The “Why” Behind Tantrums and Meltdowns with guest Dr. Ashley Taylor

About this Episode

Are your child’s temper tantrums and meltdowns stressing you out? Then this episode of Brainy Moms is for you. Dr. Amy and Teri interviewed Dr. Ashley Taylor, a child psychologist and author of two books that explain the why behind a child’s tantrums.

Dr. Taylor tells listeners how to look for the meaning behind these behaviors, what’s happening in the brain that helps explain tantrums, and the importance of regulating our own emotions when our kids are upset—a process called co-regulation.  She talks about praise, sleep, screen time, and even diet in relation to your child’s ability to regulate their emotions. Want to understand your child’s behavior better? Listen in!

About Dr. Taylor

Dr. Taylor is a pediatric psychologist specializing in supporting children and families learning about and understanding their brain, developing brain-based regulation skills and fostering an understanding of how their brain grows, changes and develops through relationships and experiences with others. In addition to authoring two books, she’s the founder and executive director of Wonder Tree Developmental Psychology, is licensed in California in Washington, and is endorsed as an infant and early childhood mental health specialist. She’s also a mom to two boys and loves getting outdoors with her family. 

Connect with Dr. Taylor

Instagram: @thewhybehindbehaviors
Website: https://wondertree-dp.com/

Mentioned in this Episode

Buy Dr. Taylor’s books:
The Why Behind Classroom Behaviors 
Creating Sensory Smart Classrooms
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Read the transcript for this episode:

The “Why” Behind Tantrums and Meltdowns
with guest Dr. Ashley Taylor

Dr. Amy Moore:

Hi, and welcome to this episode of Brainy Moms. I’m Dr. Amy Moore here with my co-host Teri Miller coming to you today from Colorado Springs, Colorado. We are super excited to introduce our guest today, Dr. Ashley Taylor. Dr. Taylor is a pediatric psychologist specializing in supporting children and families learning about and understanding their brain, developing brain-based regulation skills and fostering an understanding of how their brain grows, changes and develops through relationships and experiences with others. In addition to authoring two books, she’s the founder and executive director of Wonder Tree Developmental Psychology is licensed in California in Washington, and is endorsed as an infant and early childhood mental health specialist. She’s also a mom to two boys and loves getting outdoors with her family. In fact, she’s a snowboarder and skier as well, which we just talked about being from Colorado.

Teri Miller:

Yeah. So, I want to hear about sort of your family story. What brought you to where you are today before we even get into the information. We love to give our listeners a little background, what brought you to this point?

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Sure. So, I am originally from Massachusetts. I grew up on the east coast and had the opportunity to meet wonderful people and go spend time in the outdoors. And one of the reasons why I got into psychology and especially with helping children is because I’ve seen throughout my family history, the impact of multi-generational trauma and how you see that sort of passed down through the generations. And so I really wanted, from a young age, I really wanted to work with children and families and help to break that cycle that we see. And so I’ve had the opportunity to move out to the west coast and learn from many wonderful people and providers and meet wonderful people. I’ve had the opportunity to really grow and learn and is become endorsed as an infant and early childhood mental health specialist with sort of that lens of being able to help families break that cycle of trauma or whatever it is that they’re experiencing, that’s impacting their ability to thrive.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

And my passion with working with the little ones is that, from what we know the brain is still developing and growing and changing so much in those early childhood zero to five age ranges that you can really have the opportunity to get in there and make those new connections in their brain and help them with that early intervention and prevention. So, I love to see that. And luckily from what we know more and more, we’re learning about the brain and neuroplasticity, the older we get, that’s still possible. So, that’s really exciting as well. But yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So, Teri and I are neuroplasticity clinical researchers. And so when you think about neuroplasticity, we typically think about it when we’re talking about thinking and learning, but it also, our brain is also plastic when it comes to behavior. And so I think as parents, some of the biggest challenges that we face as parents is managing or dealing with, or responding to our children’s behaviors. And so talk to us a little bit about why it’s important that we know the why behind the behaviors and what kids are trying to communicate with us through their behavior.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Sure. Yeah. So, so much what we see is the behavior. So, we see that’s the surface layer of what we’re seeing, but oftentimes there’s so much underneath that, that we don’t see. You’ve probably seen like the iceberg of anger, the iceberg of emotion and the tip of the iceberg is what we see. And there’s so much underneath the water underneath the surface that’s going on that might be causing or impacting the behavior. And so having that sort of lens of curiosity, if you see your child tantruming in the toy aisle at target, why? Of course they want the toy, but what’s going on there that’s sort of impacting their regulation or their ability to handle that frustration, that they can’t get that toy in that moment for example.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

If your child’s struggling in school or that something, whatever that is that comes up instead of just focusing on the behavior and trying to fix the behavior, first ask why, what’s going on underneath the behavior that’s causing my child to react in this way? And so we talk about that a lot in the books in terms of how do we ask why? What questions should we ask? In what way can we be curious? And what if we don’t know? What do we do in those moments when we don’t know what’s going on?

Dr. Amy Moore:

And so you’re saying, we need to ask ourselves why not ask our child why.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Exactly.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Okay. I mean, we need to clarify that. Why are you acting like this? That is not what you’re saying.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Yeah, no, don’t ask your child. Because chances are they don’t know. And that wouldn’t help, but asking yourselves why sort of internally will help you to have that sort of lens of curiosity and openness before reacting. So, getting a little bit of space there in between seeing child behavior and your reaction and developing that ability to pause and just stay curious and open. And one thing I’ve found that’s helped me a lot is a strategy that I use called when in doubt, describe. And I’ve been there, my child’s tantruming in the toy aisle at target or whatever it is, not wanting to brush their teeth or not sitting and eating dinner at the dinner table or whatever it is. You have that immediate reaction, like cut it out.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

I don’t want to deal. You’re making a scene or whatever it is, but having that moment to pause and reflect and be like, okay, my child is experiencing something right now. I don’t know what it is. So, I’ve used the technique when in doubt, describe. And so I’ll just sort of be a sportscaster and say like, oh, I see you’re on the floor. You’re screaming, something’s going on here. And so just describing the behavior that you’re seeing without any judgment, but you’re just sort of stating the facts of what’s in front of you. And that gives you a moment to sort of collect your thoughts and think about what is going on here. It also helps with the integration, I think, of left in the right side of the brains. You’re giving words to a felt experience. And that also gives you a few seconds to plan for yourself, how you want to respond to this situation and what you want to do next.

Teri Miller:

So, you talk about, I’m thinking as you’re describing that you talk about co-regulation and how to create systems of co-regulation. And I’m thinking about that tantrum and that I can imagine, I mean, as a parent, we’ve all done this. Kids throw a tantrum in the grocery store, in the toy aisle. And my reaction for so many of us, our reaction, is to get hyped up with it. Like, oh my gosh, this is not acceptable. My heart starts to race. I’m embarrassed. People are looking. And I get as dysregulated or unregulated as my child. So, tell us about co-regulation and how that can be different and make a difference.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Yeah. So, yeah, co-regulation is a really awesome and interesting concept, I think. So often we hear self-regulation and we have to develop our child’s ability to regulate themselves on their own, but co-regulation really needs to come first. And so having that opportunity to … and the first step is really regulating yourself, because of mirror neurons that there’s more and more research coming out on mirror neurons. But one of the interesting things, like if you think about yourself flying in an airplane and there’s turbulence and everyone around you starts getting stressed and that’s contagious, that rubs off on you because of partly because of mirror neurons. And so it helps us, these mirror neurons help us understand and feel in a sense, something that’s going on that might not even be what’s going on with us, might be going on with someone that we’re observing.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

And so our children’s emotions can be contagious for us and our emotions can be contagious for those around us. So, the first step with co-regulation is building that awareness and that insight into your own state of regulation as a parent and how that’s impacting those around you. And I’ve seen it quite a bit with myself and my family, if I’m frustrated or if I’m stressed out or exhausted, first of all, my tolerance for handling my kids’ behaviors is a lot less, but that also rubs off on them as well. And if I’m able to take a few minutes and regulate myself and get into a calmer state of regulation, then that also rubs off on the child.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

So, if we’re able to engage in that regulation between, we call it the diad. So, the parent child diad, or whatever relationship you’re in, if it’s a teacher student, partners, that diad, the regulation between those two people is what that co-regulation is. And so you can change your state of regulation and you can change your child’s state of regulation just by changing your own. And so that’s a really powerful tool that I think is often … it’s hard to know how to implement that and use in the moment, but it can make a really big difference.

Teri Miller:

Could you just give me three practical suggestions for a mom? I love you said when in doubt, describe. Okay, so that’s one I’m going to stop and I may speak it to my child, or I may just think it to myself. I’m going to describe what’s happening. Give me two other suggestions, how can I calm myself down?

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Yeah. So, another one I really like is be a mirror and not a sponge. And so this is something I learned actually in graduate school to become a psychologist. If you think about moms that we’re really susceptible and people who work in helping professions, and moms especially, we’re really susceptible to burnout. And I think especially right now, during COVID and everything that we’ve had to do with managing everything, being a mirror and not a sponge to protect ourselves from absorbing other people’s emotions or other people’s experiences. And so it’s sort of this conscious effort you have to take to be like, okay, I’m being a sponge, I’m absorbing everything around me and it’s really stressing me out. And so even just sort of having the mental image of being a mirror instead, and I’m going to reflect this back to you.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

It’s not mine, it’s yours. I’m reflecting it back. And so that can be a really sort of helpful visual or tool to notice. And again, build that sort of insight into what you are feeling and how you’re navigating the situation and noticing when you’re absorbing everything and making a conscious effort to reflect it back. So, that’s another strategy that I really like to use and sort of an image that can help as well. And then another thing too, is this idea of just sort of knowing, and we may talk about this a little bit more, but just having the information about what a meltdown is like and sort of knowing what this meltdown curve is and how it’s not going to last forever. And knowing when you can sort of jump in and intervene, knowing when it’s too late and that you’re sort of past the point of the opportunity to change the meltdown or make it less, and that you just sort of have to ride it out. And so knowing what to do in each of those moments can make a big difference as well.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So, I want to come back to that in just a few minutes, but I think one of the things that moms might struggle with is why do I need to regulate myself? If my child is misbehaving, then I’m just going to implement consequence right here and right now and take care of it. So, talk to us a little bit about what’s happening in the young brain that is creating this dysregulation or why can kids not control their emotions when they’re disappointed? Help a mom understand what’s happening with her child so that maybe there’s a little bit of empathy there. Maybe there’s some more motivation than to buy into this idea of, hey, maybe I need to practice co-regulation in the moment.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Yeah. So, there’s so many different factors that go into why a child is dysregulated. It could be the sensory environment. We all have different sensory tolerances for sensory input, whether it’s visual, auditory, how you sort of tactile how we feel temperature. And so when you think about going into target, for example, there’s so much sensory input coming at you, there’s so many colors and so many toys and so many sounds and so many amazing, exciting things that, that in and of itself can be really overwhelming to a little person’s nervous system. And so they’re trying to take in and process all that sensory information. So, that could be one area that’s causing that dysregulation. Of course we want to look at if they’re tired, if they’re hungry and another thing is that sometimes kids just want what they want and they want that toy and they want it right away.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

And so that sort of ability to delay gratification is a skill that needs to be developed over time, same with frustration tolerance. So, when they’re being told no and their ability to handle that and handle that frustration around not being able to get what they want, those are all skills that little ones need to develop over time. And so if I see my kid’s throwing a fit because you can’t get whatever Star Wars toy he wants in that moment, that’s a sign to me that he’s really disappointed, first of all, because he wanted that toy, but he is got some areas that he needs to develop some skills in. So, frustration tolerance, delayed gratification. And so when I have that understanding of those particular areas where he needs to develop those skills, then that helps me focus on helping him build those skills, rather than just setting a consequence.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Like if you throw a fit where you can never get the toy or whatever, we’ve all been there moments, but rather than just focusing solely on the behavior, being able to understand what’s underneath it and what skill needs to be developed to support their ability to regulate in that moment. So, for us as moms, having that sort of awareness in that empathy of like, okay, my child’s struggling in this moment because he doesn’t have the skills to handle it. Then that helps us to regulate with them and say like, I know this is really frustrating right now, and I’m sorry you can’t get it, but let’s take a picture of it and we’ll work towards it, something like that. So, there’s sort of a plan there, something that you can help them work towards developing in the future.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah. And I think that you just hit on a key point that we can’t just teach them the skill and then expect them to use it. That we have to have developmentally appropriate expectations. And you talk about this expectation gap in terms of, well, what can I expect my child to be able to do now versus 10 years from now? But talk a little bit about that expectation gap and how that applies here.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Yeah. So, the expectation gap is a really helpful tool that I use all the time with my kids. If something’s going on at school or they’re having a hard time getting all their homework done or something happened with friends. I think for me as a mom, we have a tendency to jump in and be like, how do I fix this for my child? What can I do? Or should I call the teacher? Or should I do this? Instead of just sort of jumping in and trying to fix this situation, we want to look at this idea of an expectation gap. So, when we see our child is struggling in a certain way, there’s two things that we want to look at. So, what are the demands or the expectations in the environment? And then what are the skills that my child has and is there a gap between them?

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

And so that gap is usually sort of a recipe for behavioral problems. The frustration that we see, the anger, the meltdowns, or the sadness or whatever it is that we’re seeing is because there’s typically a pretty big gap between the expectations of the environment and the skills of our child. And so another simple example is that we want to sit down and have a family dinner and we’re going to sit for an hour and eat and talk and whatever. If you’ve got a five year old boy, like I do, you know that’s a really big expectation. Expectation for my five year old boy and his ability to sit and have a family dinner for an hour. That’s a pretty big gap. And so there’s two things that we need to do. So, one is reduce the demands of the environment and build his skills internally so that he can meet the demands.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

And so that he can feel successful in that moment. And then over time, as he’s building those skills, you can increase the demands and ultimately be successful in any environment that he’s in. But that’s sort of the idea behind the expectation gap is we want to look at, okay, what’s going on in the environment that might be too much for my child to handle right now? What’s going on with my child or the skills that they have or they don’t have, that’s impacting their ability to reach the goals of the environment and how can we adjust both so that my child can feel successful in that moment?

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

So, whether in the example, okay, we’re going to reduce it in the demands and start with 15 minutes. And then once you’re successful there, we know we can increase it, but then also giving him internal tools so that he can sit and have dinner for longer periods of time. And so using a visual timer so he can see, okay, I’ve got a visual idea of how many minutes I’m going to be sitting here. Getting some more engaging activities at the dinner table to keep him interested and involved. So, different ideas like that, that will help him build his internal skills to be able to navigate whatever environment he’s in. But first we got to look at both of those pieces, the environment and the child, and how can we support them in meeting in the middle?

Dr. Amy Moore:

And so you’re saying don’t spend the dinner time complaining with your husband about each other’s jobs and the bad day you have, if your expectation is that you want your five year old to be participatory as well.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Yeah, exactly.

Dr. Amy Moore:

We have to adjust our behaviors sometimes in order to help our children then.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Right.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Okay.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Exactly. Yes. And so looking at your behaviors and how those are interacting with your children’s because if … exactly, if you’re talking about the stress that you’ve been through and everything that you’ve been going through the day, that again is going to rub off on your children and it’s going to make it harder for them to feel regulated in that moment as well.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Because of mirror neurons.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Mirror neurons.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Right. And so listeners, if you are not familiar with a mirror neuron, and I’m saying M-I-R-R-O-R, mirror, like when you look in the mirror, I’m sure that you’ve experienced seeing someone else yawn and then you yawn as well. That is because the mirror neurons in your brain are triggering that. And so we are talking about this with more behaviors than just yawning.

Teri Miller:

And that I love how you talked about Dr. Taylor in your book. You talked about that we have different levels of activation of our mirror neurons, depending on our personality, depending on our upbringing, that everyone is different. And so a child or a parent that tends to be more empathetic may have more of that mirror neuron effect and a child that’s a little more maybe withdrawn and doesn’t connect as well. They’re not going to have that responsiveness. And I just appreciated how you talked about that we’re all different. And it’s very important and valuable to recognize that, that every child is going to be different, that gap you’re talking about, that’s going to be different for every child. I think we all, as parents want to chart, tell me, what’s the expectation? What’s the gap? I want to chart that’s the same for everyone. Every kid’s going to be different. True?

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Oh yeah. And that’s what makes it so challenging. Because even within the same family. I’ve got two boys that they’re completely opposite. So, I was like, you got to figure out how to parent one child and then parent the other child. And yeah, it’s exhausting. One of the things I like to think a little bit about is temperament and the temperament of your child and then your own temperament. And is there a match or is there a mismatch because that can also impact your co-regulation with each other as well. And so there’s a great book out there, something about dandelion children and orchid children.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

And one of the things I love is thinking about that, am I on dandelion as a mom? Am I dandelion or am I an orchid? And then being able to identify that for your children for each child, is this child a dandelion or is this child in orchid? So, if you think about orchids, they need just the right amount of water, just the right amount of humidity, the environment needs to be just right for them to thrive. Whereas dandelions are popping up everywhere and they can be successful really in any environment. And so are you an orchid mom and you’ve got two dandelion kids, are you a dandelion mom and you’ve got an orchid kid? Then that’s going to impact your co-regulation as well.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So, I want to go back to the idea of the meltdown and the lifespan of the meltdown.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Yes.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Or the life cycle. I am sure every parent has experienced at least one meltdown and has noticed that once a child gets past the point of no return, there is nothing you can say or do that’s going to bring him back in. Right?

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Yeah. No. And that can be kind of freeing in a way, even though it’s hard to do, it can be hard to deal with, especially if, I know for me, I’m really sensitive to noise. And so if my child is screaming or whining, it can like grate on my nerves, which can be challenging, but there is sort of that point of no return with a meltdown that you do. You just have to ride it out and give them space until they get back to that sort of calm baseline. One of the things I think we talk a lot of about the zones of regulation, the red zone, green zone, blue zone, and how that’s related to our nervous system arousal. And so if we are in that sort of moment of hyper nervous system activation, there’s not a lot you can say, there’s not a lot you can help your child reason.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

That’s not the time to do problem solving. You have to wait until they’re back into that sort of green zone, calm state of regulation to help them. That’s when you sort of circle back around when everyone’s in a calm state, a green zone state, that’s when you can go back and be like, that was rough. How can we do this differently next time? Or how can we problem solve this in different ways so this doesn’t happen again? But yeah, once they’re at that moment of the meltdown curve, there’s a sort of a point of no return, you just have to create a safe space for them to ride it out and then circle back around.

Teri Miller:

That’s a hard one. That is such a hard one. I’m hearing you and thinking, oh yeah. I mean, I’ve gotten a lot better with particularly one of our children that has, she just has a lot of struggles and that’s been really hard to learn that when she’s already in a tantrum, there’s just not much I can do. And that is such a hard thing as a parent. If your child is pitching a fit in a store, and what if they’re pulling things off the shelf? I don’t know that there are any easy answers, but I’ve personally experienced that trying to intervene escalates it does not deescalate.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Right. And it’s going to be different for every kid too, in terms of what’s going on for them internally. But I’ve had the opportunity to work with Tina Payne Bryson who wrote The Whole-Brain Child. And a lot of what she talks about in that book is the upstairs in the downstairs brain. And when you get into that dysregulated state, it really does sort of cut off communication to the upstairs brain where all that good problem solving access to language, your ability to express yourself and communicate, and yes, come up with new ideas. It’s cut off.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

And so when you’re in that dysregulated state trying to talk or reason, or set consequences or whatever it is, it really will just escalate the situation even more. And so trying to focus on nonverbal messages of safety, think more about sensory motor messages of that communicate safety. Look at your own body language. How are you presenting yourself? Is it coming off as threatening or safe? And then think about sensory strategies for regulation that target that lower part of the brain. That will help as well get back to that green zone.

Teri Miller:

Nice.

Dr. Amy Moore:

And can you talk to us about a couple of those?

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Yeah. So, again, it’s going to vary depending on what’s regulating for your child. And so these can actually be really fun activities to do when everyone ones in a green zone state, you can all come up with your own sort of sensory kit. And so getting a box and experimenting with different things that are sensory that are regulating to your nervous system and that are dysregulating so that you know. And you can build that insight and awareness for yourself and for your children. So, I know, so like eating crunchy food can be regulating or some kids really need noise canceling headphones. Some kids might benefit from like hugs. Some kids might need space. Hugs might be dysregulating for some kids and other kids they might need that. And so sort of experimenting with different types of sensory input that will help with down regulating, calming down the nervous system and activating that sort of calm sense or that calm state.

Dr. Amy Moore:

And do you find value in therapeutic breath work, like teaching children breathing exercises?

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Yes and no. I think there are certainly kids that benefit from it. I think if it’s … the challenge is if you’re in a dysregulated state and your parents telling you to do your breathing, that often backfires.

Teri Miller:

Yes, that’s been my experience

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

It’s not going to work. It doesn’t work. And so if it could, because knowing … So, breathing itself is a downstairs brain thing. It’s not something you think about and you do it sort of naturally, but controlling your breathing is an upstairs brain thing. And so it’s more, it takes some more of that cognitive control and regulation to be able to do it. So, if you’re in a dysregulated state and it’s not already integrated, then it’s going to be much harder to do it. And so, again with that, what I would suggest is don’t try to do it when you’re in the meltdown curve.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Again, that can be part of your sort of sensory toolkit that you integrate into your daily life. And just sort of throughout the day when everyone’s sort of regulated, it just sort of becomes part of the schedule then that will make it more of an integrated tool that the brain will sort of more automatically be able to use. And then there’s, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Dr. Stephen Porges, he talks a lot about the polyvagal theory and how to activate the vagus nerve to help regulate the nervous system. And so having a really long exhale is something that can help to regulate the nervous system. So, teaching kids and if you’re just focusing on one thing, having a really long exhale is a something that might be beneficial for them.

Teri Miller:

That’s awesome. Okay. I want to look that one up. Thank you.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Yeah. And he has a program that he’s developed called the safe and sound protocol and integrated listening system. That’s designed, that’s sort of music that’s designed to help activate regulating sort of the parasympathetic nervous system to help activate a sense of calm, which is really interesting.

Teri Miller:

Okay. Talk to us about the influence of sleep, diet and screens on regulation. Because now I’m kind of backing it up and thinking, what are the things that might be triggering my child? What are the things that are in her life that are just setting her up for these tantrums that are maybe coming more frequently or even infrequently, if I can know the triggers, could I stop it before it starts? What are those?

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Exactly. Yeah. So, that’s a really good way to help sort of be preventative in terms of … so one way I like to think about it is what are preventative strategies and then what are sort of reactionary strategies or strategies you can use in the moment, but preventative strategies are great. And so of course, sleep and eating. I think we all know when we don’t get enough sleep or when we’re hungry. I know I get hangry, I get really irritable. And so that’s going to impact our nervous system. And sort of that green zone that we were talking about is sort of that window of tolerance might be pretty wide when we’re well rested and we’re not hungry, but when we’re tired and hungry that green zone or that window of tolerance to handle frustration is going to shrink. And so it’s going to be a lot harder for us to navigate day to day challenges as they might arise.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

And screen time. It’s so tricky, it’s so hard. And I see it with my kids too. And as a parent, how do we navigate that? How do we set boundaries? And one of the things we talk a lot about is teaching responsibility and moderation. And so that’s again, sort of another piece of building those skills. If you have a child who has a huge meltdown every time it’s time to turn off the screens. And that’s an indication that there’s a lagging skill there that … and from what we know about screens is that it really activates those reward pathways in our brain. And so it’s really hard to put it down, because it makes us feel so good. And so helping our child learn moderation and responsibility with screen use, it’s a long term process. It’s not something that’s going to happen right away. But again, with sort of that consistency and predictability and helping the child know what to expect and when. But it can definitely impact regulation as well.

Teri Miller:

We had a, just recently had an experience where my little girl was playing a game that an online like a video game thing where she’s a dinosaur and the dinosaur hops around and gets rewards. And I don’t know, rescue’s sheep and does all this funny stuff. But I realized that here she was, she was in her hour of screen time, but she had that hour. And in that hour, she was totally in control of her world. It was like she is the dinosaur, this first person thing. So, she’s controlling everything, she’s getting the reward of that control. And so screen time ended and it was time for lunch. And this meltdown happened, this tantrum happened about, I want to do it myself.

Teri Miller:

I want to make my own lunch. And I was just doing things like cutting carrots and setting out the tortillas for the wrap that she was going to do, that she was just almost immediately flared up. And I was able to see, oh, this is a hard transition. She’s been totally in control of her world and now mommy is stepping in. And so I was able to say, “Hey, that’s okay. You can do that part yourself. I’ll put the veggies out, go ahead.” And we avoided the tantrum. It felt miraculous. But what you’re talking about, I think that’s an important thing for parents to consider, not just the duration of screen time, but what’s happening in the screen time. And then how is reflecting with real life afterwards?

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Yeah, that’s a beautiful example and it reminds me of something. So, joining with your child really helps with those transitions. And also when you’ve got kiddos that are a little bit more inflexible, or if they have trouble adjusting to new things or getting off the screen time or whatever it is, going and getting ready for school in the morning, sort of those transition between different states, being able to just take five minutes and join with them. It sounds like you did that so beautifully and you were able to identify what it was that her needs were in that moment. And even just sitting down with your kid and playing with them on the video game for five minutes before it’s time to turn it off. Sharing with them in their moment, joining with of them in that activity that they’re doing will make it much more likely and easier for them to then transition onto the next thing.

Teri Miller:

I like that. That’s a good idea.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah. I published an article about 15 years ago about immersive virtual experiences. And so there was this case study that I had read about this teenager who had been playing one of those, like driving Mario cart games where you hit the coins and they ding and you get this dopamine rush. And he had done it for hours and hours and hours to the point where, when he stopped the game, went out and got in his car and then drove into the neighbor’s mailbox, because he was still in that feeling of, I mean, it had this direct impact on his out of world behavior.

Teri Miller:

Oh yeah.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

So, [crosstalk 00:37:12].

Dr. Amy Moore:

It was fascinating. But at the same time, something that parents need to be aware of, that if we have extended screen time, then it can translate to behaviors.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Sometimes you see kids, I’ve found a lot of the work that I do is supporting students with special needs who might have ADHD or learning disabilities or autism. And I think kiddos that have that sort of neurodiversity, that neuro divergence in a certain way, it makes them harder. It makes it harder for them to navigate that, the virtual reality and how to move away from that. And so they can get a little bit more sort of wrapped up in that world. And so the tantrums around it, or the meltdowns might be a little bit more intense for them.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So, I want to switch gears just a little bit and spend a few minutes talking about praise. And so you write about the power and the peril of praise. So, talk to us more about that.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Sure. So, praise can be a very powerful and beneficial tool if it’s used in the right way. And so one of the things that it is found is that sometimes if you’re very general in the way that you give praise, like, oh, good job, or way to go, which we all do. I know I do it all the time. I still catch myself doing it. It can actually be detrimental, because kids might just start tuning it out or being like, oh, you always say that. Or you say that to everyone, or okay, whatever, it’s not a big deal. But if you’re very specific about the way that you give praise, it can actually be a very powerful tool to increase those behaviors that are positive behaviors. And so sort of noticing or attending to the things, the strengths that your child and things that they do well, and being able to help the child focus on those and sort of support them in the areas where they might be a little bit more vulnerable, but that will also help increase their sense of confidence and self-esteem.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

So, being very specific. And also focusing on the process and not necessarily the outcome. So, let’s say your child comes home with an A on their spelling test. Rather than sort of focusing on the grade that they got, focus on the process or the work that they put into it. So, wow, I know you worked so hard or you studied so hard for that spelling test. Just shows what a strong worker or what a strong work ethic you have. Something like that, that sort of focuses on the specific quality or skill that the child used to get the outcome.

Dr. Amy Moore:

And then what is the risk of praising the A’s?

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

So, that focuses more on just a child who’s driven for outcome. So, rather than if they then get a B, or if they get a C, then that’s going to impact their sense of self-esteem and their sense of self-worth. And you’re not identifying the skill that they used to get there. So, you want to help them sort of build that awareness and the insight into the strategies and the skills and the ways that they’re being successful rather than just the outcome itself. And then you’re also building that intrinsic sense of motivation and that sort of internal desire for them themselves wanting to learn and feel motivated by learning rather than just focusing solely on the outcome.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah. So, I’m going to be vulnerable and tell you what I did wrong very recently. I know this, I know this about praise and kind of screwed up my own kid, because he was getting straight A’s and excited about it. And so in my excitement for him, I was praising that performance. I didn’t have the expectation that he gets straight A’s, but I was celebrating that performance with him to the point when COVID hit and he begins failing high school that now my child is in therapy, because he was suffering this cognitive dissonance of I’m perfect, but I’m not performing perfectly. And my parents expect this of me. And so I have this skill and I have this knowledge and I still screwed it up. And so, I mean, we all mess up our kids all the time. But it’s a powerful lesson that if I had been focused on my child’s hard work and the effort that he was putting in, rather than helping him just celebrate the outcome, then maybe he wouldn’t be in therapy right now.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Well, there was a lot going on with COVID.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Sure.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

But that being said, luckily, because we’re all human and we all make mistakes. And even though we might know this stuff we can’t help it. And this kind of thing happens. So, luckily there is that opportunity to sort of go back and I know Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, and they talk about that opportunity for repair. So, if you do make a mistake and you do notice that you can go back and sort of be like, oh, this is what happened. And maybe next time we’ll do it this way. And so it builds that sort of problem solving and those skills in there as well, which is [crosstalk 00:43:03]-

Dr. Amy Moore:

You write about rupture and repair. So, that was a rupture. And we have since, I mean, it was one of those eye opening conversations where I felt horrible that he thought that my expectation was that he gets straight A’s. I was just helping him celebrate all along. And so it gave us the opportunity to talk through, wait a minute, those are not my expectations at all. And I am so sorry that I gave you that impression.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Yeah. It’s such a beautiful example of that rupture and repair and thank goodness that we have that. Because we all, it makes me feel so much, just less pressure on me as a mom to be like, okay, if I make a mistake, then we can go back and we can [inaudible 00:43:46]. And it shows our kids too, it models for them that we’re human. Everybody makes mistakes. Even our parents make mistakes and we can, it’s okay to go back and fix it and apologize. So, it’s a beautiful modeling opportunity for our kids as well.

Teri Miller:

Yeah. That’s so important, that vulnerability and parenting for our kids to see. Yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So, we need to take a break and let Teri read a word from our sponsor, LearningRx. And when we come back, I want to talk a little bit about your books and what listeners can get from those.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Great.

Teri Miller: (Reading sponsor ad from LearningRx)

Did you know that more than 6 million children in America have been diagnosed with ADHD? Many of them struggle in school because of their condition, but what if I told you that poor attention may not be the primary cause of their struggles. In a research study with more than 5,000 people with ADHD, we found their working memory, long-term memory and processing speed were less efficient than their attention skills. So, an intervention that only targets attention might miss the opportunity to work on those other skills we need to think and learn. LearningRx can help you identify which skills may be keeping your child from performing their best. In fact, they’ve worked with more than 100,000 children and adults who want to think and perform better. We’d like to help get your child on the path to a brighter and more confident future. Give us a call at 866-brain-01, or visit learningrx.com. That’s learningrx.com.

Dr. Amy Moore:

And we’re back talking to Dr. Ashley Taylor, pediatric psychologist, about co-regulation and helping manage our own emotions while we’re helping our children learn emotional regulation. And so you’ve written a couple of books about this topic. Specifically, you applied all of these concepts to teachers in the classroom, but they’re equally applicable to parents too. So, tell us more, tell us what the books are and how parents can use those.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Sure. So, my co-author and I, we got to know each other, working at the center for connection in Pasadena, and she’s an occupational therapist. And so we wanted to take the opportunity to integrate our lens for parents and teachers. And so we’ve worked so much with parents and we felt like teachers would really benefit from this information as well. And so we apply a lot of the concepts from infant and early childhood and mental health, like the parent child diad, co-regulation and adapt to work in a classroom setting to support teachers, because they’re with our kids a lot and I think so helpful for teachers too, to have this information, because I think teachers are feeling really burnt out right now as well.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

And so for parents, a lot of the, we’ve found that the books are really helpful in terms of supporting parents and knowing how to advocate for their children, having language that they can use, if you’re in an IEP meeting or a 504 plan meeting, or your child struggling at school, knowing how to support and advocate for your child by using some of the ideas and the terms and the language that we have in our books. And then also if I think through COVID so many more of us moms are now also teaching our children as well. And for those homeschooling parents out there, there’s a lot of great strategies in there that can help sort of bridge the gap between being a parent and being a teacher and supporting your child through that process.

Dr. Amy Moore:

And if you want to dig in to the science behind everything that we’ve been talking about today, you really go into detail about brain development and what is happening in the brain of young children that contributes to the meltdowns and the dysregulation. And so it’s super helpful, I think, when parents understand what’s happening in the brain. Gives you a little bit more empathy and understanding and patience, I think. And so if listeners, if you want to dig in and hear and read more about mirror neurons as well, then those books are great. So, is there anything that you want to leave our listeners with that you haven’t gotten to talk about today?

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

I think that about covers it. I think there was one thing I just wanted to sort of quote or mention, is that something that we talk about in our book, which we’ve talked a lot about today is just that shift in your state of regulation can change the way that you interpret and respond to your child’s behavior. And a shift in your interpretation of the behavior can make all the difference for your child and the relationship that you have with them.

Teri Miller:

So good. I will take that and embrace that. Thank you.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Shift in your interpretation.

Teri Miller:

Yes.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Love that. Well, we are out of time and need to wrap up, but we would love to thank our guest, Dr. Ashley Taylor, for sharing the science with us, the tips with us and our listeners. And so if you would like to learn more about Dr. Taylor’s work, you can find her on Instagram at The Why Behind Behavior, or visit her website at wondertree-dp.com. And we’ll put those links in the show notes, and we’ll also put links to buy her books. The Why Behind Classroom Behaviors and Creating Sensory Smart Classrooms. We’ll put those under the brainy books tab at brainymoms.co, and also in the show notes. So, thank you so much for listening today. If you liked our show, we would really appreciate it if you would leave us a five star rating and review on Apple podcasts. If you would rather watch us, we are on YouTube. So, you can subscribe to our Brainy Moms channel there. You can find us on social media at the Brainy Moms. So, look, until next time we know that you’re busy moms and we’re busy moms, so we’re out.

Teri Miller:

See ya.

Dr. Ashley Taylor:

Bye.

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