213: Relationship Reset, with The Behavior Revolution

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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It’s easy to fall into bad patterns with our interactions with others, especially our kids. But a better relationship is always possible, as long as you make changes and do the work. In this episode, Sarah Wayland, Ph.D. is back with me to talk about making amends, repairing the relationship, and pivoting to more healthy and rewarding interactions.


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Declarative Language Handbook by Linda K. Murphy

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My Guest

We’re Penny and Sarah, parenting coaches who help neurodiverse families like yours understand your child’s neurology and behavior, and shift your parenting to help your child thrive — without the frustration of trying to figure it out on your own. We’re also moms of boys with ADHD and/or autism, so we get it. We live it, too.



Sarah Wayland 0:03

You want to be fully fully present with them and you want them to feel that you are there just for them in that moment that this is something that you view is very special. And, it's their time to really just have unfettered access to you.

Penny Williams 0:25

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.

Penny Williams 0:48

Welcome back to the Beautifully Complex podcast. I am so excited to have all of you here. And I'm joined by Sarah Wayland, who is my co founder in the Behavior Revolution. And we are bringing this month's behavior episode to you in this show. Hello. And so, yeah, Sarah, do you want to introduce yourself really briefly to anybody who hasn't listened to any of our episodes together yet?

Sarah Wayland 1:17

I'm Sarah Wayland. I'm co founder of the behavior revolution with me and the business that I was running before we started revolutionising behavior, called guiding exceptional parents. I do parent coaching, something I call special needs care, navigation. And then I'm a certified RTI or relationship development intervention. Consultant. RtI is a parent mediated intervention for families who are supporting somebody who is autistic. And I also have two of my own kids who are both young adults, and both have their own alphabet soup of many things going on with them.

Penny Williams 1:57

Yep, yep, we actually have boys who are similar age with similar alphabet soups. So we get each other. Let's start by talking about what relationships look like when they're not great. Because in this episode, we're going to talk about relationship reset. So how to take a relationship that isn't great, and start turning it around. Because we both believe very strongly that that parent child relationship is guiding everything else. It affects all of your parenting. And so it's really, really important and valuable, that that relationship is trusting and open and strong. And so we see many families who are not in that place, their relationships are very broken, and very much a struggle just to have a conversation with each other sometimes. So we wanted to talk about kind of this idea of reset and repair that relationship. So Sarah, you want to start out with talking, maybe give a couple of examples of what does a really broken parent child relationship might look like?

Sarah Wayland 3:15

Oh, a bunch of things popped to mind. One is, the kid who won't look at you won't talk to you and ignores you whenever you're around and yells at you to go away, or will not engage with you if you're trying to talk to them. So that's one way of being. Another one is where family members are walking on eggshells, when they're around the kid because they're just terrified of triggering some outburst or doing something wrong, because they don't understand what is upsetting to the kid, that walking on eggshells thing might look regulated to an outside person because the blow ups aren't happening because the parents or siblings are just basically accommodating completely what the other person needs without getting their own needs met. So that's something that can happen. You can see explosive behavior in response to a demand or a perceived demand, or even just looking at them wrong, you can just see this sort of easily triggered dysregulation. I think those are kind of the big ones. There's also running away. So there's kids who, when things start getting a little weird, they just bolt for the hills. So they have a very low frustration tolerance.

Penny Williams 4:39

I would also say kids who don't openly talk to you about things if they never want to talk about what's bothering them, or they never come to you for help with anything. That to me is also a signal that the relationship isn't what it needs to be.

Sarah Wayland 4:55

That one's tricky for me because my older son in particular is a A extremely introverted, and b has an expressive language delay. And so for him sharing with me is a lot of work. And he does hesitate to share with me just because he doesn't always have the words to describe what is going on for him. And I have to be so careful with him because I can put words in his head that aren't actually what's going on for him right now that one's tricky, because you're right. I mean, there are kids are just like, I don't want to talk to you. I don't want to engage with you.

Penny Williams 5:34

I don't trust you. Right, right.

Sarah Wayland 5:37

So yeah, it's a tricky one. Because like I said, for him, initially, I did see his lack of responding to me, as us not being very connected. And then when we got language testing on him, and he was below the first percentile and expresses language ability. So it's like, oh, that's why he's not talking to me. He

Penny Williams 5:58

can't. Yeah, yeah. I think that trust faster is the piece that's on my mind. Yeah, my thought is like, stuff's going on for me, but I don't trust my parents talk about them. Right, I might automatically be in trouble. Or they might not get it or, so many other potential reasons why, but they kind of boil down a lot of times to just mistrust. Yeah. So let's talk a little bit about what do we do now? Our kid isn't maybe not talking to us, maybe we're walking on eggshells, maybe all of these different things are, are a possibility for you, or, the relationship just isn't what you wish it was. Because you can improve that as well. What's the first step? What do we do first, to really sort of start to repair that relationship.

Sarah Wayland 6:50

So before we started this podcast, we were talking about this. And I mean, there are a bunch of things I do, but the focus for me is on making your interactions with your child more positive. And there are a bunch of ways to do that. So in RDI, one of the things we start out with is just having your kid be comfortable with you being around them and not making any demands. So one of the things I did with my younger son, when we first started doing it was they had me sit on the couch with him for a minute and not do anything. And uncomfortable. It was really, really hard for me to do this. And my husband could sit with my son for five minutes without saying anything. And they were fine. It was me it was clearly me. That was the problem. And I think there were two pieces to it. One is that I was constantly trying to fix everything. And I was managing my own anxiety and grief, frankly, by just doing something all the time, I couldn't slow down and just be. And the other piece of it was that he got used to me constantly making demands on him. So anytime he saw me, I was gonna be asking him to do something, right. It wasn't just being with him, and being comfortable just hanging out.

Penny Williams 8:16

Yeah. And you're reminding me of a prior podcast episode with Amanda diekman on low demand parenting. And this is exactly some of those reasons why she teaches low demand parenting is because when our kids see us as always making demands, if they're avoidant, which a lot of our kids are going to start avoiding. Right, they're going to do anything to not come face to face with yet another demand.

Sarah Wayland 8:45

Exactly. And the other thing that I learned during that phase was to shift my language from being full of demands and command to using what you and I call declarative language. The strategy we learned from Linda Murphy, in the declarative language handbook, where you shift to doing things like spotlighting the problem, but not the solution, or making an observation about how you are feeling about something, oh, I'm worrying about getting things ready for work tomorrow or something like that. You're not saying pack your backpack, or whatever. You're just making an observation. So shifting to declarative language from imperative language made a big difference certainly for me and my younger son in particular.

Penny Williams 9:39

Yeah, I'm just thinking as you're talking about how hard it is, to sit next to a kid that is struggling and not say a word. Because I like you. I'm a fixer. And it's our nature and is very, very hard to know that you're right. bear with your kid who was struggling, but you cannot do anything. And I think part of the way through that, at least for me has been to remind myself that it's not about what I need. It's about what he needs. And in that moment, me trying to fix something is not helpful, it's harmful. And I have to remember, okay, what do I need to do that would actually be helpful. And that is me sitting here, totally silent, turning inside, but totally silent.

Sarah Wayland 10:34

For me, I actually, my younger son knows when I'm churning inside. And so I can't even do that, like, so I have to, like, really get a hold on myself, and just be fully present with him. without judgment without my own anxiety, clouding that interaction, which is really hard, because I have a tendency to be thinking, Oh, I haven't here, and he's captive. So I could talk about all the things we need to talk about. But sometimes he just needs to chill out and be with me, without my demanding presence.

Penny Williams 11:13

Yeah, it's so important. And it's something it's taken me a really long, hard road to get somewhat good at. Because that inclination for me to fix it and fix it now, is so strong. It's so hard to override. But my son came to me early teen years, maybe like early high school, and he was finally able to say, I can't talk about this right now. I am not ready. And I need you to leave me alone. Right now about it. Because I was always the now now. Now, let's get it done. Right. It's a problem. Let's fix it now. And what he needed was his own time and space. And then he was able to talk about it. And for him, mostly, that was overwhelming emotion at first. And so having a conversation was not valuable, because really, his emotional brain or survival brain had taken over, right. And so he wasn't really able to have a fruitful conversation. And I had to really recognize that. And that helped me to be able to remind myself that, yes, I am actually helping by not doing anything right now and not putting any pressure on him. And what I found was that he would come and talk to me, when before he would always avoid that. But when I start pressuring him suddenly, in his time, and it could be a couple of days, it could be 20 minutes, it could be two or three days, but almost every single time, he would come and talk to me, and ask for my help and my input. So that was a really valuable lesson that I had to really see, come full circle to be able to say, okay, that really does work. And sometimes we just have to trust that it's going to work so that we can get to that validating point where it works. And we're like, Okay, this really is what my kid needs.

Sarah Wayland 13:14

There's another piece to that too, which both of my kids I mean, I'm actually not a shaming kind of person, like I do not ever say you should know better or whatever. But my kids feel a lot of shame about things that have happened where they were not their best selves. And, one of the things I work on is, it's not shame, it's just data. You've heard me say this a bazillion times, but my younger son is always saying something like,

Sarah Wayland 13:45

I don't want to talk about my former self. Right? He's always saying that, and I always say, but your former self is part of what made you who you are today. And you've overcome some amazing things. And so your former self, didn't know all the things now, but he has a very hard time talking about anything, where he did not feel like he was his best self. And so that son will come to me, my older son does not come to me at all he's the one with the language delay. And his language skills, by the way now are according to testing at the 75th percentile, but he does still have a hard time expressing himself. And he's also really embarrassed to say things are around his brother, because he thinks his brother's gonna make fun of him or something. So sometimes they'll just say, hey, come grocery shopping with me or something. So we just have some time together. That's not around other people that he might not want to talk to. Yeah. So yeah. And that leads into time in but I want to first talk a little bit about repair. This comes up in so many conversations that I have, both on the podcast and in our summits, and And it's so important for us to own up to our mistakes, own up to the fact that we got reactive, or we got really emotional. And I think here when we're talking about relationships that aren't great, just saying to your kid, I know I see that this isn't going well, I see that our interactions are not awesome. And I want it to be better for both of us. And I'm going to try to make some changes, that goes a long way for a kid. And then of course, you have to follow through and actually make those changes, right. That's, that's the key piece. But we do we have to be human with our kids, and we have to make amends with them when things aren't going well. That's trust building.

Sarah Wayland 15:49

What that reminds me of, is, I took a lot of parenting classes when my kids were little. And I remember one time, so my older son is four years older than my other son. And I was taking yet another parenting class. And so I can't remember what the assignment was. But my younger son is like, why are you doing this? Why are you being like this? are changing the way you are? And my older son said to him, she's taking another one of those parenting classes. And if you just go with it, it's actually kind of awesome.

Penny Williams 16:19

I love that. That's amazing. Let's talk about timing, then.

Sarah Wayland 16:26

Well, that's a thing I learned in my parenting was.

Penny Williams 16:31

So thing I learned from you, but it's super valuable. I can really make so much of a difference in the dynamic between parent and child.

Sarah Wayland 16:40

Oh my gosh, yes. And like when things are starting to go badly between me and my kids, for whatever reason, maybe one of us is stressed out or whatever, like time in is always the answer, it is always the answer. And what time in is, it's also called special time. But it is one on one time between parent and child, where you and your child without any distractions from other people or other activities or whatever, are just connecting with each other. And there's no questions, no commands, no teaching, so you're definitely using your declarative language during time in. And when things are really bad in our house, I really try to spend 20 minutes per child per adult. So that would mean that I would spend 20 minutes with son number one and 20 minutes with son number two, my husband would spend 20 minutes with some number one and 20 minutes with son number two, that is not realistic for most families, because life is super busy. But it is probably the thing you could do that will make the biggest difference in their behavior.

Penny Williams 17:52

And it could be just five minutes, right? Or Yes, to start there. Right. It can be much, much less and still have an impact, for sure.

Sarah Wayland 18:00

And so yeah, I'm hesitating a little bit, because when things are really bad, like the more time you can give to this, the better, right, and so like once things are on a more even keel, then sure, five minutes is probably plenty. But if things need resetting, then doing it a little longer can make a big difference.

Penny Williams 18:28

What I always remember about time in is that it has to be kid centered. And you can not criticize what they're into. You can like these are all the places my head goes, like my kids are into gaming. And I'm not a gamer. And I don't necessarily understand the draw, I kind of get the draw for them. But for me, it's not a thing for me for some reason. And I have to still talk with them about it. And not be like why I don't understand why you spend your time on that. Or I don't understand why this is important to you. Right? I don't know why they don't like I just have to listen, I have to listen. And sometimes I participate. They ask less and less of that of me because I'm terrible at it and I hold them back. But when they were younger, they would ask me to race them in Mario Kart and stuff. And I would and I wouldn't complain about it, or anything like that I would just spend the time doing what they want to do and they are interested in without any of that subconscious narrative coming out of my mouth. I think it's really important to point that out because it's human for us to do that. And we have to work at not doing that. But it's imperative for this concept of time and that you're talking about that we not do that. Yeah, and

Sarah Wayland 19:55

It is really hard like you just brought up Mario Kart like my kids love Mario Kart, and they always wanted me to play Mario Kart with them. But it actually literally makes me throw up. Like, it makes me nauseous to watch, like the zooming around, like, I just cannot do it. And so sometimes your kids will want you to do something that you literally cannot do with them. And you just need to be honest with them about it. So what I would actually go, like sit in the room with like, one eye closed and the other eye partially open, because then I could process a little bit. But, I just said, I would love to spend time with you on this, but I just, I can't I just can't do that. And it is okay to say that, like, if it's a physical thing, my kids know this about me, right? Yeah. So it's okay,

Penny Williams 20:44

It's VR. For me, I can't do VR. It makes me very nauseous. But my kid loves it. He could spend all day with his face and that thing, understand, we call it VR face, because every time he has been in for a while, and he comes out, his face is beet red, and he has all the indentations on his face. He loves it. But I can not put my face in there without throwing up. And so it's an understood thing in the house that mom cannot share VR with you. I can do other things. Happily, but not that one.

Sarah Wayland 21:18

Yeah. And this is where having more than one adult in your life is a good thing. Because, my husband, for example, loves playing Mario Kart with my son. So I would just say, hey, you and your dad can play Mario Kart later. But let's find something that both of us can do instead. But sometimes I would do things like watch them playing their video game and just offer commentary while they're doing it like, Oh, that was a good jump or whatever, very positive, right? So you want to keep it very positive. You're not teaching, like I said, no questions, no commands, no teaching. And that's really, really hard, to pull back on your questioning and saying, oh, well, if you just do it this way, then it'll go better. That is not what you do during time. And you can do that other times, but not during time in.

Penny Williams 22:06

Yeah. And no distractions, right, no phone, right? Nobody interrupting

Sarah Wayland 22:10

That piece is hard. Like I used to say, well, I could fold laundry while talking to my son. No, you want to be fully fully present with them. And you want them to feel that you are there just for them in that moment that this is something that you view is very special. And it's their time to really just have unfettered access to you.

Penny Williams 22:34

Yeah, it's so funny. I'm just thinking about my daughter, I hate to cook. Dinner time is like the worst for me. And I have said recently, if some of you would just hang out with me, like, just sit in the room, when I'm cooking, it'll feel better. And so she does that quite often, she does her own thing, and I'm cooking, but just having her presence, like makes a difference. It feels like somebody appreciates what I'm doing, and that they don't want me to be alone. Right. And so it just as you were describing that that came up for me that that time and we spend other time together where we're actually interacting and doing things together. But, this is just like, even the presence in the room makes me feel seen,

Sarah Wayland 23:19

Penny, that reminds me of something as my older son started adolescence, there's sort of a natural thing where your kids want to do their own thing more and more. And that's absolutely developmentally appropriate. But I missed my son. And because he's such an introvert, instead of going and hanging out with friends, he would go upstairs in his room and do his thing in his room. And so I felt very shut out. And I was trying to figure out, like, how do I communicate to him that I want to be around him without pressuring him to be around me? Right? Like, I want it to be his own choice. Yeah. And so what I started doing with him is I, I would say, like you were talking about, it'd be nice if somebody would just hang out in the kitchen with me while I cook. What I would do with my son is I'd say, Hey, I'm just gonna be sitting in the living room reading or on my computer or whatever, it'd be lovely. If you wanted to join me here. What I'm not going to be talking or anything just hanging out. And sometimes he'd come and sometimes he wouldn't. But I'd always say, just hanging out in the living room. And, I didn't expect that he would come or not, I just let him know that I was there and open. And more and more, he does come down. He really likes hanging out with us. And we don't, during those times we don't ask him to talk to us. We just mostly there on our computers doing something probably not terribly productive and sharing funny things we're seeing or whatever. Yeah, but just hanging out together like that is definitely great and doing it without demanding that they do it. That's the tricky part.

Penny Williams 24:58

I mean, so often we need Our kids buy in, they need to want it, the more we push them to do something they don't want to do, the more they're going to resist, right? We need it to feel like their choice. Maybe it wasn't their idea, but it needs to feel like their choice that gives them control to that, that helps them to just feel better about doing anything, really. But leaving that door open. Yeah, yeah, I have this real struggle with having an audience like in the car, I have full access to a kid in the car, right? We're going somewhere. And I really want to take advantage of that, right? I want to have all these meaningful conversations. And I have such a hard time with, plug up their ears with their music and ignore me. And I, I just have to like, say, Okay, it's not about me, it's what they need. It's not that they're choosing not to talk to me, they're choosing to listen to music while they ride in the car. Maybe it's because of anxiety about being in the car, or maybe it's anxiety about where we're going or maybe it's just that that's what they need to regulate in that moment. Right. But I think so many parents are like me, we think, Oh, this is the time to have all the conversations. And our kids are, are hyper aware that that's what we want and find ways right to say nope, not what I need right now.

Sarah Wayland 26:22

Actually, something I've learned to do is, if I'm going somewhere with my kids, I ask them, what they would like to listen to in the car. And if they want to listen to music, we listen to music, or have them choose a podcast that they enjoy listening to. And I just kind of tried to make it a rule that I won't talk about,all the things because you're right. So so tempting. But getting them to choose it, then it's at least a shared experience we're having

Penny Williams 26:52

Yeah, yeah. So often, Luke will say, I want to play a song for your mom. And he connects his phone. And we listen to that, when it's just the two of us. I love that. And I'm always open to it. You and I have had these conversations before. And I'm sure I've mentioned it on the podcast, probably several times, he was regulating for him music wise, is basically really fast, heavy metal. Which makes me so dysregulated I can't even find the words to describe it. But I'm still open to doing at least a song and listening to it in full without complaining about it. And without telling him how it makes me feel. Because it's important. It's important to him. Yeah. And so yeah, it kind of goes in that same category with getting motion sickness with Mario Kart or VR, like, I can only take so much before I really, like feel like, I've got to stop the car and run away, but I'm going to absolutely be open to a certain amount of it, that I can be. And that's really, really important. There's so many times we can engage in small ways. They don't have to be big ways. They don't have to be long term. You don't have to go spend the whole day with your kids somewhere at some expensive amusement park or anything like that. We're just talking about, like being together.

Sarah Wayland 28:09

I love that just being together. Exactly. The other thing I did want to mention Penny and we talked about it a little bit before we came on here, we haven't even touched on not responding in a big way. Right. So one of the relationship resets that I had to do with my kids is that I would get upset, they would get upset. And we just get into what I call the cycle of Crazy, right where we're just ramping each other up. And one of the things I had to do was to learn that when that started, I was just going to take a deep breath, and not respond in a big way, like stay calm, which, over the long haul has definitely been a really, really helpful strategy. But when I first did it, my kids were used to doing something and then having me get upset. And then they'd get upset. And that's how they were used to interacting with me, right. And so when I stopped interacting with them like that, so they would say something provocative, and I would not respond in a also provocative way, then they would ramp up their behavior. So it actually got worse, before it got better. So they had to learn a new way of interacting with me. And they didn't know what to do with it. Right. Yeah. And so there's a term for that. It's called an extinction burst where you'll see an increase in dysregulated behavior. And it's because they don't know how to interact any other way. And so they have to learn a new way of interacting with you. Yeah, yeah. Sometimes parents will say, well, this isn't really helping. Just remember like you're you're changing everything for them and they are trying to figure out Like how they're supposed to interact with you now.

Penny Williams 30:02

It's not going to be something that just does switch flips. And it works. It takes time. Yeah, it's a marathon, not a sprint, it takes a lot of time and practice and sticking to it. And I've been guilty of this myself. But I see so often, that if something didn't work in the time, we expected, we just give it up, or like well done work, right. And we really have to be careful about doing that. Because especially with neurodivergent, kids, it takes time change takes time. And it can take longer than we expect. It definitely takes longer than we want, and wish it to be. And we just have to keep reminding ourselves that it's for the long haul, and eventually you will see the rewards.

Sarah Wayland 30:47

Yeah. And the other piece of it, too, is that it might not work now at this point in your child's development. But it might work later.

Penny Williams 30:58

Yeah, and that's a good place to wrap up. I think it's just to remember that you need to keep at it. We've given a lot of good strategies and insights here. And you can get links to some of the resources that we have named in this episode at parenting, ADHD, and autism.com/ 213 for episode 213. And there you can learn more about the behavior revolution, and get the links to those resources that have been mentioned, like the book on declarative language, for instance, will be there as well. And of course, I'm always grateful to have Sarah here, and sharing her insights and wisdom. And we'll be back in another month ish to bring you another episode on behavior. And with that, I'll see everybody next time. Take good care. Bye, everyone.

Penny Williams 31:53

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 parentingADHDandautism.com and at thebehaviorrevolution.com

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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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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