Episode 317 Transcript

Hello, it is Rachel and welcome to Episode 317 of Your Parenting Long Game. One of the things I love doing on this podcast is to bring things here that I notice that parents are doing that make things harder on themselves. Obviously I work with parents every day so I notice these patterns that many of us have that we don’t even notice …patterns that are ineffective and that reduce our influence (as you know, I call these “influence leaks”) …patterns that take unnecessary energy and that make it harder to bring peace to our homes. So today I want to tell you about one of these patterns and how you can notice if you’re in it as well. And that pattern is that we spend a lot of energy trying to change our kids’ behaviors, moods, and attitudes in order to meet our needs.

And we’re doing this before they’re able to change their behavior, moods, or attitudes. So we’re wasting a ton of energy. So I’m going to tell you a little bit more about this, but I also want to remind you that if you go to the show notes for this episode, there will be a summary of the episode, the transcript is available, and there are other resources that complement this episode. So head on over there to Rachel-Bailey.com/317

if you want even more tips for how to bring peace to your home. But to demonstrate this pattern that I was talking about, where we are trying to change our kids in order to meet our needs, I want to tell you a quick story about a mom named Jamie and her daughter Tess. Tess was a child who liked to be in control.

She was someone who always insisted that she go first, that she get to choose what the family watched or listened to. ..a child who got upset when things didn’t go her way.

And I’d been helping Jamie work on this issue and it had been about a week or two that Jamie had been focusing on it, but not as much progress had been made as Mom Jamie would have liked. Tess was still insisting that her mom make the dinner that she wanted. She was still saying that she should get to choose which audiobook she and her brother listened to in the car.

And Mom Jamie was scared that things were never going to change. Now, Jamie and I had talked a lot about what was causing Tess’s behavior because that’s a cornerstone of getting long lasting results. If you want behavior to change in the long run, you have to deal with what’s under behavior. So she and I had talked about the fact that Tess’s desire to go first did a lot of things for Tess.

It helped meet her needs for significance and power and stimulation. And not going first was incredibly difficult and uncomfortable for Tess. In order to do something different, it was like learning a new skill — one that Tess wasn’t particularly motivated to learn. And just like learning any new skill, it was going to take time and practice and patience, especially for a child who didn’t necessarily want to change.

And mom Jamie said in her mind, she understood all of that. Jamie also said she remembered what she and I had discussed that even if it took a few months for her to break out of this pattern, learning this new skill, dealing with her discomfort in another way, was would serve Tess for decades and decades.

It would help Tess handle all sorts of uncomfortable situations, not just being able to let someone else go first, but being able to handle anything that didn’t go her way in life. And Jamie said that in her mind, she understood all of this and really wanted that for Tess.

 But she said to me, “Rachel, I know all of this, but I still want it to move faster.” And as a mom, I understand that. And you probably understand that listening to Jamie’s story, but here’s the thing. When we want our kids to change faster than they’re actually able to change…. that becomes about us. We’re basically asking someone to change so that we feel better.

And of course Jamie wanted to make Tess go more quickly because it would be easier for her. So I actually asked Jamie how her daughter Tess not changing affected her And one of the worst things, Jamie said, was when Tess insisted on going first when others were around.

It affected Mom Jamie tremendously. She felt helpless. She felt embarrassed. She said in those situations she was miserable. TI asked her if ess making the change so that she was no longer insisting that she go first… I asked if it would make her feel less helpless and embarrassed. And she quickly and emphatically said, “Yes, that would make me feel so much better!”

Then I asked her, if you weren’t embarrassed by her behavior, if you weren’t feeling helpless, would you need her to change as quickly? And Jamie said, no, she wouldn’t need her to change as quickly, that she could be more patient. So I asked her, can you hear how you’re trying to get your daughter to change before she’s able to change in order to make you feel better, in order to help you feel less embarrassed and less helpless?

Well, Jamie was quiet for a second and she said, “yes, I can see that.” And that’s what we do. We want our kids to change. We want them to just get out of yuck when they’re being bossy in front of other people. Or we want them to be able to just clean up even though they struggle with executive functioning skills… we want them to clean up because we don’t like how it affects us when they don’t change. So we’re asking them to change. So we feel better.

And that’s basically like trying to teach someone algebra and before they really get how to do all of algebra, we get frustrated with them because they don’t get 100 percent on the test because in some way, their not doing better affects us. We’re asking them to do something that they can’t do yet, because that’s what we want to happen.

So how do you know if you’re doing this? I will tell you, you’re probably doing this too, if logically you know that your child can’t do better yet… because most of the parents I work with understand that it takes time to change negative behaviors… So you know they can’t do better yet, but you have a hard time caring that they can’t do better yet.

When you know, for example, they struggle with anxiety, but you wish they would just stop asking you so many questions because it’s exhausting you. Or when you know they have a hard time staying in bed at night, but you wish they’d stay in bed anyway. It’s like you just want them and the situation to change, and you can’t seem to care that they’re struggling even though intellectually you know that they’re struggling.

But here’s the thing. I know you do care. You wouldn’t be listening to my podcast if you didn’t. Your desire for them to go faster is a sign that your needs aren’t met, that you have a lot of yuck or that you’re missing a skill, that you are struggling in some way. And instead of meeting your own needs, you’re trying to make your child change.

And we have lots of reasons that we don’t meet our own needs. Ultimately, though, we don’t, and we put that on our kids.

The problem is that most of the time our kids can’t change if we haven’t given them what they need in order to be able to change. I’ve said this over and over that beneath every negative behavior, mood or attitude in our child is either too much yuck or not enough skills or both. A child is insisting they have to go first, they experience yuck when they don’t go first, and they haven’t mastered the skills to handle that.

When a child is being mean to their sibling, they have a lot of yuck, even if it’s just the yuck is that they’re bored, and they haven’t mastered the skills to address that yuck without bothering their sibling. When children are anxious at night, they have yuck about what might happen to them, and they haven’t mastered the skills to soothe that yuck.

Now again, I know that makes sense logically, but when I tell a lot of parents that you do need to meet these needs first, and even when I reassure them that it actually doesn’t take longer, it just takes a mental shift, even when I reassure them that it’s not going to take more time, a lot of parents will say, oh no, but now there’s more that I have to do. And again, I understand this reaction a hundred percent.

But I do dive deeper into it with parents because I don’t want them to say, but I do dive deeper into it with parents because I don’t want you to stay stuck.

So I’ll say to a parent something like, why does it sound so hard when you have to think about things differently? And they’ll say, well, Rachel, I’m just depleted. I’ll ask, if you weren’t depleted, would trying something new or different be so exhausting?

And they’ll say, probably not. So then I say to them, doesn’t it make more sense then to address your depletion, which is actually in your control, rather than trying to make them change, which they’re not going to do, and you’re going to waste a lot of energy wishing they would.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to address your depletion, to meet your needs, so that you can give them what they need and they can actually make long lasting change.

Here’s what’s important to know. We have to meet their needs if we want them to change. But once our needs are met, it’s actually not that hard to meet their needs. The hardest part actually comes from what you’re likely doing now, trying to get them to meet your needs and getting resistance because they can’t. The hard part is when we set unrealistic expectations for them, we ask them to do something they don’t have the skills to do, and then they don’t change, and then that takes a lot of energy because we’re frustrated and disappointed and helpless. It just increases our yuck.

So what can you do about this?

I actually have a few different strategies to help. I always attack any problem from multiple angles, but here’s one strategy that you can think about. Notice where you want your child to change, and they’re not budging, and you’re getting frustrated. Ask yourself, what’s this behavior, and how does it affect me if they don’t change? Because the answer to that question is usually where your need is if you’re thinking it what makes me feel more exhausted or it makes me worried that they’re never going to get better or it makes me feel like I’m a bad parent.

That’s what needs to be addressed and that is in your control, but trying to make your child change before they actually can change, that is not in your control and you will not get the results that you want.

So let me give you an example. I worked with a parent who wanted their child to just shower when they were supposed to shower without complaining so much. So the first question I asked was, does your child usually just go and shower without complaining so much? And the parent said, no, they usually do complain.

So I said, you know what? If that’s what they usually do, that’s probably what they’re going to continue to do until their yuck is reduced and or they’ve mastered certain skills. So work on this, yes, because you’re going to get long term change when you do, but it’s going to take more than one or two nights for them to master this, for the complaining to get better.

So I said to the parent, how does it affect you if they don’t change? And the parent said, well if they’re complaining then I’m realizing this is going to take longer and I’m trying to think about all the things in my head that I have to do that night and I’m realizing that I’m not going to have time…

And so I said, what would happen if you didn’t have other things to do that night? And the parent said, well, I probably wouldn’t be as upset. So I said, what would happen if you could find another time to work on those things? I know it’s not going to be easy. I know you might have to think out of the box, but I want you to try to find another time to do the things that you normally do at night.

 Now, this parent was able to find that time, and here’s what happened. Because he wasn’t worried about getting his work done, he was actually less frustrated when his son did complain. And because he was less frustrated, his energy was different, and his son was able to get out of yuck more quickly, and the evening went more smoothly.

And ironically, he ended up having more time because he wasn’t worried about the time. His anxiety had been creating more yuck for his son, and his son was complaining even more.

We think that making our kids change quickly would make things better, but it’s dealing with our own yuck that makes things go more quickly, because when we deal with our yuck, we’re more of a powerful, positive influence. We can teach our kids what they need to be more successful, and we can teach it to them more quickly.

Now, of course, the complicated part of parenting is that we have needs and our kids have needs. We try to often suppress our needs. We’re too busy to take care of the fact that we’re exhausted or we’re too overwhelmed to do anything that we need to put ourselves first. But our needs don’t just go away when we don’t deal with them. They come out and they often come out in the form of trying to make our kids change so we feel better.

And they can’t change, so then we feel worse. And unfortunately, as I said, this does negatively impact our influence. It negatively impacts our kids’ self esteem. It negatively impacts our relationship. Things don’t go the way we want, even though we think that our kids’ changing is the easy fix.

It’s not. But the good news is when we understand why we need our kids to change, when we address the stressors we’re facing, or even just start to think about them differently, we have a lot more energy to give our kids what they need , and their behavior does change.

They stop trying to go first, they stop complaining when they have to take a shower, they don’t melt down as much, and there are other positive side effects as well. We become a powerful positive influence because we’ve approached them with confidence and connection rather than with our yuck and with our control and that goes better.

And when we meet our own needs first and give them what they need to be successful, they become more resilient. They become more confident because we’ve taught them how to do the thing they need to do. Our relationship strengthens and they trust us more and they’re more likely to want to be with us, which increases our influence as well.

It’s a positive spiral instead of a negative one. That is long game parenting. Now, again, if you want a summary of this episode, if you want to see the transcript in writing, if you want to see other resources, all of that can be found on the show notes for this episode at rachel-bailey.com/317. Thanks for listening and I’ll see you again soon.

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