272: What Does Anger Tell Us?, with Dr. Lori Desautels

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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Do you often find yourself misinterpreting anger in your neurodivergent child, escalating situations unintentionally? Join me and Dr. Lori Desautels as we dive deep into understanding anger and what it truly signifies. Dr. Desautels, an expert in applied educational neuroscience, explains that anger often stems from a dysregulated nervous system, feeling overwhelmed, and other underlying emotions like fear and anxiety. She emphasizes that managing behavior isn't about the kids but about us as adults and how we respond.

“Sometimes, the bodyguard of fear is anger.” — Dr. Lori

Throughout the episode, you'll discover practical strategies for grounding yourself and your children, transitioning away from mere behavior management to nurturing connection and understanding. Dr. Desautels reveals the power of predictable routines and teaches you how to integrate calming practices into daily life and classroom environments. You'll walk away with valuable insights on teaching kids to understand their bodies' signals, equipping them with lifelong tools for self-regulation. Don't miss this enlightening conversation — it will transform how you approach and understand the complexities of parenting neurodivergent kids.

3 Key Takeaways

01

Impact of Caregivers' Emotional States: Behavior management is significantly influenced by the emotional and nervous system states of adults, whether parents or teachers. Adults must ground themselves to avoid unintentionally escalating the child's behavior.

02

Understanding Anger: Anger in children often stems from an overwhelmed and dysregulated nervous system, not from intentional misbehavior. It can be a manifestation of underlying emotions such as fear and anxiety. Recognizing this can help adults respond more empathetically and effectively.

03

Integrated Regulation Practices: Building consistent regulation practices into daily routines helps both children and adults manage stress and maintain a balanced nervous system. For kids, classroom strategies like morning check-ins using relatable analogies can aid self-awareness. For parents, everyday grounding techniques like intentional breathing or short walks can stabilize your own responses, ultimately fostering a calmer environment for your kids.

What You'll Learn

Understanding Anger and the Nervous System: You’ll learn how anger often stems from a struggling, overwhelmed nervous system and that it is frequently a signal of deeper emotions like anxiety and fear.

Grounding Techniques for Adults: You’ll discover actionable grounding techniques such as intentional breathing, taking short walks, splashing cold water on your face, and other activities to steady yourself in challenging moments.

Building Regulation Activities into Daily Routines: You’ll gain ideas on how to integrate regulation activities into daily routines for both kids and adults, like having a list of grounding practices ready and embedding them in regular tasks.

Classroom Strategies for Regulation: You’ll learn classroom strategies to help students regulate their nervous systems, including fun activities for nervous system check-ins and incorporating movement and sensory activities into the school day.

The Importance of Predictability and Rituals: You’ll understand how predictability, routines, and rituals are crucial for supporting both kids and adults in managing anxiety and maintaining regulation overall.

Resources

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My Guest

Lori Desautels, Ph.D.

Dr. Lori Desautels has been an Assistant Professor at Butler University since 2016 where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate programs in the College of Education. Lori was also an Assistant Professor at Marian University in Indianapolis for 8 years where she founded the Educational Neuroscience Symposium that has now reached thousands of educators and is in its 16th year. Lori’s passion is engaging her students through the social and relational neurosciences as it applies to education. She does this by integrating the tier one trauma accommodating Applied Educational Neuroscience framework, and its learning principles and practices into her coursework at Butler. 

The Applied Educational Neuroscience Certification, created by Lori in 2016, is specifically designed to meet the needs of educators, counselors, clinicians and administrators who work beside children and adolescents who have, and are, experiencing adversity and trauma. The certification is now global and has reached hundreds of educators. Lori’s articles are published in Edutopia, Brain Bulletin, and Mind Body Spirit international magazine. She was also published in the Brain Research Journal for her work in the fifth-grade classrooms during a course release position with Washington Township Schools. Lori continues her work co-teaching in the K-12 schools integrating her applied research into classroom procedures and transitions preparing the nervous system for learning and felt safety. Lori is the author of 4 books with more to come. Her most recent books are: Intentional Neuroplasticity, Our Educational Journey Towards Post Traumatic Growth, Connections over Compliance: Rewiring our Perceptions of Discipline. Her newest book will be a manual coming out in 2024 titled, “Body and Brain Brilliance: A manual to cultivate Awareness and Practices for our Nervous System” 

Lori has met with well over 200 school districts across the country, in Canada, Costa Rica, Australia, Scotland, England and Dubai equating to more than 150,000 educators with much more work to be done!

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Transcript

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:00:03]: Many parents and caregivers are so in the fray with the behavior and with the emotions that are, you know, heightening that we're not aware of how we are unintentionally escalating everybody around us.

Penny Williams [00:00:22]: 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 atypical kid. Let's get started. Welcome back, friends. I am so excited to have doctor Lori Desotel with me on the podcast today, and we are gonna talk about anger and what anger tells us. Because I think so often as the adults in the room, we misinterpret anger and what is really a signal of. So I'm really excited to have this conversation with you, but will you start by letting everyone know who you are and what you do?

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:01:15]: So I'm Lori Des Satel, and I am an assistant professor in the College of Education at Butler University in Indianapolis. And I teach a framework in our graduate programs entitled applied educational neuroscience, which is a tier 1 trauma accommodating framework. So, it really is not about those students or these kids or this group. It really does support, you know, our children and our adolescents who are carrying in to our schools, some adversity, some trauma, but also it really is a framework that supports neurodivergent learning processing. And it also is a big support for adults because we know that behavior management is not about kids. It is really about us.

Penny Williams [00:02:16]: Yeah.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:02:16]: As parents, as teachers in any role in our schools, homes, and communities. So, I also am in the classroom 2 half days a week and I'm there intentionally because I'm a former special education teacher. I am a former school counselor and I have been in higher ed now for 16 years and I felt that there was a significant divide between higher education and k through 12. So my lab is the classroom. I am a practitioner. So I take the practices, the strategies, the research, and take it into our classrooms across the country and the world.

Penny Williams [00:03:05]: Yeah. Yeah. I want to reiterate for parents something you just said and educators, everyone listening. You said behavior management is about us. It is about us, not about the kids. I just wanted to reiterate that for everybody listening because it's so so important, and I talk all the time in my own work with parents. It's, like, 90% about us, the parents, and the ways that we show up for kids. So I I so appreciate you saying that and bringing that into this conversation.

Penny Williams [00:03:39]: So where should we start when we talk about anger and what it's really telling us?

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:03:45]: Well, I mean, there's, you know, anger is, you know, an emotion, but it also is there's so much beneath the anger that we misunderstand.

Penny Williams [00:03:58]: Mhmm.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:03:59]: And I don't want to generalize or be definitive in how anger looks or how it impacts, but we do know that anger originates from a nervous system that is struggling, from a nervous system that is feeling overwhelmed, from a nervous system that is trying to mitigate and buffer the stressors that are coming at us. Yep. And we feel oftentimes powerless or we feel helpless. And so we've said for a long time that sometimes, not always, but sometimes the bodyguard of fear is anger. So, you know, when you start peeling back those layers, we can sometimes see anxiety. We can sometimes see fear. But even beneath those emotions are sensations that are felt internally, and that's the physicalized language of the nervous system that we don't know what to do with them. You know? That's where that overwhelming

Penny Williams [00:05:12]: Yeah.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:05:12]: Nervous system state just feels too much, too fast, too soon, and that can be traumatizing for many of our children. But we do misunderstand that anger is just oftentimes a signal. It's an indicator

Penny Williams [00:05:27]: Yeah.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:05:28]: That the nervous system is rough as we say in our house.

Penny Williams [00:05:32]: I like that. Yeah. And they're dysregulated. Right? Their nervous system is dysregulated, and then we see very instinctual reactions. You know? Can we talk a little bit about intention and sort of the curiosity that we need to have as the adult in the intention of that behavior? Like, is it a chosen behavior, or is it more instinctual?

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:05:58]: Well, as parents, and I'm a mama of 3 adult young adults now, but our oldest son went through life with a lot of social anxiety. He was diagnosed with ADD.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:06:12]: And he was angry. I feel like as a mom with looking back, he was so angry much at the time and frustrated and irritated and annoyed and felt misunderstood. And I say that today because so I can't give you a practice or a strategy yet, but I can say that as a mom and as a former teacher, and even today, the work is about my nervous system. The anger that I see from my own children, this is an opportunity to connect through conflict. And I didn't do that well as a mom. So we know emotions are contagious.

Penny Williams [00:06:56]: Yeah.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:06:57]: And we also know that our stress responses are contagious.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:07:06]: And so I wish, knowing what I know now, that I would have taken better care of my own nervous system. I would have found some grounding. I would have stepped away before I spoke. I would have cared for the way I was handling the situation before confronting and discussing and even repairing with Andrew because this work is about us, the adults. Yeah. And, we also get triggered. Mhmm. We're not robots.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:07:43]: We get activated. We get triggered. And as parents and as caregivers, we are so up close and personal with our children that it's hard for us sometimes to step back Mhmm. And to provide some space and time, which is needed in the heat of the moment when that anger is shown.

Penny Williams [00:08:05]: Yeah. You talked about grounding to connect through conflict. Can you say a little bit more about that? What does grounding look like? What might an adult do to do some grounding?

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:08:18]: Yes. So I use the word grounding in place of calm because I think calm is overused, and is not realistic. So I like the words, I try to steady myself, I try to ground myself, and I personally, there's lots of ways we can do this as adults, but we have to tap into the practices that align with our nervous system states. Meaning, for me, breath work is critical. I've learned how to use my breath to slow down my heart rate, to slow down my respiration. So there's a lot of power in intentional breathing. And Yeah. Breathing changes our biology.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:08:59]: It actually changes our biology. When we are intentional about slowing down our out breath, our exhale, and lengthening it, we feel different. We feel prepared for what is in front of us. So for me, movement is critical. Sometimes splashing cold water on our faces. These are some well researched ways that activate the part of the nervous system where we can lower blood pressure, lower respiration, and lower our heart rate. It's sometimes crunching on something. Sometimes it's humming, pacing, singing.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:09:40]: Sometimes we don't feel like singing when we're in the middle of a conflict, to be honest with you, but a 5 minute walk, you know, just journaling for a moment, reaching out to someone that you trust, just sharing some frustration. There are so many ways. We call these resourcing our own nervous systems. And knowing when we nourish our nervous systems, first of all, we have to be aware of when we're dysregulated, and many adults are not aware. Many parents and caregivers are so in the fray with the behavior

Penny Williams [00:10:15]: Yeah.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:10:16]: And with the emotions that are, you know, heightening that, you know, we're not aware of how we are unintentionally escalating everybody around us. And that's not blaming or shaming. That's just being aware that when my heart starts to race, when I start to get hot and I feel blotchy, I can feel it. I can feel the heat in my body when I get angry. My ears buzz a little bit. I get a little light headed. There are lots of ways that our bodies are always talking to us, but we're not listening. And that's something that I'm learning every day as I work with students.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:10:57]: I'm a new grandmother, so I get to do it first. Yeah. So, you know, it's it's really just thinking, okay, can I make a list and can I commit, can I hold myself accountable to 3 in the moment practices that when I start to feel that dysregulation that I can reach for those practices that I know can, you know, begin to ground or to begin to root my nervous system so that I'm not mimicking or mirroring the behavior of my children?

Penny Williams [00:11:33]: Right. So we're not so reactive. And I love making a list and prepping that ahead of time, because in the moment, it's so so hard to call on those resources and to really think through things and be logical. Right? Because our thinking brain is sort of dimmed and and not as accessible. So, you know, as a person with anxiety and social anxiety myself, that's a skill that I have learned over time. Prepare for what might happen. Know what you're going to do if it does. And so, you know, I had my own things that I did when I got triggered with my own kids.

Penny Williams [00:12:17]: I've been on this journey with my kid for 15, 16 years. I only started learning about the autonomic nervous system maybe 4 years ago, and I was obsessed. Like, I was so obsessed that I started doing this work. And we certainly when we were kids, nobody was talking about this, but we need to be teaching kids and adults. Like, your body's giving you signals as you were talking about. Mhmm. What is it trying to tell you, and how can you work through that both physiologically and sort of emotionally or whatever is called for in that situation. Right? How do we integrate that more for our kids so that this becomes part of their normal.

Penny Williams [00:13:03]: To help them through life.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:13:05]: Well, so you said something a minute ago that sparked something I wanted to share, and we begin to integrate these on great days. Mhmm. We don't reach for these practices when there's a crisis.

Penny Williams [00:13:19]: Yes.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:13:20]: That's something that my daughter, Sarah and I, talk about a lot is she is also a teacher. And in her 1st year of teaching, she was so overwhelmed and she had a lot of anxiety. And she would say, mom, I would come home and I would sit on the couch and freeze. I just I couldn't answer a text. I couldn't plan for the next day. I mean, she was just overwhelmed. And so she began to lay out her running shoes, walking shoes, And she had them in the place where she like, right in front of the couch. And we talked about it, and I said, Sarah, if you start taking that 20 minute run or that 10 minute run or a 5 minute walk every day, then on those days where you feel stuck, disconnected, untethered, those running shoes will be much easier to put on and you can take that 5 minute walk.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:14:20]: So it really is about practice and repetition, change neural structure and function in the nervous system, not just the brain, but in the nervous system. And the more we do something with repetition, then we literally build circuits

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:14:39]: That, you know, become hardwired. And there is this fatty kind of a like a it's called a myelin sheath. Mhmm. And it covers the axon of the neuron, and this helps it it's kind of like a conductor of electricity. So the more you do something that Mylan, you know, becomes thicker

Penny Williams [00:15:03]: Right.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:15:03]: And it supports that connection. And so there is automaticity and fluidity in our actions when we have practiced them.

Penny Williams [00:15:14]: Yeah.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:15:15]: And to teach our children this. Like, this is the work. It begins with us, but then the second part is we are so quick to label kids, you know, with we do it through our schools. We classify. We give kids rulings. And I grow so weary of that because then we begin to identify with our limitations.

Penny Williams [00:15:39]: Yeah.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:15:39]: And we don't identify with the strengths that we have that can be such significant assets and not deficits.

Penny Williams [00:15:49]: Yeah.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:15:49]: We need to be reaching for more than normalizing anxiety.

Penny Williams [00:15:52]: We need

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:15:53]: to celebrate it. We need to thank our systems for working constantly to protect us because we're all created for survival.

Penny Williams [00:16:04]: What a difference that would make. Yes. You know, I wish somebody had taught me to do that

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:16:09]: Me too.

Penny Williams [00:16:09]: After, you know, decades of anxiety. Wow. What a difference that would have made if I would have been like, thanks for protecting me. Yeah. And then what else can I do, right, to sort of settle my nervous system? And you talked about many of those, what I call regulation activities. The humming, the splashing cold water, blowing bubbles is a big one that that I recommend with younger kids because they love it, and it's it just brings joy. Right? It just changes the tone, not to mention that it's actually helping our nervous system to settle. And I have started recently advising for parents to build regulation activities in their day to day.

Penny Williams [00:16:52]: If you're gonna ask your child to sit and do homework, you need them to focus. What can we do to prep their nervous system Mhmm. So that they can focus? And, you know, your story with your daughter in the running shoes, now we can take that even a step further. Can we put some reminder visual reminder of that activity right there where we do homework? Right? Make it a part of that activity every day. When we get up in the morning, what can our kids do to prep them to be able to tap their executive functioning and get ready for school? Right? And the same, I think, is true for us is what you're telling us. We also need to put those in our own routines.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:17:34]: Mhmm. Yeah. And knowing and I know that, you know, you share this probably with parents, but the brain, it works so well with predictability. Mhmm. We need predictability. We need rituals. We need routines so that our nervous system can make those associations. We can predict based on the past.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:18:02]: That can be really challenging too when we think about how trauma impacts us. But our brain, nonetheless, is a social organ. It's an experience dependent organ. It's a historical organ. So routines and rituals and predictability are so necessary for all of us, but especially for those of us who are, you know, really challenged in the moment with some of those anxious overwhelming sensations.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:18:35]: And knowing, you know, what to do because we don't think clearly in the moment when we're in survival states.

Penny Williams [00:18:42]: Yeah.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:18:43]: So when we have access to those, when we are, as we say, in the cortex, then we can work through that with more ease.

Penny Williams [00:18:53]: Yeah. I remember the big turning point for me as a parent was when I heard the term amygdala hijack. Yeah. And that it actually cut off physiological access to the thinking brain, because I am a rationalizer. I just wanted to talk him through it. Right? I just wanted to help him, but it never worked. And, usually, it made it worse, and I could never understand it until I started to understand the nervous system and the brain and how these things are connected, and that behavior is so biological. We just don't talk enough about that, and I'm so glad that we're starting to.

Penny Williams [00:19:29]: We're really going down this path through your work and the work of others, and it's so monumentally helpful for the adults because we're the ones who need to know it. We're the ones who need to help kids through things. Do you wanna give maybe a few classroom strategies or classroom ideas for regulation, both, I think, for the teachers, but also for kids because it can be more challenging in that environment when you have a lot of kids or Mhmm. When you're trying to get through all of the things that you're mandated to teach them. Do you have a few helpful strategies for that?

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:20:07]: Well, you know, it's really about our procedures. That's what I share with teachers and with with students. And, you know, all year long in every classroom when we have, you know, 25, 35, 40 kids in a classroom, you know, procedures are very important, and we have to teach those. You know? And, usually, as an educator, we're teaching those for a significant part at that school year. One of the things that is critically important is that we build these practices into our procedures. So I always say, what does your morning meeting? If you're gonna have a morning meeting with the class before the day starts, we sometimes call it bell work or do now or bell ringer work. Mhmm.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:20:53]: But it's really the first 10, 20 minutes of class. And it's true for middle school and it's true for high school. We have to be intentional about meeting our students where they are. So that might be a nervous system check-in. We have lots of templates and we have really fun ways for students, you know, and staff that they can check-in. And it's true for us in our home. I'll ask my students. They'll come in and I'll say, share with me a snack or a piece of candy that represents the nervous system state you're in right now.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:21:29]: So if you're in your prefrontal cortex, if you're ready to go, they'll share I've heard, like, I'm popcorn. I'm light. I love popcorn. I'm bouncing in all the best ways. I'm ready to go. In my fight or flight, I might be talkies, and so I'm feeling overwhelmed. I'm hot. I'm feeling spicy, edgy.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:21:54]: And or if I'm in shutdown, I've heard I am vanilla pudding. I am a chewed up piece of gum. I have no flavor. I wanna spit it out.

Penny Williams [00:22:05]: So good.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:22:06]: So we have lots of fun ways that we can check-in and help our students be aware of how they're interacting with the environment and then also to help get them up here into the cortex so they can access those executive functions.

Penny Williams [00:22:25]: Yeah. I love that so much. Making it so relatable for kids. And for adults. Like, neuroscience isn't always the easiest thing to understand, and we could all use some analogies and some easy ways to really identify what's going on for kids in their bodies and to get them thinking about their bodies because that is not something that I knew as a parent to do. I had no idea what interoception was. I had no idea that we should be focusing on how the body feels. And as a person with anxiety, like, I get very clear, very loud signals from my body.

Penny Williams [00:23:01]: Right? Sometimes my nervous system is like, hello. I'm not gonna let you ignore this. Right? And so for me, I guess I just imagine that everybody got the signals, and they were pretty clear, and that's just not true. I think sometimes with our neurodivergent population, we have to work even more mindfully Mhmm. On that body awareness. But just building it into the day to day. And what you're talking about too works for all kids. Right? So for teachers who are listening, this is helpful for your entire class, not just those neurodivergent kids in your class.

Penny Williams [00:23:35]: Right?

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:23:36]: Exactly. And, again, applied educational neuroscience, it's a tier one framework, but we can also build it into tier 2 and tier 3 where we can provide and be very intentional about the frequency of the practices and the intensity of the practices because we all come into this world, into our schools, into our classrooms with very different embodied experiences, different ways that we process, different ways that we learn. I think that is the work. It's to really differentiate and meet our kids where they are.

Penny Williams [00:24:14]: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. Tell everyone where they can find you and your work.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:24:20]: So I have a website that is revelations in education.com, and it could be overwhelming to anyone's nervous system just because there's so much there.

Penny Williams [00:24:33]: Yeah.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:24:34]: But it's for parents. It's for educators. Everything that we've created, I would say 90% of it or 95% of the templates in the website are free. They're downloadable, and they're yours.

Penny Williams [00:24:47]: Love that.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:24:48]: So please enjoy that. Revelationsineducation.com.

Penny Williams [00:24:52]: And we will link that up in the show notes, which are at parentingadhdandautism.com/272 for episode 272. Thank you so so much for the work that you're doing in the world, for being here and sharing some of your wisdom, and I really encourage everyone to go to Laurie's website, take advantage of these resources. The stuff that we're talking about will change your life and your kids' life. It really, really will. So I encourage everybody to do that. Thanks so much again.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D [00:25:28]: Thank you, Penny.

Penny Williams [00:25:29]: I just want to let everyone know that I'll see you on the next episode. 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 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.

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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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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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