Episode 42: Getting to the Bottom of Why You’re Yelling!

In this episode of The Family Couch, we talk with Diane Dempster, a leadership coach, about how to create more calm and peace in your home and how to have more awareness of yelling and how we speak to our children.  Dempster works with parents of children with attention and learning issues.  Dempster deems them “complex kids.”

We dive right in and discuss what Dempster calls the “coach approach” to parenting.  She describes it as being about positivity, empowerment, focusing on what is working and a sense of non-judgement.  She says that we often focus on our child’s behavior as being “bad,” so our tendency is to get upset about it and punish it.  Dempster suggests that what kids need is support to change their behavior instead of penalty for what they are doing.  Many times the consequences do not work for “complex kids” the way they would with typical children.  

Dempster explains that children need to know that there is an expectation for their behavior.  If a child does something that  is really off balance, you don’t necessarily want to ignore it.  She provides an example of talking respectfully.  Dempster has two teenagers that will speak in tones that are not acceptable for most families.  She can proclaim them as rude and send them to their room, or look at them and recognize they are having a hard time showing respect and decide to help them find a way to communicate more respectfully.  She suggests looking at the situation to see if the child has been triggered, as being triggered causes your brain to shut down.  This means that the part of the brain that says, “I’m not supposed to talk to mom like this,” isn’t even engaged.  We need to be able to help our children calm down so they can engage in the appropriate behavior.

If both the parent and child are triggered, Dempster uses the term “hot mess.”  She describes a trigger as something that upsets you to the point where you have a physical reaction.  We may not think we are having a physical reaction, but our body reacts as if there is a threat there.  When we are triggered, the problem solving part of our brains shuts down and we go into fight or flight mode–you are overwhelmed, frustrated, and/or angry.  We may get angry with our children and yell, or just ignore the problem and “run away.”  If you or your child is triggered, it’s best to take a few deep breaths and try to reclaim your brains to get back into problem solving mode.  Then you can take action from a problem-solving place instead of a reaction.  If we are reacting too quickly, we can’t stop and say, “Wow, my kid is really having a hard time right now to be speaking to me this way.”  

With children that have executive function and attention issues, the part of the brain that remembers not to do something so they will not get in trouble does not work the same way.  Because of this, they do not learn from their mistakes the same way.  This does not mean that no consequences are put in place–but we cannot expect the consequence to change the behavior.  The reality is that it takes a while to change a behavior.  We cannot expect children to immediately change their behavior based on a punishment.  Particularly with kids who are “complex kids,” they do not learn the same way from consequences.  

Dempster provides that setting the boundary is just one step toward changing the overall behavior.  She said that many of her families have one child with issues and one without, so they don’t want to treat their children differently.  They can set the consequence the same but have to know that once the consequence is enforced, they need to determine how to help each child change their behavior because the consequence alone will not make the difference.  

We change gears and talk about shifting expectations.  Dempster describes this as making sure that you are being realistic about what your child can or cannot do right now.  There are often many steps between where a child is at the moment and where we want them to be.  We have to focus on what we can do to help them improve.  Dempster discusses that the children she works with who have executive function issues are typically three to five years behind their peers in some area of development, like managing emotions or organizing.  They may not be at the same place as everyone else, but they will get there.  

We next discuss the four step process Dempster teaches for trigger management, as no problem solving can happen when you are triggered.  The first step is to get calm.  Knowing what triggers you is very helpful.  How do you know that you’re getting upset?  How can you manage these situations?  She gives an example of not having certain conversations with her daughter at 7am because she knows that her daughter will be triggered, which will trigger Dempster in return because she hasn’t had coffee and she’s tired.  The next step is to reclaim your brain.  You need to pause to get back into the problem-solving part of your brain.  You can take a few sips of water, take a time out, or take some deep breaths.  Then you can change your perspective from thinking about how bad your child’s behavior is to thinking about what you can do to change it.  Once the perspective is changed, you are able to problem solve.  Dempster mentions that punishments are exhausting for both the parent and child and often do not work.  What you ultimately want is to change your child’s behavior.  

Dempster discusses how to identify where the line is between a child’s behavior and their personality.  She believes it depends on the age and gives a personal example.  She describes her children as being snarky and says that she realized that she needed to meet them where they were and recognize why their snarkiness was so upsetting to her.  She decided to let down her guard for inappropriate language with her older son.  She acknowledged that when he was angry, he said things that were not necessarily okay, but she expected an apology for saying these things instead of telling him not to say them.  She understood that it was not realistic for him to pause and think about what he was saying when he was angry.  You want your children to learn how to change their behavior, but this comes with maturity.  Dempster mentions that she sometimes responds with humor which can grab her teens’ attention.  

We finally discuss that everyone gets triggered–we just need to exercise the muscle and be aware of it.  Dempster says we need to give ourselves some grace and understand that it is a primal reaction.  She mentions that it is no different if it is a real threat, an emergency, or an imagined threat.  She recommends focusing on one behavior change–for many of us it may be that we need to learn how to manage when we get upset.

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GUEST BIO:

Diane Dempster is the co-founder of Impact ADHD and a parent coach.  She has two teenage children and works with parents of children with complex issues, like ADHD, anxiety, or anything that really impacts attention or learning issues.  Diane has a BA in Biology/Human Services from Albion College and a Masters’ Degree in Healthcare Administration from the University of Michigan.  

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CONNECT WITH DIANE DEMPSTER:

WEBSITE: http://impactadhd.com/

10 TIPS FOR STOPPING MELTDOWNS IN THEIR TRACKS: http://impactadhd.com/couch

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TWITTER: https://twitter.com/impactADHD

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