About this Episode
When Sarah R. Moore hears someone bemoaning a toddler’s tantrum with, “Oh, he just wants attention,” she’s likely to respond with, “Yes, and?” It’s a term she learned from an improv class but one she frequently applies to parenting. And in terms of tantrums—be it from a toddler or teen—she believes the cry for attention is due to an unmet need. Sarah joins Dr. Amy and Sandy on the Brainy Moms podcast to talk about a variety of tools she believes can be beneficial in helping children, teens, and us feel seen, safe, soothed, and secure…including story teaching, connection, and co-creating boundaries. If you’re looking for new ways to grow as a parent and help your child communicate, build resiliency, and deepen their trust and respect for you, this episode is not to be missed! Join us for this upbeat, fun, (and sometimes funny!) discussion with the author of “Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science & Better Behavior.”
Sarah R. Moore (“ … because it’s an incredibly common name without the R!”) is the author of “Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science & Better Behavior” and the founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting. As a Master Trainer in conscious parenting and Board Member for the American Society for the Positive Care of Children, she’s also a public speaker, armchair neuroscientist, and most importantly, a mama. With training in child development, trauma recovery, interpersonal neurobiology, improve comedy and play, her work supports parents and caregivers around the globe.
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Read the transcript for this episode:
Dr. Amy Moore: Hi, smart moms and dads too. We are so happy to have you for another episode of Brainy Moms brought to you today by LearningRx brain training centers. I’m your host, Dr. Amy Moore. I’m joined today by my co-host, Sandy Zamalis. I’m coming to you from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Sandy is joining us from across the country in Stanton, Virginia. And Sandy and I are super excited to welcome our guest right down the road from me in Lafayette, Colorado, Sarah R. Moore. Sarah is a master trainer in Conscious Parenting board member for the American Society for Positive Care of Children and founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting. She’s also a public speaker, armchair, neuroscientist, and a mom with training in child development, trauma recovery, interpersonal neurobiology, improv, comedy, and play. Her work supports parents and caregivers around the globe. Today she’s here to discuss topics from her book, “Peaceful Discipline; Story Teaching, Brain Science & Better Behavior.” Welcome, Sarah.
Sarah R. Moore: Hello. Thank you for having me.
Sandy Zamalis: We’re gonna jump—
Dr. Amy Moore: We’re excited.
Sandy Zamalis: Yeah, we’re excited. We’re gonna jump right in.
Dr. Amy Moore: Let’s do it.
Sandy Zamalis: I’m excited. So, Sarah, your book opens with a story about a less than positive experience with a pediatrician at your daughter’s four-month checkup. You say it was really the catalyst for you to start learning about gentle parenting. Could you share that story with our listeners and talk about how it became the basis for your journey into learning more about parenting with some of the top experts in the world?
Sarah R. Moore: I’d be happy to, and I love this question because still a decade after this interaction happened, I still get chilled and I get emotional when I talk about it. So essentially what happened is, as you’ve said, my daughter was itty bitty. She was four months old and I took her in for her standard four-month checkup while the pediatrician who had all of the accolades you can imagine, he was voted top doctor in the city where we were living at the time. He thundered into the room and said something along the lines of, well, “How’s sleep going?” And I thought, well, normally I start with a “Hi” or something like that. But I said, “Well, she’s up every couple of hours, but it’s developmentally appropriate as I understand it, and I know we’ll get there because holistically, she’s getting plenty of sleep. I’m not concerned about it, so we’ll just roll with it.” And he looked me in the eye and he said, “You are ridiculous. Don’t ever go to her when she cries. She’s manipulating you. Let me know when you’re ready to get serious about parenting.” Well, my nervous system went into freeze mode. I absolutely shut down because I was so shocked by what he said. So he proceeded with the rest of the checkup and she was doing great by the time we were. Home that evening though, that freeze was melted by the fire that had risen up in my body. I thought, How dare he speak to me that way! Plus, I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to be picking up our babies. I’m pretty sure it actually helps their brains grow when we’re responsive and loving and all of these things that were supposed to be. So, maybe I’m wrong, but it sure feels like it’s going against every instinct I have. So I started doing the research. But I knew that I couldn’t just go ask random person on the internet or maybe a good friend. I really wanted the science and the data, so that if anybody ever again said something like that to me, I would have the resources to be able to show them and to be able to advocate for other parents who are undoubtedly in this situation sometimes to say, “No, that’s not right.” I want something better for my child. And the more I researched, the more I started learning that children benefit from compassion and responsiveness and connection in all of these good things. Not just when they’re itty bitty babies, but throughout their lifetimes. I’m not even gonna call it childhood. It’s throughout the entire life we benefit from these things. So that was really the fire he put in my belly that helped me get serious about parenting in a way that was very different than what he was implying, but it was exactly the outcome that I needed to get serious about parenting in the best ways by not only being able to stand up for my own child and her development, but also to start supporting other parents on their journey no matter where in the world they may be. So that’s when I started getting my credentials and doing everything I could, so I too wouldn’t be some quote unquote random mama on the internet. And people would say, this girl knows her stuff. And we know that when we go to her, when we read her book, when we read her blog, whatever it may be, it’s gonna be based on the research. So that was really the beginning of that story.
Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah. And so it’s interesting that your story kind of catapulted this entire focus of your career now. But unfortunately that is a common story. Maybe not specific to sleep, but between pediatricians and parents, right? Where a pediatrician takes on the mindset that, “I’m the expert. I know all you need to be doing it this way, otherwise you’re wrong.” Did you stay with that doctor?
Sarah R. Moore: Oh, I’m so glad you asked. Heck no, I got outta there and I switched to a much more aware and current and compassionate doctor, and it was the best change I ever could have made.
Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah, and I think that’s a great message to send to moms who have these negative experiences. Well, I think it’s okay to go back and say, “Hey, I was frustrated with how you spoke to me. You know, here’s the research that I know.” It’s also okay to say, “I’m gonna find a doctor that does respect me as a mom and will partner with me in raising my child.” Right?
Sarah R. Moore: Exactly, yes. And I confess that I actually worked up the nerve just maybe a month or two ago to send this office a copy, the initial office, a copy of my book. And I didn’t do it with malicious intent, but I actually did it from a place of gratitude. You challenged me a decade ago to get serious about parenting. I want you to know that I did. I want you to know that I did. And I hope this book is supportive of you in the work that you do, ‘cause he’s still out there and he’s still giving advice.
So I went there. Haven’t heard anything, but he has it.
Dr. Amy Moore: Good job. You get a high five for that.
Sarah R. Moore: Thank you.
Dr. Amy Moore: Okay, so a major focus of your book is on story teaching, and so you talk about how it can be used in preventative, in-the-moment, and restorative ways. Will you talk a little bit more about this story teaching idea and as some ways that you can use it in parenting?
Sarah R. Moore: I’d be happy to. So it is one of the most underused tools that we have as parents, but yet it’s also one of the most effective tools that we can possibly have. And quick little snippet about brain science, because when in Rome, right, this is a brain show, so … We all are born with a part of the brain called the hippocampus, and as you know, the hippocampus is among other things, the brain’s storyteller. It’s what’s going to remind me six months or a year from now. Hey, I really liked this conversation that I had with these two women because they were kind, they were intelligent. I really liked the leaves in the background of your picture, and I really like your books behind your picture. It’s telling a story that I’m going to retain about our experience together. Well, everybody has the part of the brain that does that, and when we as parents are intentional about creating a narrative, that is more likely to stick because it has an emotional base. You notice when I said I like the leaves on your wall. I like the books behind you. It’s generating a feeling of peacefulness and joy. For me. I like books. I like those colors. It’s a reminder to me that this is good stuff and I want more of it. My brain is gonna have these little reward centers that go, “Yes, please, I like this. Give me more.” And essentially when we can tell our kids’ stories, and I’ll talk about the three—for lack of a better word, flavors that you shared, the preventative, in-the-moment, and restorative in a moment—but when we can tell our children’s stories that help create an emotional anchor to experience it to their experiences, children are more likely to remember this is how things are supposed to go. This is how I’m supposed to behave. This is what’s expected of me. And the benefit for us as parents is that we end up yelling less. We end up more peaceful and more patient and perhaps best of all, we end up repeating ourselves less because the messages that we’re sharing are more memorable in the first place. And how it works—and lest anybody get overwhelmed with, “I don’t tell stories. I’m not creative, I can’t do that.”—here’s the good news for you. And I wanna be preemptive and sharing that part of this. You don’t have to be super creative. We can create stories and narratives from everything from storybooks we choose, TV shows we watch together … For example, “Hey, there’s that episode about Daniel Tiger where this thing happens.” It doesn’t have to require a huge amount of creativity on our part. Yes, it can involve a spur-of-the-moment story, but it doesn’t have to. Here’s the other benefit of story teaching: It’s for all ages. So, if you have a toddler who has a particular struggle, you can use stories to help teach the message you want them to internalize, but it also works for your school-aged child or your teen, or guess what? I’ll whisper this to you, even your partner. We all benefit when we have something that is easily memorable to our systems. So to answer your question about the three flavors of it, preventative—that’s when we know something is going to happen and we want to prepare our child for it. It could be anything from, gosh, I’ll start with a really young example, and then I’ll just kind of use my improv comedy background to sort of work through the ages and we’ll see what my brain comes up with for our conversation together. But for a very young child, it might be, “I’m gonna read you a story about using a toilet rather than your diaper.” And we know one thing about toddlers, it’s once they latch onto a book they love, you’re gonna be reading it all day, every day for the next like six months, right? But when they latch on in this way, they can actually learn because it’s in story format that accesses the hippocampus so that eventually, and I’ll volunteer, I actually did this with my child, I then had a two-and-a-half year old who said one day outta the blue, “Hey, Mommy, I’m done with diapers.” Period. And she was, but it was essentially the book teaching her as opposed to me saying, “Here’s an M&M, or here’s a sticker, or whatever.” So we didn’t even have to do the traditional potty training stuff that so many parents have to navigate. And, of course, it can be really tricky. Will this work for all children? Not necessarily, but it’s always worth a try. And if it’s not the toilet stuff, there’s gonna be some other example of something where it will work for them. Let’s do it a little bit older. Maybe it’s a child’s first day of school or first day going to a birthday party. You can help prepare them for what they’re likely to experience there to help create emotional safety. Emotional safety is something I’m gonna talk about a lot and I talk about it actually for a good half the book along with other things before I even get into story teaching because children need to feel emotionally safe before they can learn anything. That’s what keeps their learning brain online, so to speak. They have to feel that safety first before they can learn. But you think about these new situations, first birthday party, you know, not like turning one, but the first birthday party they go to, first day of school. These are naturally tricky because they’re new and scary. But if a child has a roadmap of this is what I can expect when I get there, that increases their emotional safety and also prepares them for, “By the way, do you know that when it’s your friends turn to open the presents, they’re actually the only one who gets to open presents at their party. The other kids don’t help open the child’s presents.” Oh, that’s a novel idea to a child who’s never been at a birthday party before. Right? Let’s take it to a little bit older child, and I’ll do an in-the-moment example. Let’s say that your child is, I don’t know, 8 or 10 years old and they are playing a sport or at the playground or something, and it’s starting to get tense between your child and another child, and you don’t want to be that parent who goes over, you know, marches over and intervenes and risks embarrassing the kids involved. But you can also tell this is gonna go sideways or perhaps already is going sideways and I want to step in before things really go south. So here’s an opportunity where you can go in and you can say to your child something like, “Hey, do you remember that TV show that we watched about …” name the character where there was about to be an altercation of some sort, but then they managed to work it out. You don’t have to say all of that in the moment. More than likely, all you have to say is remember that TV show about, you know, Bluey, you know, Bobby Underpants. I don’t know, I just made up a name, but whatever it might be. And your child will likely then have that emotional memory of, “Oh yeah, this ended up going a different direction.” You can also use it for positive things. “I love how well this is working for you.” People often think of discipline as just being correction, but discipline means to teach and it can also be the things, the concept of reinforcing what’s working well. So if you see your child doing something that might have been a struggle, but they’re actually excelling at in the moment, you can then swoop in with, “Hey, by the way, how’s this working for you? This reminds me of that book where this happened, that movie we watched, where that happened. You’re reminding me of this character.” So the child then has a positive association. And again, those reward centers say, “Yes, I want more of this.” And you as the adult, are essentially creating an emotional anchor for them. So it’s not just a fleeting experience, but it’s actually something from which they can learn. And then finally, we get the restorative stories. And these are perhaps arguably the most important stories of all. Because stuff happens in life. Oftentimes unexpected things happen. Maybe the child had a rough day at school or got in a fight or something happened. Maybe they lost a pet or a loved one, and they now have to process this. Restorative storytelling is where we help them create what psychologists call a coherent narrative, where they get to make sense of the story. Instead of just saying, “Oh, well, I guess they’ll heal with it, you know, heal from it with time,” we actually talk about it in ways that feel emotionally safe to them and help ground them and anchor them emotionally so that they don’t have to carry their tricky situations forward as toxic stress, and instead they can learn from them and we can help them build resilience. An example, like I said, might be maybe they lost a pet. And we can talk about how much we loved Fido and how much you know Fido meant to us. And let’s think about all the times that we enjoyed being with Fido, and this is how it happened. When it was time for Fido to cross the rainbow bridge, so to speak. This is what we did, this is how we handled it, and this is what we are doing going to do to support ourselves going forward, and when we do this, when we actually call it out and work through it with our child, the child then is able to create that coherent narrative where it might still be sad, it might still be a really hard situation, but it doesn’t have to morph into unresolved trauma for them that they would carry forward then throughout their lives. That was a lot of words. I’m gonna take a breath and say, “How does this land with you?”
Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah. What I love about not just this idea of story teaching and, and really focusing on the idea that people A) do relate to stories that you’re using, how the brain operates, right, to engage that sequential memory and the narrative memory and all of that through the hippocampus, it actually reminds me of situated cognition, that difference between knowing about or knowing that something exists to knowing with or knowing within, right? So when we can anchor our knowing and our feeling in this case within a narrative, then we’re more likely to remember it and apply it later. But what really struck me, in addition to not only the science behind what you’re talking about, is the way that this has to be building a connection between you and your child by forcing you to be fully and completely present and engaged with your child in the moment. After the moment. Before the moment, right? Like it’s so intentional that it isn’t just about walking around, you know, barking orders or saying what we need to do next, or, you know, reprimanding your child for something that they should have done better, right? You’re completely in what’s going on in their lives. And so that has to strengthen those very necessary connections between you and your child. And so that really stood out to me in that process.
Sarah R. Moore: You’re absolutely right. The goal really is to nurture and foster increased connection between parent and child, because we also know from a brain science perspective that when people feel connected, they feel emotionally close. They naturally want to do well for one another. And when that continues to snowball, you find you actually don’t ever—and I realize this is radical thinking for a lot of people—but you actually don’t ever have to punish your child. You don’t ever have to mistreat them or yell or whatever. Because your child and you are gonna have such a solid foundation that you’re gonna view problems as something that the two of you are working together to solve, as opposed to the problems being between you, hence power struggles. So it’s really a beautiful way to build a foundation of trust and connection and presence, as you said.
Dr. Amy Moore: Absolutely.
Sandy Zamalis: You had talked about, you know, that emotional safety and really kind of creating that emotional safety. And I’m assuming it even goes back to your original story, which is, you know, picking up your child when they’re crying and not worrying so much about, you know, letting them lay there in their own space and not being there to comfort them. But I’m sure you have lots to share with our listeners about how to create that connection and that safety for children. What would you wanna share about that?
Sarah R. Moore: Honestly, it’s gonna surprise some people, but the work has to start within us. Because if we don’t have emotional safety within us, it’s virtually impossible to create it outside of us. And so oftentimes we have to go back—I mentioned coherent narrative a little while ago—we have to figure out what our own coherent narrative is based on our family of origin. Whatever trauma or stress we might be carrying around, and we get to say, “What do I need in order to feel emotionally safe and grounded as a parent?” So I’ll share a very quick example, and by the way, I share lots of examples throughout the book of times when I have parented very imperfectly. So I am not at all saying, you know, it’s gonna be all rainbows and unicorns when we do this because it’s not. We’re still human, right? We’re still gonna mess up daily, hourly, whatever our, you know, regular pattern is. But there’s a story that I shared in the book about how, gosh, probably a year ago at this point, I remember one day I was hungry already setting myself up for a bad situation, right? I was hungry. It was the end of the day. I was washing my hands in the kitchen and I was calling over to my daughter who was in the next room: “It’s time for dinner. Come wash your hands.” And she wasn’t coming. She was busy playing. So I finished washing my hands and being hungry and tired as I was, I had forgotten that I actually have two legs that are capable of moving over to where she was. So I was just standing there yelling from the kitchen, “It’s time to come over. Come wash your hands.” Well, the more I was saying it, the angrier I was getting. Which by the way, let’s trace back to family-of-origin stuff. Do I have any issues with not feeling heard? Probably. Therefore, this might be a trigger that is bigger than other things might be. So parents, we always have an invitation to say, “Is this really about the issue at hand or is there something from way back when some resurfacing here?” But I caught myself starting to raise my voice, and I’m not typically a yeller. So this caught my attention cause I was raising my voice and I was saying, “You need to come in right now and wash your hands.” And I have on one hand like this conscious parenting, you know, memory of, I need to show up, I need to be peaceful, I need to do this right. And this other part of me saying, “But I also really wanna yell. My nervous system is in fight or flight. Flight right now. And I have this overriding desire to be loud right now because I’m feeling stressed and triggered.” So what I actually did is I found a way to say yes to both, and people say, “What? How in the world do you do that?” I actually gave myself permission to yell because it’s what my nervous system was saying I had to do, but I chose to yell something different than what I might have otherwise yelled. So in this case, I chose to yell in my loudest possible voice, “Come into the kitchen! I don’t wanna have that penguin problem again!” And at this point got my daughter’s attention. And honestly, I got my own attention too. And I thought, What the heck did I just say?” I don’t even know what I meant by penguin problem, and now I have to roll with this? Okay, good luck. So she came over and next thing you know, I had this child who was standing next to me looking up at me with a very curious look at her face saying, “What penguin problem?” Well, guess what? She’s now in the kitchen next to the sink with me. Problem solved. Other than I now have to figure out what to do with the penguin. So I said, “Well, let’s wash our flippers.” So she went into penguin mode herself being a child they love play. Play is the language of childhood, as we know from Jean Piaget. And next thing you know, we’re both washing her hands together at the sink. Problem solved, but I didn’t have to betray my own nervous system in the process. So a lot of what I talk about in the book is about creating emotional safety without betraying what our body is telling us to do in the moment. It’s just a matter of rechanneling that energy so that we can offer emotional safety to our children, knowing that the work does have to start here first.
Dr. Amy Moore: So yeah, so it’s that importance of being able to regulate our own emotions so that we can co-regulate right with our child. You said something really important at the very beginning of that story, you said, “I was hungry.” Right? And we know in the trauma world that our window of tolerance is shrunk by the current state of our bodies, right? So we’re hungry, we’re tired, we’re sick, right? So physically that can impact our capacity, you know, for managing our own emotions and thus influencing our child’s emotions too. So I think that was a really important point, you know, for moms to recognize, hey, if we’re hungry, tired, sick, stressed, then we have to work extra hard in deciding what’s gonna come out of our mouths next, right?
Sarah R. Moore: Exactly, yes. And we can also get curious about what sort of predictable patterns do we have. I noticed right around that timeframe that I had a predictable pattern of being hungry before dinner. That makes sense biologically. But the hungriness, the hunger was coming out in grouchiness for me on a fairly regular basis, but really only during that window of time. So what do I do? I give myself a little snack—problem solved, and I am no longer, you know, grouchy pre-dinner mama. And there’s your Starbucks. Wonderful. So we love you. I love it. But when we are able to self-identify, this is where I predictably struggle as a parent, we can take steps to mitigate that so that we can offer more of that emotional safety because so much of it is within our control.
Dr. Amy Moore: Absolutely.
Sandy Zamalis: A lot of that, you have some great ideas and I love the storytelling and this, you know, co-regulation and working through all that, but some of that I think involves really, like you said, that inner work and really being in the moment. Do you have any suggestions for how to start practicing that? Because, you know, when you were telling the story, descriptions, I was like, “All right, so okay, I need to collect stories. Do I have stories that I can like hook to in these moments, you know?” How far ahead am I thinking? But you know, that’s probably making it way more complicated than it needs to be. It’s probably way simpler than that. So what do you suggest for learning how to be in that moment and to take those cues and breathe and think about what’s happening internally?
Sarah R. Moore: Great question. Well, a couple of ways. Number one is I’ve made it easy for you, I hope, in that I have a whole bunch of sample stories in the back of the book. So I took a lot of the most common struggles that I hear from parents and caregivers, and I translated them into stories that people can use. So you don’t have to go, “Oh no. Do I have something about that?” Yes, you do. If you have the book, you’ve got some examples in here. You can also look at your own library, whether it’s books you have at home or literally your public library, you can look at ones that focus on social-emotional cues. If there’s even a child or an animal smiling in a picture, that’s an opportunity to talk about that with your child. Don’t just read the words, pause and say, “Huh, I wonder what that bunny rabbit’s feeling.” Or if it’s an older child, you know, you might be watching TV or a movie and you might pause and say, “What do you think they should do next? What do you think they’re feeling? What’s going on for them?” You make it more than just what the media is giving. And instead translate it to things that they can apply to their own lives. You can also debrief about the shows and movies that you watch with your kids. “I noticed,” for example, “that when Moana was doing this in the movie, she probably felt some big feelings. What do you think she was feeling?” You can start to have discussions around these things proactively so that in the moment. You don’t feel so caught off guard. You will have already kind of like grounding yourself emotionally before you go into a situation you’ve already laid the groundwork for doing the work because then you, you also have a hippocampus. You also will have a story and a narrative about, “Oh, we actually talked about this once. I can bring up that book we read. I can bring up that movie we watched.” You can do things like that, and honestly, you can make it really easy for yourself. You have your own life experience already stored in here, so even if you need to, there’s no harm in saying, “Hey, do you know that something like this happened to me once when I was about your age? I’m curious if you’d like to hear about that and hear about how it happened for me and how I dealt with it.” I like making it consent based because some kids are like, “I don’t wanna hear another story about you.” But when kids are open to hearing our stories, we already have those already made, and that can be a huge help too.
Dr. Amy Moore: So can you talk a little bit more about the idea of consent based communication? That was intriguing to me.
Sarah R. Moore: Yes, absolutely. So consent is kind of a buzzword that we have these days, and honestly, it’s often misconstrued by people as thinking we have to ask permission for every little thing. And it’s not necessarily that we have to ask for permission for every little thing. For example, I would not recommend a parent or caregiver saying to the 5-year-old, “Do you think maybe you’d like to go to bed? You know, right now are, are you ready?” Because then they’re gonna be up till 2025. Like that’s gonna totally backfire. Right.
Sandy Zamalis: Right.
Dr. Amy Moore: It’s not an option. You have to go to bed now.
Sarah R. Moore: Exactly. Like it is bedtime. We’re gonna do this. And yet we still want them to feel that they have agency. We still want them to feel that they have a say in how things happen, even if we do have healthy boundaries that ideally we have co-created with our children. And I know that that often raises eyebrows too.
“What do you mean co-creating boundaries?” Well, here’s what we know about human nature. For better or worse, every human on the planet thinks that their own ideas are the best ideas in the world, right? Everybody loves their own ideas. So what we want to do is we want to look at a situation—I’ll stick with bedtime because, you know, brought it up a minute ago.—We wanna look at something and say, “I’ve noticed for example, that bedtime has been a bit of a struggle lately, and I wanna make sure that we can come up with a solution that works for both of us. So let’s talk about what would make bedtime easier for you.” And it’s amazing how often children will have, even from a very young age, absolutely brilliant ideas about what they need in order to feel that emotional safety we’ve talked about before. And help them follow through with that which we know is a requirement. We’re not saying bedtime doesn’t have to happen. We’re saying, “What’s gonna help you feel good about it?” And then together when we figure out, “Oh, you wanna do stories downstairs on the couch instead of up in bed? I think I’m okay with that.” We can find ways to make it a yes for both of us. So with that, when we are in the moment, it doesn’t feel like a battle. And consent specifically is, you know, it’s gonna be around things like, you know, even the toothbrushing thing, that’s a another big trigger point for a lot of kids who don’t want their teeth brushed. I’m just thinking of like, what are the most common things I hear right now? So it’s gonna be, “Your teeth do need to get brushed. That’s the boundary. But would you rather brush them in the bathroom or should I bring your toothbrush down to the kitchen and we can use that sink instead?” And we still give the child the opportunity to co-create that boundary, to give their consent for where it happens so that it feels emotionally safe. And we get to let go of the narrative that the adult has to be in charge of every single step of the way, when perhaps the way we’ve always done things isn’t actually serving the relationship that we have.
Dr. Amy Moore: And you get some buy-in too. Yeah. Right? I mean, every human wants power and control. And so when you’ve given your child an opportunity to have some control over where they get to brush their teeth, or what’s gonna make the bedtime routine easier, righ,t then you, you’re gonna get more engagement or we would hope that you would get more cooperation for sure. I watched this really fascinating show on animal psychology. And the animal psychologists said that we should not pick up our cats because when we pick up our cat, we are robbing them of their autonomy or their agency. Right? And I thought, interesting. And just this morning my son picked up our cat and she bit him in the shoulder and then in the arm nipped at him. Right? Didn’t draw blood, but nipped at him. And I said, you just robbed her. She’s just walking across the floor and you just scooped her up. The alternative is that we wait for our cat to hop up on our lap and then we pet them and then we engage with our … And so when I saw that show, I said, “This has to be applicable to humans as well, right, when we take away the choice.” And so it just kind of reminded me of that like I, you know, in classrooms I always say, “Can I give you a high five?” Right? Rather than just forcing myself or “Can I give you a hug for that?” Right. That you would ask your niece rather than just hugging your niece. And so, I don’t know where I’m going with that.
Sarah R. Moore: I love that. First of all, I’m gonna go apologize to my cat when we’re done because you’re absolutely right. I wouldn’t like it if, you know, somebody just walked into the office right now and scooped me up. I’d be like, put me down. This is really awkward. Right? So I can see how that would, how we can extrapolate that into consent for children because we do want them to feel that they’re in charge of their own bodies. And honestly, if there’s something that’s a hard no for them, we get to get curious about why they have such strong feelings about that and how we can create the safety that they are seeking. And maybe it actually doesn’t have to happen, or it can happen in a different way that might be a yes for them. But I fully believe that from the very, very beginning, we need to be respecting our children as much as I’d respect you or you know, or your cat.
Dr. Amy Moore: Right. So, and we both have Siberian cats, so I wonder if your cat has the attitude that my cat has. But anyway, we need to take a break and let Sandy read a word from our sponsor. And when we come back, speaking of seeking, I wanna talk a little bit about what happens when we ignore attention-seeking behaviors. When we come back.
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Dr. Amy Moore: So Sarah, one of the things that kind of drives me crazy as a child development expert is when I see parents say, you know, their child is melting down over something, or their child is on the floor crying, whining, whatever it is, and I hear a parent say, “Well, they just want attention.” So that all behavior is communicating something. And so of course they want attention. But you talk about in your book three things that can happen when we ignore those attention-seeking behaviors. Can you talk a little bit about that and why we should pay attention?
Sarah R. Moore: And this is such an important topic because you’re absolutely right. There is this narrative around, “Oh, they just want attention” as if the implication is, but we shouldn’t give it to them. In reality, the opposite is true. If they want attention, it’s because they need attention. It’s actually a what a lot of people called connection-seeking behavior. It’s, “I’m going to do whatever I need to do in order for you to see me.” We know that from an attachment perspective, there are the four Ss of secure attachment thanks to the work of Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, and they are seen, safe, soothed, and secure. And when children feel seen, they don’t have to seek out that attention because they feel that we are present with them. They feel like they matter. They feel like we are showing up for them. It doesn’t mean that we have to be laser focused on them 24 hours a day, but they come through life with the narrative of, “I belong in this world. My people show up for me because I matter.” And that’s absolutely the message that we want them to have. The risk when we don’t see them in a very literal sense of, I am going to ignore you when you are seeking attention, the child feels unseen and therefore, unworthy, unlovable, non-deserving of respect of care of all of these things. And then you have a child who says, “When I struggle, people don’t show up for me. When I’m sad, the world leaves me behind. When I’m lacking the tools and the skills to say, ‘I have a huge unmet need here,’ I’m gonna have to face that alone.” And this is a huge problem as we get into particularly the older years where children are more and more drawn to friends, drawn to social media instead of us being a safe place for them to land emotionally. Instead, they say, “I learned in my early years that my parents are caregivers; when I’m struggling, they ignore me. They don’t show up for me.” So rather than seeking us out when they perhaps need us the very most, we’ve already given them the message that you’re not wanted here. And that’s really sad. I’m gonna use a judgment term here. I’m gonna say that’s really sad. That that hurts my soul when I say that out loud. But we have an incredible opportunity to help them feel seen when we can look at all behavior as communication, as you said, and say if they are acting out to the point where they are, quote unquote, misbehaving, even though I don’t like that term because it’s just behavior, it’s just a more desperate plea for behavior, when we are able to say they have a need that was so great that they chose this way to act out, it’s because I must have missed some cues along the way that might have been easier to address than this one that is now, you know, falling down in front of me. So we have an opportunity to connect, to help them feel seen, help them get that core message to carry throughout their lives of, “When I’m upset, people show up for me. When I have troubles, people will support me. When I feel unworthy and unloved, they’re gonna remind me that I am worthy of compassion and love and grace and forgiveness and connection and all of these things. Just because I am. Just because I exist.” And that’s the child who is less likely, statistically, to have greater mental health issues down the road. We also know that when we ignore that child’s behavior, the child actually doesn’t learn a thing other than what I just talked about. It doesn’t give them any life skills or any coping skills because instead they say, “Well, I guess I just shut down.” But when we can respond with connection with compassion and say things like, “All of your feelings are safe here. Do you need a hug?” Back to consent based. Would a hug help? And you have the child then who perhaps melts down in our arms and then through the power of co-regulation that you talked about before the child learns, “Oh, I actually have a skill and a new tool that I can use in life. I know that when I feel stressed, I can go and ask for a hug.” Maybe then once the child has become regulated emotionally again, the adult, as long as they don’t do it too soon, lest it backfire. The adult can then go to the child and say, “I want you to know that your sadness or your anger or whatever it was, looked really hard. But did you notice how when we sat together and we read a story, it helped? What did that feel like for you?” And it sounds so simple, but in doing this, look what you just did. You gave your child emotional vocabulary. “Oh yeah. Sad, angry. Okay. I’m learning what these things are. When you told me that all of my feelings were safe here, I actually learned that I don’t need to run from my own feelings, and instead I can just interpret my feelings as messengers, that I have a need and I need some support to get this need fulfilled.” This is a child whose emotional intelligence and emotional maturity will skyrocket in the very best ways because they will learn skills, tools, resources, methods for finding their calm alongside you, so that they then don’t end up as the teenager or the 20-something who lacks those things and says, “Well, I don’t know what to do, so I’m gonna turn to less healthy coping mechanisms when I’m struggling.” So we can point to all sorts of correlations for the children who are emotionally supported and get those emotional intelligence tools and skills early on versus those who don’t. And I can tell you from the research we really wanna be showing up for our children. It’s gonna affect their short-term and long-term mental health. It’s gonna affect the likelihood of them engaging in risky versus healthy behaviors down the road. It is critically important that from the earliest years that we can, that we do that inner work that we talked about before. Say, “What do I need to do to actually hold space for the feelings that might not have been held for me when I was their age? How can I show up for my inner child and actually make it safe to be in the presence of this dysregulated child?” And it’s big and hard work, I’m not gonna lie. But it’s so important that we do this because every time we watch our child heal a little bit, part of our inner child heals along with that, and we get to realize we always made sense too, and we get to grow and thrive and nurture our own secure attachment with life above and beyond what we’re doing for our kids too.
Dr. Amy Moore: Well and the reality is that we are going to experience these feelings throughout our lifespan, right? Like our, we’re designed with these emotions, with the full range of emotions. And so if we can help our children learn early on what to do with those big emotions, right? Then imagine the difference that they might have than someone who is just told, “Stop crying, don’t cry, don’t be mad. Why are you mad?” Right? “Well, I’m mad because like I have an unmet need at the moment,” right? Well, what do we do with that anger? And so those are just opportunities for us to help our children know what to do with those big emotions, not get rid of those emotions, is what I was gonna say.
Sarah R Moore: Yes. In fact, if I can share just a really quick story that I, you know, I, I just love how this work happens in reality too. My daughter recently heard the story of Sampson. And you know, a whole lot of detail about Sampson, and she said to me out of the blue a couple of days later, she’s like, “Mommy, you know, I really wish to the extent that Sampson was strong, he would’ve been smart instead, because he was lacking emotional regulation skills. He really just needed somebody to come and co-regulate with him. Perhaps he needed therapy to talk through his big feelings instead of going out and killing all those Philistines and whatever.” I mean, I was like, “You’re 10. Okay, but you’re 10.” So I love seeing this in action that we are normalizing it’s okay to have feelings and there are healthy ways to handle them. So I thought you might appreciate that little story.
Dr. Amy Moore: Excellent.
Sandy Zamalis: I would imagine it’s never too late either, right? I mean, so if there’s a listener right now who’s thinking like, “Well, you know, my kids are in their teens,” or “My kids are young adults,” and, you know. You made a really good case for your argument, in terms of, you know, what that, what your, what you had laid for a child if those attention-seeking behaviors never were addressed and trying to maybe even help your adult child heal from your own parenting mistakes or mishaps along the way. I would think it would—this is anytime, so you could do it today if you wanted to make some changes and use some of these strategies in dealing with just people. All people.
Sarah R. Moore: Thank you so much for saying that. Big capital letters, if I could speak in capital letters right now, I would. It is not too late. Ever. You could be in your nineties and learn about this stuff and still find some healing that you didn’t have before. It is absolutely not too late. You haven’t ruined your kids, you haven’t ruined yourself. There’s always healing and progress that’s accessible to you.
Sandy Zamalis: So you actually graduated from improv comedy school and I don’t think we can leave today without talking about that, ‘cause I just think that’s super cool. And you studied directly with Saturday Night Live writers and have a section in your book about using “Yes, and …” like an improv comedy. Because I don’t think you’re ever allowed to say no in improv, right? You’re, I’m sure you’ll teach us about this, but how do we use that as a parenting tool? Tell us more about that.
Sarah R. Moore: Little did I know when I took improv comedy classes, I was working in corporate America at the time, and basically the only reason I signed up is that my job was so stressful all day every day that I needed a creative outlet at night, and it ended up being the most perfect training for parenting. Above and beyond interpersonal neurobiology, above and beyond, child development, brain science, all that stuff, honestly, improv probably gave me 90% of what I use on a regular basis. And the concept of “Yes, and” is exactly what you said. If somebody comes on to the stage and they say, “I’m a cow.” You say, “All right, I guess I—” Okay. I chose a really bad animal here. “I guess I milk you.” Like this just went really south, so nevermind this. Totally should have picked a different animal. But anyway, now that we’ve gone awkward, but you know, the point is you say “yes” to whatever the person brings to you and you simply roll with it. And the truth is, in parenting that is so much of our existence, when you have a child who is playing, our job is to say, “My job isn’t to make you stop playing. My job is to figure out how to incorporate play into the next activity to make the transition easier.” It’s a “Yes and.” “Yes, you’re having fun with your trucks.” Instead of, “but it’s dinnertime.” It’s “You’re having fun with your trucks and it’s dinnertime, so let’s drive your trucks to the table.” If it’s your older child who’s on their device or whatever, “Yes, I see how much you love your device, and it’s time for dinner, so let’s make a plan for when you can get back online, even if that’s tomorrow.” It’s a matter of emotional validation. Yes, and as an improv is like a psychology term for emotional validation. Let me make sense of this for you. Let’s validate what’s going on for you before we move on to the next thing. It can work for transitions, for emotions, for all the stuff. But parenting gets easier, and I say that word intentionally, but parenting actually gets easier when we say yes to our children more. In fact, I’ve got a whole chapter in here about the power of negotiation. People hear the word negotiation and they think that’s a bad thing. “You should never go negotiate with your children.” I actually disagree with that. We negotiate with our kids all the time. The goal is to find something where we mutually agree on what’s next and finding the yeses that we can agree on reduces conflict by like a billion percent if I’m to be mathematical about it. It just makes life so much easier for us.
Dr. Amy Moore: I love that. Sarah, where can our listeners find you?
Sarah R. Moore: They can find me at Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting on most social media except for Instagram, which is Dandelion Seeds Positive Living because the word parenting wouldn’t fit. Go figure. My website is dandelion-seeds.com. However, there is a hyphen. It’s dandelion hyphen seeds.com and there I have expert interviews, blog posts, and even I think more than 40 or 50 mini-courses that are extremely informal and accessible for people who want those. And, they can always email me directly as well because I’m a very real person here and I always do my best to respond. Not necessarily with one-on-one email coaching, but I definitely take input. And if it’s something that I can translate into a blog post or something that’s more widely supportive, I’m happy to do that whenever possible.
Dr. Amy Moore: And what is that email address then, for listeners?
Sarah R. Moore: Sure. It’s Sarah with an H at the end. [email protected].
Dr. Amy Moore: Excellent. This has been a phenomenal conversation with you, Sarah. We just thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to be with us. So thank you Sarah R. Moore, that is R period Moore. Yes, she’s holding up her book Peaceful Discipline. And so if you want more information about Sarah’s work, again, her website is dandelion-seeds.com. We’ll put all of her links and social media handles in the show notes, including a link to purchase her book, “Peaceful Discipline; Story Teaching, Brain Science & Better Behavior.” So listeners, thanks so much for being with us today. If you like us, stop what you’re doing right now and follow us on Instagram and Facebook before you forget. If you liked our show, we would love it if you would leave us a five-star rating and review on Apple Podcast so that we can reach even more parents like you. And if you’d rather watch us, you can subscribe to our YouTube channel. And that is all the smart stuff that we have for you today. We will catch you next time.