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Helping Kids Navigate Intense Emotions: Sissy Goff & David Thomas

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
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June 11, 2024 5:15 am

Helping Kids Navigate Intense Emotions: Sissy Goff & David Thomas

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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June 11, 2024 5:15 am

Could your behavior be affecting your children's emotions? Sissy Goff and David Thomas explore how parental strategies might contribute to child anxiety.

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If we think about regulate first, talk second, it reminds us all discipline should happen last because that's part of the top part and discipline is designed for teaching, not for punishment. You know, if we think about it as teaching, we want kids to be able to make good connections.

Well, they can't make good connections if their thinking brings not online. Welcome to Family Life Today where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson.

You can find us at This is Family Life Today. I had a bad grandparenting moment. You didn't know it was a bad moment when it happened. No, I was crushed. Crushed. So we have quite a few grandkids.

We have six and sevens on the way. By the way, we're telling a story to two therapists who can counsel us through this. I'm actually sitting on their couch. Yeah, literally. On their couch.

But you know what? They're on a couch too so maybe we can counsel them. Dave and Thomas Sisigov, we are at Daystar Counseling in Nashville. They're home. They're home office.

Upstairs. I'll tell you what, this is really a beautiful space. It sure is.

Not just for counseling but for family at home. I just want to lay here and pour my guts out, don't you? That's why you're telling your little... That's why I'm telling this story.

I know. So we had a grandson. He's a preschooler so they're going to have their little Christmas play and they're going to sing. Dave and I are traveling a lot so when I'm home I'm with them quite a bit and I'm like, I am so excited about this for you. This is so fun and I can't wait to see you. And then I'd see him again like, are you excited?

I can't wait to see you. I don't think I understand the intensity that I carry. And so every once in a while I'd see him and say, hey, gosh, it's only four more days.

It got to the day of the performance and he says to his dad, I don't want Nani to come. I was crushed, like laying on the floor crying. Of course you were.

See, they're such good therapists. But I felt like, oh, and I said to Dave, see, I do this. It's my intensity. I'm all excited.

My heart means well. But I probably had him feeling so anxious by the time the performance come. I was like, should I be happy? Should I be excited like Nani?

Am I going to disappoint her? I had never thought of that actually, David, until I heard you on a podcast, on the Don't Mom Alone podcast with Heather McFadyen. And when you said some of the things that can create anxiety in kids, I was like, there it is. There it is.

It wasn't a rejection necessarily of me because I kept thinking, what did I do? And I realized like, oh, he was feeling the pressure of that. It got built up. Yeah.

I think he went and hid in the rafters somewhere. But he wanted his other grandma to come. I was like, oh, it was awful. But that was helpful for me to listen to some of the things we talked about yesterday of well-meaning statements that we can make as parents, but that can create a little angst and anxiety in our kids or even grandkids. Okay, so counsel us.

What happened there? Well, I mean, of course you wanted to be there and of course you're excited and talk to him about it. Right. Yes. And I think I loved your statement of, I don't think I realize how much intensity I carry. And the same is true about me. And I don't think I'm aware of how much intensity I carry. David told me. Maybe a few times. Which is great.

I'm so grateful. I mean, and we can talk about even the science behind it. It's funny because I think even when it's positive, I think sometimes our intensity translates to anxiety. Excitement can also be that kind of intensity. And there are even mirror neurons that are happening in our brains when we learn things that we aren't just learning to tie our shoes because of mirror neurons of watching someone else do it or learning to water ski. But we're also learning to be anxious.

When someone around us, we absorb the anxiety. And it's not what you meant. But I think that's a great reminder.

Shauna Nyquist has a story in her new book where she talks about that one of the greatest skills we can learn is to dial up and dial down intensity. Oh, that's good. Because it's so important. I mean, it's a lot of your giftedness. It's why you make us feel like a million bucks every time we're around you. And I'm not joking. I mean, I mean that.

It's a beautiful part of who you are. And it was good for our son. He goes, Mom, sometimes you need to chill it out. For you to say turn it down.

Yeah. It's good for us as parents to know when do I chill it down and when do I turn it up? What do you think, David?

Like, how do you do that? Well, it reminds me of the rich conversation we shared about the importance of doing our own work and being open to those things that we may not see as clearly. And I want you to hear me say to parent to parent, I'm with you.

I had a conversation with my daughter just this Christmas break who's in her 20s to say, I hope to goodness you will talk in counseling about what it was like to deal with my intensity growing up. I'm a reformer. I'm a perfectionist. I walk in every room and I see what's wrong first and not what's right. And there is no way that did not spill out onto my children all throughout their growing up and that they felt that experience that absorb that and the intensity that comes with that. So I love your transparency and telling that story. I'm right there with you. And it's that long game of how can I pay more attention to that so that I'm not living out of the blind spots of that.

And I'm aware and figuring out practices like for me as a reformer. I figured out when my teenage boys were all throughout their adolescence, you know, I have twin boys. They shared a room.

Can you even imagine what that room looked like and smelled like teenage boys who played a lot of sports? I would walk in their room and immediately see any clothes over their beds that aren't made over there. And it would be sometimes the first thing I would call out. And I developed a practice of saying to my wife, I'm going to stop going in their room so much.

It's not helping me. I think it's harming the relationship. I don't want our relationship to be defined so much by saying, hey, guys, bring the dirty clothes downstairs or hey, that stack of clean clothes that your mom brought up is about to touch the ceiling.

It's like I just don't want to keep talking about those things because I love them so much. And I don't want our relationship to be defined around my intensity around seeing, noticing and sometimes calling out. I mean, what if you're the parent, you don't see it and your spouse does, because you just said you saw it.

You know, and I'm not talking about Anne. I'm just talking about any parent that's not able to see it or unwilling and the spouse does. How do they coach him along or how do they help them see it?

How do you guys coach him along? I will say sometimes to parents, like for one, it's even back to I love the story that you all shared and we taught before of being in different places with your kids and recognizing those differences and figuring out how could we meet in the middle more than just I'm not going to pay enough attention and I'm going to pay too much attention. And in these moments, it's like, OK, they don't just need to hear from one of us. They need to hear from both of us. And when we talked about escape and avoidance last time, as it relates to anxiety, I talk sometimes with parents about I think the opposite of that is the equation of support and challenge. And that I think as people, we instinctively lean more toward one or the other. Like, I think there are people who I'm really good at challenge.

I can help you set some goals. I'm not always so good at support and just sitting in it. And I think if that's true for two parents in different places, how could the parent who's really good at challenge learn to listen more and listen longer? I had a mom who told me she goes, I'm so good at challenge that I have to set a timer when I go sit on my son's bed for three minutes that I just don't talk. I just listen.

Otherwise, I'll immediately. And that's a basic practice of that's how she's learning to give more support before she jumps into that instinctive challenge. And I would add, I think I can hear anything from anyone if they believe the best about me. If they see that I'm trying hard, then they can say anything. And so maybe it's even thinking about how do I approach my partner in this to say, hey, I can tell you're trying and you've done such an amazing job with blank.

And I was wondering if you had thought about whatever the other thing is. But when somebody sees that about us, I think it makes us so much more open to hear and willing to listen. In our marriage, I got into a practice because I'm a verbal processor and words kind of just flow out. And when I talked, I usually just said what I was thinking.

And that is not always great. I mean, scripture says the power of life and death is in the tongue. And so I got in that habit of saying and asking God, God, should I say this? When should I say it?

And how should I say it if he says yes? I think that practice with kids, I need the self-control to do that because we become so reactive instead of responsive when we just go there so quickly. And that's my personality. But it's hard to do that as parents.

And I think, again, you've said it several times, your spouse can be that buffer to help you support and challenge both. But if you don't have one, you know, it's a whole different ballgame. Like my mom was all by herself and no one was really giving her anything. So I got whatever I got. And if she hadn't processed her wounds, guess what?

They're coming on to me. And I know, as we said even yesterday, as I became a dad, it's like I have so many wounds. I'm almost afraid to engage because that way I keep my pain that I haven't really dealt with from them. And that caused more pain. Right? So what do you say to that guy who's afraid or woman, I guess it could go either way, that says the sins of the father are going through and I haven't dealt with my sins of my father.

So how do I do the work that I need to do before I pass it on to my kids? Does that make any sense? I love the words of Fred Rogers, who once said that if it's mentionable, it's manageable.

I love those words. And I think if we were to think in the wisdom of that, that if I can just learn to say it, if I can just learn to talk about it, it's manageable. But whatever I can't talk about, I don't I can't manage like it's not manageable.

It's just out there and it gets bigger and scarier. And I have found that to be incredibly true for a lot of boys, adolescent males and adult men that I've worked with. I think it's harder sometimes to mention that pain, but we can't tame it. Yeah, that's good. And it holds us captive until we learn to work through it. I mean, I think that's what I would say is there's so much freedom on that other side of that. And we can see again, like we talked about yesterday, God's redemptive hand.

And we can't see the redemption if we're not willing to talk about the harder aspects of it. I mean, there's the gospel right there. Sissy, I just had a young mom reach out to me. She has four kids, but she said, I have a four year old that is screaming, having these absolute fits. And she's lashing out saying things to the mom. And the mom's like, I don't even know where this came from. I don't know what to do. And she's hiding in the closet saying, I want to die.

And the mom loves Jesus. She goes, I have no idea what's going on or what to do. I could feel the anxiety in the mom of saying, I don't even know what's happening or what to do. You guys are facing that probably all the times with the stories that you hear. I didn't know what to say to that mom.

What should I have said? I feel like we talk to her probably every day. Do you? Yes. I mean, yes. We hear that story all the time with young ones who can't yet verbalize. Here's where I am emotionally.

Can you help? So that could be normal for them to not be able to regulate. Very normal. Yes.

Yes. And I think in this day and time of anxiety being such an epidemic among kids, it's even more normal. And my hunch would be that that girl has some anxiety. Either has some anxiety or has some sensory issues or both. If it was a boy, would your answer be different? Not necessarily.

Okay. And what we know to be true is that all behavior from kids is communication. So everything that's happening in terms of them acting out is they're trying to tell us something that they need from us in those moments. And in those moments, that little girl is saying, I don't know how to get control of myself. What I know to do. I had a girl who said in my office this week, it was so helpful for me when I could explode at my parents. Because if I could drag them into the same intensity with me, then I had a release for my emotions.

Oh. And I think for that girl, she doesn't know what to do in those moments. She feels anxious because she thought she had five more minutes to watch a show. And her mom said, no, we've got to turn it off now. Or she thought she had a little bit more time before bed. I talked with another family this week who said, we think our daughter is so entitled because she wants to go get a treat every day after school. And this mom said, I mean, we're not going to do that as a family. We're not going to Chick-fil-A every day.

And it wasn't about Chick-fil-A. It was about that for this little girl, routine made her feel safe. And so changing up the routine made her anxious. And so my hunch is there's something with that little girl that is moving her to her amygdala, the part of our brain that dictates fight or flight, which is what happens anytime we're anxious.

When our amygdala has hijacked our prefrontal cortex, we can't think rationally or manage our emotions. She can't do that in that moment. And so I would encourage, if that mom was in my office, number one, I would encourage her to start to try and document when it happens.

What are the circumstances around it? Would you do that with a boy too, David? Okay. And if it's transitions or unpredictability, or if it's seams in their socks and the amount of girls who will only wear leggings or dresses and won't wear jeans, or if it's some kind of texture, then really where I would start with that child is for them to do occupational therapy first.

Really? Because they can help them regulate that sensory input. But if we're leaning towards anxiety, or really with any kids, I think what we want to think about is we start with co-regulation. Honey, I can tell you're starting to get upset, like down on her level. I can tell you're getting frustrated right now.

I want you to take three really deep breaths with me. And what if they just yell and say, no? Then I think at that point you get away from them.

Okay. Because they're using you to be their coping strategy rather than trying to develop them on their own. And so get away from them, don't let them have that emotional release by drawing you into an argument. And at four, you've got to think about ways to do that that are safe.

Yeah. But with a lot of parents of little ones, I'll have them start to reward any positive coping strategy. So anytime they take a deep breath, they get a brave beat. And they can trade the brave beats in for something else.

Or anytime we can say the grounding techniques, the basic things we do with kids who are anxious, tell me 10 things you see in the room that's the color blue. Anything that is a positive coping strategy, going to squeeze a stress ball or jump up and down or run around the house or something to have an outlet, you're going to earn a brave beat. And you can trade 10 brave beats in for a page of stickers. You can trade 25 in for staying up 15 minutes later. You can trade 50 in for a special date with mom or dad. Or little bitty ones, we probably need sooner tokens and go to the dollar aisle at Target and get 30 things that they can just come get when they do something like that. But often kids don't have the internal motivation to use the tools we try and give them. And so until they do, we need to put external motivators in place.

Well, let me ask you, this is very practical, but I'm talking to a lot of young moms these days. Yes. Do you ever go back once they've regulated and they've settled down and things are fine? Do you ever go back to what they said, which was horrible? Do we ever go back to that? You're both making your head yes. Absolutely.

And what does that look like? Well, I think it's the wisdom of everything Sissy's been talking about is that all the focus and attention in the beginning needs to be on regulation. We talked so much about regulate first, talk second, and we tend to reverse the two. So think back to even what you shared on the front side of that story, what happens for so many kids and honestly can happen for us as parents too.

We call them dysregulated declarations. Like I'm flooded with emotions and I'm going to say this big scary thing like, I hate everyone in this family. I wish I could just die. I should have never been born.

I have no friends. Absolutely. Absolutely. And in those moments, we tend to start talking first and regulating last. And we should reverse it. So we say things like, why would you say that?

You are loved. Everyone in this family, you know, and they are to everything Sissy just said, they're acting out of their amygdala. So they they're thinking brains, not even online.

They can't make good connections. So we want all the focus to be on regulation first, whether they're four or 14 or 44. Wow. What the mistake we make the parent version of that is I'm amped up. My kids do something and I say, you're grounded for life, you know, and then I have to go by. I'm selling your cell phone at the pawn shop.

Then we have to go back. I had made some really good statements. I had a dad who said recently he was telling me a story that he'd asked his son to do three things. And he was like, tonight, when you go to bed, I'm going to set the Xbox on fire.

Who threatens pyromania? That's a dysregulated declaration. And so we shouldn't be talking at all.

We should be regulating first and then going back. I just have to share one thing that I said. This is awful.

I'm so embarrassed. People are like, why do we listen to family life today? I don't know which one this is going to be. It's when one of our sons had been caught drinking.

This is awful. He's digging holes in the yard to plant bushes. Because Ann told him, you're digging holes all day. But I see something like, maybe dad and I will just start going to the bar every night. How would that be?

Maybe that's who we'll become. How would you feel about that? By the way, all the neighbors heard this conversation. It was in the front yard, loud. That's the pastor's wife there. I am grabbing her and pulling her in the garage like, okay, I think it's time to go in. Because I wouldn't have said it if you were there.

By the way, that one's a pastor today. So it worked out. It was awesome. So good. Awful.

But you're right. It's so easy to do. Yes. I needed to take some.

I need to get away. Get away from the situation. That's what my question was. What does regulation look like for the parent?

Is it settle down, take three deep breaths? All the same things. All the same things.

Yes. Exactly. And the beauty of kids getting to see us do that. We talk about kids learn more from observation than information. So if they can sit front row and watch the adults they trust the most taking deep breaths. You're modeling. Saying things like, I can't talk right now. Cause I feel a lot of big feelings on the inside. So I had a dad who said, I'm going to run laps around the house and then I'll come back and we'll check in in five minutes.

And I love that his son got to watch that. The sense of I'm going to regulate myself and then we'll talk. Otherwise I'm more prone to saying things that I would later regret or have to go back and redo. And I think to your great question too, if we think about regulate first, talk second, it reminds us all discipline should happen last because that's part of the talk.

That's part of the top part. And discipline is designed for teaching, not for punishment. And if, you know, if we think about it as teaching, we want kids to be able to make good connections.

Well, they can't make good connections if their thinking brain's not online. So in order for all that to happen, we got to regulate first. And to Sissy's wisdom, we've got to practice regulation. No different than we have to practice riding a bike, swimming in a pool, shooting hoops.

It's not something we just get overnight. So Sissy, should we go back to that daughter in the closet who said all these horrible things? Do we go back and address the things that we said? What does that sound like?

I love to come up with a name for the voice they have in their heads, like the worry monster or I had a little girl one time named Addie and she called hers Maddie cause she would get really mad. But I think to say, Hey, I think that Maddie was talking instead of you, or I think that was the worry monster telling you that you were not going to be okay if you didn't get 10 more minutes to play the game before you had to go to bed. And my hunch is you said some things you didn't mean. Tell me about that.

What do you think happened? And see if she will say, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to do that. I hate it when I do that myself. I mean, even to say you made, not just you said mean things, but you said some big things like, I don't want to be alive or I want to hurt myself or something like that. And I'm going to always take that really seriously. And so let's come up with some things you can say to me when you start to feel upset.

Let's talk about where you feel it in your body first. And when you start to feel that way, I want you to tell me, and then we're going to do something different because I don't think you like when you get to that place either. And if I try to take a break and you can't get there yourself, we might do something to help you get there next time. And so it might be that you go run a lap around the house or you go jump on the mini train for a few minutes or you do something to help yourself slow down.

Those are good. I really think too that when I pull away, it gives me a chance to take a breath and to pray. And James, when it talks about God giving us wisdom generously, he does that. And to take that breath to self-regulate as an adult and to pray for God's wisdom, Lord, how should I deal with this?

What does this look like? He hears those prayers. Yes. Yeah. And I know you've already said this, but probably one of the wisest things we've learned to do is don't talk yet. Like you said, don't start with talking because that's where you go first. I'm so good at it though. Same thing in conflict.

It's like, listen, and I've read that one of the biggest complaints of teenagers is my mom and dad, my parents don't listen. And we don't. Yeah.

I know I don't. And you see this every single day, I'm sure. Are you counseling parents as much as you are the kids? We do a lot of what we call parent consultations where parents come in even without kids and ask great questions like, does this sound normal?

Should I be concerned about this? I would have gone to you guys and be like, Hey, I'm here again, I was here yesterday. We love that work with parents because we sit with so many intentional parents of kids of all ages and the beauty of technology in this day and age is we can do those by zoom with parents all over the country and just have conversations around ways they want to be more intentional with the kids they love. And often to our earlier conversation, it does lead to sounds like that might be a little bit more about you than about your kids.

So looking at what it might look like to be open and do some work for themselves. We're David Ann Wilson and you've been listening to Family Life Today. We've been talking with Sissy Goff and David Thomas. David's written a book called Braising Emotionally Strong Boys, and you can get a copy at And Sissy's written a book called The Worry-Free Parent, Living in Confidence So Your Kids Can Too. And when you partner financially with Family Life to help more conversations like today's get into more homes, we want to send you a copy of her book as our thanks. You can partner with us at or by calling 800-358-6329.

That's 1-800-F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. Or you can mail us your donation to Family Life at 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, Florida, 32832. And make sure to let us know you'd like a copy of The Worry-Free Parent by Sissy Goff. And thanks for partnering with Family Life. And thanks for listening. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor-supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry. Helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-11 07:17:28 / 2024-06-11 07:28:57 / 11

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