Pat Harvey on DBT and Strategies for Parenting Emotionally Intense Teens
Parenting a differently wired child can be challenging and as I sat down with my guest, clinical social worker Pat Harvey, to have this conversation, I wanted to acknowledge and validate the experiences we have as parents as much as we do the same for our kids. As you’ll hear from Pat, her work centers around helping parents navigate raising kids who have highly intense emotions; the kind of emotions that can cause big disruptions at home.
I first came across Pat’s work when a friend recommended her book, Parenting a Teen Who has Intense Emotions. I knew just from the title that it was the book I needed to help me navigate my relationship with my teen. During my conversation with Pat, we talked about her work in supporting parents using Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT, the three priorities within the DBT framework, some of the critical things to understand to effectively parent emotionally intense kids, and where to start if you are looking for more support for yourself.
About Pat Harvey
Pat Harvey, LCSW-C, ACSW, has been a clinical social worker for one 30 years, currently focusing on supporting and guiding parents of kids with emotional challenges using a DBT framework. The co-author of 2 books on parenting, Parenting a Child Who Has Intense Emotions and Parenting a Teen Who has Intense Emotions, a book for siblings and a book for clinicians, she has also spoken nationally and in Canada about DBT and about working with parents.
Things you’ll learn from this episode
- The similarities and differences between cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
- How DBT prioritizes the three core tenets of safety, treatment, and quality of life
- Why is DBT so effective in helping teens who are engaging in risky behaviors, including self-harm, suicidal ideation, or past suicide attempts
- Critical things to be aware of in order to effectively parent emotionally intense kids
- The biggest roadblock for parents that prevent them from leaning into DBT
- Where to start and the things to pay attention to if you are parenting an emotionally intense kid
Resources mentioned for DBT & Emotionally Intense Teens
- Parenting a Teen Who has Intense Emotions: DBT Skills to Help Your Teen Navigate Emotional and Behavioral Challenges by Pat Harvey and Britt Rathbone
- Parenting a Child Who Has Intense Emotions: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Help Your Child Regulate Emotional Outbursts and Aggressive Behaviors by Pat Harvey and Jeanine Penzo
- Hey, I’m Here Too!: A Book for Tween/Teen Siblings of a Young Person With Emotional Issues by Pat Harvey
This Season’s Sponsor: Outschool
Whether you’re homeschooling your child, looking to enrich their learning, or just want to give your kids a new way to dive into their interests, Outschool is for you. Outschool takes kids ages 3 through 18 beyond the classroom to explore the topics they love through small, live classes taught by expert teachers, all through an accessible online learning platform.
Back when we were living abroad and I was homeschooling Asher, we tapped into Outschool for classes in writing and Minecraft. Today, Outschool offers more than 140,000 classes in just about every topic under the sun — I just love how passionate they are about celebrating the needs, interests, and learning styles of differently wired kids around the globe.
CLICK HERE to learn more about how Outschool can support your child’s learning journey, and use the code TILT to get a $20 credit towards your first class.
Debbie Reber 00:00
Tilt Parenting is proud to partner with Outschool this podcast season. Outschool’s unique approach to education empowers differently wired kids ages three through 18 to dive into their interests in small live classes designed to foster a love of learning, create connections and cultivate independence. Learn more at outschool.com/tilt
Pat Harvey 00:22
One of the words that I won’t allow anybody to use is manipulative, right? So everybody says my kid’s manipulative and everybody gets angry, teachers get angry, everybody gets angry. Where, what’s a manipulative kid? A manipulative kid is a kid who’s learned how to get their needs met. That’s what it is. Right? Now. If you describe a kid who’s doing what they need to do to get their needs met, you do not get angry at that kid. You do realize, however, that if you give into absolutely everything they want, that you are helping them do that and that’s not going to help change the behaviors.
Debbie Reber 00:54
Welcome to Tilt Parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host, Debbie Reber parenting a differently wired child, as we know can be challenging. And as I sat down with my guest, clinical social worker, Pat Harvey, to have this conversation today, I wanted to acknowledge and validate the experiences that we have as parents as much as we do the same for our kids. So as you’ll hear from Pat, her work centers around helping parents navigate raising kids who have highly intense emotions, the kinds of emotions that can cause big disruptions at home. I first came across Pat Harvey’s work when a friend recommended her book Parenting a Teen Who Has Intense Emotions: DBT Skills to Help Your Team Navigate Emotional and Behavioral Challenges. And I just knew from the title that it was a book I needed to help me navigate my relationship with my teen. And let me tell you, it has made a big difference. So during my conversation with Pat, we talked about her work and supporting parents using dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, the three priorities within the DBT framework, some of the critical things to understand in order to effectively parent emotionally intense kids, and where to start if you’re looking for more support for yourself. And a little bit more about my guest, Pat Harvey has been a clinical social worker for over 30 years and currently focuses on supporting and guiding parents of kids with emotional challenges using a DBT framework. She is the co-author of two books on parenting, including the one we’re talking about today, along with Parenting a Child who has Intense Emotions, and the author of a book for siblings and a book for clinicians. She’s also spoken nationally and in Canada about DBT and about working with parents. This is a fascinating conversation and I hope you get a lot out of it. And quickly before I get to that, if you are newer to Tilt, be sure to visit Tilt Parenting online for free resources, including my free 7-Day Differently Wired Challenge, which I designed to help people make some small reframes over the course of a week that can have a big impact in daily life. The first chapter of my book Differently Wired: Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World, which you can download for free. And my weekly newsletter, which always includes a little inspiring or actionable tidbit highlights of upcoming events you might want to know about. And links to recent news articles about parenting and neurodivergent kids, you can find all of those resources and more at tiltparenting.com. And if you are new to Tilt, I just want to say welcome if you’re raising a child who is neuro divergent in any way, and are looking for strengths based, optimistic resources to support you in your parenting journey, you’re in the right place. And I’m so glad you’re here. And I’m so glad you’re about to listen to this episode, because it’s a good one. So here you go. My conversation with Pat Harvey.
Debbie Reber 04:15
Hey, Pat, welcome to the podcast. Glad to be here. I am glad to have this opportunity to talk with you. We were just talking off air that a friend recommended your book a few years ago. And the title parenting a teen who has intense emotions really, I was like, Okay, this is the book that I need to get me through this time. So it’s an honor to have you here today. We have a lot that we could talk about with regards to your work and this book. But I’d love it if you could just take a few minutes to introduce yourself how you came to write this book. And this being the focus of your work.
Pat Harvey 04:51
You know, I’ve been a clinical social worker for over 40 years, but about 20 years ago, early 2000s I started working in residential programs One for young adults. And we actually opened one for adolescents. And those were DBT dialectical behavior therapy programs. And what I realized is the kids in the program had DBT, individual therapists, they had skills groups, where they learned how to manage their emotions, they learned how to understand their emotions. What I decided to do as the director of the program was to bring in the parents once a month, to teach them basically, what the kids were learning. And what happened is, when I was teaching them the skills, they were teaching me about the experiences of parents, who have kids who have emotional challenges, suicidal behavior, substance abuse, aggression, ADHD, all those kinds of things, borderline personality disorder, that brought the kids to our program. But they’ve been living with those kids for a lot of years. And what I found was that when they were referred to my program, it was like, Oh, my goodness, those parents, and then I sat down and listened to the parents tell me their stories, and tell me what it was like for them to have kids who were suicidal at eight years old and nine years old, and how they had to keep telling their story and how so many people kept telling them what to do. And to the point when their kid was 18, they were tired. So it wasn’t that they didn’t want to be cooperative, it was that they were tired of being judged, tired of being blamed, tired or being told what to do by a lot of people, they were tired of repeating their story. And so I gave them an open forum, to talk about their story. And for me to be able to say, Oh, my goodness, that’s an incredible story. And I’m so sad you live to that, and that you’re still living through it. And what I did was I began to validate their life experience. And so when I moved from Massachusetts to Maryland, it was with a knowledge of dialectical behavior therapy, as well as an understanding of parents, and a desire to be able to provide support and guidance both. So validation, and advice and strategies and skills and guidance about how to parent more effectively. And I began to sort of network around my parents, and they said, if you want, groups will come and if you will meet with us will come. And I’ve kept my practice exclusively to parents. Sometimes I see siblings, but I never see the kids themselves, because I want to be able to stay within the framework of what the parents are experiencing. I do speak with the individual therapists of the kids. So if I know that the parents really need work in a specific area, I’ll do it. But for the most part, the parents of mine are my clients, there needs that I’m addressing, and that’s where so that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 15 years or so.
Debbie Reber 07:52
Wow, it’s just such important work, because you’re really a lighthouse, a beacon for so many people because it does feel like no one knows what we’re going through, especially, you know, you talked about suicidal ideation and some of these more severe, really, really challenging, all encompassing things to be dealing with your kids. So first of all, I just want to say, I’m just grateful that you’re doing the work that you’re doing. And I can just imagine what a relief it is when parents connect with you.
Pat Harvey 08:20
Yeah, I think that I still struggle a lot that parents when they’re seen by other therapists are seen clinically, like, what’s wrong with them? And like, I know that if you live with a kid who has not just suicidal ideation, but suicide attempts, and aggressive behaviors, that it has an effect on you. So do parents have their own issues? Sure they do. Okay. Now, many of the clients that I have have their own individual therapists to manage that. So I’m not saying that the parents don’t have their own issues. I am saying though, that some of them had their own issues going in. But for some parents, the issues that we see the anxiety and depression that we see in parents is fundamental to what their lives have been like, for years and years and years. And one thing I find, I used to find, I think clinicians have become much more sophisticated in terms of parents. But when I would go places, and I would say, Well, I do parent work, clinicians would roll their eyes. And I would say to them, Look, how much time do you spend with this kid? And they would say, an hour a week, and I would go Yeah, okay. And parents live with their kids 24/7 and love their kid. All right. And so think about what that’s like from the parent perspective. And then the clinician went, Yeah, I hadn’t, I hadn’t really thought about that. Okay. I don’t work with parents who are afraid that because they have a kid who was suicidal, that the other kids are going to be taken away from them, or that if they don’t do everything the social worker tells them to do that they’re going to be charged with neglect. That if they don’t get this kid that suicidal to do that, Homework, the teachers contact them. And unlike homework is not important when your kid is suicidal. So I do provide sort of a reality check for parents with the rest of the environment that they have to connect to.
Debbie Reber 10:16
Yeah, absolutely. And I think the experience of parenting a child who is really struggling is so isolating as well, in addition to the reasons you shared concern about Child Protective Services concerned about other issues, but just judgment from everyone, and also wanting to protect your child’s privacy and autonomy. So I think it’s just such a precarious position for so many parents, the subtitle of your book is DBT skills to help your teen navigate emotional and behavioral challenges. I will say that DBT, this is terrible, but I used to think of it as CBT on steroids, I know that it’s completely wrong,
Pat Harvey 10:51
It’s not completely wrong, okay. It is actually fundamentally CBT. It’s gone beyond that, okay. And it included mindfulness. So it included the notion that you had to focus on the moment, which for parents is that there’s so many things going on around them. And so much history, that, you know, a kid could be behaving one way at this moment, but the parent is like, Oh, my God, what’s going to happen tomorrow, oh, my God, this happened yesterday. So to be able to focus on the present and see what you’re looking at is really important. So DBT has created different kinds of protocols than CBT house. But fundamentally, Marsha Linehan, who developed DBT, was restrained and CBT was trained in behavioral leaks. That’s the basis of it. I think the piece that got added, and this is an important piece for clinicians, but I think it’s really, really important for parents, is the notion of the dialectic of acceptance and change. And that’s the core dialectic. And what that means is that there won’t be any change until somebody feels heard, understood, taken, seriously acknowledged for their experiences, and what they’re feeling and what they’re experiencing. And it’s only if somebody feels that acceptance or validation, as we call it, that they’re willing to make changes. Now, on the other hand, if all they get, so that’s that acceptance piece, I think was added to the CBT piece. But if all they get is somebody who says to them, I got it, I understand it, that’s too terrible. I’m so sorry, you live it, and that’s all they get, then there won’t be any change. So there has to be this kind of, I get that you’re angry, and I get that you’re upset, and that you’re really angry at me. And you can’t use that kind of language when you’re with me. And so this is my I hear it. Okay. And I’m going to talk to you about that when you can talk to me in a way that is a little bit calmer and a little bit more reasonable. We’re both going to take time out, then we’re going to come back and we’ll have this discussion. I’m just not going to have it when you’re in this emotional state. But it starts with, I hear you, I got you’re angry at me. Now. So that is, again, fundamentally what clinicians do. It is fundamentally an absolutely what parents have to do. All right. And it’s teaching that validation piece that’s been essential in terms of teaching parenting, but what I call effective parenting, parenting in such a way that you’re going to be able to reach your goals. So I will not talk about good or bad parenting or right or wrong parenting or anything like that. I’m going to ask each parent, what your goal is. Okay? So if your goal, for example, is to help your kid become independent, and you’re making every decision for them, that’s not effective parenting because it’s not effective to your goals. So every parent has to assess what their goals are.
Debbie Reber 13:47
I’m curious to know when parents come in to see you what their goals are. Because I find that a lot of us have misplaced goals. I don’t know if that’s the right word. But you know, we may have goals that aren’t realistic for where our child is, they may be based on pressure that we’re feeling from schools and from society, we may be way off track. And so what do you find? And how do you help parents really tap into understanding what their goals are for their kids
Pat Harvey 14:15
DBT has set up priority goals. They are what guides work with anybody in DBT. And so the first priority in DBT is safety is life. Okay? And so any clinician will deal with any life threatening behaviors, suicidal ideation, self harm, before they will discuss anything else. So if a kid comes in and says, I just had this terrible fight with my mother, but you know, three days ago, I thought about suicide. The fight with the mother is a lower priority than the suicide okay. So, safety is the first in terms of how I speak to parents safety is the first okay. The second priority is getting the proper treatment. Okay, so why because that’s going to help the kid or young adult or adult or whatever age, okay? live a full life and live a rich life outside of this moment. So if a parent comes in and says, I can’t get my kid to go to lacrosse practice, or they really want to go to lacrosse practice, but their therapy is at the same time, the priority is getting your kids. And so that becomes the second most important thing that we talk about. Now, the third level of priorities is what we call quality of life. And that is where there is much more Parental discretion, and where parental values really come into play. So quality of life issues are just about everything else, relationships, school, work, friends, religion, even substances, you know, smoking pot, unless it’s life threatening, go into that. And that’s what parents have to begin to sort of, and that’s where I help parents talk about the fact that homework may not be that important, even if the teachers are calling if your kid is suicidal, and working on being safe. So I help parents prioritize that. Now, inside the quality of life box, you know, parents will say, Well, my kid needs a social life, and they’re not doing their schoolwork. So I say, well, which is the highest priority for you. And it really is a very, very hard call. And parents really struggle with it. But it makes a difference. Because if going to school and doing schoolwork is the parents’ priority, then they can say to their kid, you can’t go out on Saturday night until your homework is done. Okay, show me what you’re doing. And then you can go out. But if socialization for a kid who’s depressed is really the parents highest priority than the kid goes out. Okay. And then and that, and that’s okay, is that it is the priority of the parent at this point in time, I used to say to parents who wanted to send their kids to summer camp that it interfered in treatment. Okay. And treatment, I just said it was the second highest priority. And this is how I really learned from parents, which is how I learned all of it. After talking to parents for years, I would find out that kids who had difficulty all year long, did really well in camp. And they go along, and they had friends, and the kids just did really well. And for kids who are depressed and have no self esteem, can’t become the essential part of their lives. And I actually stopped telling parents that therapy came before camp. And I started telling clinicians waking up is so important. So I think that you know, how we look at priorities has to shift. Also a little bit, never, never, never mess with safety. You know, that is first and foremost. I mean, even and sometimes that means for parent that they have to put their kid in an emergency, you know, take them to an emergency room. Or it might mean that they have to send them to a wilderness program, because they’re just not safe. And parents will say to me, but that’s going to ruin my relationship with them. And I’ll say, and their safety comes first. And once they’re safe, then we will work on the relationship. But you have to keep even and I’ll say the parents will say well, I don’t want to send my kid away. And I Okay, can you keep your kid safe? While my kids are away at night, my kids are doing dangerous things with friends, can you keep your kids safe. And that’s more important right now than whether or not your kid is angry. So that’s how you sort of…
Debbie Reber 18:40
Got it. That makes so much sense. And I have to guess that this is also a moving target that it could change from day to day or week to week, depending on how the child is doing.
Pat Harvey 18:52
I know for example, if a kid has medical issues, and the doctor says they need exercise, then exercise might become a higher priority than schoolwork. It does move, and we have to take a look at where each kid is now. So it may be that there are times, if a kid says I really want to graduate, I have to graduate, then the parents are going to emphasize or at least work with the kid on getting their schoolwork done. It’s the kids priority and that’s where the kid is. But in other times it may be up to you know, the parents may say look, if they want to graduate, they have to graduate and they have to figure that out. I’m not gonna set contingencies. So it really does. It moves around and we have to assess where the kid is or what point in time.
Debbie Reber 19:40
And now a quick break for a word from our sponsor. Whether you’re homeschooling your child looking to enrich their learning or just want to give your kids a new way to dive into their interests, Outschool is for you. Outschool takes kids ages three through 18 beyond the classroom to explore the topics they love through small live classes taught by expert teachers all through an accessible online learning platform. Back when we were living abroad, and I was homeschooling, Asher we tapped into outschool for classes in writing, and yes, Minecraft. Today outschool offers more than 140,000 classes and just about every topic under the sun. And I just love how passionate they are about celebrating the needs, interests and learning styles of differently wired kids around the globe. Learn more about how outschool can support your child’s learning journey at outschool.com/tilt and use the code tilt to get a $20 credit toward your first class. And now back to the show.
Debbie Reber 20:46
I’d love to ask…to my understanding DBT tends to come up when people are talking about strategies or ways to support kids who are maybe engaging in those really risky behaviors who are self harming who do have suicidal ideation or potential suicide attempts. And wondering why specifically DBT Why is it so effective? So we got to start there.
Pat Harvey 21:10
Well, first of all, DBT has really, really broadened its focus. If you have a kid who’s anxious who’s depressed, DBT has has even it’s gone into some eating disorders and substance abuse. I mean, it really has spread out. And the way that I look at DBT is it’s really for any situation in which there’s real intense emotionality, which is the name what my book is called, what it’s both called. And that that emotionality gets in the way of the family life and the kid’s life and the parents lives. Okay. But to answer your question about why it’s known for working with suicidal kids, is because that’s how it started. And that there are very, very specific protocols within DBT for how we respond to suicidal behavior, to how we respond to self harm. For us, it’s not immediate hospitalization unless a kid really cannot maintain safety. But there are very specific ways in which clinicians discuss self harm. And the way that we address suicidality I’ve worked with, I’ve worked with colleagues who have taken kids who their own therapist said, you have to go to the hospital, and my colleagues would cut them out of the hospital and kept them safe, as long as we can, you know, as long as we get a commitment to safety, but I think now that, you know, when I started doing my parent groups, years ago, people would call me up and say, Well, my kid doesn’t have borderline personality disorder. So can I join your group? You know, and I would say, Well, does your kid have intense emotions that create problems at home? And they would say yes, and I would say, Okay, fine. That’s the only criteria. And so I don’t really talk about borderline personality disorder. I talk about that. That’s why in my books, I call it intense emotions. And intense emotions include a lot of kids. You know, it certainly includes a lot of adolescents. But I have a grandson who said to me years ago, when my first book came out, Grandma thinks I have intense emotions. And I was like, Yeah, you very possibly do have intense emotions. And to this day, we still sort of talk about what are you going to do with all of those emotions? Because that’s what it helps kids learn and understanding of self awareness, and also what to do and how to match.
Debbie Reber 23:23
Yeah, and I just one piece about the kids at first, and then I want to talk a little bit more about validating what we can do as parents, but do you work with parents who have kids who struggle with buying into this or think this might work for other kids, but not for me? I’m different?
Pat Harvey 23:38
Yeah, I mean, I and I certainly work with parents whose kids don’t go to therapy. And we’ll call it there. Well, Herbstreit tried DBT and dropped out of DBT. Or, or, and or will not think about DBT. Because everybody’s heard what DBT is about, I think sometimes, sometimes kids are afraid of DBT. Because what they hear is, it’s sort of the last line, it’s the best. And I think some kids actually worry about what happens if the best doesn’t help me. There’s a lot of fear in kids. And so you know, I spend time with parents helping them use language that might get their kids into DBT. Or, you know, sometimes it’s a different kind of therapy. I mean, I don’t only convince parents to get their kids into DBT. If I don’t think that DBT is what they need at that moment. Or if their individual therapist doesn’t do DBT but they’re very connected. It’s sort of how, what I say to parents, is your kids need to learn some skills. They need to learn so they can’t just be talking about being angry. They need to be working with somebody who is teaching them what to do with their anger, what to do with their sadness, how to get up in the morning, or how to talk to their friends and their social skills. And, and I’m not saying that DBT is just about skills, because it’s not a wide variety to it. But again, what I say to parents is As you just want to make sure that whoever your kid is working with is teaching them how to cope, how to manage the intensity of what they feel. And so I provide parents, you know, with an understanding of the fact that some of what their kid is experiencing is not under their control, and how they behave is. So there’s an understanding that there are certain things, certain ways that kids are wired in certain ways that kids respond to situations, they can learn how to respond differently. Okay, and so compounds, so whatever are teaching the parents to do with their kids, I’m also doing with the parents. So I have to use acceptance and change with parents, okay, parents need validation as anybody else needs and sometimes more. And so sometimes I’ll have a parent who says to me, Ah, now I see what validation feels like, because you just validated. So there has to be a real sort of experiential understanding of what their kids are going through, and how they have to. So a lot of parents say to me, Oh, my goodness, this DBT stuff is so complicated, like, how do you expect me to understand it? I say, Well, we’re going to take it step by step. But now can you understand why it’s hard for your kid? Why can you imagine the energy that your kid is using? So I try to draw parallels, but I’m always working with the parent as my client, and with helping them help the kid. I have to keep going.
Debbie Reber 26:32
Yeah, so a lot of moving pieces, you did talk a little bit about effective parenting, you have a whole chapter on that. You talked about understanding what your goals are, what are some of the other things that are really critical to effectively parenting these intense kids?
Pat Harvey 26:47
Well, I think the idea of when my kid is dysregulated, so their emotions are really high. How do we deescalate that situation? And so one of the things that parents, you know, want to do is I’m talking stay here, we have to resolve this, you’re not listening to me. Now, when kids are emotional, as they usually are, in those moments, they can’t hear, they just can’t hear. And so making your kids stay there, when they really need to go somewhere else. And so does the parent actually, it’s just ineffective, right? It’s not going to work. And so I sort of teach, I teach a lot. And I teach that just the way I set it to you, they’re not going to be able to hear you. So likewise, a kid sitting at a big party, and they say, I’m leaving, I’m leaving the table. And you know, most parents are gonna say, well, that’s rude. You know, we’re in the middle of a big family event, you have to stay here, that’s not effective for a kid who needs to leave. And so you sort of look at those situations. And I say, look, so what happens if you make them stay? Well, he wreaks havoc at the table, and I Okay, so let them go. You know, like, that’s effective if what you want to do is help your kid learn how to manage their emotions, sometimes we all need space. And so you take space. So instead of talking about it being rude, we talk about taking up space and calming down and using Distress tolerance skills. And you know, parents will say to me, my kids up in their room listening to music, when everybody’s upset, but he doesn’t use any skills. And I’ll say that that’s a skill. Okay? That’s a distraction that’s going to get him through. When I was doing residential, I worked with a kid who had had a really difficult time in the community. And so he’s in my program. And we realized that there were a lot of times when this kid did really, really well. And then there were times when he thought we couldn’t keep them in the program, because he was aggressive and violent with the staff. And I began to notice that he knew that and that there were those times that he wanted to stay in his room. And we made him come out because that was part of the program. And those were the times that we had difficulties. And I realized he knew what he needed. So I said to myself, leave him in his room, check on him, instead of making him come out. Just go out there and check on him. And when we did that, and we respected what he knew about himself, and not saying that all kids do, he happened to and we had to learn the signals will have any more aggression.
Debbie Reber 29:15
Yeah, makes total sense. And wanted to ask you with the parents that you work with, what do you see as the biggest roadblock for them leaning into this style? Because I imagine there’s all kinds of beliefs, this is indulgent.
Pat Harvey 29:29
I think that the judgments and the assumptions, okay. And that’s a huge part of DBT is we use a non pejorative stance and non judgmental language. If you say, Well, my kid is lazy. All that does is it makes you angry and frustrated, right? If you say that, if you describe the behavior, my kid doesn’t get up in the morning, that’s a behavior that we can work on. It is this notion that kids should do certain things. And so that’s why again, I just do a lot of teaching about what your kid is going through and why they’re feeling what they’re feeling. I also talk about the fact that they have to change, right? It’s acceptance and change. There’s no doubt about that. But I think that, you know, my kid doesn’t want to do well, all right? We don’t actually know what the kids want. We know how they’re behaving. But when you put it in terms of wanting, they don’t want to do this, they’re not willing to do this, they won’t do that. We make assumptions. And then we act as if those assumptions are facts. And I think that that’s part of why I just do a lot of explaining and a lot of teaching, so that we can, we can move on, and we can figure out what’s going to be effective in this moment. And how we can work on helping kids change behaviors. Because when parents and kids think that these are characterological problems, they’re lazy, they’re defiant, they’re oppositional. There’s like hopelessness. Well, if that’s the way they are, then how do you change? One of the words that I won’t allow anybody to use is manipulative, right? So everybody says my kids are manipulative and everybody gets angry, teachers get angry, everybody gets angry. What’s a manipulative kid, a manipulative kid is a kid who’s learned how to get their needs met. That’s what it is. All right. Now, if you describe a kid who’s doing what they need to do to get their needs met, you do not get angry at that kid. You do realize, however, that if you give into absolutely everything they want, that you are helping them do that. And that’s not going to help change the behaviors. So the other thing I think that’s really important is getting parents to be consistent and consistently reinforcing healthy behaviors, as opposed to being very attentive to unhealthy behaviors. Because that’s what happens very often is that parents are so tired of trying to be on top of a kid and keep them safe and keep them doing what they need to be doing. That when this kid is doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, sitting and doing their homework, watching TV talking to a sibling, we ignore them, we take a break, we take a deep breath, we say. And so kids learn that if they really and I’ve seen this, in my whole career, kids learn that if they really want parental attention, they get it faster, by acting negatively. So one of the things that has to happen in a household is that there has to be much more of an emphasis on reinforcing healthy behaviors. And as much as possible, even though you have to maintain safety as much as possible, ignoring the other behaviors, which is not easy to do.
Debbie Reber 32:26
I’ll just say that taking the emotion out of it is huge, to just saying what the behavior is, instead of your interpretation of it. That alone is a game changer in terms of how you feel, how you respond as a parent, how the child feels on the other end of any communication. So that is so powerful. We could talk about so many things, but as a way to wrap up if there are parents listening to this, who are raising emotionally intense teens who are maybe in school refusal, or just doing those more severe behaviors that can be really challenging, in addition to reading your book, where would you suggest that they start? Or what’s one thing they can start really paying attention to and thinking about?
Pat Harvey 33:03
I do think acknowledging and being able to accept their kids feelings, to be able to say, I hear you to not fight on a kid’s truth. I think there’s so many power struggles that occur, because the kid says, Well, you never let me do anything. Well, I let you do everything, right. You know, like, sometimes kids are going to have their own truth, it’s not going to be our truth. We have to hear what the kids are saying. And that doesn’t mean that we agree with them. It doesn’t mean that we like it. But kids are fighting to be heard. And not just kids, we all do this, okay? If I don’t feel like I’m being heard, I repeat the same thing over and over until somebody says, Okay, I hear you, I got it by listening and taking it seriously. But the other piece of this is that in order to do that, parents do have to step back and take a deep breath, and slow themselves down and get themselves into a place where their emotions are not so intense. So I used to say that validation was the most important skill I taught parents. Now I actually say, stepping back and taking the breath. Because for parents, that is the way in which they can get to everything else. You know, if you can get your kid to a therapist, fine. Great. And that’s obviously essential. But I think that even in the house, if you can take a deep breath, not get escalated with your kid, and not get caught up in that storm of emotion. Let your kid take a break, you take a break, and then come back and validate and listen, that would be my most important advice.
Debbie Reber 34:28
Yeah, that’s great advice. And the validation piece I’ll say personally has profoundly changed for the better my relationship with my team and we don’t lose anything. By validating. I think people feel like we’re losing ground. But this isn’t a power struggle. It is a way of helping our kids feel seen. So I really appreciate that. So before we say goodbye, are there places where people can connect with you if they want to learn more about your work?
Pat Harvey 34:53
The best places to go are my website at harveymsw.com I have a couple of videos on there, there are a lot of resources. And I think that that’s the best place where people can find out what I do. And there are other people, other clinicians out there that are starting to do more of the same work. So there are people, there are people out there who understand drugs. But if parents walk into a situation where they feel like they’re being judged and feel like a tree being treated, like there’s something wrong with them, that’s not the right place for them, too.
Debbie Reber 35:26
Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you listeners, I will have links to Pat’s website and her book parenting a teen who has intense emotions and the other resources we discussed in the show notes for this episode. And Pat, I just want to thank you so much for everything you shared and for the work that you’ve been doing all these years and supporting families like ours.
Pat Harvey 35:46
Welcome. Thank you for having me on. Thank you.
Debbie Reber 35:51
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