Hey there. I'm Alyssa Blask Campbell. I'm a mom with a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education and co-creator of the Collaborative Emotion Processing method. I'm here to walk alongside you through the messy, vulnerable parts of being humans, raising other humans with deep thoughts and actionable tips. Let's dive in together.
Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Voices of Your Village. On this podcast, I have had the opportunity to connect with humans that I have such deep respect for and some of my own personal heroes in the Early Ed world. And today I get to bring another one of them on to hang out. And what a dream. I get to hang out with Dr. Tina Payne Bryson. You might know her as the author of Bottom Line for Baby, or the co author with Dan Siegel of two New York Times bestsellers. One of my most recommended books, the Whole Brain Child and no drama discipline, each of which has been translated into over 50 languages. Casual. She also wrote with Dan the yes, brain and power of showing up. She's the founder and executive director of the center for Connection, a multidisciplinary clinical practice in Southern California. Dr. Bryson keynotes conferences and conducts workshops for parents, educators, and clinicians all over the world, and she frequently consults with schools, businesses, and other organizations. She is a licensed social worker graduate of Baylor University with a PhD from USC. But the most important part of her bio, she says, is that she's a mom to her three boys. And I'm excited to get to dive in today to talk about risk management and risk assessment because I'm on that earlier end of the spectrum with a toddler and a literal growing baby inside my body right now. And she has three relatively grown boys. And we're going to look at what risk management and assessment looks like across the board and in different ages and stages and what our role is as parents, teachers, and caregivers. So welcome, Tina.
00:04:40 Dr. Bryson
Thank you so much for having me. And I'm so glad you said relatively grown, because even though my boys are 23, 20 and 16, we know that the brain doesn't finish developing, particularly that prefrontal cortex, until the mid to late 20s, particularly in boys. So they are relatively grown. And you know what? I think we could even say parents are relatively grown, too, because, boy, our kids are sure an opportunity for us to keep finding insight and opportunities for reflection and growth when they become teenagers and young adults. I think all kids are brilliant in their own ways, but they really know how to call you on stuff, and they point out hypocrisy and all of those things. So it's always an opportunity for us to grow, too.
Oh, I love that. And I feel like it really points to your work is so based in connection, which has always just resonated so much. For me, I don't see parenting as a job. I see it as an opportunity to be in relationship with somebody, right? To connect with somebody, and with all that comes with that, the messiness, the hardness, the challenges, the triggers, the opportunities for growth. But to see, like, yeah, I'm still in relationship with these humans, whether they're 23 and 20 and 16 or they're two and in utero, really coming back to what does this relationship look like in different contexts. I love that. So risk. When I was thinking about this, we were brainstorming like risk and talking about it on our team of, like, you know, what kind of what comes up for us. We're a team of mostly moms and with kids across an age spectrum, but all under ten right now. And one of the common threads was this allowing for risk and how freaking hard it is.
00:06:49 Dr. Bryson
It's so hard. I think it's probably like if you were to ask me, what are the two hardest things of all of parenting? Well, I guess I would have to say three. One is if your child is suffering and you don't know how to help them, that's probably the hardest one. I think after that, it's sibling rivalry. Sibling conflict drove me the most crazy in all of the growing up years. But we can talk about that too, because actually, by the time my oldest hit, about 15 or 16, there has been almost no sibling fighting in our home. And I think it's because of how I handle discipline and an opportunity for learning. The other is managing risk, not just in terms of our kids, but we cannot talk about risk and risk assessment and managing that without talking about parental fear. And there are amazing things about parental fear, and there are really awful things about parental fear. And so there's really kind of like a very healthy parental fear, and then there's a very unhealthy parental fear. So we can kind of parse some of that out as well.
I love it. Let's dive right in. Yeah, I think like I said, that was the common thread was just like, gosh, I wish I could bubble wrap them and not have them ever have to take a risk. Because risk means like, yeah, sometimes they're going to fail, they're going to drop the ball, they're going to make mistakes, they're going to get hurt physically, emotionally, whatever that is.
00:08:21 Dr. Bryson
Yeah, exactly. I think the thing that we need to start with is the idea that what that requires is the ability to sit as parents in discomfort, to sit in the discomfort of our children being in discomfort, which requires a lot of regulation and a lot of internal work and a lot of pausing before action. So let's start. I think it might be helpful to talk about sort of some of the mechanisms of risk, risk assessment, fear, all of these things, because we hope our kids have kind of a little bit of a red light, a little bit of healthy fear around risk, and we hope that we do, too. So let's first start with if we're going to think about risk, we can talk about an impulsive risk kind of moment, which is really you just do something, you're not really thinking, you're not assessing. What are the options? What's a way I could do this if I were going to do it in a way that is the best way to go about it, to minimize risk. It's also thinking about potential consequences, not just for yourself, but for others around you. And all of that is housed in the prefrontal cortex. So insight, pausing before action, response, flexibility, considering consequences, problem solving, all of these things are housed in the prefrontal cortex in connection with the entire brain and body. Okay? So anytime we really are talking about a part of the brain, we can't just say this particular part just does this. It's much more complex than that. But really we know that there are certain parts of the brain that give rise to particular things like we just talked about here. And the prefrontal cortex is that part of the brain here. So that part of the brain, as we mentioned earlier, doesn't finish developing until the mid to late twenties. And typically boys are two years or so behind girls during development in terms of those kinds of things. In fact, there are some experts that are arguing that boys should start kindergarten at seven because that would make them much more on par with five year old girls. So I think it's really interesting to know that the part of the brain that really helps you be very smart, thoughtful, responsible around risk assessment and risk decisions is not really fully developed yet. Now just like we wrote about in The Whole Brain Child, every moment really is an opportunity not just to survive the moment, but also sort of the way we handle “survive moments” can really help our kids thrive, because those are all opportunities to lay the foundation for how this brain is built. So we can think about a couple of things here. One is how does the brain get built? Like how do children learn? Well, we know typically that children learn best in two ways. One, by what they observe. So what we model for them is a huge part of how they learn. And not just us, but their peers and what's modeled for them, other parents, grandparents, et cetera. And the other way that they learn, which is even more powerful, is by doing it themselves. Okay? So this is really important because really all of these risk opportunities are opportunities for them to build skills and to thrive over time. Because what happens is it's the repeated experiences that make the brain fire and wire and who they become. So I often talk about just like when I do reps with a weight and I'm lifting weights and I'm doing reps, that muscle gets stronger. That's really how we can think about the prefrontal cortex too. So if we want them to be smart, responsible, thoughtful decision makers around risk or anything, we have to give them opportunities for reps. And I think too thinking about kind of the whole trajectory of child development unfolding eventually our kids, like, I live in LA. So I think about freeways a lot. It's like your kid is in the lane with you, like in the lane with you, right? And you're maybe in the fast lane. But as they get older, they kind of move over a lane, right, and get a little closer to the exit and then they move over another lane and eventually they get off on the exit and you're still going down the freeway, but they have a separate life from you. And we want when they exit our freeway when they leave our home to go out into the world that they are ready to be the kind of people we hope that they become. So that's sort of like an overall piece around how we're thinking about where this happens.
Okay, I dig it so much to unpack and I love and I have a love hate relationship with the freeway because of course there's a part of me that's like, no, I'd love to just be right here in this role in your life forever. And also I want you to have skills, right? And I think just that acknowledgment, I think for myself as a parent of that dichotomy and those different parts that can exist can coexist. And the same thing here with risk management and my fear around it of, yeah, I want them to have these skills and I also never want them to get hurt. Both are true. And I also think risk wise, for me, it comes back to critical thinking skills, right? I want them to be able to be a critical thinker and not just always do impulsively and to be able to say what might happen and is that risk worth it for me? And maybe their gauge for is that risk worth it for me is going to be different than mine or their siblings or their peers or whatever. But for them to develop a gauge of is that risk worth it for me? Does that make sense? I think when we talk about risk management, I don't think it's a one size fits all.
00:14:31 Dr. Bryson
No, it's not. And we also not only that, but kids have individual differences. All three of my boys are quite different from each other and some kids are much more risk seeking and other kids are much more risk averse. And that is baked in in their genetic inborn temperament. Now, that doesn't mean we can't have an impact on that temperament. For example, you sort of think about like two of my kids and I won't say who because to protect their privacy, but two of my kids were born super automatically, just intrinsically super empathetic. In fact, one of them so much so that I've had to do a lot of sort of work and getting him reps in thinking about himself because he's such a pleaser and so sacrificial and so caring. But one of my boys was not naturally empathetic. He just wasn't when he was two, three, four. But I knew because I was writing The Whole Brain Child and I was studying all of this stuff, that I knew that if I could give him repeated experiences to fire and wire his brain around empathy, which is also prefrontal, that I could really kind of expand his window of what his possibility was, given who he is. Okay, so I may expand his window of tolerance and he's actually a super empathetic kid now, but he's still not as empathetic as my kid where I didn't do that work because that's who he is. So we sort of think about like we have sort of a window of possibility and limits given who we are. And so we want to give the most around those things. And so some of our kids are naturally risk averse. And what's interesting about this, too, is I think it's really helpful to talk about fit between parent and child. Like, I tend to be very risk averse, so I tend to be much more prone to bubble wrap to protect to avoid anything that could cause any problems anywhere, including like, sticky countertops. I don't want anyone to get sticky things on their shirt. I'm a very highly conscientious, risk averse person. My husband is, I think, right in the normal zone around that he's not risk seeking, but he's much better at that. So it's really helpful that as we co-parent, we can kind of check each other. And sometimes I'm right. I like to think I'm right most of the time around medical things. I'm like, we really should get this checked. And often I've been right. There have been times I've been wrong. But oftentimes what happens is it's a challenging fit around risk tolerance between parent and child. So if you're a risk averse parent and you have a risk seeking child or a kid who has a wide tolerance for risk, it can be really anxiety producing. And so it's really partly about expanding our own window of tolerance, which is my co author Dan Siegel's beautiful phrase, our window of tolerance around trusting your child and trusting them to take risks. I think something we have to talk about here is that every message we ever give our kids so if we're wanting to teach, like you were saying, critical thinking skills, and let's get into the specifics on how we do that and how we that really is every bit a part of kind of even discipline. But I think it's so important to think about how our children are their own unique people. We are our own unique people. And I think it's incredible to watch how this unfold, but every one of these moments is such an opportunity to expand that window. And I think we have to think about, as I mentioned before, the idea of fear. And I think this is a really good reality check here. Oftentimes I say no to something without thinking about it, or even once I've thought about it. In either case, I'm saying no because I can't tolerate the anxiety around it or I'm too worried or whatever, and sometimes that's appropriate, but other times I say no to something out of my own internal reactivity that I haven't really thought about as opposed to what is best for my child. But it's really hard to miss that because we're like, I want you to be safe, so no, you can't do that. But if I'm really honest with myself. And I really reflect. I'm saying no because I'm afraid and I don't want to be a fear based parent. And really, again, back to mechanism. What's fascinating is once you have a child, your amygdala actually changes. It actually becomes more hyper vigilant to be watching for potential dangers.
00:19:23 Alyssa Makes sense.
00:19:24 Dr. Bryson
It actually changes our brain. And what's kind of interesting is recently they even did a study on adoptive parents where you were not biologically carrying the child through pregnancy, and you don't have those hormonal changes and same sex dads who were coparenting together and they found the same result. Whoever was the primary caregiver also had these amygdala changes. So our brains change to be more fear oriented, including, there was also this really fascinating study done that the smell of the top of babies heads, like, you know, the smell?
00:19:56 Alyssa Oh, I love it.
00:19:58 Dr. Bryson
We start wanting more babies. That smell is actually like they've broke down the chemical components, chemical components of it. And actually it's interesting. It makes male brains less aggressive to keep their kids safe from their own aggression, but it makes female brains more
aggressive. So to make us more protective, right, we have these biological mechanisms. But when it comes down to it, fear is really important because it's an emotion. And we should listen to our emotions because they carry a ton of important information, but they do not get to make the decision. So fear, what fear actually is, is my brain and my nervous system saying, hey, something important is happening here. Pay attention. That's truly what fear is, to protect us, to keep us and our young safe. But emotions are not necessarily right. They're not rational. They're important, like I said, and they're an important source of information. But if we really, really want to be thoughtful, intentional parents, our fears don't get to make the call. They might we might say yes. This is you know, I actually did a long video post on Instagram about the article that came out about how a lot of parents are not letting their kids go on sleepovers.
Yeah I want to talk about it.
00:23:53 Dr. Bryson
Yeah, okay, good. What happens, though is, I really need to ask myself the honest truth, am I saying no here because I feel too uncomfortable? But it's still a good decision for my kid to take this risk, to have this opportunity. Am I saying no truly in my child's best interest, or am I saying no because of my own internal chaos?
Yeah. And I think sometimes that's hard to parse out, right? And I was watching your video post, and it was in response to the article in The Atlantic and was about sleepovers and how, if folks haven't read it yet, it was about how some parents don't allow their kids to participate in sleepovers. And I was watching and it really comes back to there were two big topics that were coming up, and I read through your comments too, to see what was the response or reaction for folks. And there were two big topics. One was sexual assault, and one was pornography. And this exposure to, or potential exposure to that risk. I'm a sexual assault survivor, very openly talked about it on this podcast. And I was raped when I was 14. And so I was thinking about thinking ahead, right? Like, for my tiny humans, what does this look like for us? And it's interesting from the lens of a sexual assault survivor, I don't think it's actually my job to prevent sexual assault for my kids, which might be a dicey thing to say. What I do think is that it's my job to make sure that whatever happens, whatever trauma might happen in their life or whatever hard experiences happen in their life, that they have a safe space to turn to with that for support. And when I look back to 14 year old Alyssa, I actually wouldn't change what happened. I wish I could change what happened in response, like who I had to turn to after and what that looked like. And so when I think about this for my own kids, what comes up for me is, like, I want to have a relationship of trust and connection where if anything happens for them or to them, that they can then turn and say, like, I need to talk about this. This happened. I don't know what to do next. Whatever. And then we can navigate it together from there. Because when I think about the idea of like, I'm going to prevent these hard things from happening, that feels too overwhelming for me as a parent because it can happen in so many different circumstances that it would be one thing that was like prescriptive. When kids go here, this happens, and if they don't go there, that doesn't happen. But we know that's not real life.
00:26:34 Dr. Bryson That's right.
And so when I think about it, I was like, I think for me it's less about making sure this doesn't happen to them and more about making sure they have a safe space for it afterward if it does ever happen. And of course trying to create safe spaces for them wherever can and like, that's where the risk assessment comes in. I feel like so much of parenthood is risk assessment. Like, yeah, are they climbing up too high? Should they have that thing? What are we doing medically? What are they eating? And really trying to figure out what is the risk assessment here? My best friends, we went over for her birthday a few days ago and she has a four year old and a one year old. The kids are all playing in the backyard and there was a little kiddie pool out and the one year old was carrying around a muffin and then got into the pool and it submerged and she brought it back up and went to take a bite. And my friend jumped over and was like, oh, that's my line, apparently. That's my line. Like, oh, I can't, like this can't happen. And I was like, oh, so interesting. Apparently that's not my line, I thought. And I was like, yeah, it's pretty gross, but if she's into it, go ahead and just realizing like, yeah, we just had different risk assessment on that, right, and that that's fine, like judgment free. Mine isn't necessarily better than hers, it's just different. And I feel like that's so much of parenthood is really looking and saying, like, what's the risk I'm willing to take here that I feel like is best for their safety? And then how do I create space for them to be able to learn what their internal compass says and what is appropriate for them?
[AD] I don't know about you, but when I scroll through Instagram or I'm tuning into podcasts and diving into parenting resources, resources for myself as a teacher, I can feel overwhelmed. Like, where do I start? I need a guide for what this looks like in practice. And I don't want something that's one size fits all. Because every child is different, right? And if you have multiple children, if you're a teacher, you know that it's not one size fits all. Or if you have seen what works for your sister in law or your best friend or your neighbor, and you're like, oh my gosh, my child does not respond to that. That is how I felt. And then we created the Collaborative Emotion Processing method. It is a guide for building emotional intelligence. And y'all there are five components of the CEP method. One is about how to respond to the kids and what it looks like to have adult/child interactions. The other four are about us. Because I don't know about you, but I did not grow up getting these tools. I did not grow up with them. didn't grow up in this household. Where I was taught tools for self awareness and self regulation and how to do emotion processing work. And now, as a parent and as a teacher, I'm supposed to teach those skills to a tiny human? But we can't teach what we don't know. And so my first book, Tiny Humans, Big Emotions, is here to support you. You can head to www.seedandsew.org/book and snag Tiny Humans, Big Emotions today. This is a game changer. It's going to build these skills with you, for you, so that you can do this work alongside building these skills for your tiny humans, so that they can grow up with a skill set for self awareness, for regulation, for empathy, for social skills, for intrinsic motivation. A skill set of emotional intelligence so that they can navigate all the things that come their way in life. Snag Tiny Humans, Big Emotions at seedandsew.org/book.
00:28:16 Dr. Bryson
It's so important. Everything you just said there is so important. We want to empower our kids to be safe in whatever spaces they're in. And then we need to be the safe secure base or secure harbor for know in the power of showing up. Dan Siegel and I talk about one of the best predictors for how well kids turn out on everything we measure them on, including sound decision making, is that they have what's called secure attachment with at least one person. And that has nothing to do with attachment parenting, but it's really the idea that we talk about. So if that's the most important thing, how do we get them there? And we talk about the four S's helping them feel safe, helping them feel seen and known, helping them feel soothed and taken care of and comforted when things get really hard. And finally, that fourth S of secure, which is really where their brains have wired based on lots and lots of reps of feeling safe and seen and soothed. Not perfect ones, but enough predictable repeated experiences where their brain wires to know that if I have a need, they're going to see it and see me and show up for me. And what I love about the attachment science is what you just said is that we create this secure base for them so that whatever risks they go and do or whatever ventures they go out or whatever happens to them. I mean, some of the things in our children's lives we can control and some of them we cannot control. And that feels really uncomfortable, but it's true and it's unavoidable. But whatever happens, we want them to be able to come back into. We sort of in the book talk about sort of like this safe harbor, that they go out into the world into stormy seas, but they come back into our safe harbor. But you know, what's interesting about the attachment literature is it's not just a secure base, it's also a launching pad. So this kind of leads into this idea, is that when they know they are safe enough, they can go out and move toward autonomy. And I think our society
00:30:06 Dr. Bryson
has that wrong a lot of times that we do a lot of fear based things like don't let them sleep in your bed with you. If they do, they'll never sleep on their own. And that's not true. I promise you, if you
let your kids sleep in your bed with you occasionally or most nights, wherever the most people get the most amount of sleep is what I'm in favor of.
00:30:24 Alyssa Same.
00:30:24 Dr. Bryson
Safely. Of course do it safely, but I promise they're not going to be sleeping with you when they're twelve or 13, and if they are, you need to call me because something else is going on and we got to figure that out. But I think that we do this fear based thing if I do this, and where our brains go is like, they're going to live in a van down by the river and never amount to anything. And it's silly, it really is. I think we really want them to feel safe and secure with us and that. When they feel safe enough, they do take steps towards autonomy. And we unfortunately, sometimes prematurely push autonomy, particularly with our firstborns, because especially if they're very verbal or they're extra tall or whatever, and they seem older, emotional, keep in mind, too, development is not linear, and it's also not symmetrical. It's not in symmetry with each other. So meaning your child might have this is really common. Here's an example. Your child might have a huge new resurgence of separation anxiety. Going to the bathroom by themselves, falling asleep by themselves when they're about four, five, even six. And parents are like, oh my gosh, what's happening? There's a regression. Like something bad must be happening at school, and it stokes all of our fears, but it seems like a regression. But actually what's happened is their emotional development hasn't yet had a burst, but their cognitive development has just had a huge burst, which allows them to imagine scarier things and bigger scarier monsters or even bad things happening to their parents. And they don't yet have the emotional regulation skills to match that yet. So all of this comes together. And so every time we have these opportunities to help them launch this is back kind of to the freeway thing as a clinician. One time I had a couple came to me because their 17 year old daughter, they had been spying on her. They were logging into all of her accounts and reading all of her stuff, and she didn't know that this was happening. And I think that's a whole other topic, but I think the way we've handled it at our house is the devices belong to us. We pay for the devices. We own the devices. They're yours to use freely, but we can check them at any point. That's our property. And we will respect your privacy, but from time to time, we may check on them and we'll tell you we're doing that. And so it's very open as opposed to this secretive thing. But they found out that she had been dating and she had been forbidden to date until college, and so they were freaked out. And this leads back to that different line of aversion in us. It has so much to do with our own experiences and how our brains have been wired and what traumas we've had and how we were parented. So we have all this implicit memory that impacts implicit and explicit memory that impacts all of our decision making. It impacts our emotions, it impacts how we perceive things, how we feel, how we respond. And sometimes we don't even know that that's working on us. We wrote a whole chapter about that implicit and explicit memory in the whole brain child that kind of talks about that more. But what happens is and this mom had had a family member, or maybe herself had gotten pregnant as a teenager, so she was terrified. And so that's why they had forbidden her to date. Well, forbidding our teenagers to do things is often very counterproductive. There are certainly edges where we have hard nose, for sure in adolescence, and we know they likely will violate those. And then we have to have a safe space to have conversation and use it as a skill building moment. But I said to the parents, do you want her first dating experiences to be when she's away from you, when you have no voice and you have no ability to kind of see what's happening and weigh in? No. We want to give our kids opportunities to have autonomy in lots of spaces of life when it's developmentally appropriate and safe enough so that when they do leave us, they have had lots of practice doing it. Obviously there'd be some exceptions to that around, like drinking and things like that. Although that's a controversial thing. That probably is for another whole time.
Well, and if you are interested in that, we had Jess Lahey on to talk about The Addiction Inoculation.
00:34:39 Dr. Bryson
Yeah, she's one of my very favorite people. I recommend her book all the time.
She's awesome. She's a local Vermonter here.
00:34:45 Dr. Bryson
Yeah, she's awesome. And just by the way, in her book, the science is clear that you do tell your teenagers and adolescents absolutely no on substance use until you're of age, knowing they likely will violate that. So that's an exception. And obviously we have certain okay, so one other thing I want to say before we get into what do we do? How do we get them there? How do we handle this with our own emotions and with our kids and building those critical thinking skills? One other kind of big thinking idea is that and actually I started to say this earlier and then I couldn't remember, so I kind of faked it so hopefully nobody notices that I missed it. Okay. But I remembered it. So I'm coming back here's something really important. Everything we ever do or say, we don't have to be perfect, so don't let this put pressure on you, but it's something really important to be aware of has a hidden implicit message, okay? This is human. So let me give an example, okay? I live in Pasadena, California. It doesn't ever get that cold. I mean, it might be in the something in the winter in the middle of night, right, or whatever. It doesn't get that cold here. And I didn't know this until later, but kids have more brown fat than adults, which is actually it's not the kind of fat that gives us weight. It's the kind of fat that actually insulates us. It's like what ducks have and what whales have, all this stuff. Okay? So kids actually tend to run warm more warmly than adults do. I'm very cold natured, so I don't even know. My kid was like five or six at the time, and I was like, hey, B, you need to take your jacket. And he was like, I don't need it, mom. And I was like, Benjamin, you need your jacket. Take your jacket, mom. I don't need it. And I just kept pushing, pushing, and then later I was like, okay, that was so dumb. First of all, who cares? Is that really, like, the hill to die on? So many more important things that I want to save my voice for. Second of all, if he were cold, he wouldn't get dangerously cold. Obviously, if we were going to the mountains and we were going to be outside, I would insist on it, but this was not going to be the situation. If he got cold, that would be a teeny, tiny, little natural consequence that would kind of help him know his body more and kind of judge the weather more, so he would get a rep of trying to make decisions around that for himself without any actual harm. But more importantly, what I did there was I gave him the message not by saying, take your jacket, not those words, but the message I was giving him was, I don't trust that you know what you need. I don't trust that you can handle it if you make a decision that isn't the best decision. And I'm the one that knows everything about everything. And so what that does is it communicates. I don't trust you. I don't trust that you can trust your body. I don't trust that you know what you need. Obviously, little kids don't totally do that yet, but we want to be laying the groundwork for that. It would have been so much better for me to say, okay, I'm taking a jacket, and you can take one if you'd like, or, okay, if you get cold, then I'll snuggle you, or something like that. Like, who cares? So I think lots of times when we say, be careful, be careful, and my kids actually called me on this one time, they were like, mom, you think everything is life and death, and you think everything is dangerous, so we just don't listen to you. And I lost my voice with my boys because I was always like, be careful, that could break. Don't go on there. And it's so important that instead, obviously, things that are risky and dangerous and could hurt them, we need to immediately put a stop to or prevent. But again, those were much more my fear instincts in the moment. And it's so much better to say so instead of saying, don't go up there, don't climb up there. That's too high to say. More like, wow, that's really high. Pay attention to your body and decide what you think will be safe, and maybe then you're in proximity where you can make sure that they're safe. But we want to give them opportunities to take risks that do not have fatal, serious or long lasting consequences whenever we can.
And I think when we don't, we then are like a battle against interceptive awareness. That one of our eight sensory systems, right? The internal feelings of what's happening for me inside. And we talk in tiny humans big emotions about how crucial interception is for the connection to emotion processing. And doing really any work with emotions is first noticing, what do I feel in my body, how does it show up? And when that adult in our life is saying, actually, this is more important, we stop learning how to listen to that. And what we hear is, oh, maybe actually they know what's right for me, and I want to do the opposite. I want to help them tune into what am I feeling in my body? And I think what's tricky here are looking at things like potential hormonal imbalances, especially with research coming out, specifically with kids with ADHD and different dopamine levels that they might be dopamine seeking and thus leading them to some unsafe physical choices because of that imbalance. And so just want to acknowledge that I think it's more complex and complicated than simply help them listen to their internal body, which is, I don't want folks to take what I just said as like, all right, I'm just going to have that happen, because I think it can be more complex than that. But that is, like, my overarching goal is for them to first tune into what is happening inside for me. And I want there to be a difference between if Sage is running into the street, I want to go and pick him up, and I want my tone to change, and I want him to hear that is not safe. There isn't a try it out and get hit by a car and see how that works out for you. And I want him to experience fear in that moment and inside, to have that kind of signal go off, right? And in order for that to happen, I can't have that same reaction when he's two rungs up on the ladder at the playground. Otherwise he won't differentiate between those two. And either everything will be scary or nothing will be scary. And so for me, that's the work is in my tone. In fact, small sidebar, we've been talking a lot in our house about kindness and different ways kindness shows up. Sometimes kindness is walking away. Sometimes kindness is helping somebody. Sometimes kindness is taking space to play by yourself. Like, all these different ways it shows up. The other day, he was doing something that wasn't safe, and my tone shifted, and he said, Mama, be kind. I was like, oh, this is one of the ways that I'm kind. One of the ways that I'm kind is helping you learn when something could really hurt your body for real. And he was just, like, sat with that for a little bit. It was so funny. Mom, be kind. As my tone shifted. So good.
00:41:54 Dr. Bryson
I think what you're saying is crucial. I remember one time, my son, we were at the beach and he started running away from the car into the parking lot and I just yelled no. And I grabbed him kind of firmly and I said, don't ever do that again. That is dangerous. That could hurt your body. And he just started sobbing and I held him and I calmed him and myself down and I just took some deep breaths with him and I said, I know that was really scary. When I yelled and you heard my voice and you felt me grab your body. I know that was scary, but that's because it was so dangerous. What if I screamed and yelled and started berating him? And I handled it really badly. I feel good about the way I handled it in this circumstance. I said I don't. But even if I don't, in either case, we want our children to let me say it this way. We are meaning makers for our children.
00:42:56 Alyssa Yes.
00:42:57 Dr. Bryson
And so that was a different tone and it was a different experience and I had to help him make sense of it, just like you did with your son and you were giving these nuances. And I think it's so hard because for children, the way they learn information is when you first teach, you teach dog and they see like a head and four legs and furry and a tail, they're like dog and then they see a goat and they're like dog until it becomes specialized. Everything are generalized, right? And I think we are meaning makers for them around our implicit messages like I don't trust you. And we're meaning makers around how much risk response we're giving in those moments. And there should be degrees of that. And our children should feel afraid at times and they should feel anxious times and we should too, when it's appropriate, when it's what our nervous systems are supposed to do. And I think one of the ways that we need to be really thoughtful is that we know that anxiety and depression are really high across the world, not only in our kids and adolescents, but in grownups too. If you tend to be an anxious parent, a parent who I mean, if you tend to be a parent who is on the anxious side or who really, truly struggles with anxiety, this is going to be even more challenging for you. And I want to encourage you, if you're listening to this, to get the support you need. Sometimes medication can make a huge difference in the parent you want to be. Psychotherapy combined with it is an even more powerful combination, particularly if you have a trauma history. Like doing our own work is so important because we are meaning makers for our kids and it's hard to modulate our own fear and anxiety and risk response if our nervous system is on high alert all the time. It's really almost impossible to do without some help and support. And I think one other thing I want to talk about is as a parent, we absolutely should be and people often because of my books and stuff they put me in, someone has labeled the gentle parenting camp. And I don't really claim that because same that sounds passive and weak and unboundied and boundaries and limits and expectations that we clearly communicate to our kids help them feel safe. They make us predictable. And the brain hates unpredictability because it means potential threat. So I think it's super important that we think about how we can do safety based messaging. So I guess I don't know what to call it. Mona Delano Hook and I have talked about maybe we call it responsive parenting or respectful parent. I don't know what we call it.
I really dig respectful. Of all of them, that's the one I feel most connected to. I'm like, yeah, I have respect for you as a yeah. And I want to move through this with respect in our relationship.
00:45:54 Dr. Bryson
Yeah. And if I do say, like gentle parenting, I would be like with me still in charge, our kids need us to be in charge. They do.
00:46:03 Alyssa Totally.
00:46:04 Dr. Bryson
And then as they get older, we give them more opportunities to practice being in charge of some of their own domains of autonomy and things like that. Okay. So we can give the same boundary and limit fear based or safety based. So I did a lot of this during the pandemic where I was saying, look, because kids generalize in how they learn. If we're like, that's dangerous, that's dangerous, that's dangerous. We can't go here because it's not safe. If we go there, grandma's going to get sick. And we were giving so much fear based messaging, kids can generalize that and we're seeing a lot of anxiety coming out of this. Want to I'm a huge fan of Mona Dellahook and Stephen Porges and his polyvagal theory where we really ought to always be thinking about cues of safety. We want to be giving cues of safety to our kids so that they have that so that they can take appropriate risks like we were talking about. But let's give a hand washing example. Okay. So I can say to my kid, they come in from the playground, they come home from school. I always want them to wash their hands so I can say, wash your hands. You've got germs all over you. That playground. Like, you know, kids were sneezing, go wash your hands. Your hands are dirty and we don't want anyone to get sick. Or I can say, hey, go in and wash your hands. We want your hands to be squeaky, squeaky clean so we can stay healthy. It's the same boundary. But what I'm doing is I'm giving my kid an implicit message of I'm going to keep you safe and healthy. As best I can versus I'm trying to keep all the dangers out, right? So it's a really different meaning around the same boundary because language matters. It matters a lot. Okay, so what do we do? How do we get our kids to build these critical thinking skills to process all of these things? Well, we have to mirror the same thing in what we're teaching them to do. So like for example, if I want my kid to pause before reacting, I want them to pause and act instead of react. I have to do that too, as much as I can. Which means unless it's really dangerous pausing and even maybe externalizing the process out loud with my kid to say that seems really high. Let's think about this. Okay, so you really want to go up there? I'm not sure. What do you think? And we're really giving them an opportunity. What we're trying to do is slow things down and create a pause and a space which hopefully then would generalize to lots of other things as well. So we really want to slow things down to pause. And one of the best ways we can do that is through the whole idea of self regulation. And so self regulation gets built by having practice going from Dysregulated states back into regulated states. So when your child is tantruming, falling apart, reacting or overreacting, if we come in and co regulate with our calm, connected presence and we say, it's so hard, I'm right here with you. And we hug them if they want to be hugged. We just stay near and don't touch them, if that's their sensory preference, whatever it is. But really it's the idea of being available and showing up in that moment and co regulating. And what happens is I often have parents say so you want me to give them attention when they're being bad and throwing a fit? You're going to reinforce that bad behavior? I say no. I'm giving their brain a rep of going from a Dysregulated state back into a regulated state. And that's how they learn to self regulate is through co regulation. And it takes a long time to self regulate. In fact, a lot of adults aren't so good at it either. And then we also want to give them opportunities.
00:49:48 Dr. Bryson
So it's not just moving back from dysregulation back to regulation, but also to use tools and strategies to keep themselves regulated so that they don't go to that state. And we do that by modeling it. So if I'm about to yell and I'm really frustrated, I might put my hand on my chest and belly and take a long deep sigh with my exhale longer than my inhale which is one of the quickest things we know to calm down our nervous systems. It's called the physiologic sigh. We've known about it since the 30s. But it's this. And I might even say out loud I need a minute to calm down my body so I can talk with you and be the parent I want to be in just a minute. So I might even say it out loud. We might say, oh, I have a lot of energy in my body. I'm going to move my body to get some of that energy out, or I'm feeling really angry. I'm going to calm my body down before I talk to you. So we can even model that. And then we can teach them tools like breathing, like singing, humming. We know that vibration of those vocal cords helps regulate the nervous system. Being in water or near water is a really great way to do that. Listening to music, movement, laughter releases a lot of nervous system arousal. We have all kinds of tools we can teach our kids about what works for them, but we really want to slow things down and really focus more on self regulation, because self regulation is a huge part of decision making and pausing before action.
Yeah, well, I think it's key here for takeaways, for folks when we're looking at risk management, the ability to do that, the ability to say, what is the ROI here? Right? What is the potential return for me? Is it worth it? Or what's the potential risk? Is that worth it for them to be able to kind of do that assessment, they have to be in a regulated state to do it. And so I think it's so key here that focus on regulation and the note of you're really just lengthening for myself, saying things out loud is such a helpful part of this process because it buys me time. It also lets my child hear a little bit more, right? So when his favorite drawer in our house is the sharp things drawer, naturally, and pretty early on, he was 15-18 months, and I was like, I'm going to teach him about the things in the sharp things drawer rather than playing this game 7000 times a day where I'm like, that's not safe. It's not safe. We can't play in the sharp things drawer. It's like, I'm going to teach him how to use these tools and utensils, I would love to say for his development, but really it was for me of like, this is going to make my life easier if he has safety awareness around these things. And so we started, we're like, at first, he would say, want to play in the sharp things. And as I was pulling, we have like, a learning tower that he can stand in that goes up to as high as the sharp things drawer. And as I was pulling the learning tower over, I would be vocalizing like, okay, I'm going to calm my body down so that I can help you learn about things in the sharp things drawer so that we can know how that they work and help keep you safe. And I would literally say that out loud as I was pulling his learning tower over, because it was, for me, helpful to be like, that's what's going on here, Alyssa? We got to calm so that you can help him learn about these things. And I started with like, all right, I'm going to take a chunk of them out. And we started with learning with a few. And then as he got the hang of the pizza cutter and what this knife does or whatever, then we added in the zester and just got to add more of the sharp things in. And now I could go pee or be in the other room and he can navigate the sharp things drawer. And yeah, really helpful, to be honest. Really helpful, especially with the second one coming where I was like, not a game I want to have to play. And if he has any of my DNA, if you set a boundary for me, I'm like, great, I cannot wait to push it. I have never met a boundary that I was like, oh, wow, lovely to follow. And so I was like, if he's got any of my DNA, he's going to do this. He's going to get up to the sharpening store at some point. But verbalizing, that en route for me is really calming. And then when he was in there and it's like, all right, yeah, he's got knives and whatever at his disposal. Before I opened it up, I would talk about, like, what are some things we should know before we open up this drawer and how do we navigate it. And then we would start with one thing at a time, and he wanted to learn about them, and we went through how to use them. And for me, with risk management, that just is so key in the regulation component for my self regulation. And I think so often with kids, we react and then we're in this dysregulated state, and then we end up in that cycle, right, where their nervous system fires off of us and we have mirror neurons just flooding us. And really being able to find that pause, I think is the true work and so freaking hard to do. It's a practice.
00:55:28 Dr. Bryson
It really I think, you know, this fits in so much with the lens that Dan and I wrote about in no Drama discipline, which know our ultimate goal. The whole point of discipline is to raise children who become self disciplined. And the way they get there is through teaching and skill building and lots of reps. And so I think kids using tools, like, obviously with safety things in place, and I think as kids get older, too, we want to be asking the questions that we want them to be going through. Like, for instance, even with your two and a half year old to say. And it's so much about attachment, too, if you're like, oh, are you wanting to climb up to the sharp things drawer, where you're really tuning into their mind and their intentions, like, where they feel seen and known. You're like, oh, you really want to go check out what's in that drawer? And then to say, okay, what are the things we need to think? And so, you know, I know, like, when my kids started wanting to make plans with friends, they would be like, can I go over to Jackson's house? And I'd be like, okay, what information do you think I'm going to need in order to make a decision about that? Instead of saying, well, is his mom going to be home? How are you getting there? Are you walking? Or is his mom picking you up? What time are you going? Instead of going through, which is exhausting mentally, and I have three of them, so it's like, constantly. And my husband has a lot of questions, too. I would just train them. I would be like, I can't make a decision until you give me all the information. And then sometimes they'd miss a thing or two, and then I'd ask, but then I think even with your two and a half year old saying, okay, what do you think could happen? Let's say they're wanting to do something, and you're like, what do you think might happen if we do this? Let's imagine it together. And what you're trying to do is link up their future time travel, thinking into the future, thinking into the past. What happened last time you did that? So that's called mental time travel. It's a very sophisticated cognitive function that's part of prefrontal. And let me say that too, if you think about everything the prefrontal cortex does, if we are building it in any way. So when I'm trying to develop empathy in my kid, and I'm pointing out in the books that we're reading, hey, what do you think that bear feels? What do you think he might do next? And trying to help him get in the perspective of the bear, that's part of empathy building. If I'm focused on empathy building or I'm focused on decision making or on insight, like, what does that feel like in your body when you get really angry or whatever it is? All of those reps in the prefrontal make all the other functions work well. So it's not just risk assessment, but I think asking our kid, what do you think might happen? What do you think if it kind of didn't go the way you wanted it to, what else could happen? And you're kind of thinking through and I think it's important, too, as we've been having a lot of this conversation around kids who are more attention, I mean, risk seeking. You might have a kid, if you're listening, who's maybe too risk averse, and it runs more on the anxious side. And I would say what we know from the research on that is that if. We have kids who are slower to warm up, who are more tentative, who shy away from newer things or have a hard time taking a risk. If you just force them full force into it, it's actually counterproductive. Like, if you have a kid who doesn't want to make eye contact and hug Grandma, I mean, that's a whole other consent thing. But let me give an example from one of my kids. My kid, five or six, did not he hated walking into he loved sports, but if we got there late or even right on time, walking into a group of other kids was too much for him.
00:58:58 Alyssa Sure.
00:58:58 Dr. Bryson
So what I learned, if I was like, you have to go. And if I forced him into it, his nervous system would have an overwhelming fear anxiety response, and it would be counterproductive, because he would have been like, that felt so terrible, I'm never doing that now. I'm not going to soccer. So then we have more oppositionality and all of that. But if you don't do anything you're like, it's okay, sweetie. You don't have to go. Let's get back in the car. That further reinforces it, too, and that's counterproductive. What the research clearly shows is that we keep their individual nervous systems in mind at that developmental stage, and we scaffold. One thing I know is, okay, I need to get there earlier where there's just two or three kids, and then we walk up, and then maybe the next, maybe after a few weeks, we get there when there's four or five kids, and we sort of scaffold. Or like, he was a kid who would never walk into a birthday party, especially if there were any kind of performer or pinata or anything, and I pinata limb, like anything with limbs, and you're hitting it, and limbs are flying. Like, if you get pinatas, get limb free pinata anyway. But I would say, okay, he wouldn't want to go to the birthday party, but all his friends were there, and I knew he would have fun, and I wanted him to have a rep of that was a little uncomfortable, but I actually had fun. That was worth it. I had a good ROI on it. So I would say, well, let's just take five steps, and then we'll wait, and we'll see what happens. So he take five steps, and then he could pause, and he could observe, and I would say, how many steps do you think you can take now I can take two steps.
01:00:23 Dr. Bryson
Okay. And so you're really scaffolding it to give them an experience where you're pushing them a little bit outside their comfort zone, but in a way where it feels successful for them. So that's the other side of this is really assessing. And what's the worst thing that could happen? Well, you might feel a little uncomfortable. Do you want me to hold your hand as we walk up? So we're really trying to scaffold without forcing or running away. And the way they get practiced tolerating these experiences is by having those experiences in a regulated nervous system. So we really want to give them opportunities to do that and to give them lots of opportunities to think through how things happen. And I wish we had time to get really more into the discipline philosophy that I like to talk about because it's very related, because every discipline moment is an opportunity to reflect on what happened and what they can do differently next time. And that really gives their brain those reps of thinking through emotions, having insight, doing some problem solving, looking forward. And that's really powerful in terms of risk assessment, risk decision making. And then I think the last thing I'll say about that and then I want to say one more thing about parental fear is that our kids are going to make mistakes. And the way we handle mistakes matters a lot. And the way we model our own mistakes. Like, if I burn something in the kitchen or I break something or I leave something somewhere, I'm like, oh, well, now I get to be a problem solver, right? And so we want to model that kind of thing and kind of even be good humored about it as much as we can. And if we don't, then we go back and do some meaning making. Like, gosh, I got so frustrated about that. But I realized after I calmed my body down, like it wasn't that big of a deal. I'm a good problem solver and I know you're a good problem solver too. We can ask our kids for their input on things. I know you're a really good decision maker, you're a really good problem solver. You think things through really well. Can you help me decide what we should do with your little brother today or whatever, so involve them in decision making?
01:02:22 Dr. Bryson
I think in terms of our own parental fear, I think it's so important, again that we ask that question, is my decision to say no here or to stop a risk from happening? Is that helping my child continue to grow and thrive and develop in the way they need to be and I'm protecting them from something that is going to hinder their development? Or am I saying no because of my own stuff? And I am getting like, am I getting in the way of their development here or not? And I think that's a really
important thing to reflect on and really pausing and taking a breath and making sure that it's not something from the past or our own irrational discomfort that's getting in the way. It's just like what we've been talking about with kids. It's a parallel process for parents, which is we have to practice feeling uncomfortable with our child's autonomy because eventually they leave us and it's good practice for us to sit in the discomfort of not being in control of what we can be in control of, and that's part of our development as well.
Yeah. And I think one of the key takeaways for me in this conversation is that difference between discomfort and fear, whether it's with the child who is feeling discomfort as they enter into this social situation and are working through the programming of, like, how do I enter into this social play? Right? Is it discomfort or fear? And that those are different, and that for us, same thing. Am I feeling uncomfortable? Is there discomfort here? Or is it fear? And really getting curious with ourselves, I think, and I think that can only happen when we find that pause. It's the only time that we can do that work of getting curious in the moment and really helping kids build that skill. You mentioned earlier, the daughter dating when they're in the household versus out. And really, for me, resonated with my approach to parenting of I am not always going to be there, and what skills do I want him to have when I'm not? And for me, looking at, like, what are the mini stones to those milestones? Right? If the milestone is he's 16 at a friend's house, and something comes up that doesn't feel right inside of him, and he notices those if that's my milestone, of, like, that happens, and he either asks me for help or whatever, our system is in place in that moment, how do I get there? And really, for me, the getting there is helping him start to learn what those internal cues feel like. Ask himself those right questions. And for him to start to practice the curiosity of am I feeling uncomfortable or am I afraid? Because I'm not safe here. And to start to differentiate those. And it takes practice, and he's going to fail sometimes a bit. And I'm going to fail sometimes a bit.
01:05:34 Dr. Bryson
Absolutely. I think, too. One favorite favorite phrase that I've used, probably one of my top five throughout my kids childhood, is, what's your plan?
All the time. All the time in my household.
01:05:48 Dr. Bryson
Such a good phrase. And especially as they get older. So when they were younger, I'd be like, it's bedtime. We're going to bed. As they got older, like middle schoolish, I would be like, I know you know how important it is to get a good night's sleep. And I'm really militant about sleep. It's probably the only thing I'm militant about. And I know, you know, it's important to get a good night's sleep,
and I'm noticing what time it is. What's your plan for getting a good night's sleep tonight? And so I asked that question, although I'll say last night, my almost 17 year old, it was, like, really late, and I had already gone to bed. I got up to go to the bathroom, and I noticed his light was still on. And I was like, go to bed.
I don't care what your plan is anymore. Go to bed.
01:06:28 Dr. Bryson
But I think, what's your plan? So if your kid's starting to climb up on something or you notice that they're getting ready to take a more impulsive risk to just put your hand on them and be like, what's your plan? And if they're like, I don't know if I want to go to this camp, because I don't know if I'm going to have any friends there. Well, what's your plan when you get there? How are you going to make friends? Let's talk about it. And really kind of that's just such a powerful phrase because you're communicating to them, you've got good ideas and you can figure this out, and I'll help you. I'm here, I'll listen, I'll weigh in. But I think it's a really helpful phrase to just instead of instinctively saying no, it might be a good replacement phrase to just keep in your pocket.
It's also something I use with my husband all the time when I'm like, oh, my God. In my head, I've now created this narrative, or I've dreamt up what I think his plan is or isn't. Right. Exactly. It then slows me down. And when I can say, what's your plan here? We're getting ready to leave on a family trip, and I sat down on Sunday and said, hey, what's your plan for packing all of us stuff? And we got to dive into, like, yeah, what did his work week look like? Exactly. But it started with, like that is one of my huge phrases. Just it slows me down too. What's? Your oh, I knew. Tina. I said at the beginning, I feel like you and I could hang out forever, and it turns out it's true. Thank you so much for joining us and for your wisdom. Where can people find you? Learn more about you, obviously. Buy all your books. They're gold.
01:08:14 Dr. Bryson
I love The Power of Showing Up, actually. It's like children. I don't really have a favorite.
01:08:18 Alyssa Sure.
01:08:19 Dr. Bryson
I really love The Bottom Line for Baby because it's alphabetical and it's 65 topics that people get the most competing advice about. And it basically lays it out like Pacifier use or co sleeping or whatever.
And it is like, here are the main schools of thought, here's what the good science says, and then here's the bottom line. And then I really report as objectively as I can. So in about a third of the entries, I actually add in my own. Like, it's a note from Tina where I'm like, I didn't follow this suggestion and here's why I didn't, or I wish I had or whatever. So it's a really great gift for someone who is having a baby or who has a kid under 18 months, but people can find me at my website. www.tinabryson.com and that's Bryson. And then I'm all over social media. The place I post the most is on Instagram and my handle there is @TinaPaynebryson.
Awesome. And for folks who are tuning in, I would love for you to take a screenshot and tag Tina and I and let us know what your follow up questions are. What your big takeaways were. Come DM us. Let's have more conversation.
01:09:21 Dr. Bryson Absolutely. That'd be fun.
Thanks for tuning in to Voices of Your Village. Check out the transcript at voicesofyourvillage.com. Did you know that we have a special community over on Instagram hanging out every day with more free content? Come join us at seed.and.sew. Take a screenshot of you tuning in, share it on the gram and tag seed.and.sew 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.