How to Respond to Your Child’s Behavior


00:00:04    Alyssa

Welcome to Voices of Your Village, a place where parents, caregivers, teachers and experts come to support one another on this wild ride of raising tiny humans. We combined decades of experience with the latest research to create the modern parenting village. Let's dive into honest conversation about real parenting challenges, so it doesn't have to be this hard. I'm your host, Alyssa Blask Campbell.  


00:00:35    Alyssa

Hey, everyone, welcome here to Voices of Your Village today I get to hang out with Sarah Maclaughlin. She lives in Maine, and we got to meet in real life, which is how this relationship started. I gave a workshop at Birth Roots in Maine last June, and she was there. We got to meet IRL, and she saw the presentation, and we've stayed in touch since, and she reached out and was like, hey, let's have one of these conversations on air. And we're so in sync. Sarah, I'm so jazzed to dive into this with you today. How are you? 


00:01:06    Sarah

I'm pretty good. You know, I'm hanging in there. It's nice to see your face. Hey, even though it's not in real life at this moment, is still nice to see your face. 


00:01:15    Alyssa

Thanks. Likewise, Yeah, it's nice to see other faces other than the two faces I now see all the time in my house, I agree. Can you share with our village a bit about who you are and kind of what brought you here? 


00:01:31    Sarah

Yeah, absolutely. So my backgrounds in early childhood education, I was a preschool teacher and a toddler teacher for a number of years, and then worked as a private nanny for a long time. And then I somehow ended up becoming a social worker. So I've worked with families and children for over 25 years in many different capacities. Most recently, I work as a writer, actually at zero to three, which is a organization that supports infants and toddlers nationwide. And I wrote a book about 10 years ago called What Not To Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children. And I'm working on my second book right now called Raising Humans with Heart. So I just love supporting families in understanding their kids better so that everybody can get along and have as much fun as possible. 


00:02:22    Alyssa

Totally connection is rad. Awesome. So you are certified in Hand in Hand Parenting. And I want to touch on that. Can you share with folks a bit of it about Hand in Hand? It's super cool. I haven't done any workshops through them or anything like that. But I, we're in alignment. 


00:02:41    Sarah

Yes, That is my understanding from what I have seen of your work and what I know of their work that I just love. So Hand in Hand and basically focuses on parent-child connection as sort of the crux of how everything goes in your family and prescribes 5 listening tools. So it was really funny. I had. I was near publication date on my book called "What Not to Say Tools for Talking with Young Children" all about, you know, parent-child communication. And I learned about this org that focuses on listening. And I had focused so much on what we say in this book. I was like, oh, the other half of communication is listening. This is a very important I need to learn more about this. Plus I had a two-year-old by then, and I was like, I'm feeling a little bit out of my depth. I made the mistake of thinking I could prepare myself for parenthood, and I could not. So I was in a place where I was open to some new tools. And these listening tools are just wonderful. Really quickly, setting limits is the first is one, because we have to set limits with kids because they need that guidance. I talk about limits and boundaries as like guard rails on the side of a bridge. You don't really need them, because you're not going to drive off, but it's nice to know that they're there, and they help you feel safe. And then the second one is called stay listening, which is when you set a limit, and kids have big feelings about it, that we just make tons of space for that and connect and stay steadfast in our belief that the child can get through the big feeling. And we don't have to do anything to fix it or change it and just kind of hold space for that.


00:04:22    Alyssa

So hard to do in the moment. 


00:04:23    Sarah

So hard to do. Yep, so much, well, which is, which is why those aren't the only two tools. Yeah, because one of the tools that makes stay listening possible is called listening partnership and that is a specifically organized time for two adults to connect and hold space for each other so that they can get the listening that they need to be able to provide the listening that their child needs and that's a quick way of putting it, because you can't kind of give what you don't have, which, you know, we could talk about that for a long time. I'm sure 


00:04:58    Alyssa

Totally. Actually, I do want to talk about that. 


00:05:00    Sarah

Yeah sure, I can hold, I think that was three, I can hold the other two. 


00:05:04    Alyssa

Okay, cool, yeah, I do want to talk about that, because I posted something last night that has triggered a lot of feelings in the internet world, and that it was a post about how children are not responsible for our feelings. 


00:05:20    Sarah



00:05:20    Alyssa

And I then went on to create more posts this morning and I'm excited to share it, because we got to talk more about this, clearly it was triggering for a lot of folks, got a lot of comments about this. And that in my DMs blew up with people being like. "But..." And so I want to dive into this a little bit, I think when we're talking about being able to hold space for kids feelings and not just react to the behavior on the surface, but really hold space for those feelings and listen to what they're communicating to us. I think the one thing that is often overlooked that you just brought up here is that we are all coming to adulthood with our own inner child voices and narratives, our own subconscious running in the background, dictating how we react to things based off of our childhood experiences and our social programming, right? And if you, as a child, when you were that tiny human, if nobody ever held space for your feelings and you didn't have someone you could break down to, it's really hard to do for a child. Oh yeah, we have all the story that comes up about what the meaning around it. And Cetera? Yeah, exactly. And it's so powerful. I have found for myself personally, like my parents aren't those people for me, they don't have the, nobody did it for them, and we repeat what we don't repair. And so they didn't have anyone who helped space for them. They don't know how to do that for me, it makes them uncomfortable when I have a hard feeling. And so then they're also not somebody that I turned to to break down with my hard feelings. they're phenomenal parents. This is not a knock on who they are as parents whatsoever. I love the crap out of them. And that's not a role that they play in my life, right? And so I have had to find, when this question came up from folks in this post yesterday, of, you know, like having somebody to turn to what are you do if there isn't somebody in your adult life that can hold space for your feelings that you have identified? I have a rad partner who's able to do this, and a dear best friend who can hold space for my feelings and not solve them. And all that jazz. What happens if you don't have that? 


00:07:36    Sarah

Yeah, Well, that's one of the beautiful things about this tool of listening partnership is that you don't have to have a relationship with this person. They don't have to know you very well. I have a listening partner who I've never met who lives in a different state. And what allows that container to happen is a couple of rules. And the couple of rules are, there's a timer, you set a timer, you have a prescribed amount of time that you're going to exchange listening time. Each person gets the same amount of listening unless it's an emergency which does happen. And then there's no advice-giving. And you know the goal, the end goal is to make space for any feelings that are happening as part of the listening. That's basically it. 


00:08:24    Alyssa

I didn't realize this, this is a part of Hand in Hand? 


00:08:27    Sarah

Correct, it's called Listening Partnerships. It's one of the listening tools. 


00:08:30    Alyssa

And you're like, but you're given a partner?


00:08:31    Sarah

No, you find a, we have, you can find a partner. You could choose a friend to be a partner, or as part of the structure. You know, there's free groups that you can join online as part of their, what they offer. And you know, people post, you know, hey, I'm looking for a listening partner at this time, you know, in this time zone, et cetera. 


00:08:52    Sarah

Like I'm part of the instructor Facebook group. So I have a listening partner who happens to be another Hand in Hand instructor. So that's like a nice common ground, but certainly not necessary that you, you know, have anything in common, actually other than wanting to provide that listening space to someone. And the other thing that is asked of you as a listener is to sort of just like you would with a child when they're stay listening and it does take practice is to really hold your trust in their ability to get through the feeling in your mind, As you're listening, that you don't worry about the feelings being a problem, and that you really trust that this other human being is perfectly capable of working there way through the feeling. And all you have to do is listen. 


00:09:46    Alyssa

Yeah, I love this. 


00:09:48    Sarah

It's super simple, but it's far more powerful than you, I have a whole, I have a chapter in my book dedicated to these listing tools, just because I think that they're so important. And what I say, this is in my new book Raising Humans with Heart, and what I say is, I've literally encountered no other tool that has helped me extend my fuse as a parent, grow my bandwidth and my ability to provide the kind of emotionally intelligent, you know, responsive, loving parenting that I want that we all want to give, and that you're very familiar with all of the things that get in our way in trying to deliver that kind of parenting and be that kind of parent. And a lot of it is our inherited. I call it like the manual that you come to parent, there's not a manual. Oh, everybody's got a manual on their back pocket. And it's all the stuff that happened to them when they were kids, That is the manual that you bring to parenting. And so the listening partnership is a great place to excavate that manual cause you don't know You have it until you open your mouth to say something to your kid. And your own parent comes out of your mouth. And you're like, wait a minute. A: I said, I wasn't gonna say that and B: like, wait a minute, what's going on here? So listening partnership is a great place like you were talking about. However old your child is, is a really great question to ask, like, or whatever behavior you're up against. Like, how were tantrums handled when I was a child, if tantrums are really pushing my buttons. When my two-year-old is losing it, it might be a helpful exploration in my listening partnership to talk about how tantrums were handled when I was two and how that did or did not work for me. Because for most of us, as you know, it didn't work like a lot of a lot of our parents did not have the capacity to provide that kind of firm and kind and loving boundaries space. It just was not in it. We didn't have the information about brains like yeah, there's no, like you say, there's no fault. Nobody was trying to be a jerk. There just was no, not the information today. Then that there is today. 


00:11:47    Alyssa

Yeah, totally. I mean, I think of it in the same way that we have different, like products or physical things for kids like car seats. We have upgraded the car seats because we, you know, better, you do better, right? 


00:11:59    Sarah

Exactly. Yes, thank you, Maya Angelou. 


00:12:01    Alyssa

Exactly, And we don't. It's not that like, oh, our parents had this option of this other car seat, and they're like, never let me put you in this, like basically basket. No, they did. That wasn't how that went down into the same here now with what we're coming to. But awareness of what we're bringing to adulthood is so huge here. I love this, this is great. I think one of the things that came up for me here is that it is I don't want to oversimplify for people how hard it is to build awareness of what we're bringing to adulthood. Right? Like I have a coaching client right now, who is getting triggered by these tantrums? And she was like, but I know that they're allowed to hard feelings. And then as we dug deeper into this inner child work, she has a little voice that says that kids are supposed to be obedient, And that if her, even though she knows now like that's not what I want. That's not what I want to bring to parenthood. What it still is saying is that like, if her kids aren't being obedient, she's failing as a parent, right?


00:13:04    Sarah

Yeah, that's the messaging that's out there that children, parents, ability to parent is judged by their child's behavior. Like, yeah, how good of a job you're doing. And, you know. 


00:13:13    Alyssa

Yeah, but so I want folks to know as they tune into this, like, we're going to talk about stuff. And I dont, I want you to know like it's not easy work. It's doable, and it's not easy. So if you find yourself like trying to do this, and it's hard, you're in the right place. 


00:13:27    Sarah

Yeah, Yeah, Absolutely. Yeah, Glennon Doyle recently did a little IG stories thing. And she said, you know, being you know, having having icky mucky feelings doesn't mean you're doing being a human wrong, it's just that it's actually doing it right. Like it's just it's just painful sometimes there's nothing wrong with you if you have uncomfortable feelings, that's just part of being a human. 


00:13:55    Alyssa

Yeah, exactly. And that's our goal here is to be able to hold space for those hard feelings, and to rewrite that narrative for ourselves, that it's okay to not be happy. And it's okay for kids to not be happy. It's okay for them to feel scared. It's okay for them to feel embarrassed or lonely or left out there, going to feel those things, whether we try to avoid them or not. 


00:14:15    Sarah

Right, and then they won't have the, if you can make space for it. There won't be the added extra layer, which most of us have around shame, or, you know, feel guilty for not being happy, or, you know, I have so much or whatever the story is, you have running its that's just an extra uncomfortable layer, actually. 


00:14:32    Alyssa



00:14:32    Sarah

And if you, I mean, that's one of the things that helped me get comfortable. I mean, obviously so many things helped me be comfortable with my child's big feelings, but one was knowing that. And this was interesting to pull in some of the brain research, knowing that how they experience a feeling and and be able to get through it to the other side that that's like building a pathway in their brain of resilience and of capacity like that's a capacity I had to go back and build as a grown up in therapy to be able to sit with uncomfortable feeling for a really long time until it passed, because I didn't have somebody coach me through that when I was little. And so every, once I saw what I was doing when I would curtail, because I found myself curtailing the feelings, even though I knew intellectually that I did not want to do that, I was like, oh, my gosh, why do I keep distracting him after 20 minutes? Because my amygdala was start going off after 20 minutes of crying like clearly, something must be wrong, and I was starting to freak out, And once I could retrain, my brain that no, I'm actually when I do that, I'm robbing him of capacity. I'm robbing him of the opportunity to get all the way through the feeling and know that he can and have that. That's self-esteem, that's you know, self confidence that you experience something hard and you get through it, and then you gain comfort with that difficulty. And so once I saw it as like, I was actually curtailing a skill, I wanted him to learn that That helped me do the work I need to do on my own discomfort. And there's always these kind of multiple layers going on. And it isn't a one-and-done like you're saying it is definitely an ongoing process that is to be revisited, and then they keep growing older and entering new new and fun phases that will trigger you in entirely new and special ways. So that's all fun, too. 


00:16:23    Alyssa

Totally, the work doesnt end. I think it does get easier in some ways, as you get accustomed to learning how to pay attention to those voices. Okay, So we've gone through the first three. 


00:16:34    Sarah

Yes. That was the first three. So the last two are much in the same way that adults need that one-on-one listening. There's a tool for children called special time, which, you know, is kind of like a time in where you, again, would set a timer, and offer a child your undivided attention to lead the play in whatever way they find they would like to do, which, when I first heard this, I was like, oh, no problem. You set a timer, let them play. But the not leading the plaything, I was like, oh, my. I had no idea how much backseat driving I was doing in the play room until I set a timer and tried not to lead the play. And it really even, just partly just because it's repetitive, it's boring. You know, your two year old wants to just drive the train back and forth on the track endlessly, and, and just have to stop myself from trying to be like, oh, let's build it this. Or let's do that. And the quality of the attention that your child gets when you're not in parenting mode and you're not in play director mode is entirely different and fills their cup in a completely different way that grows their bandwidth and nurtures, their attachment and connection with you. So that's the second to the last tool. And then the last one is play listening, which is much in the same way that, you know, I believe a good cry will sort of like offload stresses and tensions. And, you know, that's why you just hold the space for the feeling, because once they get down to the nitty-gritty of it's like the washcloth is wrung dry. And then you feel lighter, right? Laughter can kind of offload lighter tensions and worries and stresses. And so play listing is just basically using play and humor and fun as a way to connect sometimes even as a way to set limits. If it is done in, you know, if a child is open to that, like my I was rereading some anecdotes I had written for my for my certification with hand-in-hand. And One of the things that I would do is you know, sometimes your kid just is off track and there, Well, I'm sure we'll get to this around decoding behavior, but sometimes they just will randomly smack you out of nowhere. And you're like, what on Earth is that about? And and when I learned to kind of think of that as like, my attention is needed here, Like my child is trying to get my attention. The people say they're just doing that to get either your attention. And I'm like, yeah, that's because they're smart. They need to get your attention. So they're doing it. However, the best way, the most, you know, accessible way that they, know how. And so one of my play listening responses for that was like, oh, a smack for every smack, I have to give you 20 kisses. And then I would like grab him and start like kissing him on the cheeks. And you know, just getting the silly connection going, or like what other time he was like hiding, because he wouldn't put his pajamas on. I couldn't figure out what to do. So I just like A: I sat down, and I was like, I don't know what to do right now, because all I could think of to do with stuff I knew I didn't want to do, and that I had like, published a book saying, you shouldn't do so then I was really in, was really stuck in the corner. And then I just, you know, I took my little blank, his little lovey blankie, and I was like, oh, right connection. I'm just to do something playful, to try to make a connection. So I threw my little blanket at his at his head. And then he like, giggled and threw it back. And, you know, then we got this sort of like back and forth thing going. And we reconnected and started. I said, I'm gonna get you, you know, he was 3 and refusing to get dressed, which is totally thing that three-year-olds do. And once we had the connection going, then he was, you know, he was I can't think of the right word, but he was in, we were engaged together, and I was like, where he'd been refusing to get dressed. And I was thinking, well, it's either force or this or that which I don't want to do. Once we were connected. Then he like happily went and got dressed. And I was like, oh, this is why this works. This is why I play can sometimes be your way to connection, Even when things are going poorly. And it feels like a more heavy hand is what's needed. 


00:20:47    Alyssa

Yeah, a couple things there came up for me. 


00:20:50    Sarah



00:20:51    Alyssa

One, I think, like play like in, for instance, transitions or times that are often challenging think we often just try to get kids through it. And this is something I just gave a workshop last week to teachers supporting families virtually through covid. And I was like, let families know not just what your schedule is. But let families know what, how you get from point A to point B like, how do you actually move from snack to getting  outside without there being a million annoying things that happen in between? Right Like, oh, we played this game, or we sing this song? 


00:21:27    Sarah

Yeah, exactly.


00:21:28    Alyssa

Like those things I do want to chat for a second, though about play as a response to a behavior like if I was hit. My inclination here would be to say, like, they're not in trouble for hitting. No, not even no hitting they're not trouble for hitting, I won't let you hurt my body. And then are you trying to connect with me for me, for me attention-seeking is connection seeking. 


00:21:54    Sarah

Sure. Yeah, yeah. 


00:21:56    Alyssa

They're seeking connection, and so that we can bring bringing awareness to for them so that we don't continue to see them hitting me for connection and instead letting them know, if you want to connect with me, we can play this game. You can say, book or play or whatever. And like, that's how we responded to kiddos, even in like, as young toddlers, one year olds who could sign play, or read a book to let them know how else to communicate that desire. 


00:22:24    Sarah

Yeah, Yeah, There's a that certainly has a time and a place. And I think you have to know the child A and B. The other thing that I will say is that that sometimes they're too crispy for that kind of verbal interaction. And this approach works really well when they're just a little bit too far into their downstairs brain. And then I would also I should follow up to say that I wouldn't let the hitting completely go, but I would circle back to it later when they were in a different brain states. That makes sense. 


00:22:58    Alyssa

Yeah, yeah. 


00:22:58    Sarah

Like, like in that situation, I might have my immediate response based on knowing that he had to be pretty crispy to hit me would be to not say something right away about getting my attention a different way, but I would do the still I would do the like. I'm gonna kiss you, and I would go right for the like cuddly connected, silly thing. And then after, I would say, you know, there's better ways to get my attention next time, you could do blah, blah, blah. And I know you're doing the best that you can. I actually wrote a blog post once about when my son was seven, and he threatened to throw a bowl at me. And I ended up later praising him for threatening to throw a bowl at me, because that was an improvement over a more devolved behavior from the past, right, and how it seems so counterintuitive and I said, you know, your brain is growing, and you are will eventually be able to express your upset without making threats. And now he's 12, and he, you know, is so far beyond even threatening to do something like that, whereas before he used to just do it, you know, he used to just be aggressive, And now he totally is not. But that's a long process of kind of planting the seed, like going for the connection, going for the play, giving the information, helping to make those connections, giving the positive feedback. You'll get there. You'll eventually have that feeling of wanting to hit and be able to not like just kind of planting that seed kind of like a little pep talk little pep talk so long In the way of trusting that they'll get there. 


00:24:39    Alyssa

Yeah, I love that in the like afterwards. And thanks for noting that. But like we're not going to have that conversation about what they can do next time until we have a full podcast episode on when to talk about the behavior. Actually, if people want to dive into that will link is awesome post. But we're not going to talk about that when we're in it. But I, there's there still is like a resistance for me around like I don't think my inclination of being hit would be to turn it into play. I, I don't want to, I guess for me, I want to work on processing that emotion. Right? So identifying that I won't let them hit me. And it seems like you're looking for my attention, or that you. It seems like you're frustrated when you hit me. Were you trying to say you want to play right? Like, depending on, I guess, if they if it was like flippant, almost like versus like, oh, there's like rage. And right now you're hitting those are different. 


00:25:32    Sarah



00:25:33    Alyssa

But I feel like we'll see this often with like babies or young toddler is where the like do something that is physical to get your attention. Yeah. But I think, like for for those instances, my inclination is not to play in response. I'm gonna have to do some work thinking about that. 


00:25:50    Sarah

Yeah, I wish I could think of a different example, because hitting might be just like a little over the line for some folks. And. And like I said, you really do have to know your child. And this was like a very strange like out of the blue thing. You know, from like a two-year-old, you know, and and sometimes I think that we can, I don't want to say, get into trouble, but I feel like when we often are guessing what a child is thinking or feeling, and I feel like sometimes that can be like a tricky boundary that I don't want to cross. If that makes sense where I don't say seems like you're angry like I feel like that can be a bit of a slippery slope as far as like jumping, it's like a funky gray spot for me, because I do think it's important to name emotions for kids. And I feel like sometimes we can jump in too quickly and steer their process too much. So that's why I feel like it's a you gotta know your, your the who you're talking to, what the relationship is, ETC. Because that can get a little bit sticky. 


00:26:56    Alyssa

I think, more importantly, than like making sure you nail their emotion. When we did the research on the CEP method, It was really cool to see like we had a two-year-old who I was like, man it looks like you're really angry, or really mad and she's like, I'm not mad. I'm sad. I was like, yeah, cheers. She's two, but so they can start to correct his. But what I'm more interested in is building awareness of what we're seeing as the adult like, oh your face is so scrunched, and your shoulders are up to your ears and your fists are really tight. You look really mad. And like, then I can pair for them. Like that's what I'm seeing is, are these physical things happening? So they can start to build. We had it been a four-year-old who would say my shoulders, are up to my ears and my fists are so tight. And I'm really mad!


00:27:39    Sarah

That's awesome. 


00:27:40    Alyssa

It was so cool to see him go from like hitting to being able to notice the awareness building so that he could regulate, took a lot of time to get there. But we got there. 


00:27:51    Sarah

That's awesome. 


00:27:51    Alyssa

But that's more what, and I guess I, we do fall into the camp of identifying the emotion that we are seeing. And then I'm interested in going deeper into, like and this can happen later too like, looks like you were mad earlier. I wonder if you were feeling embarrassed? Right? 


00:28:06    Sarah

Yeah, right, That's always on top of something else. Right? 


00:28:09    Alyssa

Yeah, It's a secondary emotion, and I want to get down and dirty with that root emotion. But we don't always have to do it in the moment. I can let them know, like you might be feeling mad, because you're feeling embarrassed or disappointed or guilty, or ashamed or whatever. 


00:28:23    Sarah

Exactly. Yeah, Yeah. 


00:28:24    Alyssa

But okay, cool. Yeah. 


00:28:25    Sarah

Yeah, that's very cool. I did just think of another example that might be a little more palatable is that, you know, even just something where a child is refusing to get in the car that you, this is sort of in line with what you were telling me earlier as a caregiver like, what do the caregivers do they sing a song, or, you know, just having those silly things in your back pocket, Like I would sometimes just put my son's sock on my hand and turn into a character like anything to like, get the play and the connection going. I had an English Nanny character that I would just transform into when he would dig his heels in and refused to do something and be like, "I'm not doing that Mom" and I'd be like, "Oh, I'm not your, Mom, I'm your English Nanny. I've come in, and she's left, and it's time to get in the car now", and he would, he would look at me like kind of funny. But then I would keep going with it, Just stay in character, And then he would start laughing, and then he would get in the car. And I was like, oh my God, I can't believe it worked so well, but it works. And it just depends on your, you have to  know you know who your audience is for what they will think is funny. And what will disarm that you know counter will or that resistance? 


00:29:27    Alyssa

Yeah, totally and like that power battle, I, yeah, I'm here for it for transitions. It does easier for me for a transition. I feel like, and I want to let folks know, like, if you get to a place where you're doing this and you're making that transition fun, it is also okay to hold the boundary of like, alright, we are going to get into the car now, you can climb in, or I can help you get in whether or not you ride in a car seat, not a choice. Right? 


00:29:53    Sarah



00:29:55    Alyssa

So it as your, as folks are trying this on for size, It's not going to be a hundred percent of the time. And that's okay. It's like everything that we're doing here. 


00:30:03    Sarah

Just nice to have a toolbox for sure. 


00:30:05    Alyssa

Totally, totally. And yeah, that's what I was saying to teachers. Like so much of this is, is innate for teachers at this point to part of your day all the time, I was like, share those things with parents about like, how are you moving through these transitions? How do you get a kid to go down for a nap, etcetera. One of the biggest things that we find people struggling with is being able to answer that question of what is my child communicating, because I'll ask them that when their reach Like we're seeing this behavior on the surface. My first question is almost always what do you think your kids communicating And they're like? I don't know. And it is hard to decode. So let's go into that a bit. 


00:30:50    Sarah

Yeah, all behavior is 


00:30:51    Sarah

communication for sure. And a lot of behavior is driven by emotions. And sometimes figuring out what the meaning is, means digging into what the emotions might be be. And I find that that's a helpful place to explore. And like you were talking about earlier like needing attention or needing to feel connected, or I'm trying to think of all the all the different feelings that could be underneath behaviors. And like, we already mentioned that anger is always the kind of a secondary emotion is on top of something else. And one of the things that I often tell parents is that all aggressive children are scared children like, as we know, your amygdala goes off and and often makes you or drives your aggression, and that that is based on a fear response. So totally being able to figure out what, what might help a child feel safe is often a first go to like if their behavior is, you know, headed in that direction, that can be a good first assessment. Those are the first couple things that come to mind. 


00:32:03    Alyssa

Yeah. And I love that it is all this fear having conversation in my husband the other day, we were having a hard conversation, and I had cried for, but I could cry, though at like a Hallmark commercial, like for sure, quick to tears. And I cried. We're having a hard conversation, and then he shared, like his intention behind something. And I was like, oh, so it's a fear of causing me to have a hard feeling, and he saw it as respect, and I saw it as a fear of causing me to have a hard feeling. And it was so interesting to just see that delineation too of like, we can write these patterns for ourselves of what we want. Like we want to have an obedient child. Oh, it's a fear that they won't listen to us, and that that's a reflection of our parenting, Right? So, like, right, right? I think part of this is really getting down and dirty until like, what is that fear, If it's if the kid's embarrassed, maybe it's a fear of feeling excluded, or not being included.


00:33:03    Sarah

Yeah or not feeling connected or like a lot of times, I'm sure, a lot of your clients are similar to mine are, you know, people who have a toddler and a baby. And the toddler's having a really, really hard time, because that's such a huge disruption. And there's so many feelings that come up of jealousy and envy and regression. And all of those things that are just, you know, a part of that transitional time when parents are stretched thin and everybody has needs, and it's hard to meet everybody's needs. And, you know, being able to dig into those feelings and validate them and make space for them Is so is so huge. 


00:33:40    Alyssa

There is so much power in that validation, though, Right? Like I think in our minds, were like, we go to. Okay. So how do we carve out time to make sure that I am connecting with this toddler, letting them know that we still, and sometimes all it takes is like, it's so different now with the baby here, our family feels different, and it is different, and it's different for everybody. I mean, everybody is world changed. Not just that kiddo, and just being able to validate that for that child can go a long way. 


00:34:11    Sarah

Yeah. And it's really the empathy that comes with the words, right? Like your example was so great there. And that was one of the that was one of my learning curves from from from, you know, working with other people's kids to working with my own as being able to bring my own stress level down enough to actually convey my true validation and empathy, because not paying attention to my own stress level got me into some some pickles, because all of the words are wonderful. And all of the shifts in thinking are wonderful. And when you are not able to stay in your own thinking brain, it makes it really tough. One of the things that I learned to do was pay attention to my own body language like you were talking about, reflecting a child's body language to them. But one of the things I would lose track of was just like my shoulders would get up in my face would be scrunched, and my tone of voice would be an. And I'm just like, yeah, it's really this isn't a tough thing that you're dealing with. It's so hard. Whatever it was, It doesn't matter what it is. But if you aren't able to actually convey that calm, connected empathy, your words just don't land. And your message doesn't land. And so that safety just really doesn't land. And so I know you talked a lot about those parents self-regulation to, because it is so key and being able to make the space so that you can find out what's going on under underneath the behaviors. The other though, this was the other thought that I did have about behavior, is that sometimes the behavior is just developmental. And one of the things that like sometimes the meaning behind the behavior is that this child is two years old. 


00:35:59    Sarah

Yeah we got this recently in our group about dumping. She was like, she just keeps dumping everything out of her bins. And we were like, yeah, Yeah, Yeah, well give her more opportunities to dump. 


00:36:11    Sarah

Like that that you can tolerate, right? You can certainly make those kinds of developmental behaviors more tolerable for yourself. Like I used to work in a two year old classroom. Guess what year olds, one of the things they love to do that triggers everybody. They love to spit. They're just figuring out how to get their mouths to work to spits. Actually, an important developmental thing to learn how to do, Because you're, you know, is, has to do with speech. It's like all kinds of all kinds of coolness. However, you don't want kids spitting on each other spitting in the classroom, and so finding letting the kids go to the big trough sink, giving enough space in between them and letting them spit in the sink, rinse it down like figuring out ways to allow for those kinds of behaviors that are on unappealing, Let's say, but having parents understand what kids are capable of doing at different ages is really so important. 0-3 Actually did a survey a few years back where they can't remember the exact, the exact numbers, but like a huge percentage of parents overestimate their toddlers, ability to control their own emotions, share, you know, communicate their feelings like all of these things that we just think that they should be able to do at a much younger age than their brains actually allow them to do these things. And that can be a source of, you know, disconnection and strife. 


00:37:34    Alyssa

I think we underestimated in infants and toddlers, Young toddlers, one year olds and the overestimate it in our twos threes and fours.


00:37:40    Sarah

Interesting. Yeah. 


00:37:42    Alyssa

So there gets an age where we're like, they get there and were like, they should be able to do this thing. But we didn't lay the foundational skills for it in infancy and toddlerhood to know, like they don't go from not having any of these foundations to all of a sudden having a developed skill. And that's something that we, we saw a lot of it when we were doing our research of the cep method, specifically with our preschool Pre-K kids, where I was like, oh, my heart like hurts for them, because all of a sudden we're like, I know that you know how to zip up your jacket. You can do this by yourself. You do not need help. And what they're really saying is, I have a new sibling at home, and I'm feeling overwhelmed. And right now, I need this extra attention from this teacher to help me zip my jacket, even though I have the skill, right, and with this focus on like skills that they should be able to have an access it all the at all points. It was so wild How the bar was so low for infants and young toddlers. And then all of a sudden, it was like a two year old to be able to do this in a three year old to be able to do this. And we're like, where did we lay any of that?


00:38:48    Sarah

Wow that is so wild? 


00:38:49    Alyssa

It was cool. It was so very cool. And yeah, and I and I often find that like, I have higher expectations for like an infant or a toddler for like, how were communicating what I expect them to be able to do when other for other folks are like just a baby. Mhm. 


00:39:07    Sarah

Right? Right? Yeah. Yeah, Yeah. 


00:39:09    Alyssa

And It was, it was really interesting to see that at like, what is developmentally appropriate? And then how do we set boundaries around this so that everybody's being safe? And yeah, developing like pro-social skills. Like when you said the spitting thing I pictured this teacher I was doing work one day and a desk, and she was walking upstairs. She was doing sensory reg activities with a couple of kids before naptime, and they're doing these like carrying these things up the stairs and back down and doing races and stuff. And she turns the corner and I can't see her, but I can just hear her say, I won't let you spit on my body, but you can spit on me in your head. And I was like, oh my God, it's so good. 


00:39:52    Sarah

Really good one! 


00:39:54    Alyssa

The things that you hear at work in toddler classrooms. 


00:40:00    Sarah

So many things fill in the blank? Absolutely. 


00:40:02    Alyssa

But you can do it in your head. 


00:40:05    Sarah

That's a good one. I remember that at it, 


00:40:07    Alyssa

You can be mad at me is really what she was saying. You can totally be mad at me. Yeah. And I won't let you spit on my body. We have a podcast episode on hitting kicking, biting and spitting. And we intentionally included spitting into this, because it really does fall in this category of things that are going to come up like I've never once I taught toddlers, and I never once had a classroom where we didn't have people biting at some point or another. And and we're laying this foundation, All that just they're still going by sometimes, and your kid might have been the bitten one this time, And they might even bite, or next time, like this gonna come back around. And the goal here is not to never have a child bite or hit or kick or spit, right? It's to know how to respond in a way that is not a reaction, But an intentional response, right? 


00:40:55    Sarah

And that keeps the shame out, because then the shame just become sort of a spiraling, you know, then it becomes about power and control instead of about development. And that's where things get a little funky. 


00:41:08    Alyssa

Totally. Actually, I'm curious about It's your thoughts to say you have like a conflict with kiddos in a toddler, classroom or preschool classroom. And one kid like hits or pulls hair something And then flees. A lot of folks are in the camp of like, don't say, I'm sorry or whatever. But like, what's your approach to that behavior? 


00:41:27    Sarah

Yeah, I'm not typically one for forced apologies. But you know, when I was in a classroom has been a while since I was in a classroom, but we would do a check-in, or I mean, I might, I would definitely check in with both kids myself and see what was happening Like a more recent example would be with my own kiddo. You know, I would check in with him if he was the Fleer, I would check in with him if he was the one whose child did flee. And I like to ask kids if they would like to check in, and that's probably what I would do, I would say, you know, do you want to? Most kids will say, Yes, we do want to check in with your friend. Some kids might not, But my experience is that most kids will, if you wait for the timing. This is the thing of like being able to read the brain state I would, I would ask them to do it once I knew that they were calm from assessing where they were at in their brain. 


00:42:26    Alyssa

Yeah, thing That's exactly My thoughts are with that too. Is that where they are? That emotion coaching is not a time for law enforcement or delivery. Absolutely not a great. So while we're emotion coaching them them and they've been the Fleer say, in first of all I'm gonna let the kid flee as long as you're not hurting anybody else. They probably are fleeing because they are already adding their own shame or embarrassment or fields, or whatever, their attempt to self-regulate, Right? Right? Yeah. But if space potentially or knowing like wasn't supposed to do this, and I did it. And now I now I now have a feeling of embarrassment or something. Then on top of that, click this my fear with, like forced chickens or chickens before we're ready, I'm I'm a huge fan Like emotion, coaching that kid. And then once they're calm, just saying, I know you didn't want to hurt her. 


00:43:15    Sarah



00:43:15    Alyssa

Wasn't your intention? Yeah, I see her crying over there. Is there anything we could do to help her feel? Calm are safe again, giving them. And I think that's where we can build that empathy. But it, that rad, I was just curious What your thoughts were on. Oh yeah, 


00:43:31    Sarah

Yep. Same same. 


00:43:33    Alyssa

What if you are like, okay, I'm trying. And I don't know what my child's communicating they're  not hungry. They're not tired, it's not a sensory root that I can figure out. And I don't know what's driving this. Like, I don't know the emotion that's driving it. Where do you go from there? 


00:43:51    Sarah

Can you give me an example of what the behavior might be?


00:43:53    Alyssa

Totally like say, we like, there's so many that just like popped up in my head. We get so many DMs about behaviors in covid. Everyone's like we're stuck inside and... 


00:44:04    Sarah

Yeah, it's brutal. 


00:44:05    Alyssa

So yeah, this one came up recently of a family. They're like, they have a nine or ten month old, and then they have a kiddo who's maybe two and a half, almost three. And the two and a half, three year old is now very protective of their space. And we ended up getting to the bottom of this. But the person reached out and was like, I dont know whats going on here like we have played at home. They, oh, they were two stay-at-home moms. They were, she was like are like day-to-day routine hasn't changed a whole lot, and she's like, and now all of a sudden, like, if the baby is anywhere in the same room nearby, the older kid I was just yelling like, no, get away, stay away from me. And she was like, first of all, what do I do with this? And we can't say, we literally can't stay away from you right now. We are all stuck in the same place And and, and where's it coming from? She's like, it's random. It feels like different times a day. It's just like it'll and it will surge. And he's like, really, almost like protective of his space, regardless of whether or not he's like playing. I was like, is he building something? Doesn't want to get in down whatever? She was like, didn't even matter. Yeah. Yeah, He said, the baby was like 9 or 10 months old? 


00:45:28    Sarah

Yeah, Yeah. I mean, that doesn't surprise me that much. Even covid aside, you know, just because that's the age when babies get a little bit more mobile, and older children tend to feel a little bit more threatened by the baby. Like up until that age, the babies like, you know, it might be noisy and disruptive and take your parents attention. But as a toddler, they're not getting into your stuff in your business and your space, you know, until they're about that age. So I would. I mean, I what I mean, I'm guessing that that's what the behavior is about. And the so then I guess the question is, how do you manage it? Especially when you're stuck at home, you know, and things that come to mind are just ways to give the older child some semblance of, you know, power and control in some area that is more tolerable than yelling, when ever the baby is in the room and, you know, making space for those feelings. The other thing, again, that just pops into my mind because it's been successful so many times is having the grown-ups. I mean, I'm assuming the grown-ups tension levels are potentially a little bit higher right now, based on just the world and life situation that they might be, you know, that might be bleeding into the into the family ecosystem in a way that they're not aware of. So I'm just thinking, you know, man, the more that people have a listening partnership, or an off a place to offload their own stresses and worries The more that they're going to be able to stay calm and go for the connection with that older child that will just sort of reduce and alleviate some of the stresses and worries that that child might be happening having in that situation. But I'm curious what you dug up. 


00:47:17    Alyssa

Yeah. I mean, similarly, we were like, yeah, kiddos moving. Now. Yeah. Yes. 


00:47:22    Sarah

A huge thing. 


00:47:23    Alyssa

It's a huge thing. And she was like, okay, but I can't not going to stop them from crawling. 


00:47:27    Sarah

Of course not. Absolutely not. 


00:47:30    Alyssa

And we're like, yeah, the kid is now like, but that is a transition for the older child. To  experience like you knew this was coming. You knew this baby around this time period, all of a sudden, And it's celebrated, and it's really exciting and all that jazz. And then there's just the aftermath. And I was like, but also for adults like you might be jazzed that your kids crawling, and all of a sudden you're like, Oh, shoot. Now we need gates up. Now, I need to figure out how to there's. There's the transition for everybody. And I was like it. Start off with validating that for this kid, The like, it's different again, just the validation of different. Now when we put them down, remember, they used to stay in one spot Removing even bringing in your own, and it go to like, yeah, I went to cook dinner, and I put them in the living room, and I thought they were going to be there. And I came back, and they were in the dining room, pulling at my plants or whatever. And surprise, Yeah, exactly. And and you can say like and I was surprised, and it was frustrating, because those are my plants, and I don't want them to play with them. But I had to figure out and it going through like you are a process as the adult. And how, what could we do if I don't want him to play at that? But that plant like what it? How can we solve this problem? And then we can bring it into the kiddo of like, yeah, if you're worried about them taking your toys or whatever, where is this space that is? A you only space. 


00:48:58    Alyssa

Yeah exactly, And they chose his room. He had his own room. He could shut his door if he wanted to. And that's where, like any toys, that he was not in a place yet to like share or welcome another human into went in his room. And they made the rule of anything in the living room was fair game? Yeah. And so that it because they were getting into the space like the tiny human come over, grab something kids not playing with ad he's like that's mine, You can't play with it. So that was, that was the problem solving solution. But I was like, start by just validating that feeling like you can't solve the problem of where things are going to go and what the rules. But the new structure is going to look like with the boundaries are going to be until we validated and really empathized with that emotion that the kid was feeling right now, because it is hard. 


00:49:43    Sarah

It's really hard. And yeah, that's such a good solution to find Just an arena for having some power and control, because that's what that that's what that you know, excitability, that trigger-happy toddler is one who just doesn't feel like they have a sense of power and control over there over there stuff. And there were all in there are grownups and all of that good stuff. 


00:50:04    Alyssa

And even the adult who like, had this control of I could put you down. You don't go anywhere to now I put you down. I go to make dinner, and you're pulling on my plants, really, That's real for everybody. 


00:50:15    Alyssa

Totally. Yeah, 


00:50:16    Alyssa

But I think often we see it as ours and the kiddos thing is separate and like this, especially when we're talking about siblings, it's often a transition for all parties involved. It's rarely that a kiddo is making a transition, or there's something new that doesn't affect the family system. 


00:50:35    Sarah

Exactly. Everybody's connected turns out, plugged into each other, emotionally, and all that good stuff. 


00:50:42    Alyssa

Yeah, The last question I have for you is about the question that comes up for us on aren't we can donating or permitting a behavior If we allow it to happen? And we just talked about the emotion, or just talk about the sensory piece or whatever. 


00:51:03    Sarah

Hmm. Yeah. Now, in a word, no, we're not actually. Well, I mean, if I had a nickel for every time one of us in the last hour said, I can't let you what that does that actually means. Let them. I remember giving a talk once at a preschool. This one was like, well, my two-year-old just keeps climbing the thing. And I was like, okay, Well, don't let them do that anymore, And she was like, well, no, I can't. He just keeps doing it. And I was like, no, you have to actually stop. You have to actually stop him from doing it there. Move the thing that he's climbing, get rid of it, put in a closet, block it with something else, you know, go and pick his body up every single time. He tries to climb it and move it. Move him to safety. Like, literally, We don't let them do it, you know. And that means that for some kids who are biters, as you brought up, You know, I'm sure if you worked in a classroom, which it sounds like you have, If I recall correctly, you know, you have a kid who's prone to biting. You literally are shadowing them and stopping them from biting other children As they are opening their mouth. You are sliding your hand in front of their so that they don't buy the other child. But really, I can't, I won't let you means I actually won't let you. I means I'm going to stop you, which is great for behavior that you can stop. It Is problematic for a behavior that you can't stop potentially, which is where I have found the hand in hand tool to be very, very useful, because there's two things that you, you know, behavior wise. One is things that a child is doing you don't want them to do. And another is, you know, things you want them to do with that they're refusing to do. And sometimes you actually don't have control over those things. And so that's where, you know, having your own reserves and be able to emotion coach yourself is comes in really handy because you might need to, you know, have a very long fuse to be able to get through a child's big feelings before they comply with something like the beautiful thing about stay listening, which is that really just holding space is that sometimes they may end up doing what you ask them to do, which is takes longer than you want it to take, because you have to process the emotions first, and then coach them through to actually do what you want to do. So yeah, if you can't not let them do it, then you have to regulate yourself, be patient, and you have to be you kind of just have to not give up, and you have to process your own stuff that comes up around it. I'm not gonna be able to think of any good examples right now. 


00:53:27    Alyssa

I'm thinking of one of a kid who's like, say, standing in a room, and it's like, no, I'm not going to sleep in. Like won't even enter his bedroom. And we, when I think of things that we can't get kids to do, like the things that really come to mind are, exactly, poop, sleep and eat, those are really the three that you cant make a human do it. And when we do sleep work at seed, all because you can't function as a human if you're sleep deprived. And so in order to do higher level thinking in this work, we need to make sure people are getting quality sleep And sleep is an interesting one to me, because we, as a society and in our village, we see too where folks are cozier, maybe with hard feelings during the day. But when it's around bedtime or sleep, all of a sudden were like, no, you're not supposed to have hard feelings. And if you have them, it's my job to make sure they stop. All of a sudden There's this like switch of like, no, there can't be any crying at bedtime, or they can't. And we're like, where did this? At what time of day did that? Do you know what I mean? It's so interesting. 


00:54:42    Sarah

People get tired. It's like restraint collapse, you know, like being able to or like self regulation. I know there's funny their studies about how you like can use up your self regulation and kind of like run out. 


00:54:52    Alyssa

Totally. And that's it's not like a drained thing. It's this, there's like a narrative around sleep specifically, that there can't be any crying involved. And I'm just straight forward that we don't practice cry it out. But I also will never practice a no cry solution, because I want, if kids are making a transition, or they're doing something that they don't want to do, a might be upset about, they're allowed to be mad, Yeah, or to say, Like, I'm sleeping in my room for the first time by myself, and it feels different, and I feel lonely, And that's what you can feel lonely, and we can support you with tools for what to do If you feel lonely. 


00:55:26    Sarah

Yeah, the thing about the thing about building capacity comes to mind to like the more that you are able to hold boundaries and make space for the big feelings that happen. You know, when children are a little earlier when during the day, when it's, you know, maybe easier to let it go. I know that I'm not at my best when the day is at the end of the day. And so I used to do a thing where I would purposefully set limits in the middle of the day that I didn't really care about that much, because then my child would have an emotional release at 2 pm. Instead of at 8 pm, When I was not as like, you know, yeah, I just was not at my best at 8 pm to listen to his strong feelings and have that like, you know, capacity in myself. And so sometimes I would just be like, no, we're not going to do thing you want to do at 2 pm. And so he would have a big meltdown at 2 pm instead of it, because part of it is just accumulation of stresses and tensions and worries that kids are collecting from being little kids and not having a lot of power and having somebody else tell them how their day goes all the time. And you know, if that's going to accumulate and and blow up at some point, you do have a little bit of power in that as an as an adult to be able to pick the timing of your meltdown that you're going to listen Into. I definitely use that as a strategy for for helping. 


00:56:52    Alyssa

You know, the regulation side, one of the things that one of the tools we have for folks we worked with my favorite OT Lori helped us put together like a sample schedule for kids for sensory regulation, Because a lot of what we see in these big meltdowns happening later is a buildup of dysregulation from a sensory perspective. And so she explained that the sensory benefits to your central nervous system, last about 90 minutes to two hours. So if you're like, we're doing one big body play activity in the morning. And one in the afternoon that by the time you get through the day you don't have reserves to pull from. That's where a lot of will See the allow these big emotions. So we built in a whole list of sample activities that you can do and schedule that can fit in. Like, how can you do these? What can kids do on their own? To help with sensory regulations? They don't always need an adult and What can be adult facilitative also, like note to adults. This is true for all of us last about 90 minutes to hours. Not just for kids.. If you're like, I'm going for a run in the morning. And that's the only thing I'm doing to help regulate my central nervous system. You're also going to hit, 4pm-7pm probably going to be really hard for you, And when folks reach out, and they're like, oh, my gosh, the end of the day like that, 4pm-7pm chunk is so hard, and the great what're doing throughout the day to maintain sensory regulation, because it's really hard to emotion coach and process when you're dysregulated from a sensory perspective.


00:58:20    Sarah

That's so smart. I love that You built that in. It's brilliant.


00:58:22    Alyssa

 Yeah, it's just key for me. You know, it's like, if a kid was hungry, we wouldn't be emotion processing. I'd be feeding them. And so if your sensory systems dysregulated, I'm not going to emotion process. We're going to regulate your sensory systems, Right? First things first. That's right. That's right. It was interesting when we shared about sensory, realize, like so many folks for them. Sensory is either like strictly tactile, like I said, Sensory bin for again, like clothes, how things feel mmm or for them. It's related to autism. And I'm like, no, we have. Every single human has eight sensory systems, and we're all doing this. And so we have now been brainstorming at Seed like, how do we go deeper into this in a way that makes sense for folks and relates to everyday life? It's interesting combo. 


00:59:08    Sarah

It's cool. I love the idea of parents needing to meet those needs for themselves too like, if that's, you know, working in a little 3:30 pm Yoga, or whatever, stretching, or even doesn't have to be. I think one of the things that I know trips me up is thinking that it has to be a big thing, and sometimes doesn't pick, It can be just like reaching up to the sky and then touching my toes like a few times, Like sometimes a little stretch, or a little like 5 minutes of meditation, or, you know, other things that kind of reset me in general, not necessarily just talking about sensory, but other things that like reset you, like, figuring out what those small little things are. So you can do them more frequently Instead of saving it all up. 


00:59:56    Alyssa

Totally for you and kiddos, actually, in the schedule that was part of it, You'll see It's like five minute chunks. We're not. We're not saying, do this for half an hour. We're saying dance to one song, have a dance party for one song, right? Like, do one activity rad. 


01:00:13    Sarah

It makes it so doable. 


01:00:15    Alyssa

Yeah, exactly It more accessible. Thank you so much for hanging out chatting with me. I think there were so many nuggets of wisdom in this that you got to share with us. I'm really jazzed about hand in hand parenting, Giving a little shout out here. It's really rad. Where can folks find your book, connect with you, Etcetera. 


01:00:33    Sarah

My website is,, and McLaughlin is spelled MacLaughlin and is Sarah with an H and no spots, dots or dashes just My new book is actually was just delivered to the publisher. So I'm hoping for a fall release date. It's called Raising Humans with Heart. My first book, What Not to Say, is available on Amazon. And if you requested at your local bookstore, right. 


01:01:02    Alyssa

Thank you so much willing to all those. In the blog post as well. Thanks for hanging out with me Sarah for. 


01:01:06    Sarah

Thanks so much, Alyssa.  


01:02:10 Alyssa

Thanks for tuning in to Voices of Your Village. Check out the transcript at Did you know that we have a special community over on Instagram hanging out every day with more free content? Come join us at Take a screenshot of you tuning in, share it on the gram and tag to let me know your key takeaway. If you're digging this podcast, make sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode. We love collaborating with you to raise emotionally intelligent humans.


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