192: Is Your Relationship with Your Child a Pressure Cooker?

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hosted by Penny Williams

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Are you pressuring your child? You may not realize when you’re adding pressure, but you are very likely doing it often and not recognizing it. Neurodivergent kids don’t do well under pressure. It’s dysregulating and actually makes them less capable of actually doing the thing you’re pressuring them to do. 

In this episode of the Beautifully Complex podcast, I outline how we pressure our kids, what the pressure does to them and why we should stop, and what to do instead.


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Penny Williams 0:03

We are making them less capable of meeting our expectations. When we pressure Our kids. That's the bottom line here, folks, we are making them less able to do what we want them to do when we pressure them to do it. Simple as that. And that knowledge can be so transformative. Welcome to the beautifully complex podcast, where I share insights and strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams, I'm a parenting coach, author and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started. Hello, hello, welcome back to the beautifully complex Podcast.

I'm so excited that you're here. And I can't wait to share my thoughts on pressure with you, in this episode, my own son who is about to turn 20 Actually, and as neurodivergent talks a lot about pressure. And that started, I guess, in high school when he was really able to reflect on what was going on for him. And what was causing him to not be able to meet expectations, to not even want to talk about things to really sort of shut down to avoid everything. And what was going on for him was that people were adding pressure. And he was then unable, because that pressure is so dis regulating, he was unable to, you know, really even sometimes process, what we were asking of him much less be able to sort of put himself out there and put himself at risk to try hard things and that sort of stuff. So there was a lot of avoidance of anything that was hard or perceived as hard. And then that led to a lot of pressure on the sight of the adults in the room, right? Because we want to see our kids do what they need to do. We want them to succeed, et cetera, et cetera. And so we end up adding a lot of pressure. And what we need to understand about that pressure, is it actually does the opposite of what we intend for it to do. So we want the pressure to motivate our kids to do what we have asked her to do, what maybe societal expectations are or school expectations are and get things done.

And we sort of grow up with this idea that if you put pressure on kids, then they will perform. And that's not true for every kid for one thing. And we know now really that it's not a healthy way to motivate any kids at all. But it's really, really detrimental for our neurodivergent kids. Because when we dysregulate them, then you know their thinking brain is offline. And this is true for every human being. But we have to remember that our neuro divergent kids are so much more sensitive, their autonomic nervous system is hypersensitive very often. And so a little bit of pressure may send them into full on dysregulation, where a little bit of pressure for a neurotypical kid may not do that. It may just that little bit of motivation to sort of key in on something and really focus and, and do a good job at it. And so that traditional model of pressuring kids to get things done or to care about them or to do their best with them really backfires. So often. And I see that so often, our relationship with our neurodivergent kids is kind of this pressure cooker. And that was definitely true for us as well. And I didn't realize it. And as my son got older and was able to self reflect more, he was able to start telling me that, hey, you're putting a lot of pressure on me. And when you do that I can't do anything. I can't do anything at all. And then that really provided the information for me too, then pivot to shift what I was doing the ways that I was talking to him the ways I was going about trying to help him even to be sure that I wasn't actually making things worse unintentionally, which is exactly what putting pressure on our kids does. It makes things worse.

And of course that isn't our intention. So I want to talk first a little bit about the different ways in which we pressure our kids, because there are a lot of different things is that we do that add pressure. And I think there are a lot of things that we don't recognize, are causing pressure at all, trying to fix things for our kids, I am a recovered fixer. Or I should say I'm a recovering fixer. It's still my inclination so often. And it's really tough to sort of stamp that down and recognize that that's actually not helpful for my kids, because they need to learn to problem solve, they need to learn that they can do hard things, they need to learn that sometimes things don't go well. Sometimes they don't succeed. But that that's okay, too, that they can learn from it. They can pick themselves up, they can go on, that's not the end of the world. And so when we jump in, and we're trying to fix things, we're kind of giving our kids the message that we don't think they're able to do it. And that means that now they feel a lot of pressure to do things our way and in our time. And that is really the second piece of how we pressure our kids is trying to impose our own timetable, who says that a certain thing has to be done in a certain time, who says that, you know, your 18 year old kid should be ready to live on their own and go to college and manage everything just fine. Society says right? But It's bonkers. It's bananas, because that is not reality. That isn't even reality for a lot of neurotypical kids, we really have these set standards. And we try to impose those on every kid, and it just doesn't work. Everybody is unique, everyone is different. And many of our neurodivergent kids need more time. They just need more time. They need more time for a certain task. They need more time to process what you're saying and take action. They need more time to meet milestones. They need more time to be ready to be on their own to be ready to be independent.

They get there. In their own time. There is a filmmaker named choosy shardene, who was creating a documentary about Andreas Torres, who was a major league baseball player. And the film to my knowledge never came to fruition, but choosey did a TED talk about his experience and his insights, what he saw what he took away from following Andreas with a camera, I'm seeing his way of moving through the world. And his way of dealing with his ADHD. And what he came away with was that people with ADHD are late bloomers. And this is really true for any neurodivergent individual ADHD, autism, you know, it's a developmental delay. So that child is two to three years behind their peers on average, in different areas. And most of our kids are super asynchronous. So they can be ahead three or four years in one area, and behind, you know, 789 years maybe in another skill area, and another developmental area. And so, that really illustrates that they're late bloomers, they need their own time, and they need us not to impose our timetable society's timetable. We need to step back and say, Okay, what is going on for this kid? And when might they get there? Something that I coach parents on a lot is to add yet to the end of your statements. My child isn't reading chapter books yet.

My child can't tie his own shoes yet. My child can't ride a bike without training wheels, even though they're 10 years old, yet, it's always yet because they will get there in their own time. And if they never do, that's okay, too. Maybe your child never learns to ride a bike.

Is it the end of the world? No. Does it mean that they have a lesser childhood? No, it's okay. It's okay for the differences is okay for that different timetable. Another way that we push our kids is trying to impose those societal expectations, trying to say okay, you're, you know, nine years old, you should be able to stay at home by yourself for an hour. You know, you're 12 years old, you should be able to get yourself ready for school in the morning all on your own without any help from me, and you should be able to do it on time, and you should catch the bus and not miss it. Those are societal expectations y'all. Those are things that others are saying are, quote, normal for our families, for every family and for every kid. And that is not true. One of the biggest, biggest pieces of parenting a neurodivergent child is letting go of societal expectations. grades don't necessarily matter. Going to college right after high school doesn't define success versus not success. You know, everybody has their own path. And that's okay. And working on yourself and your own mindset to accept that is a process. But it's a crucial process. In being a parent of a neurodivergent child, you must be able to get rid of your societal expectations, you must not make them your own expectations for your own children.

And finally, you know, the last way we brush our kids is we nag them, right? We now your kids, we pester, we repeat ourselves over and over, we beg them to get things done, right? I think about the mornings, getting ready for school, and getting ready to go to work and how much pressure there already is, in that time of the day. Because we have deadlines, right? There's a time when school starts, and you must be there, there's a time that you must be at work or else, you know, your boss could get really upset with you, they could fire you, right. So there's a lot of pressure already in the morning. And then we're running around, and we want our kids to get things done. And they have to get done in our timetable, right, because that is the school's timetable or our employers timetable. And we tend to really get stuck in that kind of fall into that pit of muck. And it's really hard to get out of that pit of muck, right. It's deep mud, it's sticky, it's hard to get through. And that is somewhat self imposed a lot of times, because we're nagging because we're expecting our kids to get things done by themselves. When they have executive function deficits. We're expecting kids to get things done in a certain amount of time, when a lot of them have time blindness, we're expecting them to get things done without, you know, maybe a checklist when they have poor working memory. And so we nag, we keep repeating ourselves, we get upset and frustrated. And the whole thing devolves just into this mucky pit, and makes everything worse. And really clouds your whole day, right, everybody leaves the house finally, super frustrated, upset. And it has just started off the day on a very bad note. And that's that pressure, you know, if we can figure out how to make that go more smoothly. And we can sit back and say, okay, you know, we're going to do the best we can. And if that means we have to get up an hour earlier, so that there's not as much pressure on everyone, then maybe that's what we need to do.

Because we have to realize what pressure does to our kids. And why we need to stop putting too much pressure on them right is understanding what pressure does to them. And first of all, it makes them feel like we don't understand them. If I just keep telling my kid, get your clothes on, get your teeth brushed, why can't you just do it? Right? I can't even tell you how many times when my son was super young, and we didn't yet understand really what was going on. And even when we had a new diagnosis of ADHD, but we still really didn't understand right? The amount of times that I said, Why can't you just blank is obscene. And I feel horrible about it. Now, of course, but that is the path that we fall into that trap of having this expectation and not being met and thinking well, it's just because the kid is choosing not to do it. They're not focusing they're not just wanting to get it done. And that's not necessarily true. We have to look at you know, what is going on for them? Is there an unmet need? Is there a lagging skill? Is there a trigger that has got them super dysregulated? Those are the things are going to answer for you, you know, understanding your kid and what's going on for them. And so when we sort of deny that stuff, and we just ask them to get things done, and we keep telling them over and over to do them in the same ways but still without any success. They feel like we don't get it. We don't have Understand that it's super hard to remember to brush your teeth after you put your clothes on. But it's super impossible to remember everything they have to do, to be ready to walk out the door, it's hard to remember to put your stuff back in your backpack to grab your lunchbox. You know, for a lot of our kids, these are very, very difficult things. They seem easy to us, but they are very difficult for them. Another thing that putting pressure on our kids does is it makes them feel like we don't think they're capable.

And so sometimes, this is a really tricky balance, because sometimes they aren't capable on their own right? My kid for a long time was not capable of doing every step of getting ready to go in the morning on his own without any checklist or any reminders. He just wasn't able to do that. And that was because of, you know, his differently wired brain, right? It was because of the brain that he has. But when I would keep pushing, get this done, get this done, why can't you just remember every morning to brush your teeth, right? Those things are being interpreted by our kids, as we don't think they're capable. Because we are constantly nagging and reminding and picking at them, right? It's like a chicken pack, pack pack pack, eventually, that kid's going to explode for one thing, if you keep pecking at them, right? What human being wouldn't, after a certain amount of time have that experience. But it also sends the message that I don't think you're capable of doing this unless I ride you. And I ride you hard on getting it done. And I remind you and I pressure you it's a really unintended message that is very often within that pressuring of our kids, we also have to talk about dysregulation with us and the nervous system, you know, our automatic nervous system gets activated when we're under pressure. That's true for most human beings neurodivergent or not. And our neuro divergent kids tend to have a more sensitive autonomic nervous system, it is going to be activated, it is going to be dysregulated easier and more often, typically. And so when we're putting pressure on our kids, we are activating that nervous system and sending them into dysregulation. And what is dysregulation. It's fight flight, freeze or shutdown. So we by pressuring our kids are sending them straight to fight flight, freeze or shutdown, no passing go, no second chances, the more pressure you put on, the more direct that route is right into dysregulation. And so now you have a kid who's fighting, who's avoiding who has just shut down on you and isn't doing anything. And of course, we don't want any of that, right.

And the big thing that we need to talk about and think about with that is the fact that we know that when a kid is dysregulated, they're thinking brain becomes somewhat if not fully offline, the autonomic nervous system is triggered. They're dysregulated, they're in fight, flight, freeze or shut down. And now their thinking brain is less available. So now they can't process those instructions that you're repeating to them. Now, they can't remember to do anything, they have no idea what is next, we are making them less capable of meeting our expectations. When we pressure Our kids. That's the bottom line here, folks, we are making them less able to do what we want them to do when we pressure them to do it. Simple as that. And that knowledge can be so transformative. Pressure also really often makes our kids stop talking to us. They're not going to come to us to talk about something because they fear that we're going to put pressure on them. And you know, we might try to fix it and then trying to fix it as adding that pressure. Right? We might tell them what they need to do. That's adding pressure. So much of what we think is helpful is adding pressure want you to really think about that. Sit down take some moments to reflect on what you do with your kid where you think you're helping. You want to 100% have the right intention. But they are feeling pressured, I think you'll be really surprised. And as you go through your days with your kids step back when things are going off kilter or right, when they're falling off the rails, step back and see, am I adding a lot of pressure to my child? Is that what is going wrong here? Or is that at least contributing or escalating? What is going on here?

You know, we always want to offer co regulation to our kids, when they're dysregulated. Before they're dysregulated, co regulation can prevent dysregulation. So we want to offer that CO regulation, not co escalation, we have to stay very regulated and calm, to help our kids stay very regulated and calm. And so when we're not, and we're we're adding pressure, they don't want to talk to us, they don't want to be around us, one of the biggest lessons I learned from my own son is that he's not ready to talk about things in my time, because I am a type a fixer. And when I can see that something is going on with him when he's upset or frustrated or anything, you know, that is not good and happy, then I want to fix that. And I'm pestering him what's going on? Tell me about it? Well, you know, if you don't talk about it, you're not going to feel better, you know, all these things that are pressuring him to talk to me, right. And again, it's all that pressure. And what was happening was that was making him less willing to talk to me, less willing to even be around me, and less able to reflect and talk about what was going on. And so I learned from him finally, probably at age, I don't know, 15 or 16, maybe that late to let him walk away, and not try to fix things. Because the magic that happened was that he would come talk to me about it. He talked to me more. And now talks to me more about hard things. Because I say, you know, whenever it's okay, you don't have to talk to me about it. It's all right, I get more chances to help him that way than I did, in really trying to help him and trying to sort of impose my help, right? Because I've taken the pressure off. And so what I say to him is, well, buddy, I can see that you're having a hard time right now.

And I would love to help you. I'm here if you want to talk. But just let me know whenever you're ready. And if you're not, that's okay. No pressure there, right, zero pressure. And I have let him know that I care. And that I want to help. And I have let him know that I understand that he needs time in order to talk about things. And that has been magical, I will tell you that. I cannot think of one time that I have said that to him that I've had zero pressure. And he has not come back and talk to me about what's going on at some point, maybe 30 minutes, maybe five hours, maybe five days. But he will talk to me about what's going on in his time. Because I didn't add the pressure, adding the pressure makes them less capable of talking to us about things, it makes them less capable of handling the discomfort of talking about something that is painful that is going wrong that is making them sad or angry, or you know, really just down. So again, take the pressure off, we can help our kids without imposing our help without imposing our own timetable on it. So let's talk a little bit about what to do. Instead, I just gave you one example, when you see that your kid is having a hard time. Let them know you care, let them know you want to help and let them know it's okay to come to you and their time. We have to help our kids be okay with doing things in their own time. Because they do look at their peers, they see that their peers can finish their homework quicker, they see that they are able to make friends easier. All of these things they're seeing, and they're already sort of under some self imposed pressure from those differences. So we have to really remind them that it's okay. It is totally okay to do things in their own time.

You also have to be okay with things not going to your plan. Right to your plan. We so often have our own plan for our kids. We have our own plan for solving for problems, we have our own plan for getting schoolwork done, we always have our own plan. And the problem with that is that our kids don't necessarily work in the same ways that we do. And they aren't necessarily capable of meeting our plan in our time. So you really have to do the work to tease apart. What is my stuff? What is my plan? What is my timetable? And am I imposing that on my child? And if the answer is yes, you know, you have to step back, you really have to step back, because as long as you're up there in, you must do this my way, you must do the things I want you to do, you must do them all in my timetable, what are you doing, you're adding pressure on pressure on pressure, at some point, pressure explodes. At some point, the container cannot hold the amount of pressure anymore, and it explodes. And that is not at all, what we want for our kids, right? And not what we want for ourselves and our families. And so we really have to recognize when we're putting our own plans and our own timetables on our kids, and to be able to reflect on that and step back and pivot, you know, do it differently be okay with doing it differently, we also have to be okay with failure. I because I'm a type a fixer reformed helicopter parent, right. I never wanted to see my kid sad, upside hurt. And I would try to prevent all of that.

And so basically, I was trying to control their world. And they weren't learning that life has failure for everyone. We all make mistakes, we all have things that don't go, right. We all have times where we did our best and it didn't work out. Our kids have to learn how to get through those experiences. They have to learn resilience, they have to learn mistakes help you grow, right. So if we are stepping in and preventing and fixing everything, our kids don't learn problem solving skills, they don't learn independence, they don't get resilience and be able to just grow in those areas. So part of you know, taking the pressure off, is saying it's okay that that didn't work out. It's okay that you didn't succeed at this. Look how hard you tried. Look at the work you put in, look at, you know how focused you were on problem solving, and trying something new. You know, we have to focus on the process, and not the outcome for our kids to learn and grow. And lastly, what we should do instead of pressure is to ask sort of leading questions, so that it helps kids solve their own problems.

So instead of fixing, we're trying to help kids solve their own problems by using what Seth Perler calls, sentence starters. And he talked about some of this in his session in our school struggles summit that we just finished. And I want to share a few of those with you. Because this is really, really helpful again, in not imposing our own ideas and timetable, but helping our kids discover their own problem solving their own issues, what's going on for them. So you could say things like, wow, that sounds really hard. Tell me more. Tell me more is a great sentence, a great sort of triggering statement that we can use with our kids to help them to think about something right? Especially kids who tend to come to us when every little thing happens. They don't trust themselves, to be able to make a decision appropriately or to problem solve, or to get themselves out of you know, some discomfort. Sometimes we are that comfortable anchor and our kids just come directly to us. And instead of saying oh well maybe try this or do this. We need to help them discover for themselves

what will help in that situation. So something else that Seth recommends, I noticed blank, I noticed that you're having a hard time getting started with your homework. I noticed that you're really frustrated right now. I noticed that you've tried three times to blank, and it hasn't worked out yet. Tell me more. And the last one is What do you think? Ask your kids when they ask you for your input or opinion on something? Or what you would do. First ask them, what do they think? If your kid asks you, I have this project for science. What should I do? Well, what do you think? Right? So we're giving them these open ended opportunities, of discovery for themselves. And not only just that really help our kids grow, and learn and develop the skills, of problem solving and resilience. But it's also like zero pressure. If I just say to you, you know, what do you think I'm not imposing my plan, I'm not imposing my timetable. I'm not adding any pressure. For some kids, that might be a little bit of pressure, because now they have to come up with what they think. And sometimes that's hard. But it is not the same as pressuring them to do things in our way in our time. It is that sort of internal pressure that we all have at times. And that helps us at times, pressure isn't all bad. But it's kind of all bad when we as adults are imposing it on kids. And so think about how do you pivot those conversations? How do you sort of hit the ball back into their side of the court? And these sentence starters are really helpful with that?

Wow, that sounds really hard. What do you think? Tell me more. And I noticed blank, and then waiting the system, biggest piece of it, right? It might take your kid 6090 seconds, maybe a few minutes, to come up with an answer, let it be silent. They are doing the work, they are figuring it out. We have to allow the space for that. Even if it's uncomfortable, even if it feels like it's taking too long. We have to leave room for our kids to figure things out, and to recognize that they are capable of doing things and they are capable of greatness. If we keep doing everything for our kids, how do they discover what's within themselves? How do they have the opportunity to bring that to light? They don't you know, and so it's not our plan. It's not our timetable. It's about our individual kid, and what they need, and getting there in their own time. I hope that you'll reflect on this. You'll think about where in your day to day lives that you're adding pressure, and then how can you step back? How can you relieve that pressure so that your child is more able, physiologically even more able, biologically more able to get things done, to show who they are and be who they are and succeed in their own ways. That's it for me right now. To access the shownotes go to parentingADHDandAutism.com/192 for episode 192. And I hope to see you next time take good care. Thanks for joining me on the beautifully complex podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses and parent coaching at parenting ADHD and autism.com and thebehaviorrevolution.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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