Creating a Secure Attachment With Your Teen
Dr. Sarah Bren is a licensed clinical psychologist who is dedicated to helping parents to climb out of the holes they may have dug with their children, reestablish the foundations of trust, respect, and cooperation, and repair whatever might have been broken along the way.
On the show today, we discuss what it means to be securely attached to our children and how to cultivate a healthy attachment with our tweens and teens.
Let’s dive in!
What You Will Learn:
- What is the difference between attachment parenting and when you are securely attached to your parent/child?
- Tips for connecting with your teen when you feel triggered.
- What does it mean to co-regulate?
- Recognizing when you and your teen are in a power struggle and how to pick your battles.
- How to help your teen regulate themselves and when to have discussions with them.
- Understanding when teens are more apt to listen and when their brains cannot process logic.
Where to find Dr. Sarah Bren:
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And here is the episode typed out!
Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. If some days you doubt yourself and don’t know what you’re doing. If you’ve ugly cried alone in your bedroom because you felt like you were failing. Well, I just want to let you know you are not alone, and you have come to the right place.
Raising tweens and teens in today’s world is not easy. And I’m on a mission to equip you to love well and to raise emotionally healthy, happy tweens and teens that thrive.
I believe that moms are heroes, and we have the power to transform our families and impact future generations. If you are looking for answers, encouragement, and becoming more of the mom and the woman that you want to be, welcome. I am Sheryl Gould. And I am so glad that you’re here.
SHERYL: Hi, Sarah. Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens podcast. I’m looking forward to talking to you today. How are you?
DR BREN: Well, thanks so much for having me. How are you?
SHERYL: I’m good. But I know we’re going to have a great conversation. We were talking before we jumped on here. We’re going to be talking all about Attachment Parenting and what that is, and how to build a connection with our tweens and teens. And I thought we would start by you sharing a little bit about yourself and what you do, and why you’re passionate about what you do.
DR BREN: First of all, I’m just super glad to be here. And before I answer your question, I want to clarify because I think it’s super common for people to sort of confuse these things, which is Attachment Parenting versus attachment theory or attachment science.
I think it’s really interesting because sometimes they get lumped together and attachment, the way I explained it as attachment science, where the theory of attachment is like the umbrella idea. And then, there are many ways to take that interpretation of that theory and apply it to certain things.
And so, we apply the theory of attachment to psychology and mental health and the theory of attachment to certain types of parenting styles as well. So Attachment Parenting is a very specific interpretation of the theory of attachment. That’s kind of rooted in Dr. Sears his work. And it’s very much about meeting your kid’s needs in a specific way.
But the important thing is, that’s not the only way to get a secure attachment relationship. So attachment theory is more like a psychological and development theory, presented by John Bowlby, a child psychologist, and researcher in the 60s.
And he says that human beings are, from birth, biologically hardwired to form an attachment bond to their primary caregiver to increase their chance of survival. And so we as clinicians measure the quality of that attachment as secure or insecure.
And it’s talking about the relationship between a person or two people. What’s the quality of that attachment? And so there’s tons of research in attachment science on, like, how do you develop secure attachments? And so, one-way people tried to infuse that into parenting and informed parenting is attachment parenting, but that’s also a very specific way of doing it.
There are so many ways to parent a child that foster secure attachment relationships with them that don’t follow that particular framework.
SHERYL: Can you give an example? Because that’s interesting. And yeah, that’s, that’s interesting to distinguish the two. So if you say secure, if you say attachment therapy, are you leaving yourself out of the equation?
DR BREN: Right, so attachment parenting is the idea. And I will probably get it wrong because I don’t follow it personally. So I don’t know all the nuances of it.
But Attachment Parenting is a very high demand on the parent, which usually is opted in. They want it, and they find joy in it. But it’s a lot of, like, you carry your child a lot of babywearing, a lot of perhaps co-sleeping or nursing for very long periods.
You can do all kinds of pieces of elements that might overlap with attachment parenting and not necessarily be Attachment Parenting. For example, I nursed my child till she was two and a half, but I didn’t follow Attachment Parenting.
SHERYL: It’s not just when your kids are babies. It’s never too late to learn how to become more securely attached.
DR BREN: Right. And this is where I come in. This is the work that I do. I’m very passionate about this, like attachment theory and helping parents understand how to create a secure attachment with their child and develop these secure relationships within the family system.
That is the core element of why attachment theory is important is because those core relationships and the security of those relationships in early childhood become a blueprint that the child uses throughout the rest of their life to predict how other people will respond to them, whether they will take care of them, whether they will feel safe with them, whether there was trauma or there was lots of separation, or there was chaos in the early years, relationships with their caregivers that didn’t create that secure attachment relationship.
They might find that they’re more anxious, and they don’t necessarily assume people are going to meet their needs or assume that they’re going to respond in a safe way to them, or assume that they’re going to sue them when they’re having a hard time.
And so you can have different insecure attachment styles. And you can avoid intimacy and relationships because you just don’t expect people to meet your needs. You can not be sure if people will meet them.
So there’s this ambivalent attachment and insecure style where you’re like, come close, but don’t come too close. And I think you’ll help me, but I’m not sure.
So there’s an approach and retreat thing that happens in a secure relationship. We expect to be reliably and consistently seen, soothed, and made to feel safe with another person. They’re going to meet our needs most of the time. We don’t need to have our needs met all the time, to develop a secure relationship with our parents.
That’s important because I think that’s where we get into trouble as parents think, Oh, my God, I made one mistake. And now my kids are never gonna have a secure attachment. And that makes us very anxious about parenting styles, and that’s not helpful, either.
So, all of this is to say. We know research is showing us that secure attachment health in relationships is a predictor of all kinds of really important outcomes in adulthood, and throughout childhood and well into adulthood.
But I made the distinction between Attachment Parenting and just understanding attachment and using that to inform how you develop your relationship with your child where you are helping them feel safe and secure with you. You don’t have to tattoo, and you don’t have to practice Attachment Parenting to achieve that.
SHERYL: So glad that you explained it that way. Because I love attachment theory because it’s never too late, I was talking to Jen, who works with me. And I was saying, Yeah, Attachment Parenting we’re going to talk about which goes, Oh, like I did with my son, where I carried him around. And I thought that’s not it, but I’m familiar with the attachment theory, and that’s how we can use the lens that we can see the world through how we see ourselves and others. Is this a safe place?
DR BREN: Absolutely. And that is the root of attachment theory. I didn’t share with your listeners why I care so much about this, but I’m a clinical psychologist and work with families, parents, and children across the sort of family lifespan.
I work with perinatal populations, people who are pregnant or just had a baby, to manage maternal and parental mental health. I work with families of really young kids doing parenting support, helping parents understand the building blocks of child development. How do you create these secure attachment relationships with your kids without burning out?
I think sometimes parents misunderstand that the only way to have a secure attachment relationship with their child is to carry the child everywhere, meet every need, never let them cry, and never separate. And that’s not Attachment Parenting. That’s an extreme version of that what, in practice, Attachment Parenting looks like.
I don’t want people who practice having some parent to be like, that’s not what I did, because I get that. But I think people who don’t understand what Attachment Parenting is, or the difference from General, use the lens of the attachment relationship to guide their parenting. They think it’s black or white, like I do everything for my kid, and I never let them experience distress. And that’s how they develop a secure attachment.
Or I’m kind of screwed, and I guess I’m not going to pay attention to that piece and just kind of do what I’ve always done or how I was parented, perhaps. And I think there’s an unfortunate misconception of attachment’s role in our relationships because every single relationship has an attachment.
The question is, what’s the quality of that attachment? We all have attachment styles because we’ve had a collection of relationships in our lives, and we tend to show up in certain ways. The ways we tend to show up are often informed by that early Blueprint that I was talking about, like, the early relationship I had with my primary attachment figures. And, but it’s not fixed. It’s not like you can’t change it.
SHERYL: I know that’s helpful, isn’t it?
DR BREN: Why would you bother going into therapy if you couldn’t change attachment structures like that? Hopefully, doing therapy with people has helped them understand. If you understand why you anticipate a relationship being a certain way, or why or maybe unconsciously are showing up in relationships in a certain way, perhaps it is because you have a blueprint where it was informed, which was informed by a relationship where you didn’t feel seen, or your attachment figure couldn’t help you to feel safe with them.
And it’s not because they necessarily were trying to make you feel unsafe, right? It could be that they missed the mark where they were going through something that made them unable to meet your needs, you know, if you have postpartum depression, or if you had a parent who had postpartum depression. They were unable to meet your needs for long periods emotionally.
Like, if it was untreated postpartum depression, you might not assume that you will get your emotional needs met. You might learn to figure it out independently and not rely on others to care for your emotional needs.
And conversely, if you had a parent who’s a very, very anxious, intrusive parent, not because they wanted to be mean to you, but because your distress was scary to them. And so every time you felt distressed, as a child, your parent would try to turn it off, like, don’t cry, like, you’re fine, everything’s good, not bad.
Then you may not feel that soothed been seen and safe with that parent, not because they didn’t love you or didn’t try their best with what tools they had at that moment. But because they were so flooded with their anxiety. And they were so dysregulated, when you would become dysregulated, that they couldn’t emotionally meet your needs of helping you regulate and feel safe.
And so you have a slightly more anxious attachment style, like, you know, not sure which one can meet my needs or the one terrified by my needs. And so that’s the Blueprint, right?
So, if we can understand why we have the Blueprint we have, and we can do work, that personal work of the kind of changing our Blueprint, having corrective emotional experiences with other people in our lives and saying, I can get my needs met, people are safe, I can be soothed and understood by the world and have these mutually rewarding relationships that feel secure. So our attachment style and attachment patterns will likely change over time.
SHERYL: Yeah, yeah. I love that because I started Moms of Tweens and Teens when my oldest was 32. When she struggled as a tween, the wheels started coming off and took her to therapy and thought, oh, you know, I’ll fix her. And in that process, when they bring you in, I’m like, I think that I need the help here.
I ended up getting into a group that was called an assignment group. And it’s what you’re saying, where we worked on this, and we heal that was so powerful because there are other people and we are working on these things and healing those wounds and, and being able to heal those things that we did not get.
And, so, I’m a huge believer in groups and community and that there’s hope. So I love what you’re saying: if there’s moms or caregivers, whoever’s listening, and you feel a lot of despair, it’s like it’s never too late, that we can learn. And we can heal, and we can do it differently with our kids.
DR BREN: And we do that learning in that healing. There’s a ripple effect. I always describe the family system kind of like I call it a spider web because it’s this interconnected web. And, if you pull one spider web thread, the whole thing moves right.
So if you, the parents, are shifting the way you show up in your relationships within the family system, because you’re healing and becoming more aware of what my triggers are and why I have these reactions and why this makes me, hot and emotional or reactive, or why I’m less patient with this kind of dynamic with my kid.
I start to understand what it is between me, my kid, and maybe between me and maybe my mom or other relationships that have taught me to show up that way. And if we shift that, our relationship with our kid will inherently shift a little bit too, and they may get a little bit healthier, too. Yes, all connected.
We’re all in these dances all the time. And so if we’re always doing the same dance over and over with our kid, if we stop dancing that way, our kid will sync up with us too.
It feels good to be seen by your parent if you can figure out a way to see your child fully in a moment, instead of having it be a lens in my way, a blinder I have to see my kid in a particular moment, because I’m so triggered by stuff that has nothing to do with my kid, but my kids activating it in me.
Yes, you’ll win that in a way that allows me to move that out of the way of the space between my kid and me. And now I can just see my kid at this moment and not behave like an older part of me kind of gets interrupted by this like relationship that my kids will feel more seen by me.
I will meet my kid’s needs for emotional attunement more effectively. I’m going to be more regulated. So I’m going to share my calm with my kid, even when they’re upset, and that’s going to regulate them.
And all of a sudden, our kid, who’s been struggling with something going on, is perhaps going to benefit from us doing our work in a meaningful way.
SHERYL: Yeah, so important and true. And how would you speak to the listeners if they’re relating? Okay, I get triggered. And I think it’s like, Oh, if only my kid would change and my teenager would stop talking back and doing this irritating behavior?
Or if only they would start studying because they don’t seem to care about their work. And so they’re triggered, and I continually run across this, often getting in constant power struggles and fights. What would you say to that parent?
DR BREN: Well, first, I would say I get it. I get why that’s frustrating. Right? It makes sense that when your kid repeatedly ignores you, actively defies you, or doesn’t do something they should be able to do, right?
They know you have the skills to do this thing. And yet you’re not doing it. It’s very frustrating. I also think we put tremendous pressure on ourselves in our society. And that’s a whole nother podcast for another day, like how our society pressures parents to have well-behaved children, follow instructions, and cooperate.
And that is an unrealistic expectation, developmentally, for I don’t care if you’ve got a two-year-old or 12-year-old or a 17-year-old. None of those three age groups cooperate all the time. And there is a reason why not.
There are many reasons, but a big reason is their brain development is not happening. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is the response, is the big frontal lobe behind our forehead responsible for rational thinking, problem-solving, inhibition of impulses, asking for what we need making plans, and organizing.
DR BREN: I joke because I work with parents of really young kids. I also work with many parents of tweens and teens themselves. In my clinical practice, I always joke that toddlers and teens have a lot in common from a brain perspective because their frontal lobes are under construction.
In that period of life, like in toddlerhood and adolescence is when the brain, the prefrontal cortex, goes through the most significant overhauls of development. And so they don’t always have great access to that part that we want our kids to be able to access, right?
Because that’s responsible for cooperation and listening, not fighting with your siblings and getting your homework done, and not getting into power struggles, still, it’s also developmentally a time when they have the least amount of access to that part of their brain because it’s just going through so much change.
And so, I think we have unrealistic expectations of parents as a society to manage their child’s behaviors and be responsible for their child’s behaviors.
And also parents, it gets translated into the parent-child relationships where parents often don’t understand what’s a developmentally appropriate expectation of a kid, even in teens and older kids. And it doesn’t mean that we’d never have expectations of them or that we should never expect them to be able to do those things.
Of course, they should, especially teenagers. They can, but not always, dysregulate their prefrontal cortex or offline. And so we have to understand that to help a child to do the things we want them to do, they have to be regulated, they have to feel safe, their amygdala, which is their threat detector. It’s constantly scanning the environment for threats. Always, it’s an OS.
And this is true for all brains. If it perceives a threat, it will pull the fire alarm, and its prefrontal cortex will go offline until the amygdala has been sort of assuaged and determines, okay, there’s no threat here.
So the fastest way to get your kids to cooperate, if they’re in a really bad mood, or if they’re agitated, or if they’re frustrated, or if they’re in any way dysregulated, is to help them feel safe. And we do that by helping them feel seen, validated, and understood. It doesn’t mean we don’t have any limits or boundaries, or behaviors. But we want to let them know we see them, their feelings make sense to us, and you’re safe.
And then once they’re regulated, again, we can go back. So you got to go back to that to do the other pieces, which is the teaching part, right?
But, when they’re calm and connected and in a good mood, that’s when you go back and say, oh, you know, what, yesterday, when you came home from school, and we had that fight over the homework, first of all, I’m sorry, I lost my cool. I get it.
I realize now that you probably were tired and didn’t want to talk about homework right then and there. But also, when you gave me the finger and slammed your door in my face, that that doesn’t work, right? I want to help you. I don’t want to nag you. I don’t want to fight with you.
So what can we do differently next time? Like how can we address the homework situation differently? What would feel good to you? So we’re collaboratively problem-solving. We’re acknowledging our role in things. We’re validating their perception and their needs and feelings.
But we’re also saying, you can’t do that – you can’t flip me off and slam your door. And you also have to do your homework. But let’s look at that as you and me versus this problem together versus now. I’m gonna get into a power struggle at the moment. They’re pissed at the moment. You’re not going to be able to reason with them now.
SHERYL: Yeah, I think that’s hard to remember because you get triggered as a parent, and then you’re operating out of that heightened emotional state. And then, as you said, they’re scanning. So it’s like the perfect storm. And then you’re nagging you’re on their back, and you’re off to the races, and you never get anywhere.
So I love that example you gave because you can always go back and repair it and own your piece. So I always say, “don’t fall on your sword because we all make mistakes. But you can go back and own it and then redo it.” And that is a great script for parents to be able to say, hey, you know, yesterday, I’m sorry, I lost it and then, and then be able to revisit it.
DR BREN: Yeah, and I think that’s where people get tripped up a lot. And I, again, see this with parents who are really little kids. As parents of older kids, I see it as like, we think all the parenting has to happen now that this stuff is going down.
And then we feel really bad about ourselves if we flubbed it at that moment or the outcome didn’t work. But then we are like, alright, I’ll try it again in a different way next time.
At any point about a particular issue, you’re not limited to just this window of time when something is happening to a parent about it. That’s usually the least effective time to do the quote-unquote parenting part, which is, in my opinion, like teaching, guiding, expectation setting, and relationship building.
Stuff rarely works in the heat of the moment when kids are angry and frustrated and dysregulated or when we are angry and frustrated and dysregulated. So, in those hot moments, I say, make sure everyone’s safe, right? You have to be kind of safe first.
But if it’s not a safety issue, don’t teach in those moments. It’s not gonna work. And it’s just going to agitate what’s already inflamed. Give space. Or if your child will tolerate a co-regulate, which means using your calm, nervous system, and energy to validate their position and share some calm with reestablishing that sense of safety that works best when it’s like a small clash.
If your kid is on their phone at the table, and you ask them politely to turn it off, they yell at you and blow up a little bit, and then they come back down quickly.
And they realize, perhaps, that I’m not gonna win this argument, and this isn’t gonna go very well, and they just kind of reconstitute, then you could say, like, oh, I’m really mad, I told you to turn your phone off. I wonder if something else is happening because that’s not typically like you.
You’re seeing your kid in there and trying to pull them out. And say, I’m not gonna get into this power struggle with you. And I’m not going to fan these flames either by getting just as angry.
But then I also think afterward, you can regulate at the moment. If you can’t, and they storm off and lock themselves in their room, let them cool off. That’s not the time to bang on their door and win this argument.
They might need space to cool off. But then I think we sometimes forget to go back to it. We have to go back to it. When calm and connected, we’re reconnected in that safe part of our relationship.
And it doesn’t have to be like an hour later, doesn’t have to be the same day, wait for a moment when they’re genuinely feeling like themselves again and are feeling good with you. And that’s when you go back and say, Hey, that night at dinner, someone was bugging you. What was going on?
And so we’re sort of describing the situation from a nonjudgmental place, from a place of looking for their best intention, where they may be struggling to stay regulated, something might be assuming that something’s going on for them.
And then validate that it was a hard moment that didn’t feel good. And, if you did lose it, acknowledge it and take responsibility for it. But then you go back to what we can do differently because that didn’t work so well. Like, I think what you wanted at that moment was to get something you wanted to be accomplished, right? You want it to finish the thing you were doing on your phone. Right?
And that was at odds with our rules at the dinner table. So how do we help them get their needs met? How do we help them get their needs met? If you’re in the middle of a conversation with a friend, and I say it’s time for dinner? Can you say, Mom, I want to finish this conversation with my friend? Can I have two more minutes? Or can I say to my friend, hey, I want to finish this conversation with you? But I have to go to dinner. Can we reconnect in an hour?
So you’re using your planning, language, and problem-solving skills to meet your needs. We want to help coach our kids on how to do that. And we want to let them know that we’re safe to do that with, and there are just no phones at the table. And so you don’t get your phone for a week, and I’m not having a conversation that teaches you what to do next time.
I think people think if I can’t teach them at the moment at the table, then I failed as a parent. Yes, simply and effectively at this moment, like I just let them do whatever they want. And I’m not good at it -I am a pushover that’s gonna make me way pushier next time a kid pushes a limit with me because I’m going to be again, triggered that part of me that feels like, damn, I don’t know how to parent effectively.
Now I have to get bigger and stronger, and more powerful. It’s gonna show up because we feel helpless at that moment because we keep trying to do the right thing at the wrong time.
SHERYL: Yeah, trying to do the right thing at the wrong time. And you talk a lot about how we, as parents, can put so much pressure on ourselves for our kids to be well-behaved, perform, be successful, whatever that looks like to us.
And I see this a lot working with parents as well when their behavior at that moment, we are judging it as bad. Now, of course, sometimes they’re not the best choices, right? But we see it very black or white. And we better do something about this behavior right now to change it. Because if I don’t change this, I am, therefore, not a good parent.
And how well my kid is doing is dependent on me. And do you see that a lot? I mean, it seems to me that that can be such a driving force; we have to get out of the way when you’re describing what happens there. That’s so much more effective. We have to set ourselves aside for that moment.
So we can be curious about – I love how you say, I’ve never heard it said this way, what’s under the hood, like, what’s going on underneath their behaviors, to truly seek to see your kid and be on their side versus against seems like so often we’re fighting against.
DR BREN: Or we find ourselves stuck in that pattern, even though that was never our intention, like no parent says, I’m taking my kid down today. That’s what you want to be. I pulled 100 parents on the street and asked them, Do you want to be on your kid’s side? 99% of them will say, Yeah, I want to be.
Sometimes it feels really hard to be, but I want to be. And, all of a sudden, we find ourselves, especially with power struggles, forced in opposition to that, yet, we feel so helpless. And it feels so frustrating. And it makes them dig in more and makes us dig in more. And then we get stuck in these places where I set a limit. And now I can’t do life, but they’re not listening to the limit.
And now I just feel like I’m undermining my authority. And so I’m getting angry. And the angrier I get, the more like we’ve created a monster of a situation. And I often say we sometimes accidentally pour gasoline on their fire. And it just makes the problem worse. And I do think, as parents, we have to like kind of step back a little bit and reassess, what is my goal here?
Is it to win this power struggle? And be right? Because I am right. Most of the time, we’re probably right because, guess what? Our prefrontal cortexes are done with development, our ability to think rationally and forecast and inhibit impulse, and are logical with all these things. That’s pretty developed. It stops about 25,26. We were done. We were fully our brains done developing.
So we have a ton more ability than our teenagers to stay rational, even when we’re emotional. However, it is hard to do that. But when we look at our kids being so irrational, it can be dumbfounding. And it can be infuriating because we forget the appropriate expectation developmentally.
And again, I say this because I think it’s important, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have expectations of our kids. And we let them do whatever they want because they are absorbed and developing. But I think it’s important, like we are saying, to take it apart.
You can’t look at the behavior as representative of the child. You have to look at behavior in a very specific context. This behavior is happening right now under these particular circumstances in my relationship with myself.
Why? What’s going on for my child at this moment? And I think when we come at behavior from that vantage point, and say, there’s a reason why this is happening, and see our good kid is having a really hard time at this moment to do the thing we’d like them to do or to stay calm or to be kind or to plan well and make good decisions.
It might be because it usually is because the part of their brain is required for those things that are not accessible to them now. It’s not gone. They have those skills, which is why it’s super frustrating because what you did this yesterday, what should you do it right now? But if their prefrontal cortex is offline at this particular moment, we’ve got to get it back online to meet these expectations.
SHERYL: We forget that third learning. I think we expect them to be like adults already. And we forget because we love our kids so much, but we forget that they are also work in progress. And so are we.
I think it’s really important for me, I know, with my kids, even though they’re older, to remember that we’re all works in progress. And a lot of times, we learn from making mistakes. And they’re gonna have to make a lot of mistakes. And that’s okay. That’s not a reflection of us.
DR BREN: Yeah, and that deep, like deep, personalizing it, that’s a reflection of me. This is like, and sometimes my kid must make these mistakes to learn it. If I had constantly prevented them from making mistakes because I was always stepping in, intervening and fixing the problems, yelling at them until they got it done, and making sure it happened.
But, you’re gonna have a kid who, once you’re not there, doesn’t know how to solve these problems for themselves or tolerate the disappointment that may come from not getting the outcome they desired.
Because they didn’t put the effort in or they didn’t figure it out. They didn’t. They didn’t have to problem-solve. And so sometimes we must remember, what’s a bigger goal – is my bigger goal to have my kid not struggle. And my bigger goal is to have my kid get everything done how I’d like it to be done.
I get why we think that might be her goal, but I would challenge a parent by saying, Yeah, I think that’s my goal to say. In fact, in reality, it is perhaps your goal to have a child who knows how to do these things. Who can tolerate frustration, who can tolerate distress, who can tolerate disappointment?
When things don’t go the way they do, they can try again, and when they fail, they can get creative with their ability to pivot and problem-solve. Because if we want that, we want these resilient, gritty people to persevere, we’re gonna have to step out of the way and prevent, and like not prevent, all negative outcomes from occurring because we think we’re supposed to.
SHERYL: Yes, yeah. So good and is so important to be, but it’s hard. I think a lot of times when we have tweens and teens. We have to manage our anxiety to let them do that. I love how you said, take the long view. At that moment, we might have a goal, but will that serve them in the future?
DR BREN: I could have a power struggle with my kid and yell at them about their homework every night. But there, and I know this isn’t true for all children, but the vast majority of kids forget to turn in the homework they worked on and get a bad grade.
Or they choose to do something else instead of doing an assignment, and they get a bad grade. Like, they might care about that. Some kids don’t care about that much. And we have to find other ways to help them find their internal motivation. This is never so simple.
I know most people who come to me have tried many things, and they’re not working. But it’s because there’s a more complicated picture going on. I think at the end of the day. I’m always working with parents to do, like, Well, where is your unique child at this particular moment?
And we want to create an environment where each kid, based on their interests and strengths and weaknesses, is supported appropriately; we scaffold, we get them. It’s important to help kids feel like we are going to help them get as close to the finish line as they need to be, but they got across it themselves.
Kids need more and less scaffolding to do that. Some kids need independence to find the motivation to do that. Some kids need a lot of support. And so, you know, there’s not one way to do it.
And I feel very strongly about not giving parents a bunch of arbitrary scripts to use or rules to follow because I believe a lot more in like frameworks and giving them sort of the foundation, like if you understand how the brain and the body and the nervous system work if you know what a threat response is, and the difference between my child’s got their prefrontal cortex, their thinking brain accessible to them, versus my child’s in threat mode, their amygdala, their threat detectors pull the fire alarm, and they’re in fight or flight.
Well, that’s going to inform where I’m gonna meet them at that moment, and that’s an in-the-moment kind of thing. But then when their kid is regulated, who that kid is, and maybe they have a learning disability, or maybe they have a neurodiverse brain like maybe they have ADHD, or maybe they have OCD, or maybe they have anxiety, or maybe they’ve had experiences that have shaped their sense of self and their sense of relationships in the world, right?
Maybe they were bullied when they were younger. And they get threatened at school around new kids. Maybe social situations are really scary for them. Like there are so many, everyone’s so different. Everyone’s so individual. They all have their unique brain, their unique nervous system, and their unique lived experiences.
You have to take those into account as the parent to look, we said, look under the hood, why is my child having this response in this particular moment? In this particular way? There’s got to be a reason.
And when I come into that exchange with curiosity rather than I might be feeling frustrated, okay, that’s normal. But I can validate my frustration. I could say, Yeah, this is frustrating. Makes sense to me. As the parent, that’s my self-talk.
Coming at my child, warm, not hot. Yeah, that’s going to help them feel safe enough to start sharing with us what they’re struggling with now rather than shut us out. And not use our wealth of resources to help them problem solve, which is all we ever really want. We want our kids to want to let us help them.
SHERYL: Yeah. And that’s being that safe person for them, like you were talking about.
It was so good. Thank you. I mean, it’s just so good. And there’s so much to talk about. And I want you to share about your podcast because they can hear more about secure attachment and how to do that with it.
And so tell our listeners all about what you’re doing, how to find your website, you’re on Instagram, and you share your live videos. So let them know where they find you.
DR BREN: So I have a securely attached podcast, which you can find anywhere podcasts are, and that’s really about this foundational stuff. And, it’s a lot of the content. It is geared toward parents of younger kids. But I have a lot of stuff applicable to kids of all ages, especially teens and tweens.
Because when we’re talking about regulation and the way the brain works, that is information and attachment relationships at attachment security, that is all information that will be relevant for these older kids.
I have a workshop that I have on my website called To Be the Calm in Your Child’s Storm, which is very much like a kid, a parent of all ages kind of thing, because it’s really about this, like, how do we as parents self regulate when our kids are driving us nuts?
When they’re activating us when they’re triggering us so that we aren’t gasoline on their fire, that would be a good resource for Calming Your Child’s Storm workshop. And that’s on my website. You can find it at DrSarahbrown.com. And it’s under the workshops page.
And suppose you’re in New York State and interested in getting clinical support. In that case, I have a group practice called extra red psychology group where we work with people, again, at all points on the parenting timeline. So we work with teens and tweens and kids of all ages in person and virtually for therapy, but we also work with parents, and we do parenting support. And if you’re outside New York State, we do parent coaching at you can come and do pair coaching with us.
SHERYL: That’s great. Thank you so much for coming to the show and sharing your wisdom and where they can find you. So I appreciate the work that you’re doing.
DR BREN: Lovely talking with you, and I love this podcast, so I’m so happy to be on it.