I’m leveling in a big way on the podcast this week about what’s really going on with your strong-willed kid. I use the term Defense Zone to describe this state of high alert where many of these kids live so much of the time. These kiddos need our help learning new skills. AND, we have to remember to connect before we can effectively correct. Enjoy!
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About Randi Rubenstein
Randi Rubenstein helps parents with a strong-willed kiddo become a happier family and enjoy the simple things again like bike rides and beach vacays.
She’s the founder of Mastermind Parenting, host of the Mastermind Parenting podcast, and author of The Parent Gap. Randi works with parents across the U.S.
At Mastermind Parenting, we believe every human deserves to have a family that gets along.
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You’re listening to the Mastermind Parenting Podcast with Randi Rubenstein episode 87.
My name’s Randi Rubenstein and welcome to the Mastermind Parenting Podcast where we believe when your thoughts grow the conversations in your home flow.
So I want to talk to you guys this week about people that I refer to as people that have sensitive nervous systems. If you’ve been listening to the podcast for awhile, you probably heard me talk about this. A there’s a term called HSP, which is a term by a woman named Elaine Aron and S H S P stands for highly sensitive people. And her theory is that 20% of the population just has a more sensitive, nervous system. So you take in stimuli from the environment two, a heightened degree compared to the other 80% of the people.
0 (1m 4s):
So a lot of times with little kids, they get described as explosive because they take everything in, in such a more intense way that it’s like there always on high alert. And since little kids live for the most part in their emotional brain, that’s the most developed part of their brain. They just can get set off so easily. And so, so these little kids are quite often living in a state of chronic anxiety. Now, when we think of the term anxiety, and we think about like, if you’re an adult that has struggled with any anxiety, I’m like, you probably know that it can feel debilitating and maybe it shows up in your body, like in the form of migraine headaches or a lot of sleep sleeplessness and racing thoughts, or you have a nervous stomach and you’re just nervous a lot, or you sweat a lot, or you have some social anxiety.
0 (2m 10s):
You can’t think of what to say, right? Like, you know what it looks like for adults, but with kids, anxiety often looks different and, and it often it’s, it’s interesting. It often looks like behaviors that we don’t feel very compact. It’s hard for us to feel compassionate towards our kids when they model these behaviors. Like a lot of times anxious kids, they get mean, and they say mean things and they can be explosive or shut down. They can be mean to their siblings. They’re quick to anger. They’re quick to overreact when something new or different is presented.
0 (2m 55s):
They’ll dig their heels in. That can be super controlling. A lot of times shows up in like a dictator type behaviors and then they get categorized as strong-willed or difficult. But quite often what’s at the root of the behavior is anxiety. Now, if you’re over here thinking anxiety, Oh my gosh, my child has anxiety. They had an anxiety that I want to offer something to you or anxiety is not cancer. Okay. If your child is showing up with these strong willed behaviors and some of this sounds familiar and you’re like, I never thought about it as anxiety. They’re feeling anxious.
0 (3m 36s):
Well, that makes sense. Because they take in the world at a, at a, in a more intense way, like smells or smelling or tags or itchier M they, you know, they just, they take in things to such a heightened degree that it puts their body in a state of sort of like high alert. It’s almost like, you know, their, their on the front lines have a war and they’re on high alert. And so you offer something new or all of a sudden you want to change their environment. You know, they’re happy playing at home or doing whatever. And then all of a sudden you’re like, okay, time to get your shoes on and go to school. And they are, they ignore you, right? So they ignore you because they don’t want to change their environment.
0 (4m 18s):
Like they’re on high alert anyway. And their, in their cozy little sanctuary, why would they want to go out into the unknown world where all the smells are smellier and the things are going to happen. And they don’t know what to expect when they are here in their little safe incubator. So they ignore you or they dig their heels in and they resist, or they try to control. They try to control. And we make that behavior mean something that something different than it is when it’s really just that they’re feeling anxious. Cause there are a little nervous system has taxed. And, and, and this is what I want to say is when you start to see it, that anxiety and those less than awesome behaviors that are a result of the anxiety, and you remember, this is not cancer.
0 (5m 10s):
This is anxiety. And it’s because this little person has a highly sensitive, nervous system. And they’re taking everything in, in a more intense way. And you start to understand, like, this is just their body response to living in a state of high alert or fear or fear the way to actually support them. Because it’s not a fun place to live, you guys, right? Like, and if you’ve ever struggled with anxiety, you know that it’s not a fun place to live. The way to actually support them is, is to not try and cage them. Like I think of like, we have a cat that my husband’s allergic to cats, but years ago, my daughter decided that we were at PetSmart one day and she wanted to a cat.
0 (5m 58s):
So it’s like an app or a cat that lives outside, but we feed it. We actually had, don’t tell the pet smart people what we have to lie and say that it was going to be an indoor cat, but it’s really an outdoor cat. It’s really a feral cat. And like once a year, we’d have to have, you know, we have to take that cat to get shots at the vet. And let me tell you something, trying to cage that feral cat is a nightmare because that cat is on high alert. It lives in the wild, right? And so when all of a sudden we’re putting it in the cage, it has no clue. Hey, kitty kitty were doing this for your own good ’cause. We don’t want you to have like terrible diseases.
0 (6m 37s):
And we’re an outside cat. What are your sort of an inside Kat? And we kind of feel responsible for you. So we want you to get your shots and this is going to serve you. Long-term that cat doesn’t understand that that cat thinks like you’re putting me in a little cage behind bars and I’ve got a claw and fight my way out. And so, so I want you to think of, especially when you’re sensitive, nervous system kids, or in the younger years there they are that federal cat. So when you tried to change their environment and they are on high alert on, in the front lines, like anything feels like a threat. It’s not going to go, well, it’s not going to go well. So the real answer is that we have to stop trying to control them.
0 (7m 22s):
We have to build trust. We have to let them know like, like I’m your soft place to land. I got you. I got you. We have to not focus on when they are on high alert, showing all those less than us and behaviors. And we, we focused on all the, the less than awesome and behaviors when they are in that state of panic and anxiety and fear, all that does is make them feel more alone. And like, they need to stay in that state of high alert rather than getting to relax and be able to trust us. And over time, be able to live in a less stressed out state with less anxiety and, and become, and become a more enjoyable versions version of themselves because they feel emotionally safe because we’ve created that environment for them.
0 (8m 13s):
So it’s this vicious cycle you can easily get into when you’ve got one of these kids, because they show so many, you know, the anxiety for them shows up in ways that does not exactly elicit compassion For for us. And so we admonish them on all these less than awesome behaviors, rather than getting to the root of the anxiety and helping them to feel safer in the world so that they can show up feeling better. Do you see? So, so it’s like, it’s like who somebody, who’s got to start the process of disrupting this pattern. That’s clearly not working for them or us. And since we’re the people with the fully developed brains, I think it just, it needs to be us.
0 (8m 55s):
We can’t expect them to start behaving better until we help them to feel safer in the world. And their body learned that they don’t have to live in this state of constant high alert. And when they do, we’ve helped them to skill built to get out of that state of high alert and, and ultimately become a more enjoyable version of themselves and a more confident version of themselves. Because I trust, I trust me when they are acting out in these ways, they know, they know they are not being likable. They’re not feeling good about themselves. It’s like what Dr. Ross green says, kids do well, if they can to, if they’re not doing well, there’s something to figure out and they need us to have their back and they need us to help them build skills.
0 (9m 38s):
And we have to do that by helping them get out of that defend and protect Zone and move in to the love and connection and so that they can trust us and then be ready to learn new skills to improve future behavior.
1 (9m 56s):
Have you read my book, a parent gap? Have you listened to my book for the parent gap? I doubt you’ve listened because my publisher hasn’t released it yet on audible. However, I have the audio version of the parent gap that I would love to send to you. You can download it at Mastermind Parenting dot com For slash book that’s Mastermind care team.com forward slash book for your free audio version of the parents are that you’re welcome. I.