied. And I mean, I would say these parents are absolutely doing their best.
[00:10:13] There’s a lot of demand on adults right now, too, but the child might try, Hey, if a child is getting overstimulated at the grocery store, like, Hey, can I, um, go to the car? And the parent says, no, we’re not done yet. And then the child has a meltdown. The child tried. Asking for help and was that help was not met.
[00:10:32] So they figured they needed to try something else. So kind of noticing, like, here’s our plan for how we’re going to deal with this and here’s how I’m going to help you meet that need in a healthy way. And then the child has to trust that the parent’s going to then follow
[00:10:46] Dawn: [00:10:46] that. Well, it sounds like parents are teaching kids, but kids are teaching parents too.
[00:10:50] That there’s a loop. Oh yeah. So as part of that, making parents aware of the loop, they might be stuck in.
[00:10:56] Amy: [00:10:56] Yes. Yep. And realizing, cause a lot of times you don’t [00:11:00] realize what you’re reinforcing, that if the child wants to leave and they asked to leave and you say no and they throw a fit. A lot of times it, okay, well now we’re going to go because you’re making a scene.
[00:11:11] But if what the child needed was to get out of that situation, you’ve been shown them. This is how you get out of that situation.
[00:11:17] Dawn: [00:11:17] How can a parent start noticing that their child is doing well before they hit the breaking point?
[00:11:25] Amy: [00:11:25] One of the first things I try to give all my families is it’s called the feelings thermometer.
[00:11:30] And it’s basically on a scale of one to 10. How big is the feeling? And the great thing about it is it has the option for you to say, for example, I’m angry at a three because these year to go from three to zero, then from nine to zero, but sometimes you might know. Something’s off, but I don’t have the word for that feeling so that child can say I’m at a four or five.
[00:11:54] Also try to have the parent point out to the child. Hey, you seem like you’re starting to, [00:12:00] something’s starting to bother you. You’re starting to get a bit agitated or. Whatever kind of terminology they’re most comfortable with and then queuing the child to come down from that or giving them that, that focus, that support before the child even asks for it.
[00:12:16] Because if the child hasn’t learned a healthy way to ask for it, they’re not going to magically say, I need your help right now. But if the parent can show, Hey, I noticed you’re starting. Let’s take, you know, let’s deal with this a healthy way. And then, because it’s very hard to use your words when you’re agitated the amygdala, the feelings part of your brain, when that gets activated, the thinking and talking part of your brain goes offline.
[00:12:41] Dawn: [00:12:41] And that’s true for parents as well. Right?
[00:12:44] Amy: [00:12:44] That’s true for everyone. It’s extra true for kids because the frontal lobe, which is talking and logic and impulse control, isn’t done growing yet. So they have extra trouble with it, but that’s true for adults too. So then the adult can model, okay, I’m getting worked up.
[00:12:59] I [00:13:00] need a minute. I’m going to calm down in a healthy way. And you’re going to see that I made that choice and look it worked and you can do it too.
[00:13:08] Dawn: [00:13:08] This sounds like a lot of work. It’s not an overnight fix. It’s not like one, two, three magic the way they promise you, you’re going to learn to do this. Your kid will never be a problem again.
[00:13:18] Amy: [00:13:18] No, no. You don’t want your kids never be a problem again, because there’s a, there’s an expression. Um, don’t confuse convenient children for well adjusted children or something like that. And actually, this is one of the things that, that some people, Oh, kids these days get away with everything.
[00:13:35] When I was a kid, I never stepped it. So out of line and it’s like, well, you were probably incredibly anxious. And I would rather a child have an occasional tantrum or meltdown than have a child be so scared of me that they can’t show me that side of them. Because everybody’s going to have bad days.
[00:13:55] Dawn: [00:13:55] So you’re not a failure as a parent when you have a child that struggling.
[00:14:00] [00:14:00] Amy: [00:14:00] And if anything, actually, what happens with a lot of kids is parents find this really invalidating that there’ll be like, we see X, Y, and Z at home, but the teacher says, they’re great. Why are they having such a problem at home? But they’re doing so well at school. And that actually is a sign of good attachment. Because I don’t know if my teacher’s still gonna like me tomorrow, if I freak out. So I’m going to hold it in and I’m going to save it until I get home. Because no matter how much I flip out, mom and dad are still gonna love me.
[00:14:33] Dawn: [00:14:33] How does a parent know then that they’re doing a good job in supporting their child and learning and understand their feelings and building regulation skills?
[00:14:42] Amy: [00:14:42] Well, I think any parent who is trying to do these things is already a few steps ahead because the fact that you’re trying and the fact that you have those good intentions says a lot. And like I said, kids. Learn more from what they see then from what you tell [00:15:00] them. Kids don’t have the vocabulary for this, but they will have that sense that you’re trying.
[00:15:06] And there’s not one right way to parent and there’s not, everybody’s going to have bad days. And that includes adults. That includes me and the parents going to have times where they’re not. Picking the right thing to say, every time the parent’s going to have a time that they get angry and say something out of anger or something that they don’t mean, or that they wish they could take back.
[00:15:27] And it’s hard because we tend to get down on ourselves for our mistakes. But the fact that they’ve recognized patterns and are trying to break them is already a step in the right direction.
[00:15:38] Dawn: [00:15:38] Can you tell me more about CBT and how that works with kids?
[00:15:42]Amy: [00:15:42] Cognitive behavioral therapy is looking at that connection of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, and how they can kind of feed into each other and breaking those kinds of cycles.
[00:15:55] And with kids, it’s a lot of teaching them [00:16:00] because kids especially, well, this is true for a lot of adults, but kids, especially, don’t always recognize. The feelings or the thoughts and how they’re tied to behaviors. Like I said, a lot of kids think I get in trouble if I get mad and they don’t realize it’s not that you’re in trouble because you’re mad.
[00:16:16] It’s you’re in trouble because you’re screaming or you tried to hurt somebody or you broke something. Yes. That behavior came out of anger, but there’s different ways to deal with it. Also with the thoughts, we’re all thinking. All the time our brains are always going and we don’t always recognize the thoughts that we’re having by learning to be mindful of those thoughts.
[00:16:36] We start to realize that a lot of thoughts are involuntary and we don’t necessarily agree with them, but if we’re not paying attention, we don’t necessarily realize we don’t agree with them. We just. Kind of go along with it as if it’s true. I give example all the time to kids that if I’m driving and someone cuts me off, I might feel really, um, I don’t like that.
[00:16:59] I [00:17:00] feel angry and a thought that pops into my head is that I want to rear-end that person. I don’t actually want to cause a traffic accident. The words of the thought are I want to rear end them, but the emotion behind the thought is I don’t like that, I feel angry. Sometimes. For example, an automatic thought a lot of kids have is I’m bad. I’m naughty, mom and dad don’t like me, things like that. So teaching them to notice those thoughts and then say, okay, am I really bad? Or did I just make a bad choice right now? Do mom and dad not like me, or do they get upset when I do this behavior and kind of recognizing those patterns and being able to break out of them and kind of critique our own thoughts.
[00:17:41] Dawn: [00:17:41] A lot of my clients struggle when their child says, I hate you, or you’re the worst, mommy.
[00:17:48]Amy: [00:17:48] I hate you would be the thoughts. And then the feeling behind the thought would be, I don’t like, I don’t like that. You’re grounding me. I don’t like that I have to be in time out, or I’m mad about this thing that has nothing to [00:18:00] do with you, but I trust you to be able to express this feeling whatever way it’s coming out.
[00:18:05] Of course long-term want the child to have healthier ways of expressing that emotion. We can’t go around saying I hate you every time we don’t like something. That’s um, I couldn’t, if every time my boss asked me to do something I didn’t want to do, I screamed I hate you. I wouldn’t have a job for very long, but at the same time, recognizing, they’re not saying I hate you; they’re saying I’m mad at you. So coming back with, yes, you’re very upset with me right now, or you’d like me to give you some space right now. And of course it hurts to hear your child say that they hate you, but also if your child is never upset with you, you’re not setting enough boundaries.
[00:18:43] Dawn: [00:18:43] That’s a great way of looking at that. So how can a parent deal with their own dysregulation, their own hurt feelings and recognize that honor their own feelings without visiting that on their child?
[00:18:56] Amy: [00:18:56] I think it’s okay. Internally. To be like, wow, [00:19:00] that’s really hurtful and it’s okay to say I’m feeling upset and I’m going to step away for a minute because that’s, again, you’re modeling that you take a break, you’re modeling that you step away before you say something you don’t mean.
[00:19:10] And then that in the longterm will teach the child. Most kids they might say, I hate you and then an hour later, when they’ve calmed down, they feel really bad for saying that because of course they don’t hate you. They don’t like that you’re setting a boundary, no one likes boundaries. They’re like broccoli. We need it to be healthy, but that doesn’t mean we like it. And so they, they usually will later, not like that they had said that. And it’s something that generally in the moment, again, that talking and logic part of the brain, isn’t online enough to address it.
[00:19:44] I like to say there’s a difference between repressing an emotion and compartmentalizing an emotion. It’s okay to, for yourself, say that that really hurt me to hear, but I’m going to address my own hurt later. I use an example as a [00:20:00] therapist, if a client said something that brought up an emotion in me, it would be wildly inappropriate for me to burst into tears in the middle of a session.
[00:20:09] But I could say, okay, I recognize that brought something up for me. And when I get off work later, I’m going to revisit that and kind of deal with that emotion for myself. As long as you go back to it later, it’s not repressing it.
[00:20:20] Dawn: [00:20:20] How can parents let their children know you’ve hurt my feelings without making their feelings a child’s problem. In other words, to share that there are consequences for children being cruel. And is there an age where it’s more appropriate to share that than other ages,
[00:20:36] Amy: [00:20:36] I would say first to wait until the emotions have come down a bit to address it because the child’s not going to receive it in that escalated state. Usually about four or five kids can kind of grasp. Okay. You didn’t like that hurts you because sometimes before that age you get the, the I’m spacing on the technical term. It, but when the [00:21:00] child’s reading the book and the books not facing you, but they assume that you can see it because they can see it, that kind of egocentrism.
[00:21:07] At that point, kids don’t really recognize I’ve hurt you because if I didn’t feel it, it must not exist. When the parent has their own feelings more regulated they can express. When you say you eat me. I, that really hurts my feelings. And instead of how dare you talk to me that way and flipping out . A lot of parents, a lot of adults. We still throw it. It’s just that we don’t call them tantrums. I think for a lot of people, it’s not that they learn not to have the tantrum, they just get old enough that they stopped being punished for it.
[00:21:42]Dawn: [00:21:42] I can’t remember the term either, but when my son was about three he was so angry because I couldn’t remember his dreams. And I always think that kind of sums up exactly self centered they are at that age.
[00:21:55] Amy: [00:21:55] Why don’t you remember my dreams? I wasn’t there.
[00:21:58] Dawn: [00:21:58] I know he was so mad at me. [00:22:00] That was a rough age. That was a rough age. So you work with very young children. Can you talk a little bit about how language helps children understand and regulate. How does that work with kids?
[00:22:14] Amy: [00:22:14] Young kids don’t really process emotion with words, the way that adults do and that older kids can they process their emotions through play? I think like Mr. Rogers said something about plays the work of young children and that’s absolutely true.
[00:22:30] That’s how they regulate. That’s how they process through different things. The benefit of teaching the communication skills of that age is one, it sets them up to be able to process emotions with words like we do in adulthood, but it’s less about them processing it that way and more so that we can understand what they need from us.
[00:22:49] Dawn: [00:22:49] How does emotional literacy, how does that grow in kids? What can we expect developmentally?
[00:22:55] Amy: [00:22:55] It’s hard because since the impulse control of their brain is still [00:23:00] developing, there are moments that will appear to us like an outburst, but it’s literally that they can’t stop themselves from expressing in that moment. A lot of younger kids, like age five or six will get really good at not having a full tantrum, but they’ll have kind of a, you say no and they’ll have a two second “ahhhh!”, and then they’re good. So letting them have that developmentally appropriate kind of, as long as they move past it right away, let them have that like brief letting it out in that sense, because sometimes it’s not that they want to have an outburst it’s that their brain is not capable of stopping it.
[00:23:42] And that’s not to say that their brains incapable of stopping them from smashing things or ripping all the pictures off the walls, but that immediate kind of outburst behavior can be and queuing them to it can help them grow that impulse control.
[00:23:57] I use an example back when I could see [00:24:00] people in my office, I had clay. And some kids would sculpt and then they would leave it to dry and they’d bring it home next time. I had someone sculpt something and it was sitting on my desk– this was my fault. I usually put them in another room and I forgot to do that. The next child came and saw it and said, Oh, that’s really cool.
[00:24:18] And I said, yes, but that’s not ours. So we’re not going to touch it. And the child went, “okay, I won’t touch it” as they were reaching for it. I just looked and I said, what are you doing? And they went and they looked at their hands. And just like put it in there. Like they did it, that could from the outside look like that child was defying me cause I said, don’t touch that. And they were immediately trying to touch it. But what was actually happening was they heard me say don’t touch it, but they really wanted to and so they were acting on that. Want to, without stopping and thinking, wait a minute, I just said that I wasn’t going to do this.
[00:24:54] Dawn: [00:24:54] How long does it take for kids to grow out of that high impulsivity?
[00:24:58] Amy: [00:24:58] The frontal [00:25:00] lobe. So that impulse control part of your brain fully develops at age 28, which is why college students are like that.
[00:25:10] Dawn: [00:25:10] What is realistic for parents to expect.
[00:25:14] Amy: [00:25:14] You can more so be able to stop and think as you get to later elementary into middle school, but it’s an ongoing process. Because kind of around the time you can expect to on your own, do some of the stop and think the puberty hormones kick yet.
[00:25:31] That’s kind of a fun joke from nature. We think about it from the child, if you’re really emphasizing and seeing it from your child’s perspective , they want to please, you kids want adults to like them. They want us to be happy with them. They want us to approve of them. So it’s very frustrating for them when they’re like, why can’t I, why do I do this? Even though I know I’m not supposed to?
[00:25:58] Understanding that impulse control [00:26:00] and trying to use those as teaching moments rather than punishing moments. That I’m going to show you here’s, here’s what we do instead. Or I’m going to redirect in like a gentler kind of way. And a lot of that for the parents, because we’ve talked about parents dealing with their own emotions, recognizing it’s not that your child is defying you. It’s not that it’s not that your child wants to be bad. It’s that your child hears you and is trying to listen to you. But their brain is still growing that ability to do that.
[00:26:32] Dawn: [00:26:32] What does all of this have to do with resiliency?
[00:26:36] Amy: [00:26:36] Building those skills is a building resiliency because it’s teaching them overcoming challenges.
[00:26:41] It’s teaching them something might be hard, but you can get better at it. It’s showing them that, that it’s okay to not be good at something right away. That’s a big thing, actually, particularly gifted kids run into if I’m not immediately good at it, it’s impossible. And I shouldn’t even try. [00:27:00] Everyone has trouble learning these skills because we’re not born with fully formed brains. It’s teaching them that ability to overcome a challenge and to learn how to do something that’s hard.
[00:27:11] Dawn: [00:27:11] How can parents help kids connect to the fact that they are overcoming? Not that they’ve overcome, like to be comfortable with the fact that they’re growing.
[00:27:20] Amy: [00:27:20] Yeah. I think a big part of that is, yeah, this is again, shifting away from that kind of punitive mindset of I’m going to punish you for not doing what I asked you to do. If that misbehavior is coming from that place of, okay, you asked me to do this, so I’m going to do it, but I’m already over here because I’m already on that train of what I wanted to do, which isn’t what you asked me to do, treating that as I’m going to punish you teaches them, you’ve done something bad and a punishment implies you intentionally did something bad.
[00:27:52] So reframing it as teachable versus punishing , it’s just the skill that you don’t completely have yet. And we’re going to help you, [00:28:00] help you to develop it.
[00:28:02] Dawn: [00:28:02] What do you say to parents who are concerned about not punishing that they, they are worried that this is teaching their kids they can do anything they want.
[00:28:12]Amy: [00:28:12] I’m not saying. Never punished anything ever. Everything has consequences. And when you’re redirecting away from like, Oh, I don’t want to do I want to do this thing. You’re still, that’s still a consequence and that’s still redirecting and any ever I broke something or I hurt someone in my anger.
[00:28:32] There’s still, even if you didn’t mean to, that’s not okay and we need to make sure there, there are still consequences. If you’re going to punish a behavior, you want it to be like a deliberate behavior. Not, I don’t recognize, or I didn’t realize that I was doing it and cause that you want to teach the skill.
[00:28:54] Dawn: [00:28:54] How can we tell the difference? If our child say knocks down their siblings blocks, [00:29:00] how can we tell if that’s deliberate or not?
[00:29:02] Amy: [00:29:02] It is hard to tell. And that’s where that natural consequence kind of thing comes in that sometimes even if we didn’t mean to do something, there’s still a consequence for it.
[00:29:13] I use the example I got rear-ended when I was a graduate student. They did not mean to rear-end me. They still had to pay to fix my car. I would say that kind of falls under that punishment umbrella, but it’s kind of reframing that. It’s not that I’m punishing you it’s that we have to make amends when we make a mistake, whether it was deliberate or not.
[00:29:35] So say I knocked down, my siblings walked our, and so my parents said I have to help rebuild it, even though I’d rather go and do my own thing. Well, it doesn’t matter whether I was dancing and I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going , or if I was mad at my siblings, so I knocked it down. The outcome is I knocked it down and so I need to fix it because personal responsibility and all, and it’s not that you are being [00:30:00] punished. You must do this as your punishment. It’s just that you’ve made a mistake and now we have to fix it because that’s what we do when we make mistakes.
[00:30:07] Dawn: [00:30:07] Why is that more helpful asking them to make amends then to say, that’s it, you’re going to your room.
[00:30:13] Amy: [00:30:13] That’s that restorative kind of justice. First of all, you learn more when the consequence is tied to the action. That’s just the learning centers of your brain and all the connections and the physiological kind of things that when it’s connected, you’re more likely to say, Oh, okay, I did this and it meant that I had to do this. But it also, then again, it’s not about, I’m going to punish you until you’re good. It’s teaching that value and teaching that if we make a mistake, we make up for it. And that also teaches them mistakes can be fixed. That if I screw up, it doesn’t mean I’m terrible and no one loves me. If I screw up, it just means I have to fix it
[00:30:53] Dawn: [00:30:53] Back to your book, can you tell me a little bit about what it covers and what are the kinds of tools and information parents get out of it?
[00:31:00] [00:31:00] Amy: [00:31:00] So it’s a lot of worksheet kind of things it starts off with. Like I said, those tools for the parents to regulate themselves and to see how am I interacting with my child.
[00:31:12] And then kind of builds on itself. So it’s meant to be, I mean, you can jump around with, what’s helpful for you, but it’s kind of meant to be chronological. So that first step is helping teach the child to relax and bring down those big feelings. And then, excuse me, once they’re able to regulate that a little bit more, helping them to learn what do my emotions feel like?
[00:31:33] What am I experiencing in my body, mindfulness, and then building on that to, okay. What are these feelings called so that I can tell someone else. I’m feeling angry right now, or I’m feeling anxious right now. Cause for angry and anxious, they’re very similar. But what might be helpful and supportive in the moment is going to be different depending on what the specific feeling is.
[00:31:56] And then being able to communicate here’s what I’m feeling. And [00:32:00] also here’s what I need and then specific coping skills. And that’s kind of designed to help the child identify which coping skills are helpful for them, because something that might help me calm down might make someone else very anxious.
[00:32:13] For example, we do a lot of. Like guided visualization kinds of things can be great for lowering anxiety, but a lot of children with ADHD, they hate them because you’re supposed to sit still while you’re doing them. And it just makes them more anxious. So that particular coping skill wouldn’t be helpful for some children.
[00:32:33] It’s less about here are the tools you must use and more about here’s a bunch of ideas, kind of see what sticks and then ends with a little toolbox that the child creates of here are the things that were helpful to me. So here’s, here’s what works best for my own life.
[00:32:50] Dawn: [00:32:50] And what ages is the book for?
[00:32:53] Amy: [00:32:53] I wrote it with elementary age in mind, a lot of the activities you can modify a bit, no [00:33:00] child is too young for, okay, let’s take a deep breath together. High schoolers can certainly use a lot of it too. I mean, there’s no age limit on coping skills. A lot of times we write these things. And direct it to younger kids because it’s a lot easier to raise the age level with the way you’re talking about it versus lowering it.
[00:33:20] So I wrote it thinking elementary, but certainly middle and high schoolers can benefit. I mean, there’s stuff in there that I use in my own life. And then the younger kids. Might not necessarily be able to say, well, I feel my heart going faster and that means anxiety, but they might be able to say, I’m having a problem or they’ll be able to like take a breath.
[00:33:42] And, and some of the language kind of things reframing that it’s not, you are naughty it’s that was not a good choice to kind of keep it from becoming that internalized I’m bad. Versus I did something bad. That a lot of, even when parents word it perfectly and [00:34:00] nobody words it perfectly every time. But even when parents make a point of wording, it that way, a lot of younger kids even age two and three might be like, well, my parents don’t like it when I’m mad and it’s no, they don’t like some of your choices, you’re not bad.
[00:34:15] Dawn: [00:34:15] It sounds like it’s a mix of theory and practical tips. And are the worksheets for you to fill out or to fill out with your child?
[00:34:23]Amy: [00:34:23] So the first chapter, like I said is specifically for the parents, but the rest of it is for either for the child to do or for you to do with the child.
[00:34:32] And there’s not really a right way to do it. A lot of kids don’t like worksheets because it feels like homework. So they might, it might be like, we’re just going to discuss it instead of filling it out, there’s not a right way to do it.
[00:34:45] Dawn: [00:34:45] How will a parent know that they might benefit from working with a therapist and their child?
[00:34:50] Amy: [00:34:50] I kind of think that we should have a primary therapist, the way that we have a primary doctor that you maybe only go [00:35:00] once or twice a year, but you go a couple of times a year, whether you need to or not. And even if that’s the only time you go, who you would call, if you needed an appointment sooner, I think that insurance companies need to catch up with me on that.
[00:35:15] And we certainly need more providers in order for that to be realistic. But basically if the parents feel like what I’m struggling a lot, or my child seems to have some behaviors that go beyond just what’s part of being a child, if you’re feeling like I could use some extra support that. Usually is telling of your child or yourself, and there’s not a minimum amount of struggling to get some extra support.
[00:35:41] Dawn: [00:35:41] You’re saying that the parent doesn’t have to know, they could call a therapist and say, does this seem like the kind of thing you might work with?
[00:35:49] Amy: [00:35:49] Yeah. And I mean, sometimes they come in a couple of times and they get some tools and that’s kind of all we need to do. For example, I get a lot of calls right after the [00:36:00] parents have say, filed for divorce and separated. And they’re like, I know divorce is stressful for kids and the child will come a couple of times and I’ll say, well, they seem like they’re doing all right. You want to just call me if that changes and it’s okay to even just get that reassurance. And it’s okay to get that there is. The life is stressful.
[00:36:20] Everybody’s got stressors. So it’s okay to just need that support. And, you know, having a child who needs therapy or having your family need that extra support, isn’t a reflection on the parenting. It’s just a reflection on being in the world. For example, talking about I’ve got my trauma certification. A lot of parents feel a lot of guilt after their child has experienced traumatic events because they’re like, I’m their parent. I’m supposed to protect them. And yes, part of your job is to keep your child safe. That’s very important, but the only way to guarantee that would [00:37:00] be to basically lock your child in the basement and never let them out. And that would be traumatic.
[00:37:06] So the way to not traumatize your child by being overbearing and over-protective, ironically involves putting them at some risk and I’m not saying let your three-year-old figure out their way home from downtown. But for example, things happen at sleepovers. Things happen when you leave them with the babysitters and in order to truly prevent those situations from being possible, you’re going to give your child severe anxiety. They’re going to be terrified because they’re going to become aware of all these things that could happen in your effort to prevent those things from happening. So it’s kind of that balance of protection, but also letting them build their resiliency, build their own decision-making skills by having some of that freedom.
[00:37:53] Dawn: [00:37:53] Yeah. I was going to say, this goes back to your commitment to resiliency, which is not, you’re never going to have [00:38:00] problems. It’s you’re going to learn how to deal with them.
[00:38:02] Amy: [00:38:02] Sure. Cause we can’t have no bad days. We can’t have no problems.
[00:38:07] Dawn: [00:38:07] So, so as we look towards our world going back towards normal and that’s going to be a process, do you feel parents might be well-served by reaching out to a therapist now and connecting with someone in case the re-emergence is rocky?
[00:38:24]Amy: [00:38:24] I think that there will be a lot of difficulty because for some kids. They’re kind of in that survival mode right now. And sometimes when you’re in survival mode, you don’t really feel it. Once in college, I was, my college was out in the middle of nowhere and there were these woods. I went for a hike and I fell and I got up and I actually finished the hike.
[00:38:46] Like I felt at the beginning. And then I walked like three miles and then I came home and I sat down. And then when I got up again, I couldn’t put weight on my ankle because my body was like, okay, You need to get to the safe place before we can let you [00:39:00] let you hurt yourself. So for a lot of kids, it’ll be once things settle is when those symptoms pop up.
[00:39:06] Because right now it’s just, we have to get through it.
[00:39:10] Dawn: [00:39:10] What kind of symptoms do we see in kids?
[00:39:12] Amy: [00:39:12] Uh, the behavior –acting out aggression, anger, separation, anxiety, sleep problems, and maybe more emotional kinds of outbursts. Things like that. The tricky thing was with seeking a therapist right now is it’s going to be hard to find someone with availability, but if you’re thinking it’s not dire right now, but I just want the option. It could be helpful to get on a waiting list at this point.
[00:39:40] Dawn: [00:39:40] That’s a really good idea that people can do that now. How can parents find an appropriate child therapist?
[00:39:48] Amy: [00:39:48] I guess starting point is to call their doctor because usually pediatricians have a list of people that they refer to or another good starting point is to call your insurance company because they will tell you [00:40:00] who’s in network.
[00:40:01] Dawn: [00:40:01] What should they look for in a therapist? What’s the most important thing?
[00:40:05] Amy: [00:40:05] Basically being comfortable with your therapist, your child is the client.
[00:40:09] So the most important thing is that the child has that sense of fit, but also the parents. Needed to feel like they can trust the therapist too. It is very tricky because it’s not something you can put a number on and it’s very hard to articulate. It really just comes down to do I trust this person and do I feel like I can be myself and open up with them?
[00:40:30] And if the child is like, I want my therapist to be a boy, or I want my therapist to be a girl or some, a lot of times someone might want a therapist. Who’s the same ethnicity as they are, whatever you feel would make you the most comfortable in that session. It’s okay to go a few times and that, because it’s always awkward at the beginning, especially for kids, because you tell your kid don’t talk to strangers and then you bring them to a therapist and it’s, here’s the stranger, [00:41:00] tell her all your secrets. I’m going to leave you alone with her for an hour now. And that’s weird, especially for kids. So, so it’s okay to, to, after, after a handful of sessions, say what this person is not my therapist. This is not who I’m comfortable with. I mean, if I’m completely honest, it’s not my favorite thing to hear, but I want to be a fit for people. I want to be there for people.
[00:41:21] Dawn: [00:41:21] So it sounds like with perseverance, you’ll be able to find a therapist that works for you and your family.
[00:41:28] Amy: [00:41:28] Hopefully. Yes. But the key is the perseverance, because it is a little more challenging right now and it’s okay to shop around a bit. It’s okay to, I mean, don’t make like six intakes in the same week, but it’s okay to, when I say shop around, I’m thinking. Make an appointment for the intake. Go to that. And if it goes well, then that’s awesome.
[00:41:48] And if it doesn’t go well, give it a couple of sessions and if it’s not clicking, then make a different intake. I would recommend that over vetting several therapists all at once, because really it’s just when you find one that’s good, [00:42:00] you don’t really need to keep shopping around. It’s not like the bachelor where you like start big and narrow it down. It’s more like regular, like dating where, okay, I’ll try this person. And if it doesn’t work, I’ll stop and then try somebody else..
[00:42:13] Dawn: [00:42:13] I think you can tell from this interview how terrific Amy is with kids and also with parents. But I have to tell you that when we met on Twitter, it was around this time that another therapist whose name, I don’t remember, I don’t remember her handle came on and said that any therapist who did not have children themselves should not be working with kids.
[00:42:33] As you can imagine, that really blew up. Amy doesn’t have kids. Having or not having kids is not a prerequisite to being a great therapist for kids. It makes me think of Maurice Sendak, who of course wrote Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, classic kids books. Someone asked him once how he was able to write so well for children when he didn’t have any children himself. And he said with [00:43:00] great dignity, “I was a child.” I think that’s really what’s most important is if you have a therapist who is able to be empathetic and understanding of where your child is.
[00:43:12] There’s something else I’m going to throw out here too, Amy was talking about fit and how that’s the most important thing. That’s true for adults who are seeking a therapist, teens who are seeking a therapist and kids who are seeking a therapist . The research shows that the most healing thing is the relationship. It’s the therapeutic rapport. It’s not the training, it’s not the modality used, it’s the relationship. Now that isn’t to say that training and modality aren’t important, they are, but you’re not going to get very far if you don’t feel simpatico with your therapist. And that is also true for your children, your kids have to like the person that you bring them to.
[00:43:57]Every kid, just like every adult [00:44:00] person is going to have their own thoughts and feelings about who they might feel connected to. There’s something else I want to share about therapy and kids too, is that necessarily, you’re going to have to be a part of it. The way that every therapist does that is different depending on their training, their modality, their expectations, the way they choose to work, who your child is, who you are. That could look a lot of different ways for myself. Sometimes I’ve had parents in session with kids.
[00:44:29] Sometimes I’m asking parents to come in for the first 10 minutes or last ten minutes. Sometimes we’re communicating between times. Sometimes when I’m working with the child, I’m not working with the child very much at all, I’m working directly with their parents to try to help the parent figure out how to cope.
[00:44:45]Which is to say that when we’re talking about kids in therapy, very often, what’s going to need to change in part is something that the parent is doing. This doesn’t mean it’s the parent’s fault. It [00:45:00] means that the parent may need help responding in a different way to the child’s struggles.
[00:45:05] For example, if you have a child who is coming to therapy, because, and I’m just making this up, They’re afraid of bats and they’re so afraid of bats, they won’t leave the house.
[00:45:16] Well, understandably, the parent may stop trying to get the child to leave the house because they’re sick of the tantrums. They’re sick of the fits, or they allow their child to wear some kind of a bat armor, like a big cardboard box on their head. And that makes sense too, because again, they’re just trying to cope.
[00:45:35] By the time the kid gets to therapy, whatever they’ve been doing, isn’t working anymore. It’s either not working for the parent. It’s not working for their kid. And so the parent is going to have to shift things. It may have made perfect sense to tell the child they never have to leave the house for a day or two, but after a while, the kid is going to have to leave the house and the parent might need help in figuring out how to do that.
[00:45:58]I’m using sort of an outrageous [00:46:00] example, but I’m hoping that it helps you understand that helping the parents change things is not the same thing as placing the blame on the parents. We all get stuck doing things because they work only to find out they no longer work and now we’re stuck doing them.
[00:46:17] If you think back to Macall’s interview in the last episode about sleep, she talks about this too, that maybe some of the things that you did to get everybody to sleep were great. They work terrifically until they don’t and then you need help. And there is no shame in needing help.
[00:46:33] I understand when you’re reaching out to a child therapist, you naturally might feel defensive. I totally get that. I know you might be worried that the therapist is going to judge you. And all I can say about that is if you feel judged by your child’s therapist, then again, That’s not a good fit therapist.
[00:46:50] You need a therapist who you can trust, who you feel like respects you respects your family, supports your family values. And it [00:47:00] is absolutely okay to hold out for that.
[00:47:03]So that’s it for this month’s podcast on resiliency. You can find all the show notes, including links to Dr. Amy’s website and how to buy her books at YouAreNotYourMother.com/podcast. You can also catch up on our other episodes. If you found this podcast helpful, I would dearly love it if you would rate and review it and perhaps share with a friend that helps me get the word out.
[00:47:31] I’m also launching a six week course on setting boundaries called Bounded Compassion. That starts, no coincidence, the day after mother’s day, monday, May 10th. 2021. And you can sign up for that, at YouAreNotYourMother.com/bounded-compassion.
[00:47:50]When you sign up, you’ll get an immediate login that takes you into the site. So you can start posting to the message board. We will have weekly [00:48:00] lessons and assignments as well as live support. That’s going to help you say no to all the things you want to say no, to. To stand up for yourself in ways that are respectful and kind, but firm and help you figure out exactly when people cross your boundaries. Sometimes we second guess ourselves, we worry that we’re just being too sensitive. That’s what we’ll be working on for six weeks so you can start setting those limits that you need to set for your health and for the health of your family.
[00:48:31]I really appreciate you tuning in and i’ll see you in the website. Bye bye