160: What Do Your Reactions Say About You?

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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We don’t naturally think about how much of our parenting is actually about our kids and their needs, and how much of it is actually about ourselves. Yet, it’s crucial that we do build an awareness around when our own experiences, challenges, fears, and traumas are getting in the way of seeing our kids’ needs clearly and providing for their needs. More often than not, our reactions and responses are more about us than about our kids. 

In this episode of the Podcast, I’m talking about how to determine what is about your child and what is more about you, and how to use that information to be adequately focused on your child’s struggles to be a better parent. One strategy is to ask yourself, “What does my reaction say about me?” We cover more insights and strategies in the show, as well.


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Penny Williams 0:03

You have to decide that you are going to be a different parent, you are going to parent the child that you have. And you are going to do the work that is required to have the most compassionate, humanistic, and effective responses for your kids.

Welcome to The Parenting ADHD podcast where I share insights and strategies on raising kids with ADHD straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author, ADHD a Holic and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started.

Welcome back to The Parenting ADHD Podcast. Today, I want to talk to you about what your reactions say about you the way that you react or respond to anything but specifically to your kids to challenging behavior, intense times. What does that reaction or response say about you? Because what we know is that a lot of the ways that we react to things are because of our own past experience because of our own judgments, because of our own fears and anxieties. This is stuff that is affecting the way that we really walk through the world ourselves, right? But especially our parenting, it's affecting the way that we respond or react, the way that we cope. The way that we move forward from anything that is painful, or uncomfortable, brings up stuff for us, right like brings up old anxieties or fears or current anxieties or fears.

So we need to start really in thinking about this by talking about the stories that we tell ourselves. And I've talked about this before on the podcast, but we choose how to feel about something that happens, things are neutral. And there's this concept of the neutrality of circumstance, circumstances are neutral, we decide how we feel about them, and how we want to respond to them. And we do that through kind of the stories that we tell ourselves. So if my child is screaming in the store, he really wants this specific toy, I have told him not today, or you already spent your allowance or some reason why he is not able to have that specific toy at that specific time. And he's screaming, yelling, he's telling me, he hates me. It's a really bad scene, right? And it feels bad. There's no doubting that there are emotions in that as the parent, and they don't necessarily feel very good.

But we're choosing how we want to perceive what's going on. So I can tell myself the story that my child is being spoiled, or entitled, or being a baby being disrespectful, so many ways that I could color that situation in a really negative light, and in a really painful way. Right? Because if I'm saying that it's personal, that he's trying to hurt me, that's really painful. There's a lot of deep emotion that comes with that. And I could choose to tell myself the story that instead he's just having a hard time, his brain doesn't do well with frustration, tolerance, not getting, the one thing that he is able to see, not understanding that later things might change. Those can all feed into that. And if I'm reminding myself that that's really the reality of my situation, then it's much easier to respond or react in an effective way, but also a neutral way that is going to be much more settling to the situation if that makes sense to you.

And so the way that we react to our child's behavior, says a lot about us. It says a lot about the story that we're choosing to tell herselves, right? Whether it's personal, or whether it's your child struggling, it tells us a lot about our own childhood and our own past, I have a lot of anxiety, I had a lot of social anxiety, especially growing up in my teen years. And there are a lot of ways that I tried to manage or control that anxiety. My social anxiety really revolved around wanting everyone to like me, and wanting to be accepted by everyone being every group, especially the popular kids, I thought that if the popular kids liked and accepted me, then I could feel good and be happy, which was sort of this false narrative that my anxiety brain was telling me, right. But there were a lot of things that I wanted and tried to do, thinking that they would cause this popular group to like me, like, buying name brand clothing that was popular at that time. And so I found myself too often with my own kids and my parenting, wanting them to have the name brand clothes have the labels that are popular. And I know, with my thinking, rational brain, that that stuff really doesn't matter, right. But in my heart, I was still trying to heal from all of that anxiety and discomfort as a kid myself.

And so I was often putting my own stuff, right there in my parenting. And often our reactions to our kids can really show us how we are entangling our own stuff within that. And it can happen in so many ways. If you have a fear of something in particular, you may be trying to prevent your child or restrict your child from that activity or that risk that plays into a fear that you have that reaction, maybe it's no, you can't do that activity, because it's risky. That reaction is your stuff. What does it tell you about you, it tells you that your fear is driving your decisions in your parenting, right. And then you can take that information and make some changes and some improvements, little shifts that will help you to be the parent that your child needs, meaning to see things from their perspective and their needs. And with as much neutrality as possible, rather than seeing their needs through our own fears, anxieties, baggage, all of those things, our own beliefs, even the ways that we were raised good or bad, often play into our reactions as well. And it's really important that we can recognize when that is happening, because we're raising individual kids here are unique, wonderful kids, they are not miniature versions of ourselves.

And when we're placing our own stuff on them. We're treating them as though they are miniature versions of us, right, that they somehow have the same beliefs and fears and desires that we had at their age. And that is not true. That is just a really false narrative that I think culturally we have come to grips with and sort of hung on to. And so we have to really cast that stuff out, right, you have to decide that you are going to be a different parent, you are going to parent the child that you have. And you are going to do the work that is required to have the most compassionate, humanistic and effective responses for your kids.

So we're choosing how we react or respond through those stories that we're telling ourselves and through that baggage that we might have from our past or our present. Because it can be about our present. It's not necessarily just about when we were a child of a similar age. We choose to identify with and focus on how we feel. And when we do that, those emotions take control and often drive us and it takes a lot of mindful awareness and practice, to really sort of take control of our emotions. And I'm not saying that we shouldn't be emotional, it's natural. I'm not saying that we shouldn't be frustrated or angry or really disappointed or sad, because again, that's all natural. Those are natural responses to parenting complex kids, to dealing with challenging behavior, to wanting greatness for our kids, that we see struggling so much, right being emotional about that is totally natural.

And it's really natural to let that drive us to just go with the flow of what those emotions are doing in our bodies and our brains. And that is what I would label as a reaction, right? It's instinctual, it's just happening. But instead, we really want to respond, we can do our best for our kids and ourselves, when we can respond. And part of that response is recognizing how you're feeling and sort of setting that into an appropriate amount of input into the situation. But also using your thinking brain, using your compassion, your empathy, or understanding, to really respond in a way that is compassionate and effective. Because when we're reactive, we're not helping our kids, we're actually escalating the situation. It's what I call co escalation. Do we want to co escalate with our kids? Or do we want to co regulate, of course, we want to offer co regulation, we want to be a calm anchor, and offer that calm for them to attune to for them to learn from and model back to us. And all this stuff. Really, it all comes back to looking at and spending time with your reactions and what they actually say about you, and what's going on for you and what's coming up for you in those times. And this is also really pointing out the work that we need to be doing on ourselves.

Where are we struggling? What is coming up for us in those times, for me, feeling like my kids needed the latest popular brand name clothing so that they had the best chance of being accepted by everyone at school. That was my stuff. Obviously, I still needed to work on that. I still needed to reconcile that fear of not being accepted, and sort of pull that out of my parenting, right? I needed to work on making peace with that myself, so that it wasn't something that was constantly interfering in my parenting and my parenting choices. What else could it be saying about the work that we need to do on ourselves, working at calming, staying calm, finding calm, right, being able to calm ourselves when we get triggered, and we're frustrated. That is a skill that we absolutely need to be the best parents we can be for our kids. And often when we are more reactive and are unable to stay calm, that's telling us that there's work to be done in that area. Acceptance is another piece that might be something that you still need to work on. If you're fighting against sort of the brain that your child has, the way that they move through the world. If you feel like there's always this personally in friction against ADHD, or autism, or you know, all of these challenges that our kids face, then you likely have work to do you still want acceptance, accepting that this is their path, accepting that their path looks different.

Accepting that life has struggle for everyone and accepting that your kid can be okay. And have ADHD, or autism or learning disabilities or anxiety. You know, they can struggle in childhood moving through the world, and they can still be okay. They can still have joy, they can still find greatness, and really working on true deep acceptance is where that perspective can start to flow. Understanding our child who again if we're fighting against particular behaviors, or were using traditional parenting methods, again, over and over despite them not working. That's really saying that we don't have the deep understanding of our child yet that we need that we need. So that we can be the best we can for them so that we can help them and empower them. We have to understand what's going on in their brains and their bodies, what is happening to cause the different challenging behaviors and other challenges that come up? What is it that is causing the way that your child moves through the world perceives the world struggles in the world, like specifically struggles in school, maybe when you understand why things are happening, then again, you can be responsive in a really effective way. And so often, what our reactions might be saying is that we still need to work on understanding our kids fully and deeply where it matters, understanding their neuro divergence.

And I think the last thing that it could be potentially telling you about the work that you need to do for yourself, is that you could be a good parent to this child, we so often get caught up in the struggle, and blaming ourselves for that struggle that we forget, we lose sight, or we don't even believe that we can be a good parent to this kid that we have. You are completely capable of doing a great job for the child that you have. The question is, are you willing to do the work? And are you willing to forgive yourself for being human, for making mistakes, because we all make mistakes, even the greatest parents make lots of parenting mistakes. So do you need to work more on coming to the conclusion and accepting that you can be a good parent to your child, you are a good parent. I mean, right now, you're using your time to listen to a podcast about parenting and ADHD, and neurodiversity, you are stepping up and leaning in to learn more and do better for your kid, you're already a great parent, for your child.

And I want to talk to you too, about viewing difficult times as an opportunity to learn more to understand and to do better, again, we blame ourselves so often for the ways that we respond or react when we've had distance from a situation. And that blame and shame even on ourselves, it's not healthy. And it's not what we want. And it's not what we want for ourselves. And it's not what we want to model for our kids either, right. And so we have to remind ourselves that we're doing the best we can, with the knowledge that we have today in this moment. And when we know better, we can do better. So when we learn more, we're able to do better, right? I believe that this is sort of a quote from Maya Angelou, his work. And it's one that has really helped me to sort of reconcile a lot of my past parenting mistakes. You know, before my son was diagnosed, he was really struggling with some things. I mean, super struggling all the time. And there were parenting approaches that we took, because we didn't know what was really going on. We didn't understand him yet, and why he was having the challenges that he was having. And so we would try to punish right and punish him into sort of compliance. And really, compliance is not the goal.

Compliance is just creating sort of a robot. And that's no way for anyone to live. And so sometimes I get really stuck, feeling very guilty and bad about my past parenting mistakes, right? My past insistence on compliance insistence on changing who my kid was because I so desperately wanted to fix it for him. I didn't want him to have pain. I didn't want him to have a hard time, right. And so many times I was just focusing on the wrong things, or I was taking the wrong approach as often I was co escalating. Often I was even sending the message that I didn't get it or that I didn't care. And that wasn't my intention. Of course, all of my actions were out of love and the best of intentions to be helpful. But what was happening was that I just didn't know enough yet. And I have to forgive

Have myself for not knowing enough yet, because I was human being. And again, I was acting out of the best of intentions, but just with a lack of knowledge and understanding. And so when we're struggling with our kids, we're really being given an opportunity to learn more, to understand them better. And to be able to do better in the future, we have to embrace that opportunity. And we can only do that with, this calm presence, a mindful awareness of what's going on, when we're aware, then we can look at it from that perspective, then I can look at what's happening and say, Okay, what does this say about my child? What does this say about me? What information can my child share with me that I can be more compassionate and helpful to him? You know, these are opportunities to ask questions to show our kids number one that we care, right?

If I'm asking, what's up with you, what's going on? Why are you having this reaction? What happened to you today? What happened to you, at any point in the past that is causing this sort of intensity or reaction, if I'm just calm and aware, and can offer that sort of support, and that dialogue, then I'm learning more about my kids, so I'm going to be able to do better for them in the future. But I'm also showing my child that I care, and that I want to help them. And I'm helping them to learn more about themselves, right? Or helping them to see what their reactions say about them, as well. It's not just what our reactions say about us, that's a big piece of it.

I will tell you, sometimes 90% or more of my parenting is my crap. That is, is just poking his ugly head right through there and getting in the middle of everything. So it's not just what it says about us, though, because our kids are struggling in those moments of challenge. What are they struggling with? Why are they having that struggle, really sitting down and figuring things out together, diving deeper into exploration and discovery together, is what helps our kids understand themselves more and be able to do better. You know, if my parent came to me with compassionate understanding, then that feels pretty good. It feels a lot better than a parent who just says, Oh, my gosh, you're acting like a baby and is yelling and slamming, or you're being so disrespectful to me right now, I'm not going to accept that. You can't talk to me that way.

That doesn't help our kids at all, it just makes them feel bad about themselves. And the only way for them to do good is to feel good. And we play an enormous role in the way that our kids feel. Because of our reactions and responses. This is all intertwined. You know, and there's so much awareness and work to be done in order to be the best parent we can be. And in order to help our kids find their greatness, and be able to move through the world in a comfortable way that allows them to really shine and thrive. So I hope that you'll take this information in this insight, and really start to think about, okay, I had this reaction this morning. I really wish I hadn't. I feel so bad about it. Okay, that's natural, but what are you going to do about it? What are you going to do with what happened? Take that dissect it, figure out what it means about you figure out what work you need to be doing for yourself, and remind yourself that it's an opportunity to dive deeper and learn more about your child.

So next time, you can handle it better, right? It's about grace, but it's also about learning and growth. And I hope that that's helpful to you and your parenting journey. It has been work that of course I have done for myself, obviously to be able to get to where I am. And it's work that I have to continue to do. I have to continue to remind myself to be aware remind myself that my son is having a hard time remind myself that his behavior isn't personal, but that it's a struggle, and also remind myself that my journey is not his journey. I hope that that will resonate for you and help you to move forward in a little more comfortable way with yourself in your parenting. I'll see you next time.

Thanks for joining me on the parenting ADHD podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses, parent coaching and Mama retreats at parentingADHDandautism.com.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Thank you!

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it. Have something to say, or a question to ask? Leave a comment below. I promise to answer every single one. **Also, please leave an honest review for the Beautifully Complex Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and appreciated! That's what helps me reach and help more families like yours.

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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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.

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