Ep. 33 / Gentle Parenting for Autistic and ADHD Children with Debbie Godfrey

positive discipline for autistic childrenToday I'm talking with Debbie Godfrey, a positive parenting guru. Debbie's a certified Parent Educator with over 30 years of expertise in the parenting education field. She's helped parents around the world solve problems with their families and their children by teaching methods to improve behavior in a positive, gentle way.

She's served tons of organizations throughout the country, including C.A.A.N (Child Abuse and Neglect), Casa Pacifica, Conejo Valley Substance Abuse Prevention Authority and Child Development Resources of Ventura County, The California State Foster Parent Association, and many others. She conducts teacher trainings, parent education, workshops and does amazing work in her field.

Debbie and I discuss some ways that we can improve our parenting and gentle discipline for autistic children and ADHD kids, answering questions like:

  • What is positive parenting?
  • How does it support child self-esteem?
  • Why don't we need punishment?

Plus, Debbie's answering listener questions about common parenting trouble spots, like how to handle defiance, aggression, and co-parenting struggles!


🎧 Want to listen? This post is based off of Episode 33 of the Neurodiverging Podcast! Listen on Apple Podcasts Google Podcasts | Spotify


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Show Notes:


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Transcript of Ep. 33 / Positive Discipline for Autistic and ADHD Children with Debbie Godfrey

Introduction

Danielle: [00:01:03] Hello, everyone, and welcome back to the Neurodiverging podcast. I’m Danielle Sullivan, and I’m your host.

Today, I’m so pleased to be bringing to you this interview with Debbie Godfrey, who’s a positive parenting guru. She’s a certified parenting educator bringing over thirty years of expertise in the parenting education field. She’s helped parents around the world for three decades solve problems for families and their children, improve behavior in a positive, gentle way. She served tons of organizations throughout the country, including the Conejo Valley Substance Abuse Prevention Authority, Child Development Resources of Ventura County, the California State Foster Parent Association, the Southern California Mother of Twins, and so many other places. She’s conducted teacher training, she conducts parent education, and just does a lot of fantastic work in her field.

[00:01:55] So, today, we’re sitting down, we’re talking to Debbie about some ways that we can improve our parenting in the home with neurodivergent children. So, what is positive discipline? How does it support chid esteem? Why don’t we need punishment? And then I took some listener questions from Instagram, from the mailing list – thank you to those who contributed – and we’re asking Debbie your questions about how to handle “defiance,” aggression, how to co-parent, etc. There’s some really good stuff in here. I’ve so enjoyed this conversation, and I hope you enjoy it, too.

One content note for you is that, we do discuss corporal punishment briefly, around the fortieth minute – around 00:40:00 – if you do not want to listen to that section, I would encourage you to either exit out or skip ahead a little bit. For context, we’re just talking about Debbie’s experience raising her kids when she was much younger, when it was much more common to see authoritarian parenting and corporal punishment as a common parenting method. So, that’s at minute 40 – hop out of there if you feel concerned about it. Otherwise I hope you really enjoy this episode. I learned so much from Debbie, I’m really excited to share it with you. 

Here we go! 

Gentle Parenting For Neurodivergent Kinds

Danielle: Welcome, Debbie, to the Neurodiverging podcast! I’m so happy to have you here! Thanks for joining us! 

Debbie: Oh, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it, this is going to be super fun.

Danielle: I’m so excited to have you! So, I know you’re a positive parenting coach, and you’ve done so much work on positive parenting. I’ve talked about it before in this podcast a little bit, how much that turned my life around, and my relationship with my kids around. So, I’m just very excited to have you.

[laughter]

Could you tell us a little bit, from your perspective, about the basics of parenting – positive parenting – what it means, and what it encompasses?

Debbie: Yes. Thank you. 

To me, it means parenting in a way that helps our kids learn, but doesn’t break their spirit. That’s the essence of it, to me. and, mainly, what that involves, is not using punishment, but using discipline. And they’re two distinct things. 

[00:04:02] Punishment is a form of discipline, but discipline involves a lot of other things than punishment. And so, using ways that teach kids to be more responsible, respectful, do the right thing – all of those can be accomplished without punishing them. And one of the reasons for that is the effects of punishment, and often short-term punishment can be effective and correcting a misbehavior, but it almost always hurts the child’s self-esteem, and in the long run it may actually not elicit what we are desiring, which is respect, responsibility, and those sorts of things. 

Danielle: Thank you so much. I know that I have an ADHD daughter, and one of the traits that’s most common with her is this very high energy, high-willed, and impulsivity, and that breaking the spirit was something we struggled with a lot, because we did not want to break her spirit, but we’re often very challenged y how impulsive she can be, and just not knowing what else to do to get in front of that. So, that seems like a big piece of the puzzle for me.

Debbie: Well, it is, and the challenge with ADHD – and some other diagnoses, too – are, the thing itself – so, the ADHD – children and adults – because a lot of times this goes into adulthood, or people get diagnosed in adulthood – any of us that get diagnosed with this, we can learn – and sometimes, naturally adapt, and learn coping mechanisms, to be able to function and succeed with the ADD and the ADHD. 

[00:05:53] Where the damage comes in, is this secondary self-esteem damage, that happens just as a result of what you’re saying. When we – their caregivers, parents, teachers – get to the end of our rope and just can’t deal with all that energy, all that lack of focus, however it’s manifesting itself, and we get tired, and we snap. 

And the thing is, I think, with all of these, as well, when we’re talking about the neurodivergent child, we have to parent even better. 

[laughter]

Danielle: Yeah, that’s been my experience.

Debbie: All of us need a baseline for parenting, and that’s what I teach. The positive parenting, to me, is just a super good baseline of parenting. Let’s all learn how to communicate, how to discipline kids without punishing them, by correcting their behavior, redierecting their behavior, teach them to be responsible and respectful, ad do the right thing, and build their self-esteem while we’re doing it. And I love that, it’s so clean, because the old way, you spank them, or however you punish them, and “I’m doing this for your own good.” And you punish them, and then you have to hug them and say, “I’m doing this because I love you.” And it’s a very messy and complicated form of discipline, that children have a hard time processing. “So, you hit me, but you love me, how do I make sense of this in my world?” 

And so, they often – the coping mechanisms to most forms of punishment are very dysfunctional later in life. So, they can learn a way to cope with it when they’re young, and to adapt to the punishments, but they’ll often take mistaken beliefs into their adulthood that will affect their adult relationships.

Now, when we’re talking about what we’re talking about, in kids that are even more challenging – the behaviors become even more challenging, we have to be ten times more patient than a parent of an average kid would. We have to be ten times more consistent than a parent of an average kid would. 

[00:07:52] So I wouldn’t even say that there’s a lot of parenting tools that you need to learn differently – although, again, it depends on what the child is presented with – but for the most part, we just have to get better at what we already know to do. And there’s a few exceptions of that, and we can talk about that further along in the podcast. 

Danielle: Thank you. I also, when you were just talking, was thinking about how, if you’re raised with the older style of parenting and discipline, that – then, when it’s your turn to parent, like you said, you’ve got all of these not particularly great parenting approaches with you. So, you’re not only trying to be a better parent for your kids, but you’re also trying to learn for yourself how you should have been parented. And so many of us, especially those identifying as adults, have to, almost, reparent ourselves, and say, “Oh, I should have boundaries around this thing, but I didn’t learn them when I was a kid.” Or, just basic – whether violence is ever the answer circumstances or not – but I didn’t learn that as a kid. It can be, like you say – you have to be ten times better at everything for your child, but also you should be doing it for yourself as well, which is a double challenge for these neurodivergent adults who are also parenting their neurodivergent kids.

Debbie: Oh, so much so.

Danielle: It makes it even more important to get those good basics in. 

Debbie: And I think that’s – what I love about what I do – and when I started teaching thirty years ago, about half of the parents who would come to my classes had kids that they thought were ADD or ADHD. That was the most common diagnosis back then. Of course, that’s diversified to a lot of other things these days, but that was super common. And what would happen, is the parents would come, and they would learn some different parenting tools – positive parenting, positive discipline, ways to build your children’s self-esteem while at the same time correcting their misbehavior.

[00:10:03] So yeah, they come and about half of them would find out their child actually wasn’t – it was a mismatch of their parenting style. So they way they were parenting was causing their kids to be more rebellious. The way they were parenting was causing their kids not to listen. When they learned better parenting skills and tools, the kids would be much better. They would improve enormously.

Now, the other half had kids that very obviously, physiologically, had kids with ADHD or ADD or whatever it is, and what they would find is, using positive parenting tools lessens the amount of stress, and gives us more of an ability to manage the behaviors. It makes us feel more competent and capable.

And so, either way, it was helpful. Whether it ruled out the behaviors, or whether it helped mitigate some of the behaviors, and I think – that’s why I always feel it’s so important for all parents – and especially parents that have children that they think has some kind of diagnosis because of their behavior – to take a basic parenting class. And to get a wider range of skills and tools to give yourself – to make sure to rule out your parenting style as incompatible with your child’s personality.

Danielle: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. Because I think, for me, when I was a new parent, and I had – my first son is autistic, and then I had an ADHDer, right? So, they’re very different people, and they require different parenting approaches to some degree, though we’re positive parenting for both of them. 

But a lot of my daughter’s acting out was because of how I was parenting her, and it was totally, in retrospect, a very reasonable reaction on her part, especially at her age, to what I was doing. And so, once I got some more skills under my belt, in terms of how to parent her, her confidence improved, which meant she’d communicate better. 

[00:12:03] She could tell me when she was having the issue, as opposed to just having the behavior and acting out. And even though I wouldn’t say the ADHD “improved,” or the traits and symptoms associated with it improved, the way we were all able to handle it together was drastically better. Very quickly, too, I would say, considering how bad I felt things were going earlier on, but then a month or so, we had a totally different style of communication with each other, we felt a lot closer as a family. It was a huge difference, so.

Debbie: Yeah.

Danielle: It’s really fascinating.

Debbie: Yeah, that drastic change so often. And so, that’s why, for me, from my standpoint in what I do, I don’t worry about the diagnoses. Parents come to me about a vast majority of things, and everything I’ve learned about children who are neurodivergent has come from parents who’ve taken my class. So, I don’t specialize in any of that, but I’ve learned from parents. And I’ve learned a few things that are beneficial, I think, to any parents that have children like that, and the first one is that, when I’m teaching my class, almost everything is around teaching children to be internally motivated instead of externally motivated. So, a lot of things about giving responsibility, and having expectations. 

And when you have a child with – especially something like ADHD, where impulse control, and where focus can be a challenge, those kids need external motivation. They need us to coach them and support them. And so, I found the exact opposite is true for most kids with certain diagnoses, is that, put aside everything that I said about teaching them to be self-reliant, these children need you and you coaching them. And the way you can tell – it’s so interesting to me. 

[00:13:53] When you have a child that doesn’t have something, a special need – when you give too much, meaning, in this case, if you’re doing too much external motivation, their behavior gets worse. So, they’re like, “I’m not going to do it. You can’t make me.” And they get an attitude – and it’s because a “normal” child is designed to become more responsible and self-reliant. And if we’re doing too much, they’re going to react behaviorally, with bad behavior. 

When you have a child that has a diagnosis, and who needs that extra help, when you help and support that child, they’re grateful. They do better. 

Danielle: Yeah.

Debbie: They’re so relieved that you’re willing to get in their court and support them. And, to me, that’s almost an instant way you can actually gauge the extent to which your child has something or doesn’t have something. When you’re attempting to internally versus externally motivate them, and their response to you doing that. 

When they really need help, those ones that really need help, if you’re trying to let go too much, they fall apart. They can’t do well, and they need us. And so, you have to know your child, and understand your child, and be willing to provide what each child needs. 

Danielle: Yeah. That’s really insightful, because I know – especially as a life coach, my work is helping people with that internal motivation, and finding it and keeping it. And we know that external motivation doesn’t work as well in terms of keeping people going, but for children with any kind of executive functioning issue whatsoever, they need external support. And adults, too, I say, if you’re an adult listening to this. 

[laughter]

[00:15:47] I think adults are often trained away – or not as open to receiving external support, external motivation, but sometimes you need to bribe yourself with a fun trip or a plant or an ice cream cone from your favorite place or something, and that’s kind of reasonable for some of our brains, and that’s okay. Yeah, so it’s the same for the kids. 

Debbie: If I was having this conversation with parents of kids that didn’t have anything, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and it would be okay. It’s because there are exceptions to the status quo that we can do this, and adapt.

Danielle: Absolutely. Yeah, neurotypical people in general, I think, tend to have – of course, there are exceptions in every case – but tend to have better executive functioning skills, tend not to need as much support with those, especially, so that extrinsic motivations of the rewards or the sticker charts or whatever, are just not as important and not as helpful.

Debbie: And backfire.

[laughter]

Danielle: Yeah, and backfire a lot, for sure.

Debbie: Which is another way you can tell. So, if a child won’t do anything, they want to know what’s in it for them, “What am I going to get? How much are you going to pay me?” That system has backfired. 

Danielle: Yeah, they’re not doing it for themselves anymore.

Debbie: Right.

Listener Questions 

Danielle: Well, I’d love to use this time, if it’s okay with you, I had put out a call to some of my followers on Instagram, and on my mailing list, and said, “I am interviewing this amazing person. What parenting challenges are you having that positive parenting can, maybe, help with?” And I pulled a couple together, and I was hoping I could throw some at you and get some feedback. 

Debbie: Of course! 

Danielle: I appreciate it very much. So, I kind of grouped them into a couple of different chunks, because a lot of people had similar issues, which, I guess, is not surprising. 

How should we handle "defiance" with autistic and ADHD children?

[00:17:50] But the first one that came up a lot was that, a lot of parents have trouble with, what’s usually termed “defiance,” which is a word I kind of hate. But basically when the child is not cooperating with a parent, or is not doing what you say, and how can we help kids who are “defiant,” and how can we get back on the same team with them? I feel like the defiance – if your kid is constantly not doing what you ask, and putting up a big fight and a struggle every single time you ask them for simple things – as a parent, it can really sort of heighten your anxiety and your stress level and make you more likely to break or lash out in anger on in stress, instead of responding in a more positive manner.

So, how can we handle that, as parents, and what should we do about that defiant response? I know it’s a big question. 

Debbie: It is. And one thing I do really well is answer specific questions, with specific ideas. And so, when it’s general like this I get to give general, not quite as specialized ideas. So, we can talk a little bit, and if you think of a specific example you can throw it out and we can pin this down a little better.

In general, what you’re talking about is a misbehavior that we call a “power struggle.” So there’s four kinds of misbehavior. 

There’s attention, which is when you say to a child, “Hey, can you pick up your toys,” and they’re like, “Yeah, I’ll get it in a minute, Mom,” and they’re just not doing it, but not in a defiant way. They’re just distracted and cute, they don’t say, “No.” Just, “Yeah, I’ll get it.” “Oh, you’re so pretty today, Mom.” And – 

Danielle: They’re all over the place.

Debbie: Yeah. But they’re not doing it. Because they’re mistaken belief is, “If I do what you say, you’re not going to be engaged with me, which means I’m not going to be loved.” And so, that’s why they mistakenly come to believe, “If I handle whatever you said that you want me to do – if I do it, you’re not going to pay any more attention to me.” And that’s why we call this a goal of attention. “If I can keep you busy with me, if I can keep you engaged with me, then I know I’m loved.” 

[00:19:57] So, another behavior is the goal of power. And the way we know if it’s that goal is, we’ll feel challenged and provoked by our child’s behavior – and that’s the one that you’re basically talking about, for the most part. Let me just go over the two others briefly, because one of the things that happens with these is, each of these goals has its own specific corrective measure, and they’re not interchangeable. So, what I’m going to talk about with power struggles won’t work if you child’s in the goal of attention. so, just being cute and distracting and annoying – that’s not going to work with what we’re going to talk about.

The other goal is called, “revenge.” And this the goal where, when your child is misbehaving in a way where you feel hurt, like you want to hurt them back. So, they’re saying hurtful things, they’re doing hurtful things. And that child’s mistaken belief is, “I’m hurt and I’m going to make you feel hurt in the way I feel hurt. I’m going to take you down with me.” So this is mean, hurtful, hateful behaviors. And you need to distinguish when your child’s in the act of defiance – are they being defiant? Am I feeling provoked and challenged? Or are they being hurtful and hateful? Am I feeling hurt, like I want to hurt them back? Because those two things have vastly different responses that will redirect the behaviors. 

And the final one is called the goal of inadequacy or avoidance. So, this is the one where you tell your child to go pick up their toys, and they’re like, “I’m so tired, I can’t do it,” and they whine –

Danielle: I know that one! 

[laughter]

Debbie: That’s another mistaken goal. And again, each of these four mistaken goals has its own set of corrective measures – and this is a big part of what I teach, in the positive parenting, is how to identify each of these goals when you child is doing them, and then how to correct each of them in the moment. 

And again, what we’re talking about today, Danielle, with the parents of neurodivergent kids is, you’ve got to learn this and do it better. 

[laughter]

Danielle: Do it better than everybody else.

Debbie: Right. 

[00:22:01] So, with power struggles, when a child is being defiant, the first thing to understand, is to look at that child more deeply than the behavior that’s triggering you right now. Look and see that, inside this child, this child feels powerless. So, the child is being defiant, and deliberately disobedient, inside they don’t know how to feel powerful in an appropriate way. But I’ve learned – and I’m speaking from the child’s viewpoint – I feel powerless, but I’ve learned, if I defy you, if I don’t do what you say, and you get all crazy at me – I feel powerful! So, I’ve mistakenly come to believe that I can feel powerful by defying you. 

This is unconscious. And, I think, with neurodivergent children, it’s even more unconscious –

Danielle: Yeah, I agree.

Debbie: Right. And so, we can’t blame them for this. What they’re doing is, responding to their environment, and also to their physiology. So it’s understanding the first step to redirecting that power struggle, is just to look more deeply at your child, take a deep breath. “Oh, I’m feeling triggered. I’m feeling provoked and challenged by this. My child’s in a goal of power right now, and they’re feeling powerless inside, so I need to be even more compassionate.” 

The first thing we want to do, as a parent in these situations, is strip their power away. Like, “Don’t you talk to me like that.” “Don’t you do that.” The first instinct is to strip their power away, which is making it even worse. By taking their power away, for a child who is feeling powerless inside – they get even more defiant. They’re going to prove to us that, in fact, they can boss us, or they can control the situation, or whatever. 

So, stripping power away from them is super ineffective in this case. 

[00:2357] So one of the things you want to think about is, “How can I give the child appropriate power right now?” So, you have to look at the specific situation, and that’s where we go, are you fighting over teeth brushing? How can I give my child more power over this teeth brushing? You know, I noticed that we’re fighting all the time over teeth brushing. How about you become in charge of being the toothbrush boss. And, when it’s time to brush your teeth, you make sure everybody gets their teeth brushed. And so, they have to be in charge of making sure everybody gets their teeth brushed! And they tend to do better with that, because now they have a job.

Teachers are notorious for being really good at this.

Danielle: They are really good at that.

Debbie: Yeah! They’ll take the child who’s dominating in the classroom, and they’ll give them a job, or something to be in charge of, and the child does so much better, and quite distracting the whole learning environment. 

So that’s one idea of getting out of power struggles. There’s about ten different things that we can talk about. And the thing to know is, when you’re interacting with a child who’s defiant, that there’s something that you can figure out – a way to redirect this child to feel powerful without defying you. To be able to contribute without disrupting the whole environment. 

And again, you have to be more patient, because if you have a child who’s triggered and is already sensitive in whatever way, they might need some physical help. You might need to run around. You might need to, somehow, hold them, and be okay with not redirecting it right at this moment. “Oh, looks like you’re spinning, we need to just connect. Everything is okay, and I’m here to support you.”

Danielle: Yeah, and I think parents… one thing that I had to learn, I shouldn’t speak for everybody, but one thing I really had to learn, when I was struggling with that kind of behavior with my kiddo, was slowing everything down. 

[00:25:54] Because in my specific situation, her defiance would crop up while we were trying to do something else, and I was perhaps rushing her, or perhaps just highly focused on, say, going to the grocery store, or picking up the other child at school, or trying to go do something, and so I was focused on, “Let’s get the shoes on, let’s get the socks on.” So, I was making demands on her to go do the thing. 

And, in my brain, I had told her ahead of time, prepped her, and it was reasonable to have this expectation that we would go pick up her brother from school at this time, but I’m sure in her brain – and she was, like, two or three, too, so a lot of stuff wasn’t developed yet – but in her brain, I was suddenly and out of the blue, even though I thought I’d prepped her, she’d forgotten because she was two. So, suddenly, out of the blue, I was like, “Do this, do this, we’ve got to go!” And I’m not really giving her a lot of focused attention or positive affect or any of those kinds of things that I now know to do, and I probably also didn’t give her enough of a warning so that she could get her brain in the space she needed to get it. 

So, it makes a lot of sense to me, in retrospect, that she would see that as a kind of, “Oh, Mom wants me to do all of these things, I need to take some of this back. I need to regroup and take some power back from the situation.” So, yeah, it’s funny how, in retrospect, it makes a lot more sense, once you get a sense of what’s going on in the kiddo’s head. 

Debbie: Parents are the greatest parents by the time you finish. 

Danielle: I know! You wish you could just send it to everyone in the room, telepathically, just send you everything I know! 

Debbie: Yeah, and you make a great point, too, about age-appropriate expectations, and that we have regular, developmental, age-appropriate expectations, but then in this case we need to have a diagnosis-specific expectation. Understanding the limitations of what my child’s dealing with their physiology, my expectations have to be adjusted appropriately.

Danielle: [00:28:02] Yes. 

Debbie: And, I think, that’s the specific knowledge that parents need to get through training and support, and podcasts like this, I’m sure you’re going over those specific things intermittently with different guests, because it’s so important for people to get those hands-on tools and understanding. With a child who’s ADHD or with a child who has Sensory Processing Disorder, how – what do I do in these circumstances?

Danielle: Yeah, no parent is given a manual when you get out of the hospital, and us, I think, even less, so there’s not a lot of –

Debbie: Exactly! 

Danielle: There’s not a lot of research or anything. 

So, thanks, that’s super helpful! 

How can we handle aggression in ADHD and autistic children?

And then, I think, let’s see. The next one I had was, oh, sort of similar! A bunch of parents mentioned that they struggled with aggression from their kiddos, so, especially once they get physically bigger. A lot of kids hit, even eight or nine years old, and they’re suddenly kind of big, and tall, and strong, and if those children are struggling with throwing things, or hitting, or pushing, or biting, how can families intervene to reduce aggression in a way that’s positive and validating for that child, but also safe for the family?

Debbie: Yes, and I think that that’s something that comes up often with kids in various environments, or in this case with different things. 

One of the things is to learn ways for children to process, in this case, anger – maybe it’s sadness – whatever the discouragement is. So, how do we process this kind of thing, and I actually have a workshop that I do of handling aggressive children.

Danielle: [00:30:00] Oh, wonderful! 

Debbie: I’ll just give you a couple of the tips out of there.

Danielle: Oh, thank you.

Debbie: One of the things is to teach the children to growl instead of yelling and screaming. Because yelling and screaming triggers us like nothing else.

Danielle: Oh, yes.

Debbie: And a growl coming from deep within is a great way to move emotions through the body, and so you teach them to growl like a bear, or however you want to do this. But as soon as they start yelling and screaming and getting out of control, it’s like, “Growl. Rrr!” And you can do it with them. Help them to get it really low in their body, and there’s a physiological assistant to the child when you can teach them to growl, and it’s so much less triggering for us.

Danielle: Yes.

Debbie: To have a child growling will almost make us chuckle, right? And when they’re screaming in our face we get triggered, and we want to yell at them, and just have all these reactions. 

So that’s one idea, is to teach them that.

Another one that I love, and if your child’s capable, is water balloons. You go and fill up a bunch of water balloons, and you take your child outside – and I do this with them – you pick up a bunch of water balloons, and you throw them against a wall, and you splat them against a wall. And when a child’s angry, the physical of throwing their arm, and then splatting a water balloon against a wall, it releases a ton of anger, and it’s really helpful. And there’s even a – I know we’re not seeing this, I’m having to do this verbally, but throwing our arms out, and throwing our hands out, it’s a way to get anger out of our bodies. 

And so, teaching our child, “When you get angry, here’s what you can do.” And this goes back to – some of these kids won’t be able to do this, but some can scream in a pillow. It’s one of the classic ways – therapists do this, right? It’s screaming in a pillow. 

Another is, we’re talking about anger, mainly, here, is to draw with a red crayon. So, give your child a red crayon and a piece of paper, and just scribbling and drawing and, whatever they want to do with red, tends to move that anger from the body out onto the paper, and help them really start moving through that anger.

[00:32:05] So you want to think about, what are non-hurtful ways for this child to move this emotion through their body, and through their being, and how can I help them label that emotion with words? 

And so, helping them go, “Wow, it looks like you’re feeling really angry right now. Here’s a couple of different ideas. We can go throw water balloons against the wall, here’s a red crayon, you can draw on the piece of paper, here’s a pillow we can scream in. What feels like the right thing do to for you today?” And to just support the child in learning how to move those emotions through. 

And all of these, I think, Danielle, I meant to say this before, but we were talking about our patience level, and our ability to deal in the moment. All of this is on the foundation of a parent who’s taking care of yourself. So, you taking care of you, keeping your batteries charged, getting enough sleep, getting enough adult time. Having date night with your spouse. Somehow being able to get some childcare, and get respite when you need it. are you getting enough exercise? Looking at all those aspects of your life. Are you filling your cup up enough that you can have patience for your children? Because it’s even more critical in this case, I think, getting respite time and getting adult time. You can run yourself into the ground being the sole caregiver of these children. And it just – it’ll get to the place where you have nothing left. And that’s one of the worst places you can be, because there’s nothing to help you except for getting a break and taking care of yourself. 

Danielle: [00:33:50] Yeah. I agree with that. 

And I think, also, it’s really helpful to have, I don’t know – when I was struggling the most, it was because I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have a set of responses that I could grab onto somewhere in my brain to throw out when one of my kids was struggling very much, and I was low-resource. And having things, like you’ve been saying, like the go-to list – I would have, as an autistic adult, sometimes my ability to pull information from my brain right when I need it is not all the way there, and I use a lot of visual schedules, and visual reminders, and cues to prompt me on what to do in certain circumstances. 

And so, once we had a set of interventions for my ADHDer that kind of worked, that I could pull from, I made a visual list, little stick figure drawings. So I can imagine have a hand-drawn poster up somewhere that’s, you know, stick figures throwing balloons at the wall. Stick figures drawing with a crayon.

Because, I think – and I completely agree, obviously, that you should be eating and sleeping and making sure you took a shower, and just doing the basics to make sure you’re okay. But even on a low-resource day, if you can have a set of, “What should I be doing?” that’s accessible to ou in some way, that’s either a list or a visual – it can really help you figure out what to do in the moment, because sometimes you want to help, but you just can’t think.

[laughter]

That was my experience, anyway. So, yeah honestly, it’s just so great to have some go-to ideas, and also some more resources that people can find. I know I’ll put your Website and stuff in the link below so people can go and find more specific ideas for what, exactly, they need.

Debbie: And that’s why I love parenting classes so much. You know, when I was first starting my business, I would take other parentig classes just to see what’s going on.

Danielle: It’s really fun, yeah. 

Debbie: [00:35:57] To me, there’s no competition in this. You’re going to learn something from everybody that you take classes from. And you don’t have to agree with everything! You can just pick and choose what you feel like are the right things for your family. And getting those resources – and I love the way that you do it, with the visuals – 

Danielle: I need the visual prompt, yeah. That’s just me.

Debbie: I have worksheets and handouts in my class.

Danielle: Oh, yeah!

Debbie: You can take them home and put them on the refrigerator. Put them up in the bathroom. Because you have to study these things, you have to be prepared. “Okay, this is what my kid does but I never know what to do in the moment.” I have some ideas, where the kids will be out in the backyard, and I’ll be like, “What was that idea?” I know it’s on the fridge, so I’ll run in there, and I’ll find it, and I’ll go back out there, and I’ll go, “I love the way that you are playing s nicely together.” 

[laughter]

I just didn’t know to say that. So, you have to practice it.

Danielle: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s to going to come fluidly, until you practice it a lot, right? 

Debbie: Yeah. And I read three or four whole parenting books a month when I started teaching, and when I was parenting actively when my kids were young, and it was just to keep me going, and to keep my ideas flowing and when the pandemic started, I did a half-hour positive parenting class every day, Monday through Friday, and had, usually, about eighty people from around the world. And every day people would show up, and it wasn’t even that it was a specific topic that they wanted, it’s just that daily shot of something new, being inspired, being with other parents who are all in this together. 

And, I think, that’s one of the biggest benefits of a parenting class, as well, is getting there and realizing, “I’m not alone.” 

Danielle: Yes.

Debbie: And experiencing this as other people are. And sometimes other people are worse, and that makes me feel better!

[laughter]

Danielle: I hate to say it, but I totally understand.

Debbie: Yeah.

[laughter]

Danielle: Well, that’s great, thank you. And I have a last question for you, from the peanut gallery. 

Difficulties Co-Parenting the Neurodivergent Child

[00:38:00] A couple of parents mentioned having trouble coparenting after a separation or a divorce or a change in parenting. So, sometimes one parent has one approach to a challenging behavior like, say, defiance, and the other parent has a different approach, and parents just didn’t know what to do with that. 

It was often – and I’ll be honest, at least with the people who responded to my emails, it was usually the mother asking and saying the father is approaching this behavior differently, or setting different expectations for this behavior than I am at home, and the kid is expressing some confusion or behaviors are worsening because of that. So, what can we do how can we solve this? Do you have any advice?

Debbie: Yeah. This is a matter of degree, right? 

Danielle: Absolutely.

Debbie: If it’s super serious, you may need court help, or lawyers, or whatever.

If it’s differences in parenting style – and, yes, I know it’s triggering, and yes, I wish we can all be on the same page – once you’re separated and divorced, you lost control of what’s going on at the other house. So, when you’re thinking about, “How can I do this?” There’s a book called Mom’s House, Dad’s House, and I always think about that when I start thinking about this prospect, and it’s, “This is how it happens at Mom’s house, and this is how it happens at Dad’s house.” And kids learn the rules in one house, and the rules in the other house. 

So, what’s going on at the other house doesn’t undermine us unless we allow it to. 

Danielle: Okay.

Debbie: So, if the other parent is doing something in a way that is not how you do it, and they come over and they say, “Well, Dad does that,” – and I’m using it because that’s the pronoun that you used – 

Danielle: Yes.

Debbie: “Dad does that.” Instead of being like, “Oh, he’s undermining me, and I can’t-” that’s going to a victim place.

[00:40:01] It’s to go, “Great, that’s your dad’s house, that’s how you do it at your dad’s house. When you’re here, this is how you do things.” 

And I’ll give you a personal example of this. I was divorced from my kid’s dad when they were younger. And we had quite different parenting styles. 

[laughter]

And when I got into the positive parenting, you know, I stopped spanking my kids. I don’t believe in spanking. And, I teach how to not spank your kids, like, “Here’s all the things you can do instead so you don’t have to spank.” 

And he didn’t agree with that. And he didn’t spank them a lot, but there was one or two times. And I distinctly remember, once they came home and they were like, “Mom, Dad spanked us.” And they totally thought I was going to get mad and yell at him and cause a big scene, but I didn’t because I understand I can’t control what he’s doing over there. I didn’t have the type of relationship where I could just call him up and say, “Hey, don’t hit these kids,” because that would have just started up a big thing. 

So, instead, they were like, “Mom, Dad spanked us.” And I was like, “Really? What did you do?” And they go, “Nothing.” And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, he spanked you and you didn’t do anything? That’s awful!”

And then they’re like, “Well, maybe we were running around the carts in Costco.” And I’m like, “Oh, and so he spanked you. So what did you learn?” 

And they go, “Nothing.” And I said, “Good.” So I left it. 

[laughter]

But I didn’t undermine him, I didn’t say, “Oh, that’s bad.” You know, when you’re coparenting, if you can take the high road, it’s going to be better for your kids. So even when the other person is completely undermining you, and completely badmouthing you, the highest form of “for your children” is to not play at that level. Is to always take the high road, to refrain from playing in the gutter like that. 

And it comes back to you. It might be years. You know, when they’re little they’re impressionable. A lot of times they would come back and say, “Dad says you’re stealing all his money, and Dad la-di-da.” And I just didn’t play those games with them. 

[00:42:05] I was like, “Well, that’s what your dad thinks, whatever.” I just didn’t get into it. It’s not appropriate to have those conversations. And so, even if they’re being had at the other house, I don’t refute them over here. And when they got old enough, they saw the truth. They could process what was happening. I never had to defend what I was doing. 

Danielle: Okay, great, thank you! That’s really helpful. 

[laughter]

Debbie: You can see, I’m very passionate about this.

Danielle: No, it’s good! I was caught up!

Debbie: Don’t let what’s going on over there affect you. You be the parent you want to be at your house. Kids are super easy to adapt to, “This is how it is here, this is how it is there.” 

Learn More About Debbie

Danielle: Debbie, thank you so much for joining us today. It was so great to learn all of this. Can you tell me a little bit more – where can folks find out more positive parenting, and find out more about you?

Debbie: Yes, thank you! Positiveparenting.com. It’s a really easy URL. Come to my Website! I have classes, I have master classes, workshops, ways to find me. I also have a podcast, it’s Positive Parenting Pep Talks. So, anywhere you get your podcasts, you can find that. It’s a daily three-to-five-minute pep talk, so anything you can imagine. I put a new one out every day. So, it’s a quick blast of some kind of parenting tip. Today was family mission statements. So, whatever – every day you can listen, it just takes three to five minutes. And Instagram, I’m @positiveparentingdebbie. I put different videos up and do different things there as well. So those are probably the three main ways to find me.

Danielle: Awesome. I’ll put all those links down below, so please check thme out. That podcast seems like a really good way to start your morning, just get going! 

Alright, well thank you so much! It was great to learn from you today! 

Debbie: Aw, thank you, Danielle, it’s been a pleasure talking to you, and thank you for the work you do with the parents, they need you! 

Danielle: We all need help! 

Debbie: We all do! 

[music]

Danielle: [00:44:08] Thank you all so much for being here today. Neurodiverging is dedicated to helping neurodiverse folks find the resources we need to live better lives as individuals, and to further disability awareness and social justice efforts to improve all of our lives as part of the larger world community. If you’re interested in learning more, please click the “Subscribe” button to make sure you’re notified when there’s a new episode. Take a look around the Website at neurodiverging.com. We have episode transcripts, blog posts, more podcasts for you. If you are looking for something specific or have a question, send me an email at neurodiverging.podcast@gmail.com, and please check us out on Patreon to support this podcast and this blog, patreon.com/neurodiverging. Have a wonderful week, be kind to each other, and please remember: we are all in this together. 

[music]

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