Seeing Your Child Through a Brain-Based Lens, Not a Behavior Lens
with Eileen Devine, LCSW
Is it will or skill? Behavior challenges often look on the surface like willful acting out, but rarely ever are. Behavior is simply a symptom of the “real problem” — the lagging skill, differences in neurology, dysregulation, or misunderstanding of others. Rather than judge and react to your child’s behavior and parent through a behavior lens, it’s paramount to take into account your child’s differences — physiological brain-based differences — and let that guide your parenting. This is what licensed clinical social worker, Eileen Devine, calls a brain-based lens. In this episode of the Parenting ADHD Podcast, Eileen and I discuss challenging parenting paradigms and shifting your mindset to parent through a brain-based lens. This is the ultimate in parenting the child you have, and raising happy successful kids. Listen in now!
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EILEEN DEVINE, LCSW
Eileen Devine, LCSW has over 15 years of clinical experience and is the mother of a child with significant neurobehavioral challenges. She believes that kids do well if they can and that when we understand the way a child’s brain works, we then understand the meaning behind challenging behaviors. Eileen’s goal is to not only support parents of children with challenging behaviors in feeling more competent and confident in connecting with their child by parenting from a brain-based perspective, but to also recognize their experience as the parent of a child with extraordinary needs and the impact this has on their sense of self and well-being.
Eileen is a certified facilitator in the teaching and application of the neurobehavioral model and has also completed Tier 1 training in Think:Kids Collaborative Problem Solving. She is an instructor for the Post-Master’s Certificate in Adoption and Foster Therapy through Portland State University’s Child Welfare Partnership, training other therapists on the neurobehavioral model. Besides working one on one with parents, she is also the founder of the membership community The Resilience Room where parents come to learn more about the neurobehavioral parenting model and receive support from other parents with their same lived experience.
Thanks for joining me!
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Eileen Devine, LCSW (00:03): What if just for the next few days, every time we were not with the challenging behavior, you took that leap of faith and believed that it was about brain function and not about willful defiance. What do you think would happen? Like let's play that out and how that might look, what path that might lead you down versus jumping to the conclusion that it is willful, and what path that leads you down. Because time and time again, when parents take that leap of faith and they're like, okay, everything in my being is telling me that it's willful, but I'm going to take this leap of faith and ask that question. What if, what if this has to do with their brain working differently? What if this has to do with lagging skills every single time, it opens up new possibilities, new options in terms of how to support them in ways, in terms of responding to them and deeper connection. Like you just don't go wrong.
Intro (01:00): 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-aholic and Mindset Mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your atypical kid. Let's get started.
Penny Williams (01:29): Welcome back to the Parenting ADHD Podcast. I'm really excited to have a conversation with Eileen Devine. On this episode, we're going to talk about seeing your child through a brain-based lens instead of a behavior lens. Something that she and I are both pretty passionate about. As far as parenting kids who are differently, wired, ADHD, autism, spectrum, anything like that. This is a really crucial perspective for parents to have. Thanks for being here. Eileen, can you start just by introducing yourself, let everyone know who you are and what you do.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (02:10): Oh, sure. And thanks so much for having me. I'm really excited that are passed across and really excited to be here. So I live in Portland, Oregon. I have a private practice where I work with parents who have kids with what I call neuro behavioral challenges. So brain-based differences that result in behavioral symptoms and those behaviors are often challenging, bizarre, confusing for the parent. And I really, what I do is help them shift just what you talked about in your intro, already shift from this behavioral lens that they see their child through and help them see their child through a brain-based lens. And it will become really clear. I think, through our conversation, why I only work with the parents beyond that in my personal parenting journey, I have two kids. One is a 12 year old who society would consider neuro-typical.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (03:06): And then my daughter, who is 11 there's, only 15 months between them. She has significant neuro behavioral challenges. And so I had been in social work for a very long time, doing something completely different. And when I, when she was about three or so, I found myself going, what is going on? Why is nothing working with her? Things were working with my son. And I thought I had it nailed down on this whole parenting thing, but they were not working with her. And so that led me on this journey to figure out what does she need in terms of me parenting her differently than my son. And that's how I ended up doing this work today. And I absolutely love it.
Penny Williams (03:46): Yeah. We have a very similar path in that way that we were kind of guided by our kids and why we were looking for out there in the world, the information that we may be weren't finding or not finding enough of. It's always, I love talking to people who, who are journeys were kind of inspired by the kids that we have. I think it's really amazing. It's certainly changed who I am in a big way. Having a kid with neurobehavioral or neurodevelopmental differences, can we start by talking about what we mean when we say a brain-based lens and a behavior lens, we certainly have a very specific perspective each of us on parenting. And a lot of it is guided by society and the norms of where we live and what we've grown up around or the way that we've grown up and been parented. And I'm a huge believer that every single child, not just child with differences, needs to be parented as an individual. We need to create that journey specific to each of our kids. So when we're doing that, we need to look through this brain based lens, but we often, I think intuitively look at behavior, which you and I feel like it's the, I don't want to say wrong, but definitely not the most helpful lens. So let's start by defining the two.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (05:21): Yeah, sure. It's very, very easy to default back into that behavioral lens. As I always say, there's this lifelong journey and I will be growing in my understanding of my daughter through this brain-based lens for the rest of my life, because she requires it. And, and also our society constantly is constantly pulling us back to that behavioral lens. So if you're a parent out there listening, don't feel bad about it to default into that behavioral lens. But that neurobehavioral lens, seeing or child through a brain-based based lens, has so many benefits, improved connection for our child improved esteem. Our relationship with them just can be in such a better place when we're able to maintain that perspective. And the way that I like to begin that conversation about what it really means is to talk about what neuroscience research tells us about the brain, because then it's not my opinion or your opinion.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (06:15): It's like, no, this is actually neuroscience research telling us that when brains are altered in some way structure — there's thousands upon thousands of reasons why a brain can be changed. Then behaviors are usually the only symptoms, behaviors and brains can never be separated. And so it would make sense that if a behavior, if a brain was changed in some way that we would see behavior manifestation of that change. And that's why we say their symptoms, their behaviors are the symptoms of that physical brain-based disability. And so if we think about, well, what would we do for a child who had a physical disability say they were, they had a disability of their lower extremities where they couldn't walk? Well, of course we would provide them with accommodations. Absolutely. Nobody would argue that. And this is the same idea. We look at our child, we say, okay, they have a brain that's wired differently, works differently. However, we want to talk about it and that's a physical part of our body. And so it requires accommodations, not only do accommodations work, they help our child be more successful and settle in their environment, but it's also what's right. And what's just,
Penny Williams (07:27): Yes, absolutely. And so many people get upset when we compare the experience of ADHD or autism with those physical disabilities, like a child who cannot walk and needs a wheelchair, but it's very similar experience. Our kids have limitations in some aspects based on the differences in their brain that cause a reason for them to need some accommodation and people really don't give enough weight and value to that, to the differences, how impactful they are in our kids' lives and as adults as well.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (08:19): Yeah. I mean, what I have come to believe is that most of us have the luxury of never considering what our brain does for us every day, every second of every day. And it's not until you are parenting a child or have someone in your close circle of friends or family who have a brain who has a brain that works very, very differently. And therefore those seemingly easy cognitive tasks that we perform automatically without thinking about it, when you see that, that that's not the case for them, then you start to, to be able to recognize the full weight of how amazing our brain is and what it does for us. And also much we've always taken for granted.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (08:59): The other piece that I think really can get in the way is that because our brain is invisible to us, unlike a child, who's in a wheelchair, this disability is invisible to the outside world, our children, most of the time what we would consider neuro-typical. The only thing we see are these challenging behaviors. And so they are most at risk, the most vulnerable in terms of being misunderstood because there isn't this shift to like, Oh, let's think about, is this about will or is it about skill, right? The whole grass green kind of perspective. And most of the time it's seen as willful, intentional defiance rather than skill.
Penny Williams (09:45): I love that. Yeah. I talk a lot about looking at your child's intention. There's what the behavior looks like on the surface. And we often quickly label or judge that behavior, but was that actually the intention? Was your child's intention to be disrespectful to you, to hurt your feelings, to refuse to do homework for instance? And most of the time the intention isn't there.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (10:18): Exactly. And I also understand that for some parents, especially if there's been kind of that clash, that behavior lens clash going on for many, many years. And they're just now starting to believe that maybe there's something else going on, that it is about brain function, that it can still seem like a leap of faith to believe that your child really isn't trying to ruin everything. Isn't trying to be completely oppositional with you all the time. And so I get that. I think that's a very normal human reaction. And so I say to parents when I'm working with them and that comes up, what if, what if just for the next few days, every time you were not with a challenging behavior, you took that leap of faith and believed that it was about brain function and not about willful defiance. What do you think would happen?
Eileen Devine, LCSW (11:12): Like let's play that out and how that might look, what path that might lead you down versus jumping to the conclusion that it is willful and what path that leads you down. Because time and time again, when parents take that leap of faith and they're like, okay, everything in my being is telling me that it's willful, but I'm going to take this leap of faith and ask that question. What if this has to do with their brain working differently? What if this has to do with lagging skills every single time, it opens up new possibilities, new options in terms of how to support them, new ways in terms of responding to them and deeper connection. Like you just don't go wrong going down that path, but it is a journey for sure.
Penny Williams (11:57): So very much, yes, yes. Then when we are being mindful about it in the way that we're asking, could this be something else and what could it be? It's giving us the opportunity to remain calm, to be empathetic, to validate how our kids are feeling too. We're modeling so much more in the way that we respond. If my child is angry, he's slamming things. He's just not managing some frustration in an appropriate, healthy way. My probably biological instinct is to mirror that behavior right, to be angry in my tone, to raise my voice. But what I'm telling my child, when I do that, is that that is the way you should react when you're frustrated and angry. And that is not what we're actually reinforcing the behavior. We want to change by doing that. And it's hard to step back and really think about that. I like the phrase that we need to respond to our kids rather than react, because that really helps me define those two things in my mind say, okay, if I'm just reacting, that's not what I want to do. What I want to do is put some thought into it and be mindful of what I'm doing so that I can respond.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (13:30): Exactly. And that I think is where we get into as parents. And we all fall prey to this because we're human, our deeply held beliefs and values and how they can clash in those moments that those behaviors. And so what I'm always talking to parents about is it is a wonderful thing to want to teach your child, say responsibility for an example, like nobody would argue with that. That's the job of a parent, but when your child has failed to meet your expectations, and in that moment, you launch into lecturing and consequences and exerting your control. Are you teaching them responsibility? Are you really getting to what you want to teach them in that moment? Because not only — we could talk a lot about why they couldn't meet the expectation — was it in line with the way that their skills are, but in that moment, if you're dysregulated and they're dysregulated they can't process what you're saying. Again, neuroscience research shows us thinking brains are offline .
Eileen Devine, LCSW (14:32): You're wasting your valuable energy, trying to resolve it in that moment. So take a step back, calm things down and circle back. There's always the opportunity to circle back and lead with empathy and talk about what happened. It does not have to be in that moment. And also because of the lagging skills that your child may have, they may, it may be impossible for them to even participate in that conversation in that moment, leading to greater frustration on both sides. So while it can sound very complicated, because you and I are kind of now talking about all the different layers to this, what it comes down to really is understanding that regulation piece, the relationship piece, the lagging skills and what that means.
Penny Williams (15:16): Yeah. And one of the biggest ahas for me, and it came many years after my son's diagnosis, was the physiology of what happens when we get super emotional or have this emotional intensity that as the emotion rises and kind of floods, the cognitive part of the brain that thinks, and rationalizes is coming offline, you literally cannot physically use that cognitive area of your brain or to the best of its ability when you're flooded with emotion. And when you recognize that, no matter how much you try to rationalize or even dole out consequences, they're not processing it because they, can't not because they're having a great time melting down and flipping out because they're not right. If we really think about it in that way, if we really boil it down to not even intention, but would my child choose to have this behavior right now if they were neuro-typical and everything was firing on all cylinders?And this is where that brain-based piece really comes in, when you recognize that they're not able to use the cognitive thinking part of their brain in those moments, then that's a guide for us and that really just opens the door to the more appropriate ways to handle it that we're talking about.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (17:06): Right. And in addition to that, I often think about what cognitive skills are involved in us, just having a conversation. And I put just kind of in quotation marks, actually call this the art of having a conversation. Beause it's actually quite complicated, which is why so many of our kids at older ages struggle with this. But if you think about what if a child is a 10-second child in a one-second world, their verbal processing speed is slow. What if they have executive functioning skill problems, or challenges where they can't emotionally regulate, even on a good day, they can't manage that frustration or that emotional kind of dissonance tolerance? What if their abstract thinking is challenged? And so they have a really difficult time putting themselves in someone else's shoes and taking on someone else's perspective and understanding how their actions actually impact others.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (18:03): What if all of those things are true at baseline on a good day? And then here we are with the increased dysregulation that you've just so beautifully described in our brains being offline on top of that, that's why I always say to parents, it's our knee jerk visceral reaction to jump into lecturing, gaining control, exerting our control, showing our authority. But if you can even just a moment, have a moment to take that step back and remember all of this that we're talking about. It's like, okay, this conversation can happen. It just needs to happen a lot later. And it's all because of brain function.
Penny Williams (18:41): Yes, there was, I believe it was the episode with Rachel and Stephanie from the Learn Smarter Podcast where I believe Steph described this analogy in that conversation. We were talking about executive functioning, but this works for emotions and many other things too. If you have a water bottle and you put it under the tap and you're filling it up at the scene and you're putting more and more in it, so maybe you're asking more and more of the emotional regulation and awareness at some point it's full and it can not take any more. And what do you do in that moment? Do you keep trying to put more water in it? Are you going to succeed if you keep trying to get more into it? No, of course not. And that's a really nice analogy for kind of the intensity and the emotional flooding when they're so overwhelmingly full of emotion and dysregulation, we can't add anything to it. There's no room, there's no way for it to get in and be useful.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (20:01): Right. Oh yeah. I love that. And yeah, I've heard it also described as a fuel tank, like executive function fuel take where kids get on empty, which is also another way to visualize exactly what you're describing. And I love that. I say to parents oftentimes, like how would it feel for you to know that in those moments, your only responsibility was to keep your regulation intact and help your child regulate? Like how would that feel for you? And sometimes it's really anxiety provoking because it's like, "ah, it feels like it's not active enough." And I am here to tell all the parents, listen, it's hard work, it's hard work. It takes practice. It's very, very active practice. And it also will provide these huge benefits in terms of then being able to these conversations and these teachable moments that every parents so desperately wants to have with their kids. It just has to come later.
Penny Williams (20:55): Yeah. There's so much power to mindfulness in parenting and having an awareness and as a skill that we have to practice and build, and Dr. Mark Burton talks about mindfulness, like going to the gym, if you stop going to the gym, your muscles are going to weaken. And the same is true for practicing mindfulness, that if you do it for a little while and then, six months down the road, you don't want to practice anymore, you're done with it, it doesn't totally stick. It's something that we have to keep working on. Just like our perspective or our attitude about different things with our kids' behavior, or even our attitude about the fact that we have a child that has a disability. We can look at that in a very negative way or in a more positive way. And all of those things take this practice, practice, practice on really being aware, being aware before you respond, being aware before your face responds, even.
Penny Williams (22:12): You know, when you talked about baseline, I just wanted to run back to that for a minute because it made me think about, a parent sitting down and writing down that baseline for their child, really kind of cementing it. And I know it's something that's going to have to be fluid and will change as our kids change. But using that as my baseline is really, really helpful, even writing it down is going to help you remember it better in those moments when it's so hard to take control of ourselves and reign ourselves back as parents.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (22:55): Oh, I would agree one hundred percent. I also think the value in writing it down is that then you start to see where it shows up in your child's life, in all the different environments — so not just at home, in your relationship with them — maybe this is why they struggle in friendships. Maybe this is why they struggle at school. Maybe this is why they struggle in this particular afterschool activity, but not this one, like what's different in the environment that does or does not match kind of those baseline lagging skills that we're now aware of. And that's where accommodations then come in. So the discussion is about if I know that they have a particular hard time with this particular cognitive skill, now I know where I can kind of play that out and see where that might come up in their life and then put in accommodations, ask for accommodation, start to create accommodations so that there's no longer that poorness of fit and they can settle in that environment in ways that maybe they haven't been able to up until now.
Penny Williams (23:57): It's monumentally important that we understand our kids and at a much, much deeper level. I talk about that. We have to get to know our kids and people will say, "well, of course I know my child, I know my kid," right? But we're talking about a much, much deeper understanding of our kids in the way that their brain functions and all of these different aspects and sensory input and the response that we have neurologically to that in executive functioning and thinking and processing speed and processing language and emotion, like everything, our brain controls everything about our being. And when we think about it in those terms, it's so amazingly powerful because now when my child is super smart, but he never ever writes down his homework or turns in his homework, if he does it, I understand why, instead of judging that he's lazy, which would be that behavior lens, I'm understanding what's going on in his brain that makes that more difficult for him. And then I can find ways to accommodate just as you were talking about.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (25:17): Right. Right. And the other piece that I would add to that is that I think the other thing that I've seen in my own parenting journey and with the parents that I've worked with is that once they start to see these new kind of layers of understanding about their child, where those lagging skills are, then they also start to understand the full weight of it and they can't unsee it. And I think that is a good thing because it's critical to, to our relationship with our child and their success and their ability to settle. And also there can be a lot of grief and sadness that accompanies that, right? Like for example, I know that my child always had a bad memory, but my goodness, they cannot remember this routine that they literally do on a daily basis without me reminding them on a daily basis. And when they understand that that's where their child's challenges with learning and memory really are right now, it can be like, Oh, what does this mean for them? What does it mean for me? Right. We can do a lot of future tripping and that kind of thing. And so wanting to recognize that, and also how important it is to try to pull yourself back from that and know that with those accommodations, with that new understanding, there is much more there than anyone leads us to believe about our kids.
Penny Williams (26:41): Oh, it's such a relief. When you finally really understand your child's behaviors and where they're coming from on a neurological basis, it's a huge weight lifted because I think with that sort of behavior judgment, those the way that we label it and talk about it and use language that really denotes character fall, it's very emotionally heavy for us to say, I have this lazy disrespectful kid, right. When you think about it, that way, it does not feel good. And you're desperate. I think, to change the behavior then, and not really acting from a very clear thinking space, but when you understand it, truly understand it, it's just so much more clear, which then makes it, I don't want to say easier, but it really is easier. It's not easy, but it is easier. And emotionally, we're not really struggling with that friction of thinking that it's willful instead of understanding that it's the brain.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (27:57): Yup. Yup. It leads you on a completely different path with your child and your relationship with them. It's interesting. Right? Because we've just described this and we talk about it as you and I have been immersed in this work for a while. And so we can say without a doubt that it's not easy, but it's easier. And there's so much hope there, improved relationships, all that kind of stuff. And also, I remember what it was like when I was completely lost, trying to go, what the heck is going on. And what you talked about in terms of the benefits of meditation and what I think of it as just nervous system health, building your nervous system health, and really it's building your resilience. That's why that is so important. And I feel like in the beginning of my journey, if someone would have told me these little things that you do every day actually do make a difference...
Eileen Devine, LCSW (28:49): even if they're just these small drops in the bucket, they're actually big drops and keep doing them. I would have been like, "seriously?" But now I know having the benefit of looking back like, Oh my goodness, that's what we're talking about is resiliency, nervous system health, and being able to then stay regulated more of the time. Right. That's in a very easy, easy nutshell, but that's why I talk about this as lifelong work. Right. And I choose to have that be liberating. Like, okay, I don't have to have it perfect. I don't have to know everything. I don't have to have it everything right in this moment because this is a journey I continue to grow in my understanding for the rest of my life.
Penny Williams (29:30): There's no deadline. I love that. I hadn't really thought about it in that way, because we do think about these milestones for our kids. And we have a whole list of things that we think have to be in place or have happened before you reach that milestone. For instance, my son is going to me 18 this year and when he was littler and we understood less, we found ourselves saying, well, he's going to be an adult. He's going to have to do this or that, or be able to do this or that. And while that's true, it doesn't have to be at 18. Who said it has to be at 18. He's certainly not going to move out and be totally self-sufficient the day he turns 18. So why am I so worried about that deadline? It's really self-imposed and so freeing to let go of just those little things, just the tiny little things like my kid should be able to move away from home when he's 18.
Penny Williams (30:37): Well, no, he shouldn't necessarily, it may not be right for him. And that's okay. And that's such a relief. I've coached parents who had high school seniors, and were like, "in a few months, my kid has to go away to college and how are we going to do this? How is he going to succeed? We have to teach him all of these skills before that happens." And I'm like, "Whoa, first you need to ask, is this timing right for my kid? Is this really what is appropriate and doable at this moment?" And for some kids with differences, it is — I'm not saying that no child with ADHD or autism or neurobehavioral differences can go to college right out of high school and succeed. That's totally not true. But for a lot of our kids, that timing, that deadline just isn't right for them. Maybe four year university isn't right for them. I've talked a lot about that recently on the podcast, because for my own son, that's not the path that he wants to take. And I feel now completely at peace with that, that he can still be a successful, happy adult without having a four year degree. When my kids were babies, I would have thought that absolutely they must have four year degrees or their life is going to be ruined and wasted. It's all these shifts.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (32:07): Yeah. I think that's why this work is so complicated. This is exactly by the way, why I only work with parents.
Penny Williams (32:14): Yes!
Eileen Devine, LCSW (32:16): Parents asked me to work with their kids. I'm like, "well, no, that's not how this works. Your kids are who they are. It's unfortunately about us doing all this hard work and really getting clear about what our deeply held beliefs and values are." You just very, very beautifully articulated some of that kind of stuff. That's not the only way, like where did that belief and that value come from? And we all have them in parenting. These kids make us even more aware of what those are, but I had a very similar experience. My daughter's 11, so younger than your son, but when she was very little one of our extended family members said, do you think we were just starting to get an understanding of the significance of her challenges? And she said, do you think she'll ever be able to live independently? And I was shocked by that question. It had not occurred to me. My first reaction was of course, defensiveness and like, absolutely she will because that's what kids do. That's what my kids do. And now that she's 11 we'll see how that goes. She could surprise us and live completely independently. Chances are, she won't, she'll need some level of support, but that's that long journey of acceptance and long journey of understanding where she is and where I need to adjust to support her. And I always talk to parents about the quickest path to burnout is not understanding where your expectations are in comparison to where your child's skills are. When that gap is great and as kids get older, it usually widens because the expectations for our kids rise exponentially as they get older and they may be on their own trajectory, their own unique path. And if parents really can't get clear on that, then that is going to lead to burnout faster than anything else that I can imagine.
Penny Williams (34:13): Yes. Expectations that are defined based on our kids' neurology and that are doable for our kids, achievable, make such a huge difference. And when we're not stressing so much about that future stuff, we're really leaving more room to work on what's happening right now and working on what's happening right now, those skills will automatically influence that future thing that we're so engrossed with worrying about. Like, will your daughter be able to live on her own someday? If all you do is worry about that right now, you don't have any space to work on the skills that may mean that she could, right? We get so caught up and we use up all of that space and energy for things that aren't helpful instead of kind of taking a step back and saying, "okay, today or this week, where are we, what do we need to do?"
Penny Williams (35:18): And my son has really struggled with school always, but this year in high school, his junior year has been the most monumentally difficult. And he has probably threatened to quit or say he's quitting 30 or 40 times, I would say, in the last months, easily. And he did quit going in person earlier in the year. He just said, "I can't do it anymore." And he's just so done with struggling so much to be understood, to be able to succeed, to fit in that environment has been really, really challenging for him. So I have been trying to kind of take a step back and say, okay, right now we have these four classes we need to get through them. They all count for graduation, right? And we're having everything shifting at home. It's been so, so much harder to get him to do it because he struggled with school refusal since fourth grade.
Penny Williams (36:24): So for years we've dealt with that, but now it's not even a matter of getting him somewhere. It's a matter of getting him to do school at home and get online and be willing. And there have been weeks where he didn't do any work all week. And then we spent maybe Sunday doing this big intensive school day to get caught up on things which to me would be so much more stressful and harder. And it is, as the parent watching, that it's so much more stressful, but for him, it was what he needed. He needed a few days to just say, I'm not going to do any of this stuff because today I just need to chill and I need to control my emotions about what's going on in the world. And all of those things that also are weighing really heavily.
Penny Williams (37:15): And I had to do a lot of work to really stop pushing. And I'll say, I didn't stop for sure, because now he's just finished his classes for this year, Monday. So now he only has three classes to graduate. He's going to be able to finish high school in a shorter amount of time. For me, it's been like, the end is right there. Why are you not reaching for it? And to really understand his perspective and be able to push enough to stay on track, but not so much that I just forced him to shut down, which happens. So, people like us who really understand this, who really work in it, we're very engrossed at looking at the neurology and understanding our kids. We even have times where we fall into old patterns. Where we are not doing the very best that we could be doing with what we know, it's just human nature. So I want to be sure that we let parents know, you're never going to be the perfect parent. You're never going to be able to step back and respond rather than react, and think about all these layers that we've just talked about in every situation, you're just not.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (38:37): Right. No, it's not, that would be a level of perfection that I'm sorry, but none of us can attain.
Penny Williams (38:46): No such thing as perfect.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (38:48): Right. Right. I know you and I talked briefly before we hit record about the membership community I have called the resilience room and it's for parents of kids with neurobehavioral challenges. And my reason for creating that community was that parents felt alone. I would have parents saying to me, "no one would believe me if I told them what their day, what my day was like today. "And I'm like, "Oh yeah, there's others." I just talked to someone last hour. They would understand. So I thought I need to bring these parents together. But the other reason why, and maybe the greater reason why, was because I understand intimately how hard it is to stay on this neurobehavioral brain-based path of parenting day in and day out. You have to have these touchstones. You have to have a community of people who see their kids through the same lens, right? Their kids aren't just ruining everything and disrespectful and all those very behavioral-lens, judgmental words. They can come to the conversation with "this happened last night. I'm curious about these things. Do you have any suggestions for me on what could be going on from this brain-based lens?" And so having that community makes you of course feel less alone, but also helps you stay on that path when you feel like you're about to go off the rails down the behavioral path, which again, happens to all of us from time to time.
Penny Williams (40:12): Yeah. And you and I do this work, we're thinking about this almost all day, most days of the week, right? Where we're entrenched in looking at this brain-based lens and what behavior means and behavior is a symptom and all these things. And most parents are not, most parents have another job or they're doing something different with the majority of their day. And so that gives you even greater level of having to practice it and having to be mindful of what you're doing and to reach out to the community and say, "this is my challenge. Can somebody help me? Because I'm losing it." I have this private Facebook group, which I think today will hit 5,000 people in the community. And so often the posts will start with, "I'm about to lose it, right? I'm about to lose it. This behavior is happening." And we need a place to be able to speak that truth and be authentic, but also to get the right advice and support and even wisdom from parents who are ahead of us in this journey. Parents who have older kids is really valuable too. And just to keep your focus in the right place and then your attitude and the right perspective, too. I love that you have the resilience room and resilience is so hard. It's hard for us when we have childhood kids with differences, we need that extra support for that.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (41:54): Yeah. I was going to say it is hard. There's many things that can chip away at it pretty quickly in this parent teen experience. And also it's absolutely necessary. I mean, our lives literally depend on it. That could be a whole other podcast.
Penny Williams (42:09): Yes. Because the way we manage stress and even the way we think about negative things that happen to us, it's affecting our physical health, our mental health or emotional health. And I do have podcast episodes on that because it was a journey that I took fairly recently and it really changed my life. And it really helps my whole family when I stopped thinking as though I'm the victim and everything happens to me and I have no control over anything. And I just wasn't meant to be happy, which is what I actually thought until age 40. Talk about relief and weight being lifted. When you realize that it's all about your perspective and your attitude and that you do have control that you do have control of a lot of things that we often just automatically assume we don't.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (43:00): Right. Well, and I love hearing about your Facebook group and the shifting of perspectives that you do in there, because I also say to parents and others that research has shown us over and over again that compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout is not only real, but it is contagious. And so I say, choose your support wisely. So if you're in a group where that perspective shifting is not happening, and it's just kind of like venting, venting, venting with no,one saying, "Oh, that's so hard." They see you, they hear you. That's really important. And also "how can we get you to a better place? How can we help you in your child get to a better place," then that's only going to bring you down further. So those parents keeping that in mind, choose your support wisely.
Penny Williams (43:44): Yes, I did an episode on the language that we use to describe our kids and their behavior and really being mindful of it and shifting it. So instead of saying my kid's disrespectful, I might say my child's having a hard time managing his frustration and it's coming out in the way that he's talking to me because he's dysregulated. And I had a listener email me and say that after listening to that episode, she left a Facebook support group on ADHD, parenting kids with ADHD, because it was exactly that, it was all really negative. And she said that she found herself using that language, getting sucked into it because it was kind of this machine and you're getting that taste of it constantly in your feed. And so she actually left the group because she realized that it really was pulling her down and causing her to then, have that same perspective or use that same language for her own son.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (44:54): Yep. Our language is powerful. No doubt about it.
Penny Williams (44:57): It's amazing. I've talked about this before on the podcast, but I've always thought that this was kind of hippy dippy stuff, like practicing optimism. And just thinking about the way that we look at the world, thinking about our own attitude, perspective, and thoughts, and they are so monumentally powerful. And I never believed that until I got to a breaking point and had to say, "okay, I'm going to figure out a different way. I'm not going to be this person. I don't want to be this person anymore. I want a better life experience." And then when I really started getting into it, I realized that it's monumentally powerful. And then I think, "Oh my gosh, I wasted four decades of some Negative Nellie when I could have been happier." But we really do have so much power in our thoughts, even the thoughts that we think and we don't share with anyone else.
Eileen Devine, LCSW (45:58): Well, and you didn't know what you didn't know I tel parents all the time. And that was certainly for me, which is why you and I both do this work. And then when you can do better you do better. So anyone that's listening out there that is feeling we can be so hard on ourselves. And that lack of compassion for our journey and our learning curve and the shame that can come with not knowing what we didn't know. So be gentle with yourself.
Penny Williams (46:31): We're outlining a perfect world here. And we have to be very clear that it can't be perfect. You have to have times where you give yourself some grace, you're going to make mistakes. That's just being human. And while we can outline best case scenario here talking about it, that's not real life and it's not even real life for us. We even trip up sometimes too. And I just want to hammer that home a little harder for everyone so they can give themselves some grace. I so appreciate the time and the wisdom and the lived experience that you've shared with everyone here. It's so valuable, so many good insights that can help parents start to make a similar shift to the shifts that you and I have made. We're seeing more success through that shift as well. For links to connect with Eileen her website, her resilience memembership community, Facebook and Instagram. All those links will be in the show notes and you can get those show notes at parentingadhdandautism.com/093. I thank you again Eileen, it was so great to have this conversation with you and get connected. Thank you so much. I've enjoyed our conversation a lot. So I appreciate you being here. With that, I will end the episode and I will see everyone next time.
Outro (48:11): 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.
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