015: Behavior is Just a Symptom, with Penny Williams

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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I've been reading Ross Greene's newest book, Raising Human Beings, and I am so inspired to share how his insights and approach to parenting challenging kids can be a powerful force in your parenting. Of course, I've been a fan of Greene's work for years, and I recommend his books to parents constantly. What you have to understand first, before you can implement his collaborative problem solving process with success, is that behavior is simply a symptom of the actual problem. The behavior is not the problem. Stick with me… it makes sense. It's a problem, but not THE problem. Learn all about it in this episode.


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Raising Human Beingsby Ross Greene, Ph.D.

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I'm Penny Williams.

I help stuck and struggling parents (educators, too) make the pivots necessary to unlock success and joy for neurodivergent kids and teens, themselves, and their families. I'm honored to be part of your journey!

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Quick Start: 3 High-Impact Actions to Transform Behavior

Transforming negative or unwanted behavior is a long and complex process. HOWEVER, there are a few actions you can take right now that will provide a big impact. These 3 high-impact strategies address foundational aspects of behavior, empowering you to help your child feel better so they can do better.



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About the show...

I'm your host, Penny.

Join me as I help parents, caregivers, and educators like you harness the realization that we are all beautifully complex and marvelously imperfect. Each week I deliver insights and actionable strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids — those with ADHD, autism, anxiety, learning disabilities…

My approach to decoding behavior while honoring neurodiversity and parenting the individual child you have will provide you with the tools to help you understand and transform behavior, reduce your own stress, increase parenting confidence, and create the joyful family life you crave. I am honored to have helped thousands of families worldwide to help their kids feel good so they can do good.

Listen on Apple Podcasts  |  Google Podcasts  |  Spotify  |  iHeart Radio

Share your thoughts.

  • I needed this podcast so bad, Thank you!! This school year has been tough, third grade and trying to manage my twins and their curriculum. It is a whole new ballgame this year. My son is my child with ADHD. He was born super preemie, grade 2 & 3 brain bleeds. We had him scanned last March at Dr Amen's clinic to understand how his brain works. His entire frontal lobe is active including his cerebellum.
    Our problem that we face is when we allow our son screen time, he has a complete breakdown when his time is completed. He is so angry and ugly for uo to and hour after, and we have now taken it away. He will sneak to use his sister's kindle and or abuse his computer time. When I watch him on his kindle he is completely in a trance. He also is an avid reader and when he begins reading a book he looses himself in the book, just like his kindle. It is difficult to communicate with him when his brain is locked in.
    As for his kindle I feel like it just makes him an angry person, so I try to avoid it all together. Please help!

    • Hi K! I'm glad you found the podcast!

      Screen time is a tough thing with kids with ADHD. There do have to be limits, but there also has to be an understanding that our kids need the extra stimulation that technology provides. Then, they end up hyperfocusing on it.

      Screen time parameters are really something each family has to create their own rules around, but I'll share what I would do, and have done in the past with my own son. Rather than saying you can't have the device forever because you got ugly when I took it away, set a very specific rule and expectation. “If you [describe what it's like when he's angry and ugly, so you know he understands the exact behavior you're referring to], then you lose screen time the rest of today and tomorrow. If you stop playing and put the device away within 2 minutes of my asking, then you're doing a good job of following instructions and you keep your privilege the way it is.”

      As far as seeing this anger as a symptom of a bigger problem… Be sure you're understanding about being in the middle of something when asked to stop. Kids are often in the middle of a level of a game or in the middle of a gripping chapter in their book and they want to get to a better stopping point. It would serve everyone better to say “you have ____ minutes of screen time, plus the time it takes you to finish that level/chapter/etc, up to an extra 5 minutes.” Ask your son why he gets angry at those times. Ask your son how you can help him.

      And, lastly, be sure to write down and post your rule/expectation I outlined above. Make these rules for the whole family. And praise him each time he stops in a more appropriate manner. It takes time and consistency, but you'll get there.

      Check out the articles on ADHD and technology limits on http://learningworksforkids.com too.

  • My granddaughter age 10 just diagnosed with adhd and anxiety is having a lot of social issues. Being left out. She is in 5th grade but a year young as well. A recent move to Texas has unmasked all sorts of problems at home from disrespectful outbursts disobeying and just downright meanness. She is the oldest of five two brothers 8 and 6 and 5yr old twin girls. She I think feels like the odd man out. Our daughter and son in law are at their wits end and don't know what to do. She is on medication but is still very disruptive at home not at school. Where is a good place for them to start a solution?

    • For the social issues: talk with her teachers and the school guidance counselor and enlist their help. It's part of the school counselor's job to help with social skills and social problems. We have done this for my son a few times and the counselor has always helped a good deal.

      On behavior, they need to start at the beginning — learning what her triggers are and addressing them. Also, getting to really know her strengths and weaknesses. These are detailed processes, so I can't really start you on the processes here, but I detail them in my books, “Boy Without Instructions” and “Insider's Guide to ADHD”, and in my online course, The Complete Guide to Parenting ADHD. My new book (eBook), “The Hidden Layers of ADHD,” details a lot of the characteristics of ADHD that most parents aren't really aware of, but that are crucial to family success with kids with ADHD.

      I definitely recommend Ross Greene's books — that's what got us on the right track finally.

  • Penny, thank you so much for your podcasts! My son was recently diagnosed with ADHD & ASD. One of the issues that has me most frustrated with him is his that he is often physical with his sister (he’s 7 she’s 5). I know that she sometimes gets on his nerves (maybe, lots of times!) and that the physical reaction has a lot to do with impulse control (he’ll push her or hit her or trip her, etc) but I’m not sure what to do to stop it. If I’m close by I can usually see it coming but if my focus is elsewhere, I can’t stop it. Thanks to anyone that can offer suggestions!

    • Hi Heather! It will take a lot of very focused practice and support on the lagging skills (frustration tolerance, anger management, etc.) to change the behavior. I like the Zones of Regulation program for helping with emotional awareness and control. Our occupational therapist helped us a lot with this too, so you may look into OT for your son. Remember that, when you're addressing the behavior (hitting, aggression), you want to actually address the reason behind the behavior — those lagging skills.

  • Thank you for sharing your experiences. Listening to your podcasts have changed my life and my 8 year old sons for the better. Always a work in progress but we are so much happier. Seriously thank you! Keep sharing. I know I have so much more to learn. It’s definitely a lonely road and I appreciate having someone who gets it and offers such great tools for our amazing kids. You are an amazing person and I so admire your dedication to help others.

  • Penny, I have just stumbled upon your podcasts recently and am listening to them as fast as I am able to. This past year, our 13 year old son not only struggles with depression but also got diagnosed with a myriad of learning deficits but also ADHD which has thrown all of our parenting skills on the biggest roller coaster ride of our lives. I am gobbling up “The Explosive Child” book and I am now realizing just how much my husband and I need to change the ways we parent our son (vs. our daughter) and that it is going to take a lot of time and effort to change our ways and our habits and that we have a long road ahead of us. We have a huge list of lagging skills/behavior problems identified and we are in the process of prioritzing them. However our biggest frustration lately is that our son continues to pursue wanting to smoke pot because he likes the way it relaxes him. Inasmuch as he knows our disapproval and the consquences tied to this, we cannot seem to make him see that this is not only detrimental to his health and his underdeveloped brain but also that it is linked to greater drepression and addiction tendencies. We are at a loss of how to proceed on this and could use any advice of how to navigate this as the next step will be intervention of some kind.

    • Pot use is often a form of self-medicating (and escape). If his ADHD isn't being treated, that can help. If he can calm and focus with medication, he won't need pot. Also, have you considered offering him CBD oil? It is fantastic for anxiety and absolutely legal almost everywhere in the US. It's hemp and doesn't have the THC that pot has (can have traces but you can buy CBD with zero THC). Maybe offering him a legal form that has some of the same effect will steer him away from illegal use. If you try CBD, get a good quality oil that is independently tested. You can get cheap CBD but it doesn't have the same potency and purity and won't provide much benefit — which would just make him give up on it. We use Charlotte's Web, but there are several quality manufacturers.

  • Hi Penny, I just started listening to your podcast. It is helping me so much! Thank you! My son is 13 years old and has ADHD and anxiety. He has been having a lot of growing pains and had tendinitis in his knee in the fall. He constantly complains that his body hurts. It is literally non stop! I will acknowledge his pain and give him ideas of what he can do to help it (from his physical therapist). He says ok or good idea, then comes back a minute later saying oh my knee. I think he has just gotten so used to saying Oh my knee that he can't stop. He also says our cats name in weird ways nonstop. His name is Stewie and he walks around the house saying dewey, stevie, edewey. It makes my dog go crazy. Again, I don't think he even knows he is doing this anymore. Do you have any suggestions on how to get him to stop repeating these things over and over constantly? Thank you so much for everything you do!!

    • The key is to find out WHY he is repeating things constantly. Could be a tic or echololalia (https://www.healthline.com/health/echolalia). Have you asked him why he does it? At 13, he may know, or he may not be aware, but it's definitely worth asking. If it's something like echolalalia, then it could be a symptom of anxiety. Or, even simpler, could be that the rhythmic repetition calms or slows his racing brain.

  • Hi Penny, just listened to this podcast this morning. One behaviour I am having trouble with in my son, is his reaction to his sister. He is 12 she is 16. She can't say anything to him without him being rude back or totally loosing it at her. Sometimes she only has to look at him and he cracks it. When I ask him he says she is annoying. Please help?

    • It's important to get to the root of what makes her “annoying” to him. It could be a frequency in her voice or her tone or how she says certain things. And this may be just his perception. If you don't know about Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD), look it up on ADDitudeMag.com. It's common with ADHD and it's a very deep sensitivity to PERCEIVED rejection or criticism and seeing that in just about everything others do or say. That could be feeding into this.

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