Episode 25

Helping children own their feelings instead of blaming others

April 4, 2022

[Kyle]: All right. In this episode I’m really excited to talk about language, intentional language in our families. We hit upon this a few episodes back, but we're gonna follow up with it with a sequel and today we're gonna talk about some keywords like “always”, “never” and “it makes me” and we'll talk about how to use that differently and why it can be harmful in a family. Okay, so I hope it helps you today.

[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode 25 of The Art of Raising Humans podcast. I'm Kyle.

[Sara]: And I’m Sara.

[Kyle]: I'm kind of excited! 25, right?

[Sara]: Yeah

[Kyle]: That's a quarter of a hundred.

[Sara]: I’m saying “whoa, 25!”. It's very exciting.

[Kyle]: I know! Let's celebrate these things, right? I mean, geez, 25 is good. When we get to a 100, we gonna have a party, this is awesome. But on today's episode we are going to talk more about intentional language. A few episodes back, you can go back and listen, we talked about specific words that Sara and I have just worked on getting out of, not only our language personally, but in our family in general, because we have found as counselors and as just people, it's just not helpful, it really doesn't help the situation. So, I’m looking forward to having that conversation.

[Kyle]: I first want to emphasize that we would love for you to go leave comments, to give us a star rating, to share this with friends. The more people that can hear this, the more families that are helped. I mean, Sara and I are doing all of this to just help more families, you know? We're not doing it because we love the sound of our own voice. I do love spending time with my wife and I love hearing her voice, but it isn't to just be like “I hope people just hear our voices and think it's great”. We're doing it because we feel somewhat confined in the practice and how many families we can reach and this way, we're really hoping we reach a whole bunch more. So, our mission with Art of Raising Humans, our mission with Parenting Legacy as a private practice, is to change the world, is to help more families embrace a different style of parenting their kids, discipling them, raising self-controlled kids who, man, just bring more light to the world and the world really needs that right now.

[Sara]: Yeah. I think I feel so grateful. I feel in some ways that I fell into what I’ve learned. You know, it wasn't a path I thought “I need to change my ideas of parenting”. It wasn't like that and I came into the information and then, I saw all that was out there and started pursuing more and more and I’m so grateful for, I’m so grateful for what is brought to our relationship. I’m grateful for what is brought to our children and how we're raising them and our relationship with them and future generations and so, I want to share that, because I feel like I got this great thing and I need to share that great thing with others who I didn't know it was there.

[Kyle]: Exactly

[Sara]: I had no idea.

[Kyle]: Even though we went through a master's program and got a degree in counseling, we still didn't know lots of the things.

[Sara]: Yeah, we got little hints of it.

[Kyle]: Yeah, just like that, yeah.

[Sara]: But there's so much, is so great and it changes and has brought so much greatness into our lives and our relationship and I want to give that to other people.

[Kyle]: Yeah. So, we really hope it's helping you and we want to use this one-- This one in particular, we're going to jump on a few more words that I hear a lot and Sara does too when we're helping families and really, in a session, when I hear clients use this kind of language, I immediately jump on and say “hey, let's switch that language because it's just not helpful” and in the first one, if you want to go back if you haven't listened to it, but in the first one we spent a lot of time getting words out like “have to”, “need to”, “should”. Those kind of things tend to be really-- That they're just less healthy in the relationships with our kids and in our marriage and the way in which we talk to ourselves, okay? So, in this one, I really wanted to hit upon a couple key ones and so, by the end of this, I hope you'll understand why they're so important to kind of shift out of.

[Sara]: We're not just trying to pick on some words.

[Kyle]: No, like “and those words are stupid”

[Kyle]: No, these words in particular will kind of give the words first-- Give the background behind those words and what we see happen in relationships when they're used, but then also replace them with better ways to say it or more helpful ways or healthier ways to say it. So, in this one we're going to talk about moving away from words “always” and “never” and I know a lot of listeners probably have heard that before, but-- And the other one is “makes me”, “so it makes me”, all right? So, first of all, let's start out with the words “always” and “never”. What is the problem with those words, Sara?

[Sara]: Well, they're just very black and white, that's say “you always do this and that” or “you never--” and so, that immediately is going to say “it's this or that”. It's a very fixed way of looking at a situation and honestly, it just can't really be true.

[Sara]: “You never take out the trash” or I mean, it's something so-- “you never pick up your socks” and they probably have at some point and it just creates this battle immediately because it's a fixed position. “You're completely a loser because you never or always” and it just creates this battleground and it puts us in a place in our brain that's just going to war, because it's an “always” or “never” situation.

[Kyle]: Well, immediately when you do that “always” or “never” like you said, the kind of dichotomous the black or white type thinking, immediately puts the other person on the defensive. To where-- I don't know about you, Sara, but I immediately go “really? Let me think of the one instance I didn't just to prove you are wrong”.

[Sara]: Anything I said after “never” or “always” is lost, because you're thinking “there was this one day three years ago on Christmas day--”

[Kyle]: “You may not have seen it, but I did it.”

[Sara]: “I told you-- I did that for you”, you know?

[Kyle]: Well, and one of the things I say, if parents come in to a session and say the kid never does what I ask, then I just say “what are we doing here? Like your kid never does it, what are we trying to achieve? He never does it. So, okay, let's stop expecting him to do it because he just never does it”. So, it's something interesting in us when we say that, it's like we're typically upset. “You always do that” or “you never do that. Why am I still upset about it? Right? I should just go ahead and expect that to be the [Unintelligible]”

[Sara]: [Unintelligible] Like “my like my child never flies, they never fly, never fly. They never just take off and go flying”

[Kyle]: That's right and so, the reason why we're upset is because we're asking them to do something different, yet then telling them they never do anything different, right? And so, what the feedback I get from kids, especially teenagers who hear this, is they're like “then why do you think I can do it?”, you know? And many times, they'll buy into that story, they'll buy into that and start saying things like “I can't do it”, you know? Like “you never get your homework done on time” and yet, we're mad about it and then the people tell me “I can't get my homework done on time”, because--

[Sara]: They believe you.

[Kyle]: Yes! they bought into it.

[Sara]: “I’m never gonna do it”.

[Kyle]: And then, the whole thing they're getting in trouble for is they're not getting their homework done on time or there's never a time he comes home and just gets his homework done without an argument happening.

[Kyle]: Okay, then let's just accept that, let's just move forward, right? I mean, really the reason why we're upset, is we would like it to be different. So, the first step in that is I’ve got to stop having a fixed mindset about it. Now, it might be more accurate to say “he seldom does that” or “he often does that” and I know that might seem like “that's just semantics”, but once-- Just like we said in the previous podcast, semantics are important.

[Sara]: They are, they set the brain. Yeah, they that-- It signals the brain “okay, this is what we're working on”. If you say “never”, then “okay, we're working on never doing that”. But if you're like “you haven't done this much” or you know, then it goes “oh, okay, all right, there's some growth opportunity here, something can change”.

[Sara]: “It's not set in stone that it's never--”

[Kyle]: Well, even as you say that, I’m thinking there's times where I’m talking to somebody and I might be thinking “they always do that” or “never do that” and they might even point to an instance when they didn't and I’ll be like “oh, that's an outlier, that doesn't even count. You still always--”. So, when we're in that part of our brain, one thing, the language I’m using “always” or “never”, tells me I’m not in my prefrontal cortex, because the prefrontal cortex doesn't see the person that way. It's when I’m in the limbic system, it's typically when I’m stressed, when I’m anxious, when I’m upset, frustrated, annoyed, irritated, all those feelings, “always” or “never” grows out of that, okay? So, first I want the listeners, you know, that when I’m using that language it's not helpful, because it's not coming out of a space that allows the other human that I’m asking to change, to even change and like you said, I’m actually wiring my brain to predict that they cannot be successful at doing the thing I’m asking. Even if they were to do something that's different than what I’m saying they typically do, I won't either see it or I won't compute it as somehow different to what I’m saying, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah and we know that kids especially, they'll believe what we say about them. They actually believe what we believe about them and it reminds me of that study with those school teachers, where they said-- They told the school teachers “hey, these kids in your class, they're low IQ, they're not very smart”. These kids are really smart and it wasn't even true, they just told the teacher, the teacher did not tell the students. By the end of the year, what the teacher believed about the kids, became more true when they retested the children.

[Sara]: And so, I think if we're believing that a kid can't and never and we-- Like even if we don't say that, we want to leave that room in our-- In our brain, that they can and that they have-- Maybe they haven't done it yet or they haven't done it very often or-- If we believe that they can grow and that can change, then we'll behave differently towards them and it actually will help them do that.

[Kyle]: I think here's a good example with that, I was just thinking is, if I think my son never picks up his clothes, I’m also going to buy into that too and I will not ask him to pick up his clothes, right? So, eventually I’ll be like “why do I keep asking? He never does it” and then what's gonna happen is “I’m probably gonna pick up his clothes” and then the kid's gonna go “I never pick up my clothes, because my parents are--” This is the dance that starts to happen when I think in these all or nothing type approaches. So, I want to move away from the fixed mindset, which is an all or nothing approach and have a more growth mindset, that maybe they haven't done it yet or maybe they do it rarely, but the thing I want to grow, is the fact that they have done it or that I believe they are capable of doing it.

[Sara]: And that's where you want to put your focus.

[Kyle]: Yes. I want my focus on that and they think of it like a plant, I want to water that, because I want that to grow. I don't want to keep focusing how they always or never do it, even if let's say in some weird way, that was true, right? They've never done it. I don't want to water that, because that's not going to help me be more likely. So, I’m thinking the teacher example, but one teacher told another teacher “hey, you're going to get Johnny in your class this year. Johnny can never sit in his seat without talking to his buddies”, right? And so, then that teacher is going to already have that mindset set and immediately jump on Johnny and Johnny is “this is what I always do, I always walk in here and I talk to my buddies, right? I’m a big distraction, that's who I am, I’m the class clown”. I’ve seen kids as a school counselor who did that, that they just believe “that's my role, I’m a class clown” and when I talk to the teachers, the teachers all thought the same thing, right? And so, maybe that kid can be funny sometimes, but the kid isn't always clowning around, you know? And so, to try to find ways in which the kid can have a different identity.

[Kyle]: So, just I encourage you to notice when you're doing “always” or “never” and shift it away to something that's more growth mindset focused, okay? So, the next one is a big one, is “it makes me”. So, what I mean by that is a couple different ways, you know? So, a couple different ways people use this. One, “traffic makes me so mad”, okay? So, there's that approach that I want to talk about and another one is “how did that make you feel?”, you know? So, in both cases it's similar, as a similar I think destructive type of a thing to it or unhelpful a thing to it, just different approaches. So, what is the problem with “it makes me”, Sara? If you can expound upon that. So, if “traffic makes me mad” what's the problem.

[Sara]: This is honestly one of my favorite ones. When I learned this way back, it was part of going through school and graduate school, it felt like all the light bulbs went off, I fell-- And so, I would take that all the time into talking to people who felt very stuck in situations, that it takes all the power away.

[Sara]: You are now powerless. At my image, in my head, is always one of those little puppets with the strings and someone's up there making you mad.

[Kyle]: A marionette, yeah.

[Sara]: Yeah, and I used to have one actually in my office and I would pull it out because when I’m working with kids, you give them that visual, but honestly, there were plenty of adults who love that too, but look, if your brother or your whatever is making you mad, you're saying “here's my little puppet strings, run me. What I’m doing it's, I mean, it's just a result of you making me mad” and it takes all the power away from you and you can actually choose.

[Sara]: And so, I loved the removing in my own life of things making me feel or being a certain way and realizing, regardless of what they're doing or how they're-- You know, they actually can't make me.

[Sara]: I can choose it or not. I’m in control of me.

[Kyle]: Yeah. You know, we were learning this, I had a really good example. I was doing some drug and alcohol groups at the time and there was a guy from California and one guy had made the comment traffic makes him so mad in Tulsa and this guy said “man, traffic is great here”. He had no problem with it and so, it's interesting, I thought “oh, wait, I’ve said that too, that traffic makes me mad, but I guess if I lived in California and I’m in Los Angeles, I’m in some of the busiest highways in the world, Tulsa doesn't seem so bad”. He's like “guys, the longest it's taking me to get from across Tulsa is like 30 minutes”. He's like “in Los Angeles might take me two hours, you know?” So, in that case, he didn't think--

[Kyle]: Another one was there was a guy I was helping, who he liked heavy metal thrash music, right? Which is just kind of an interesting thing to like, but his wife didn't like it, his kids didn't like it, so he actually liked rush hour because he could jam to this music on the way home. From work to home, on that journey, he could-- He even brought drumsticks and kind of like drum on his steering wheel as he was doing it, but he could turn it loud, he could get into it. So, he was like, traffic actually makes him happy, you know? So, because he got-- But it was really him just taking traffic's power away, traffic couldn't take that from him. So, when I talked to people back then I’d say “how could you enjoy traffic?” and so, lots of people have ideas. I could talk to a friend on the phone, I could listen to a podcast such as The Art of Raising Humans and you know, do that kind of-- Like, I could listen to a book on tape, you know? I could listen to music that I love, you know? So, that I could roll the windows down and just focus on something else. There's a lot of ways to give power back to me, you know? Instead of giving it away to something else.

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah and that's what-- I started looking for all the places in my life where I thought “oh, this makes me--” and I would just reframe it and think about “well, what actually are my options here?” I know we told that story before my boss, I had a boss I would-- It was fairly frustrating sometimes for me and I told you, I said “the boss gave me an opportunity to be mad and I took it instead of--”. Even though I was mad, I recognized I chose that.

[Sara]: My boss could have acted that way and I could feel a lot of different feelings and I walked into the mat and decided that was what I was gonna go with, because my boss can't actually make me feel something.

[Kyle]: He can’t, yeah. Well, if you didn't catch that, I mean, Sara used to-- There was several weeks in a row while we were taking this class, where she would come home and say “god, my boss makes me so mad”, right? And then one day she changed it and we both agreed like, that sounded so much more empowering, like “he gave you the opportunity--" So, if you took it today, tomorrow you could choose to feel something else. He gave you the opportunity to be mad and you didn't take it, you chose to instead feel sorry for him or you chose to instead pray for him or you chose to instead just think about something else, right? So, there's all types of things you could have done and and I think so far, in all my experience counseling, you could tell me if you've experienced it, I’ve asked kids “does your brother or sister actually have mind powers? Can she or he make you mad?” Like because I need to meet this kid and then everyone to 100%, has admitted no one has superpowers and no one has been able to use telekinesis and to get in and actually make them feel something.

[Kyle]: And I found that freeing, it was nice to know.

[Sara]: That's what I just thought, this is the best thing ever, that I can now-- And I’ve learned more about that. You read about people who've gone through the holocaust or gone through these really-- And how they choose events happen in your life, really traumatic things can happen for people and you can read story after story about you can choose your reaction to events happening, instead of feeling like “I’m just at the mercy of the event that happened to me. I’m just the result of whatever happens in my life, is going to control who I am and how I feel”. Instead of “these things have happened, they've been events in your life, but you actually still have the power to decide who you are, how you're going to live, what feelings you have”.

[Sara]: And it's very empowering.

[Kyle]: Well, and a great book for that would be “Man's Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. So, this is a guy who was in the concentration camps with the Nazis and just watch how he empowers himself to feel something different other than what the Nazis, I think we're trying to make him feel, you know? And that's the cool thing about autonomy and freedom is “nobody gets to control how I feel about things”, you know? And I know it seems and sometimes, Sara, it does seem unbelievable, because there are things that happen that are scary or are sad, but even in those, it's really just those events and my beliefs and thoughts about those events, that's causing the feeling, you know? And that other people may not feel the same way and they don't need to feel the same way. Although even like a really sad situation could happen and most people might feel that way, but doesn't mean that situation made me feel that way.

[Sara]: Yeah, and it's even okay to feel that way. Like I said, like I chose to be mad.

[Sara]: It's just the fact that I’m owning, I’m--

[Kyle]: Take responsibility for your feelings, yeah.

[Sara]: Yeah, I’m sad when my grandfather died, I felt very sad, but his death didn't make me feel that way, I just feel that way in reaction to what happened and it just gives me this ability to shift my grief or move through situations instead of being the victim of the situation.

[Kyle]: And so, how this helps your kids is just in how you speak to them. One, if I’m upset with my child, I can say “I feel really frustrated right now”. So, instead of saying “what you did made me feel frustrated”. Because I’m telling you, a lot of kids bear the weight and the burden of that that like, “what you did made me sad” and all too often what I hear from kids that I’m helping, I’m sure Sara can resonate with this, is they find that they are really powerful at making you feel sad and making you feel mad and making you feel disappointed, but when you're having a bad day, they just don't seem to know how to make you feel happy or make you feel peace or make you feel less stressed, you know? And kids will say “I’ve tried” and so, eventually they get this idea of like “wow, my existence just seems to bring negative emotions, that's the only power I have. You know, if my parents are going through a divorce or my parents are fighting, I can't seem to make that change, you know? But if they're having a great day, I can really upset them. I can really, I can really--"

[Sara]: Really quickly take that away.

[Kyle]: How many times have you maybe say to your kids “you ruined it all! You know? We were having a great day till you did that and you ruined it”, you know? It's very rarely like, “that whole thing was going to the crapper and you did that and it made everything better!”, you know? Typically, that's not the power that kid has. So, I think that's important, because I want kids to know “you don't make me feel anything”. So, even when I’m-- When I get mad, I’ve said this from previous podcast, but when I get upset at my kids, I own it. “You didn't make me feel angry, okay? I chose to feel angry and here's why I was upset, you know?” and I’ll go back and just take responsibility for what I felt, but the next step is, when you're helping resolve conflict with kids. Lots of times what I’m helping parents’ kind of change in their approach of that, is instead of saying “how did your brother make you feel?” or “how did your sister make you feel?”, take the power away from that, just say--  It's a simple change, but an important change, “how did you feel about that?”. “So, when that happened, how did you feel about it?”, it's just a curious question. Rather than the other one, puts the other one as like the persecutor and then you're the victim, you know? They made you feel this thing and now, the only way to fix is you got to change them, you got to make them stop doing it. So, it immediately sets itself up as us against you or it sets itself up as a power struggle and I don't really see anything positive come from those conversations typically.

[Sara]: Yeah, and you know, later in life you're going to enter into a lot of relationships where you can't control your boss, you can't control these people and so, if you're relying on them to make you feel happy and to make you feel all the things you want to feel, you're going to be disappointed and you're just going to walk around the victim of how everyone is treating you and being in life and you really-- I think it's a great way from a very young age that you can instill in kids, “okay, this event happened and you feel this way about it. Understandable, completely empathize and understandable, but you still have the power to then go do something. You know, you can feel better, you can change this, instead of just being at the mercy of everyone else”.

[Kyle]: Well, and I love it. If you come with curiosity many times, once you get out of that makes me stuff, like a kid saying “that friend did that thing and it made me this way--“. Once you can move away from that with empathy, then you can go “I wonder how else I could have felt about it?”, you know? That if I just “oh, it was how I-- Oh, I took it personal. When that friend said that thing to me, I was sad because I was thinking they were personally--”, but then, maybe they were hurting and maybe they were just “oh, now I don't feel the same way” and like, it opens their mind up to “it isn't black and white, there isn't one way to see the event, there's many ways to see the event”. Like, I’m thinking of so many times where something bad has happened and then when you reflect upon it, you go “it could have been a lot worse, you know?” And you go “wow, I’m actually really grateful”, you know? Like I remember we had a problem coming back from Colorado and this thing happened to our tire and at first, I was like “oh my gosh”, I was getting really upset and quote/unquote “it was making me mad that I didn't check the tire beforehand”. “How did I not see that?”, I was kind of beating myself up, but thank goodness, because I’ve grown and matured a lot, it didn't take me long to shift out of that and as we're sitting on the highway waiting for a tow truck to come, I was like “this is so cool, what an opportunity for the kids to learn how to handle this moment”, right?

[Kyle]: I even remember there's one podcast we like, where a guy was someone who was in a wreck with his daughter and they didn't get seriously hurt, but it was a wreck and it was their fault and he said in the podcast, it just blew me away because he said-- As they're dealing with, his daughter's all upset and he said he looked at his daughter and realized “this is the first time she's been in a wreck” and he was actually excited to share with her. So, instead of being all upset, he was “this is your first wreck, isn't it? Oh, I’m so glad I get to do this with you!”. So--

[Sara]: Well, and didn't he walk her through? Okay, you need to know if wrecks happen, you need to do insurances, you need to do--

[Sara]: And so, is an opportunity, he just immediately went to “what a great chance for her to learn what to do in these situations”

[Kyle]: He said “that lady's gonna get out of her car, she's gonna be scared and upset at me and that's okay, I would be upset at me too. So, I’m gonna get out, I’m gonna help her calm down, we're gonna take care of her. I’ll let her know what our insurance is, we'll make sure she has what she needs, right?” and it was just really cool how he shifted it, but instead you could say the accident made him mad, the accident-- He didn't let that happen, instead he chose how to feel about that accident in that moment.

[Kyle]: So, I just really hope that this empowers, you know? One, other aspect that we didn't even get into is, not only, you know, with the idea of saying to the kids that that person didn't make you feel that way, but just the empowerment of just in ourselves, being able to move away from situations in our lives that seem to just-- We may not even verbalize, but we think that things have control over how we feel or think in that moment and so, we didn't really delve into that as individual stuff, we kind of did more of a cursory thing, but we can talk about that some other time.

[Kyle]: But in this moment, I hope what you're hearing from us is moving away from “always” and “never” and really stopping and thinking before you say something, makes you feel something or inviting the kids into sharing that. I love kids sharing their feelings, I love you sharing your feelings with your kids, but the “makes me” language is going to inevitably be problematic for you, okay?

[Kyle]: So, I hope that helps you, hope it gives you some ideas for switching from the “always”, “never” to more growth mindset language and then, “it makes me” to “how did you feel about that?”, right? And even being curious about yourself, “how did I feel about that?”, okay? And so, just would love to hear that journey, we'd love to hear your comments on that and love to hear anything that comes out of this process as you change this stuff with your kids. So, really enjoy getting to have this conversation with you and I hope it helps your family have healthier conversations.

[Sara]: Thank you for listening.