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How to Calm the Chaos, Raising Challenging Tweens and Teens

On today’s episode. We’re joined by the incredible Dayna Abraham to talk about how to calm the chaos, raising challenging tweens and teens.

Dayna Abraham has become a trusted and proven leader in the parenting community. An award-winning, national board-certified educator who has spent over ten years in the classroom, she is the founder of the popular parenting site Lemon Lime Adventures.

She is also the CEO of Calm the Chaos, a seven-figure company that offers support to thousands of parents worldwide. Her social media has a weekly reach of over 1.2 million people.

She is also the author of Superkids Activity Guide to Conquering Everyday and Sensory Processing 101.

Today we discuss Dayna’s recent book, Calm The Chaos, and we talk about parenting a challenging kid. Dayna shares the importance of how we can shift our perspective of how we view our kids and their challenging behaviors, AND she shares some great nuggets from her book that will help to ground us in the heat of the challenging moments while finding calm in the chaos.  

Let’s dive in! 

What You Will Learn: 

  • Dayna’s view of what “challenging kids” means and the five essential steps to calming the chaos.
  • A family success plan and how it can turn things around for a family struggling.
  • Examples include using a memory anchor, such as picturing the child as a baby, or simple phrases like “there is no bear” to signal safety to the brain.
  • Instead of seeing the behavior as attacks or violence, Dayna emphasizes the importance of understanding that the child is struggling and needs support.
  • Dayna discusses the shift in mindset needed when dealing with challenging behaviors in children.

Where to find Dayna:

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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:  Well, welcome Dayna to the Moms of Tweens and Teens podcast. I am so excited to have you here. 

DAYNA:  I am so excited to be here. It’s gonna be fun.

SHERYL:  Yeah. Well, what you’re what you are doing, and your book, Calm the Chaos. I’ve been reading it; it’s super helpful. What you do is so needed. And I just want to launch and have you share with our listeners how you got started doing what you’re doing and telling a little bit of your story. 

DAYNA:  I sometimes joke that I was born into this because I grew up as a sibling of a bipolar brother. And so I was on the receiving end of many of his explosions. And I watched my parents, despite being, I think, really amazing parents; I saw them struggle to raise him. And I saw him struggle to figure out the best ways to navigate life. 

Then, when I grew up, I became an educator. My favorite kids were the ones that came with a paper trail behind them, or the other teachers would talk about them in the staff lounge. And these kids were the ones that were getting in trouble a lot, or they weren’t showing up to school. 

And there were all these things under the surface. And I knew there was so much more to them. So when I became a parent, I was like, I got this figured out like I grew up with it, I’ve dealt with it in the classroom, I’m going to be able to handle anything my kid throws at me, and boy, was I wrong. 

So, my eldest was kicked out of his first preschool by the time he hit school. I was getting calls from school and kindergarten. By first grade, he was getting suspended. By second grade, he was suspended more days than in school. And it just kept escalating. And so it just became evident that he was on a trajectory very similar to my brother’s. And I just did not want to see that happen. 

And so I ended up quitting teaching, coming home, and homeschooling him against my will. My main goal was not academic; it was to help him not hate himself for not being like all the other kids. And how do I help him not hate the world for it not being a world he fits in? 

And, so, I didn’t want him to blame others. And I didn’t want him to blame himself. So we hunkered down, and I went back into all the things I had studied in school and all the new research that was out, and just piece by piece, I started trying to figure out how to help him and help our family. 

SHERYL:  I’ve never heard anybody ever explain it that way. And I feel so emotional because rather than stopping his behavior, I just want him to stop this behavior, which, of course, when you have a kid that’s acting out that way, you do want to stop it, but you did not want him to hate himself and hate others.

DAYNA:  I knew at the root of it what would happen, and we see this, especially as they get older and they turn into teenagers; they turn that hate towards themselves, and they start hurting themselves. Or they turn that hate towards others. 

And that’s where we see this large increase of dangerous things happening in schools. And then, if it doesn’t happen when they’re teenagers, they still have that anger toward everyone else once they become adults. That’s where we see all this other stuff happening in the news now. 

And it’s just like, let’s stop it before it gets to that point where they don’t love themselves. And they don’t love other people. Like I just knew, that was at the core of what he needed.

SHERYL:  Yeah. How was that? You’re going to that place of Oh, my gosh, you might struggle with what my brother has. 

DAYNA:  I mean, it was hard. I talk a lot about it in my programs; our thoughts greatly influence how we show up and respond to our kids. And so if I allowed myself to see my son’s behavior as attacks, as violence as abuse, then I reacted and responded as if it was abuse. And so I had to change my language and thoughts around their struggles. 

If he could respond differently, he would; if he could calm himself down, he would. My son is not innately bad. Children who act this way aren’t innately bad; they struggle and don’t know how to get the help they need. And they don’t even know how to communicate what is happening inside. And many don’t know what’s going on because of their age. 

They don’t have that metacognition, or they don’t have that self-awareness yet. And so they need at least one person who’s going to be there to support them, help them understand themselves, empower them, and not give up on them. 

And I saw that one of the things that my brother lacked was someone who could help him understand himself. Instead of let’s fix you, let’s get you better. Let’s make you fit into the world instead of here’s all this awesomeness about you. And here’s the flip side of how that shows up in the world, making it hard for you to navigate the world.

SHERYL:  A very different, very different mind shift. And taking off these glasses that you see things through and putting on a different set to see it through a different lens. 

DAYNA:  And it’s hard. And you have to remind yourself that I’m not perfect, right? I always tell my community that when you fall back into these things, I don’t like to call them mistakes. I don’t like to say I did it wrong. 

This is a very human experience. So I’m not going to get it perfect. I will get triggered by things my son is doing or the things kids are doing. I might go into those catastrophizing thoughts of like, oh, my gosh, is my son going to be the next school shooter? 

It always crossed my mind; it scared me. And so I always took everything seriously. I don’t want anyone to hear that. I just passed it off as he’s being a kid. He’s doing his thing. It was like, No, this is super serious. But I know at the root, it’s about helping me understand who he is and him understanding himself. So we can figure out tools and systems that work.

SHERYL:  And so, how did you come about writing to Calm the Chaos?

 DAYNA:  So Calm the Chaos is, I think of it as a decade in the making. So I brought my son home ten years ago, almost to the day of, like, right now, as we’re recording this. So, it took a long time to navigate and figure out, and I created a community because I felt so alone. And I didn’t consider myself an expert; I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. 

Because here I am, with all this educational background, I couldn’t help my son. So, I started a community so I wouldn’t feel so alone. And I wanted to find one other person. Over the last ten years, I’ve found millions of other parents who are struggling and feel so isolated and feel like no one understands what they’re going through. And they’ve placed so much blame on themselves. 

Maybe I did this; maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I ruined my kid. And they’re trying to figure out what’s going on. And so about five years ago, I said, Alright, I think we’ve started finding some things that are working, let me go ahead and put this together. And I’ll take a little course. 

And so I put together a course where 25 people do it, then 50, then 75, then two, hundreds, and 1000s. And so as people came in and did the course, I started to see that this doesn’t just work for aggressive behavior, but it works for toddlers who are having tantrums over you gave them a purple shoe instead of a blue shoe, or, you slice their apple the wrong way. 

And it also worked for teenagers who are starting to experiment with drugs, or they’re finding inappropriate things online. And they’re having conversations and relationships that aren’t safe for them. So, it works in all those different instances. 

In the beginning, it was this framework that I talked about in the book, these four key ingredients that are what I wanted to create. I’m kind of going all over the place, so forgive me. But I didn’t want to just create another, do this, say this, this is the right way, this is the wrong way. I didn’t want to create another resource like that. 

I wanted something that could be adaptable to each unique family and each unique child because there is no cookie-cutter solution. And you hear people say there’s no handbook like What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but no kids don’t come with a manual. 

And I was like, but what if they did? What if there was at least a framework to guide us that, you could kind of say, Okay, I’m dealing with this challenge. What do I do? How do I approach this? 

I realized there are these four key ingredients with any challenge, and it comes down to connection and understanding empowerment. Then you, the one person, being grounded, centered, and showing up in the best way you can for that other person. And so that’s that mindset piece I was talking about, and you need all four. You don’t need to have the mastery; you don’t need to be perfect at all of them. But you do need all of them. 

So that’s why you’ll hear people say, well, I’ve tried building a connection with my 13-year-old, and they ignore me or don’t want to connect with me, so nothing works. And it’s like, well, that’s the connection part. You also have to have an understanding of what’s under the surface. 

Why aren’t they wanting to connect? Or maybe they have a different way of connecting, and you’re not connecting in their way. Or maybe you think that 13-year-olds are just supposed to be bratty, snotty, and rude. And so when you approach it that way, they’re already getting that energy from you. And they’re already like, oh, yeah, mom thinks I’m annoying, right? 

And even though you love them, maybe you don’t have the empowerment piece down where the kids don’t feel like their voice matters. And they don’t feel like they have a say in what they do and how they get to navigate. Because that’s one of the things that a lot of 13-year-olds feel like is like, my mom doesn’t listen to me, or my dad doesn’t listen to me or, like, you’re not listening to what I’m trying to tell you. 

And so that empowerment piece is really important both for the parent and the kid. Do you need all four ingredients? So that’s where that came from. And then, when COVID happened. One of the things we noticed is you can have the best framework, and you will have the best strategies and tools, but if you’re in survival mode, you can’t access them. That’s where the roadmap was born. Many of the resources and tools out there start with creating structure, rules, boundaries, and routines, which are all great; you need all those things. 

But if you’re in survival mode, if your house is dealing with arguments from the moment your feet hit the floor till the moment that you go to bed, you can’t access all of those great tools and strategies that you’re trying to implement, and neither can your kids. 

And so the roadmap in the book lays it out: there are five stages. And at each stage, it uses those four key ingredients. And it starts simple and small. And then it builds as it goes. And in those first few stages. It’s all about you, not the kids, because you can’t control other people. And so what you can control is yourself when chaos is happening all around you. 

You can say, Okay, I need to be grounded, I need to be calm in the storm, I can control how I show up, I can get my own time and energy back. Now, I can build that relationship with my kids. And so now I’m ready for structure and routines and things like that.

SHERYL:  I love everything that I was reading in your book, so I was like, it’s so spot on. Because you, like you said, you can have all these tools. But if you’re not grounded, then it doesn’t matter, and then you feel like you’re failing. Oh, one more thing: I’m blowing it. And so all those components are super helpful. And I love how they all go together.

DAYNA:  They do, and it feels overwhelming if you try to do everything and all the advice out there. And then there’s conflicting advice. As an ADHD adult, I have a unique perspective of when a project is overwhelming, and something feels too large to tackle. 

The way that you move forward through it is by finding one tiny baby step. But a lot of parenting advice out there isn’t tiny baby steps. It’s, you’re starting at the result. Let’s create this tool. 

Let’s teach our kids a growth mindset. Let’s teach our kids self-regulation strategies. And it’s like, nope, let’s get everyone feeling safe, heard, seen, and valued first, then we can teach them those other things.

SHERYL:  And then a lot of those issues go away when they feel that.

DAYNA:  Yeah, they feel safe when they feel seen and heard. And when they feel that, you can start building those tools, plans, and resources. As you go and the relationship chips start changing, they start advocating for their own needs.   

I know my son’s 18, But he’s autistic and has ADHD, sensory processing disorder. He was misdiagnosed with DMD, which is a dysregulated mood disorder, when he was growing up, and so he’s got massive anxieties. 

We went trick or treating the other day; he wanted to take his actual real sword instead of a play one. It was so weird because it went with his costume. And I was like, I just don’t feel like that’s very safe. And he goes, Well, how about this? How about we have a conversation about it? 

Instead of getting frustrated, he was like, I think we should have a conversation and talk about our concerns. So, can you share your concerns, and then he tells me my concerns? He told me him, and we ended up coming up with a plan that would get the sword out. We’ll take pictures and put them away because it’s gonna be safer if the sword stays home since it’s real, not a toy. And after that, he was fine. 

But that is what’s possible when you start small, and you start building this, where if I just said, No, you’re not taking the sword, that’s the end of the story. Like, we’re done, we’re done. He’s 18; he could say, Mom, I’m doing whatever I want. But instead, he was like, well, let’s have a conversation about this. I was like, Okay, let’s go.

SHERYL:  I love that because you’ve modeled what you teach. And when you see it, I want the other listeners to know they catch it when we model it. Absolutely. And sometimes we think, no, I just want to stop this behavior in my kid and fix it. 

But it’s like Dan Siegel says: Inside Out Parenting, he has that. And that’s like what it is. And then he’s like, can we have a conversation? You could hear him calmly talk and come up with something, and he felt heard. 

 DAYNA:  It takes longer to solve the problem when you’re doing it. But the change lasts longer. Like, that’s what I think is so important. So instead of just being like, I’m gonna fix the behavior, I’m going to take away their electronics, I’m going to nip this in the bud, I’m going to punish them or ground them or give them a timeout, whatever it is, I mean, when you’re dealing with older kids, you’re probably not giving them a timeout. 

Instead, you’re grounding them or taking away their phone or whatever that is. But when you hand them that phone back, guess what? You didn’t solve the problem there, you didn’t teach them a skill, and they didn’t learn a new strategy. 

And so they’re gonna go right back to whatever it was because we didn’t solve the root cause of whatever was causing the thing to make you take it away. And so while the behavior might stop faster, if you take things away, or if you enforce a strict boundary, and say, I’m the parent, this is the way it’s going to be, it might go away at first, but you’re not creating lifelong change. 

However, if you take that extra, maybe, a month to work through one particular struggle, or sometimes in our community, people will focus on one struggle for 90 days. And by the end of the 90 days, if they stay focused on just that one struggle, it’s usually solved. 

Not only is it solved, but it has ripple effects on so many other struggles. Because there are skills that are built, and there are tools and systems that are created. And there’s a relationship and trust, a foundation built for the next time something comes up, and they can communicate that.

SHERYL:  Yeah. And I love that because especially how you mentioned having tweens and teens, is they will resist, like, they can say if they’re if you’re not hearing them, if you’re just saying no, they can go now I’m gonna do it anyway, for three months and carry on to their room. 

Yeah, you can’t make them. And that’s so frustrating. I love that having those conversations is so important and empowering them. So, I want you to share the anchors because when I read the book, I thought, ooh, these are so good. So can you?

DAYNA:  So those are super powerful; the idea of an anchor is many affirmations and sayings out there. And they’re usually a poster of about 15 of them. And we all save them and the little memes and things like that on our phones. 

But when it comes time to actually when our kid doesn’t get off electronics, when we get the report card home, and they haven’t been turning in their work, we start to fly off the handle, and we can’t access our tools at the moment. 

And so an anchor grounds you in the heat of the moment, and you’ve practiced it a ton out of the moment so that it can ground you, and you’re coming up with something unique to you that your brain believes. 

So, as adults, we still go into our stress response, that fight-flight or freeze response. And so we might yell, shut down, hide away in the closet, whatever it is. Or we might even just appease whatever’s going on and be like, Fine, just do it because it’s easier than having that fight. 

And so if we know that’s how we show up when we can create an anchor for those rough moments, we can ride the storm without falling into those instinctual habits and rewire how we show up in stressful moments. 

And so some examples of this would be what I described in the book; one of them is a myth. Memory anchor. And so when we see our kid, and they are saying I hate you, you’re the worst mom ever, shut up, mom, whatever those are, or they’re calling us, bruh.  

So if any of those things are happening, we’re like, How dare you, right, like the thing comes up in our head. But if we can then see them as that one-year-old or that six-month-old that needed us, that was dependent on us, that is crying because they don’t have words, if we can picture that, in that moment, sometimes that’s super grounding for us to remember, wait a second, they’re just they’re still developing, they’re still growing, they’re still a child, and they need me. 

And some reacting to them, I would not yell at my six-month-old for yelling at me because they’re tired, hungry, upset, whatever it is; I would try to help them and support them. And it’s harder when you’re looking at a teenager. But that anchor can be helpful when you remember them and picture them as a baby. 

The other thing, sometimes that’s not helpful for people a memory anchor, so they use things that are, since certain smells, or certain body movements, or certain thoughts, like a lot of times are people will use now is not the time as an anchor, something that just really grounds them. 

So they want to be like, No, we’re not going to do that. You can not say that to me. And instead, they just tell themselves that now is not the time. That means that now is not the time to fix this; now is not the time to enforce. Now, it’s not like, let’s get through this. 

Then we can talk about how you were upset earlier and you said some hurtful things. But at the moment, they won’t hear you say that anyway. And so it’s if you can find one phrase that your brain believes that reminds you that you’re safe. 

Another one that my students love is there is no bear. And that means our brain is going into this, like, oh my gosh, there’s a bear; I either need to fight it or run or hide from it. And so if you say there is no bear, we’re okay. We can get through this, you’re telling your brain, it’s okay, thanks, friend. But I got this: I do not need you to go into that stress response. 

But you practice it out of the moment. So I tell people, you’re gonna laugh at this. But I say practice while you pay. So I knew you were going to the bathroom; you picture your teenager talking back to you while washing the dishes or rinsing your hands. You imagine your kid rolling their eyes at you, whatever it is, the thing that typically triggers you, and you struggle to remain calm. You’re going to picture that. 

And then you’re going to picture yourself stopping, not saying anything, taking a big deep breath in so that your brain gets oxygen, and then saying that phrase in your head, either picturing them as a baby or saying there is no bear or now’s not the time, or he needs me. 

You practice that so many times out of the moment you’ll notice that when it happens, it becomes instinctual. You have rewired your brain. 

SHERYL:  Yeah. And research shows that I just want to say that I think a couple of them are helpful because I wrote them down. All behavior is communication. They aren’t doing this to me. That’s good with teenagers. 

And this isn’t about me. And I think those are good, too. When you, especially when you’ve got those tweens and teens like, Okay, this isn’t personal. This isn’t about me. 

DAYNA:  And another one for teens and tweens that’s important that I find is we can catastrophize, and we can see them out. Yes, in our 24-year-olds. And so if we just say, this isn’t an emergency. 

Because we think, oh my gosh, if they’re doing this at 10, if they’re doing this at 12, if they’re doing this at 13, what’s gonna happen when? And it’s like I can’t worry about ten years down the road or five years down the road. And that stress gets stronger the closer they get to 18. 

We put so much pressure on ourselves because we feel like we’re running out of time. And if we can tell ourselves we’re not running out of time. Yes. This isn’t an emergency. I’m not running out of time. This is just a moment that can help calm us.

SHERYL:  Well, tell them all about where to find you and where to get your book, which is fabulous, all that you’re doing, you have so much support, so many resources; I want them to check out what’s available to them. So thank you.

 DAYNA:  Yeah, so you can get the book anywhere books are sold. And then, after you do that, you can go to CalmtheChaosBook.com. And we have some fun goodies for you and bonuses for you. You can also find me when you put in your receipt over there. 

I have my podcast on every social channel at Calm the Chaos Parenting. We offer several courses and memberships to support and meet you where you are. And so, the best thing is just to reach out on one of those social channels. Let me know if you heard me on this podcast, and we’ll determine the best-suited program for you.

SHERYL: Wonderful. Well, Dana, thank you. And I just look forward to knowing we’ll be in contact and talking more. And so I’m excited about that and so grateful for what you’re doing and what you offer to parents.

DAYNA:  Thank you. I am so excited about our collaboration and all the good things you’re doing. So thank you.

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