My guest this week is Sara Treffert.
In this episode, I thought that it would be fun to flip things around a little bit today, so this is going to be an interview of Dr. Nicole because so many of you write in with lots of questions about me, my life, the work that I do, and of course a lot of behavior related questions! So I’ve invited Sara Treffert, a fellow practitioner, but more importantly, she’s on the team that produces this podcast to interview me about the things that you asked most about! We start with a peek into my background: growing up, family, kids, experiences that shaped my approach and how my clinic evolved into what it has. We talk about on demand resources and then we get into some top parenting questions: how to build trust with kids for parents and for teachers and caregivers, (especially as it’s back to school time as this airs), my answer to “how to get my child to do/stop doing XYZ thing” and tips on how to manage overwhelm. It has always been my mission to use what I know as a parent and professional to support other parents, families, and professionals on this journey while also improving the outcome of our children… So, with that, let’s dive in!
And if you like this AMA (ask me anything) format, please let us know and we can do more of these in the future!
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Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Introduction to Sara Treffert & Background of BBS Podcast … 00:01:15
Dr. Nicole’s Childhood & Early Career … 00:02:18
Dr. Nicole’s Clinic & Family-Based Approach … 00:09:00
Clinic Sees Patients in Person & Via Telehealth … 00:15:40
On-Demand Resources for Parents … 00:19:25
How to Build Trust with Teachers, Caregivers, Etc. … 00:24:20
2nd Component to Building Trust is Listening … 00:33:30
Spotlight What’s Going Well to Build Trust … 00:39:44
How to Handle Overwhelm? … 00:42:42
Dr. Nicole’s Favorite Go-To’s When Overwhelmed … 00:46:39
Resources, Workshops & Favorites … 00:49:55
Episode Wrap Up … 00:52:28
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
Hi everybody, welcome to the show. Today’s episode is going to be a little bit different. I have invited one of the people who works on producing this podcast, Sara Treffert, to interview me today. So this is going to be an interview of Dr. Nicole, because so many of you write in with lots of questions about me, my life, the work that I do, all those kinds of things, and so Sara and I thought that it would be fun to flip things around a little bit today, and have her interview me on the things that you asked about most. So that’s what we’re going to do today. Sara, welcome. I’m so glad you’re here.
Thank you, Dr. Nicole. I’m very excited to be here. I love your podcast, I love working on it and getting the word out to people. Whether you have kids or you don’t have kids, this is just a phenomenal platform for people to learn, because I truly believe that it’s a little bit backwards when I think that they say kids are just little people. But I sometimes believe that it’s the other way around, that adults are just large children. And you can really apply it, yeah. You can really apply it to every area of your life.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
I love it. I think it’s so true. And I love the work that you’ve done on the show for so long, and just when we first started this podcast several years ago, it was just sort of a pet project, just another way to reach people. Let’s just see, I like interviewing people. And it really has taken off and become this amazing community of listeners, and I love that. So I’m excited to answer people’s questions, so I’m going to turn it over to you, and whatever you want to ask me. Let’s do it.
Yeah. So I definitely want to get into the background of the podcast and what goes on in your brain when you’re thinking of things. But first, I kind of want to start out with, especially for new listeners or people who just don’t know your background, let’s talk a little bit about you growing up, and how you got into your practice and family life, or anything that you think would be interesting to your listeners?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
Yeah, it’s always so funny to me that people are interested in that stuff. It makes sense. It’s like, okay, this person that I listened to and got to know on all these shows and on social media, it makes sense that people want to know a little bit more about me. I grew up in New York, primarily, so I’m a transplant to the Midwest, although I’ve been in Michigan for gosh, like 28 years now. But prior to spending most of my growing up years in New York, my parents traveled a lot. They were missionaries over in the Middle East, and so I had the amazing opportunity, as a young child, to live in lots of interesting different places. I’m the oldest of four kids, so I have two sisters and a brother, who are younger. And we had this amazing opportunity to travel around, to have different experiences, and meet lots of different kinds of people. I think my parents always instilled in us a real curiosity about the world, about human beings, and a real appreciation for differences, and that has certainly stuck with me. I’ve always had an interest in people, helping people, understanding people, and bringing people together around things that we all share in common, and also understanding the differences that we all have. So I think that was embedded in me at an early age. I spent, like I said, a lot of my growing up years in New York, and then moved out here to Michigan to do my undergrad, and really wasn’t sure. I thought I might do pre-med. So I started out in the sciences. Still to this day, I’m interested in the sciences. I used to love the classes, but I was like, “How do I know that I want to really do this?”, and took a course in my freshman year in educational psychology and child development, and fell in love with that. I was like, “Oh, this, I really enjoy. This, I could really see myself spending my four years of undergrad studying”, and really dove into that and got very involved in the education department, ended up majoring in special education with minors in Psychology and Political Science. The political science was just because I was interested in it, it was like one of those things where I’d taken enough courses that I just might as well could get the minor. So I had a lot of great experiences throughout my undergrad working in school settings with different kinds of kids, both gen-ed and special-ed. I spent summers doing some really unique things. One of the things that stands out that people often find surprising is I spent one of my summers in college teaching on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, which was a really fantastic experience, culturally, in terms of my career development, understanding of different kinds of needs of people in those communities. And so I just was really lucky to have a lot of really great experiences like that. I got a job right out of college working with kids with pretty significant emotional and behavioral needs. So I was working in a very large public school district. I actually opened their very first autism program. Some people who don’t know my background may not realize that I started out working with kids with pretty significant neurodevelopmental issues at a time when those were not nearly as prevalent or understood as they are today. So we’re talking about the mid 90s, and this district that hired me came to me and said, “We’ve got five young kids, all have been diagnosed with autism.” That was unusual at that time. Prior to that, the entire county had center-based programs, just a couple of them where all the kids from the county diagnosed with autism went. Well, in the mid 90s, we started seeing more kids having some of these challenges. So this district opened their own program, and they wanted me to teach in it, and I will never forget, I had a wonderful special education director who had hired me, I had worked with her prior when I was teaching at the middle school, and she said, “I really want you to take the job in this classroom.” And I so clearly remember looking at her and saying, “I don’t know anything about how to do that. I don’t know anything about young kids,” I had not had a lot of experience working with little ones at that point. I said, “I don’t know anything about autism.” And she said, “Well, don’t worry, nobody else does, either.” And at that point in the mid 90s, that was really true. There were very few people in education who were certified in teaching students with autism, our understanding of autism and the entire spectrum of neurodevelopmental differences was so, so in its infant stages, compared to where we are now. So she said, “Well, we’ll send you to some things, you can read some books”, that was kind of fun. I remember going to the library, because that’s what we still did back then. I didn’t have the Internet to just go “What do I do here?” And there were a couple books. She said, “You’ll get up to speed.” And she said, “The thing is, you have a tenacity, you have a curiosity, you have the qualities that I think can make this work, even if you don’t have the specific knowledge.” And so I really dove into that. I loved teaching in that program. By the time I left that program, we then had two classes, we were opening a third, because my career, the last 25 years, which is my career up until now, has really tracked right along with the explosion of kids being diagnosed, not only as autistic, but with all types of neurodevelopmental and mental health issues. So that’s been really interesting to just watch as my career has gone along, watch the numbers go up with all of that. And that certainly has happened in the school. So I did that. I loved teaching in and being a consultant in that program.
And then I started having kids of my own, and realized that full time teaching was not compatible with me wanting to be able to spend more time at home with my kids. And so I left the schools and went into consulting. Again, at that point, there weren’t very many people in the world of education that had much experience with kids, not only who were diagnosed autistic, but also kids who were just having other kinds of more significant behavioral challenges, developmental challenges. And so I opened my private practice doing consulting in the schools at first, and then that really grew into an interest in working more with families who were saying to me, “Hey, what you’re doing with my kid in your classroom, the consultation that you’re doing with my child’s teacher, that’s great. But we need help at home. We have our child the other 18 hours of the day, and we’re really struggling. Nobody’s giving us good information about what to do. We’re not sure how to handle these things.” That got me really realizing, “We need to be better supporting parents with education, with tools, with emotional support and resources for them.” And that’s really what spurred me to go back to school and get my doctorate in clinical psychology, which in many ways was sort of a natural progression from the work that I had done in special education in particular. And I had this goal of wanting to be able to partner with families from the time that they first started having concerns about their child, all the way through the diagnostic and evaluation process if that was needed, and then through the treatment process. And that’s really what led to my clinic becoming what it is today, where that’s really what we do. I have a variety of clinicians here with me. And we specialize in different areas, whether that’s clinical psychology, social work, speech, pathology, feeding therapy, those kinds of things, and really work with families of kids from birth through young adulthood, and adults as well. Mostly adults in their families, because oftentimes, if the kid is having challenges or gets diagnosed, it makes maybe parents or other people in the family sort of aware of some things that they want to work on. So we take a very family-based approach, a very holistic approach. Many people have heard me share the story before of how I came to bring the more holistic nutrition and integrative health piece into it. That really was a combination of my experience in working with kids and families clinically, of seeing so many kids coming in for behavioral and mental health and developmental issues, but also with a major history of physiological kinds of things, whether that was chronic infections, whether that was chronic constipation, sleep problems, allergies, asthma, the whole thing. And I started to realize that that probably wasn’t a coincidence. And by that point, I had four kids. We had all of our kids in a six year period, I have three biological sons, and then my daughter who is adopted, she’s the youngest. And around the same time that I was noticing those patterns with kids in my clinic, I was also noticing those patterns with two of my own kids who had struggled with things like chronic eczema, chronic ear infections, dairy intolerance, some allergy issues, and then seeing some behavioral differences and some developmental issues with them. And so that all kind of came together and got me really delving into the research around these connections. And it seems silly to say now, but I was shocked to discover the research-based connections between what goes on in the body and what goes on in the brain. I say shocked, I mean it sounds ridiculous now because it’s so obvious to me, and that, in our world of health and wellness, is such a known thing. However, at that time, it wasn’t something a lot of people were talking about. I mean, we’re talking about like, 15 years ago now. And even today, while that seems really obvious to you and to me, and to a lot of you who are listening, still in the realms of medicine, in the realms of mental health, these are not well-known things. These are not widely accepted or understood concepts, that what goes on in the body for a child or for an adult has everything to do with what goes on in their brain, what happens with their behavior, their development, their learning, all of that. And so I started to delve into that. I was like, “Oh, my goodness, I need to learn more about this”, because I had been to a lot of schooling at that point. So I’ve got a bachelor’s degree in Special Education, a master’s degree in Special Education, and then a masters and a PhD in Clinical Psychology, and this was new information to me. So I went to a lot of seminars, I did so much reading, and then decided that I wanted to understand it a lot deeper. So I went back and got another Master’s of Science in Nutrition and Integrative Health. I really wanted to understand the biochemistry and all those pieces of it. And so I really bring all of that to my work today. All of those pieces. My career has taken sort of a winding path. I do still see patients at my clinic regularly, not nearly as many as before, because I do a lot more consultation now, I do a lot more teaching and professional development, speaking, doing this podcast, running my social media platforms, those kinds of things. But I think my goal remains the same as it did when I first started thinking about opening my clinic, which is: How do I use what I know and what I understand, and my experience as a parent, as a professional, to support other parents and professionals on this journey? What’s the best way to help people feel heard, seen, understood? To improve outcomes for our kids? And to support parents and families and other professionals along the way. So that, to this day, remains my mission. It just looks a little bit different now in terms of how I do that, but I still believe that’s critically important, especially in today’s world where so many more kids are struggling with these kinds of challenges, way more, than when I started my career 25 years ago. And so it only motivates me more to get this information out there and to support families, because there’s so many more people dealing with these issues.
Right. And I couldn’t agree more with you on all of those fronts, and just getting the word out, and you do such a great job. I mean, like I said, my background as a practitioner as well, in the functional medicine space, and also having a marketing background to help you out with the podcast, but, with so many of those pieces, I’m coming back to, no matter where you are in your life, I truly, wholeheartedly believe that the information that you’re sharing with the listeners is so applicable and it really is necessary and getting out there because it’s realistic and it’s doable. And that’s the other thing, I think there’s so much noise in the industry, which we’ll talk about, especially with the social media platforms and having the lockdowns that we’ve had, and all of the craziness in the world in the past few years. We’re all kind of on eggshells in a lot of ways, whether that’s parents who are taking care of those kiddos, or if you’re just out in the world and you’re doing those things. So I think your whole perspective is so applicable, no matter the generation, it’s so needed to cut through all of the noise that you often see, of having this information. And it’s tried and true, right? You have this track record of what you have been doing, not only in the clinic, but also going and continuing your education at all points of your career in order to better the people that you are serving. So I just love that. One question I did want to ask you about your clinic, you said that you’re seeing patients, still and you have a team of clinicians that also help you, but is it only in person in Michigan, or do you also see virtually as well?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
Yeah, we’re sort of one of the originals for seeing people via telehealth before telehealth was even a term. Yes, we do see a lot of kids and adults and families from around our Greater Grand Rapids, Michigan area throughout the state of Michigan, but we have a long history of working with people, not only throughout the US, but internationally as well, dating back to before we had any of these kinds of Zoom platforms or anything. I remember back in the day supporting families at a distance with them mailing us, VHS camcorder footage so that we could see what was going on and get to know them and their kids and give them feedback, and just picking up the phone and doing consults that way. So certainly, technology has made all of that easier, but yes, we have done that for a long time because it’s really hard for parents to find clinicians, clinics, resources, who have the understanding of these symptoms and issues in the way that we do, and who take a more holistic approach. And so I think that’s why just by default, we ended up from early on working with people from all over, but yeah, my clinic does see people both in person, and virtually. We typically are open to new patients. Sometimes there’s a bit of a wait. We try really hard not to keep people on lengthy waiting lists. It’s a really big problem right now, globally, for sure, especially post pandemic, with parents calling and being told there’s a 9 month or a 12 month or whatever waiting list for an evaluation, for a consultation, for a treatment session. We tried very hard to schedule in a way that we keep people efficiently being able to be seen. And also that’s a big part of a lot of the online resources that we have, too. So the podcast and both my clinic website and my Dr. Beurkens website have a ton of articles and things to get people started, but we also have a bank of resources in the clinic that we use online, so even if somebody is waiting a little bit, we’ve got some things that they can be accessing and learning about and sort of getting things started even if there is a bit of a wait, which I think is really important for people.
And when you when you say that, give listeners a little bit of an idea of the topics that you have already ready for those programs that they can purchase or resources that they can read through, whatever that may be, so they get kind of an idea of, “Okay, I can bring my anxiety level down because this is the resource that I can go to. And these are the things that I would learn. And of course, this is only a little sampling of all the things that you do, but just kind of where to start for those parents.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
We’ve got resources available around understanding the difference between a child who maybe is having some developmentally typical behavioral challenges versus a child who may be really needs to be evaluated and potentially have a diagnosis. That’s a big question people have. We’ve got some general parenting strategy resources, where it doesn’t matter what diagnosis your child has or what the symptoms are, sort of the core things that we need parents to understand about parent child relationships, about how to communicate, about how to manage tough moments, because those things aren’t specific to any one kid. Yes, in treatment, we help tweak those and refine them to be specific to you and to your child, but there’s some general basic principles and knowledge that everybody needs to know. And I feel like that’s what I kind of cover over and over again in different ways on the podcast and blog articles, in videos and social media posts, and then in the resources that we make available through the clinic as well, because we all need to revisit those basics. And people think, “Well, I need to specialize” whatever. Well, okay, sometimes that’s true, depending on the child, but the foundation for any specialty therapies or techniques is always going to be the same core things, and that comes down to how we’re managing ourselves, how we are managing and strengthening the relationship with our kids, how we are understanding and responding to their behaviors in tough moments, and then all the lifestyle pieces around that, around how we’re feeding our kids and how we are structuring the day and how we are prioritizing physical movement. All of those basics absolutely form the foundation, regardless of the severity of your child’s needs, regardless of what specific types of therapies or interventions, those core things really, really are so key.
Right, and the fact that it doesn’t matter how far you are in your journey or where you are in life, because those are applicable no matter what. And again, you just talk about all of the different ways that you talk about the neuroscience, but then you also talk about the application in real life; when kids are spinning out of control, versus parents spinning out of control, and how that is connected. That’s just one example that I encourage listeners to go through your amazing library of podcasts that you’ve done, either your Q&A’s that you’ve done, or with other experts that you’ve had in the industry, to specifically talk about how you navigate those types of situations. You really have a great kind of, you know, the reactive, when you’re in that situation, but also the proactive. And it takes time, it’s not something that is just going to happen overnight. But I can say, again, without a doubt, that no matter what type of diagnosis or not that a child or adult has, that these techniques work, and I have used it with kids that are thriving, and I’ve also used it with kids who are on the spectrum, and it never fails me. And it also is really good for us as adults, because most of us weren’t taught how to do and manage our own emotions, and depending on when you were raised, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, those generations really truly were “It’s my way or the highway” as parents, and “You do as I say”, and “You are supposed to be seen and not heard.” And so there’s just a different approach. And I think you do such a wonderful job of doing that and talking about all those pieces of parenting and how to address different situations. Two of the things that I really wanted to talk about, given this time of year, with you, and give some people some little pearls and nuggets of what you do with your patients and recommendations is to talk specifically about trust. And with kids going back to school right now, with starting new programs, new caretakers, all of those things, trust is such a huge, huge part of the healing process. And I think that you, being in a position where not only are you getting skeptical parents, oftentimes skeptical extended family members who are coming to you, because they’ve been through the wringer sometimes at this point, but then you also have the kiddos who’ve also gone through this as well. So I would love to get your take on some tips that you would give to parents and just people in general on how to build trust with the caretakers from adult to adult, but also from the kids’ perspective as well.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
Yeah, trust is so fundamentally important. it’s interesting hearing you talk about the importance of these things for us as well as kids, I just really want to spotlight that because parenting, raising children, and if you’re a professional working with children or you are a caretaker, not a parent, but immersed with kids, there is nothing like raising kids to put a spotlight on your own unresolved needs and issues. And that’s part of, I think, what makes parenting, what makes caring for children, working with kids so challenging. They’re like little mirrors for us. And I often say to people that parenting can be the world’s best personal development training if you let it, because so many of the frustrations come down to our own inability to be aware of our needs, our histories, why we’re responding in a certain way, how our kids are triggering us how we’re responding to them. We tend to put so much of the focus on the kid, what the kid is doing, what’s wrong with the kid. Far and away, I know the two types of questions we get more often than any on the podcast, or through the website, or whatever, come down to two categories: “How do I get my kid to do XYZ thing?” Or “How do I get my kid to stop doing or to not do XYZ thing?” The focus there, of course, in both, being on the kid. And when it comes to children, I’m not saying we should never have a focus of the pieces that they bring to it, but it is a much more valuable thing to understand what we bring to the situation, what we have control over, the dynamics with us and what’s going on with us that contribute to them doing or not doing things. It’s just far more effective. Because when we put all the emphasis on the child, number one, that’s not fair, because most of what’s going on with them isn’t stuff they have control over. And the other piece is it’s inaccurate because we’re actually the adults. We’re the ones that have control over most things. We are the ones that set up and structure the environment, we are the ones that decide about our own communication and behavior. We are the ones that choose the way that we structure things. When we are the ones that have a lot more control over things, but also when we put everything in the basket of needing to get kids to change or do or not do something, that immediately puts us in a very disempowered position, because we actually don’t have control over anything kids do or don’t do. That’s really distressing for some people to hear if you’re listening and you’ve never heard me say that before. It’s important to understand, we actually do not have control over the vast majority of what goes on with our kids. We have control over structuring and setting boundaries, a whole lot of things, but in terms of what our child thinks, feels and does, we do not have control over that. And so it’s a very disempowering thing to constantly be in this position of trying to figure out “How do I get them to do or not do something?” Instead, we look at “What do I need to change? What do I have control over here? How can I use myself to create a situation, an environment, a relationship that increases the likelihood that my child will be able to regulate themselves better, and will feel competent in doing the things that need to be done? That’s a much more empowering place to be, and also much more accurate because we can’t control them. And so your question about trust fits in beautifully with this, because in the absence of a foundation of a trusting relationship with key adults, say parents in this case, you really can’t accomplish a whole lot. You’re going to have a lot of issues with power struggles, with kids refusing things, with them being dysregulated, because we know from the fields of child development, interpersonal biology, neuroscience, all of these new things that back when I was a kid, when my parents were kids, we didn’t understand any of these things. Even the field of neuroscience is really relatively new, like in the last 20 years, we have totally new understandings of how the brain works than we did back when I was in my undergrad. So if you’re feeling like, “Well, how come none of this was the way it was before? How come parents didn’t need to know this before?”, literally, none of us knew this. This is like a knowing better, doing better situation. So we know that trust is key. We know that kids feeling like their parents and their caregivers understand them, are curious about them, have their backs, are there to support them, especially in their dysregulated, difficult moments, that they are able to be seen and heard, even if we don’t agree with them, that we are interested in spending time with them. We don’t have to do things with them every second, but that we take an interest in their lives, we want to understand them as unique human beings, not as the child that we dreamed they would be, want them to be, think they should be, but embracing an understanding and accepting and supporting them for the child that they are, which is critically important, especially if you have a child with some extra challenges, right? So this trust becomes key. And as we think about the start of the school year, I have teachers emailing and calling and saying “What can I do? I’ve got this kid with this really severe behavior/this child with this diagnosis I’ve never worked with before, I don’t know what to do.” And I always come back to the same thing: Start with building a safe, trusting relationship with that child. That’s what I did back 25 years ago, when I had no clue, and didn’t know anything about autism or little kids. But I knew kids in general, and I knew that if I just developed the foundation of a caring, well-boundaried, consistent, trusting relationship with them, that that’s what would at least get us on the right path. And so that’s true, whether you’re a parent and you feel like “I don’t understand this kid, I don’t understand their needs, I don’t understand their diagnosis”, or you’re a teacher or whoever, you start with that same foundation of just building that trusting, caring, consistent relationship.
And that can look like some specific things. It can look as simple as spending a few minutes or longer, if you have the time each day or a few times a week, doing something with them that they enjoy. Not because there is a specific purpose or outcome you’re looking for, not because it’s something you think they should enjoy or should do, not because it’s something everybody else is doing, but taking an interest in and engaging with them around something they enjoy, even if you think that they’re overly stuck on it, and “Oh, this is silly”, or whatever. Because what that does is, it communicates a genuine interest in them and in what they’re interested in, and that builds a tremendous amount of trust and care between the two of you. So that’s a very basic strategy that teachers and parents and other people in the family can implement. I think it’s also really important that we listen to them. Part of building trust and building a strong relationship that supports their ability to regulate their own emotions and behaviors is that we acknowledge and accept the full range of feelings that they have about things. So often, and I agree with you, Sara, what you said a few minutes ago about how we were raised in a very different way, right? Often we recreate that with our kids, it’s like, “No, you shouldn’t be feeling that way/there’s nothing to be worried about/quit crying, this isn’t a big deal/suck it up”, or even parents, I had a parent like that, who I would have a strong, maybe uncomfortable feeling about something and immediately, my mom would go into the mode of like, “It’s okay, and here’s why. But let’s look at the bright side, but let’s think about all the things you are good at.” And I’m not saying there’s not a time or place for that. However, what we know and understand now is that we need to allow for the full range of feelings. We struggle with that because it makes us uncomfortable. Seeing our kids experience uncomfortable feelings like disappointment, anger, hurt, frustration, embarrassment, loneliness, whatever it is, it’s triggering to us. It’s painful for us because we don’t want our kids to experience that. And so we tend to either shut that down or have a sort of toxic positivity, “Look at the bright side, it’s not that bad.” And instead, what we want to do is really leave space for that. We want to listen to them, we want to empathize and acknowledge whatever they’re feeling, even if we don’t necessarily agree with it.
Right. And I think that that’s a perfect example, if you think about it, if you put yourself as an adult in a child’s shoes and say you are really upset about something, and then you know you’re angry or mad, you’re crying, whatever that may be. You’re trying to express something and you’re trying to get it out. And then someone comes over and turns on your favorite show or gives you your favorite whatever, or gives you a present. That’s great in the moment when you need to do that. I understand. But in general, think about how you feel. It starts to fester. You didn’t get it out. And so this is a great piece that you’re talking about, building that trust, but also letting them express themselves even when it’s really, really difficult, because it’s not for you to tell them how they are feeling. You can give them suggestions of how they can respond in the moment. And they can make a good decision based on that, right?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
And that is so true. This is such a foundation of building that strong parent-child relationship, it’s putting these deposits in the emotional bank account. A lot of times parents are really frustrated and in constant negative patterns. Teachers and other professionals too, because you’re trying to make a lot of emotional withdrawals all day long, in the form of tasks, demands, redirection, constructive criticism, whatever it might be. Well, that’s fine. Sometimes we need to do that. But if we haven’t put enough deposits into that relational and emotional bank account, you’re drawing on an empty account, and that’s what starts to happen. And that’s why parents and kids or teachers and kids get into these really negative, chronic, problematic cycles. We’ve got to put enough deposits in, and one of the best ways to put those deposits in, I mentioned doing some things with them that they enjoy, but also it’s listening and leaving room for all of their feelings. That helps them to feel heard, acknowledged, understood, it gives them an outlet for it. And then when we make a lot of deposits in that way — another example is making sure we’re spotlighting their successes, not always harping on the negative. Put deposits in that emotional bank account, like “Hey, I noticed you did that. Wow, you’ve come a long way with that!/Wow, that was amazing! How did you even think to do that?” Those are deposits in that relational and emotional bank account. Spotlighting the things that they are doing well, noticing things, giving them an opportunity to shine, especially if you have a child with various types of disabilities or extra challenges. They have a lot of experiences all through the day of failing or not being able to do things as well or struggling. Give them opportunities to be competent and shine, give them an opportunity to help with something that you know they can do well and feel good about. Again, it’s those deposits in that emotional or relational bank account so that when we need to do the other piece that’s important in parenting and teaching and whatever, which is correcting, which is setting firm boundaries and limits, which is sort of the stuff that they don’t particularly like, we’ve got something to draw on there. We’re not trying to make withdrawals from an empty account. And so I think that’s just a really, really critical piece to understand, that you’ve got to be making those positive deposits throughout the day. That’s what builds trust. It’s what gets you and your kids through the tough moments, because they know that they are seen, heard, understood. And that doesn’t mean we don’t set firm boundaries and limits and that we don’t say no and that we don’t redirect or ever say or do things that our kids don’t like. Of course we do. The saying that I use all the time is all feelings are welcome, all behaviors that are not. Your feeling of being angry at me because I said, “No, you can’t watch another TV show”, your feeling about that is valid, and I’ll leave room for that feeling all day long. How you choose to behave around that is a different issue. Your anger and frustration is welcome, I will make space for that. I will not make space for and tolerate behavior like throwing the remote through the TV, like hitting your brother, like screaming at me, whatever it might be. We can make room for the feelings and accept and acknowledge those, and still put appropriate limits and boundaries around the way that those are expressed. That is critically important for us in our adult lives with adults. It is critically important for us when we’re working with or parenting kids. So I think those are some of the key things, probably, especially at this time of year, back to school in lots of places, good reminders for all of us around just some of those basics.
I love it. And I know that we’re getting kind of close to the end of our time. But I did want to sneak in that second question, I didn’t want to leave listeners hanging, and it parlays perfectly into this topic of school and putting enough credits in the bank account. So you don’t have this situation of: overwhelm. And so I want to talk quickly about overwhelm. This is maybe something that we can have a part two on to help people kind of grasp, but the idea of this overwhelm when one, you don’t have anything in that emotional bank account, but two, right now, again, now you have the parents who are trying to appease the children or getting them into this certain schedule, for example, but then also just a new schedule for parents that can be very overwhelming. So for you as a practitioner, when you are dealing with a parent or a child that is completely out of control, or if you want to go with this one, that is really struggling to regulate, what are one or two mindset pieces for the adults, and maybe one piece that you can help guide the child into the right direction?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
That mindset piece is so important. Everybody wants to know the “What do I do?” Well, first, we have to start with how we’re thinking and looking at it. And so when we’re feeling totally dysregulated and overwhelmed, and our child is, we have to start with the understanding that the behaviors that we’re seeing are just the red flags on the surface. They give us an indication that something is not working well in life for us, and or, for our kids. And that’s critically important because when we can get curious and put our detective hat on and go, “Wow, my kid has really then off the rails/I have really been struggling to manage myself”, instead of just judging that or trying to do something about that on the surface, to get curious and see what’s going on beneath that right now. With the start of a new school year, lots of changes. That in and of itself is a root cause of a lot of dysregulation: adjusting to new routines, getting up early, not having as much control over the day, all of those things. And so, we get curious about that, because when we can start to look beneath the surface and say “What’s actually going on here?” It puts us in a much better mental space to handle what’s happening because we’re able to empathize, we’re able to understand, and it actually allows us to solve for the right problem. The problem is often not “What do I do about the hitting? How do I stop the hitting? How do I stop my kids screaming about whatever?” The problem we actually need to solve is what’s going on under the surface? Why is it that my child’s getting so overwhelmed, overstimulated, dysregulated in the first place? Then we start to have empathy and solve for the right issue. For ourselves too. When I notice that I’m going through a period of getting much more easily overwhelmed, dysregulated, I need to look at that and say “What’s going on under the surface there for me?” And solve those issues. And so I think that curiosity, that getting curious and understanding that kids’ behavior is always just a manifestation of what’s going on more internally and that we need to understand that. And then I think there are, again, just some basics that we forget about for ourselves and for our kids. And people often say, “Well, my kid won’t do these things that you say are regulating.” Okay, then you do them, because you then will work on having a stronger, more regulated nervous system, which will allow you, number one, to model that for your kids, which is really important, but also will be able to help you better handle what’s happening with your kids. So some of the things that work for me, my go-to’s that I often will use with parents and kids and families are simple things. Go for a walk regularly. Walking is one of the most regulating activities we can do. Go for a walk by yourself, go for a walk as a family. If your kid is super resistive, you say “Come walk with me to the mailbox”, or “We’re going to walk to the kitchen”, whatever it might be. Walking is very regulating for us and for kids. I should probably do a whole episode on that because there’s so much science behind that. But walking is great. Getting outside, getting sunshine and fresh air, very regulating for our nervous systems. Very, very supportive of kids’ brains. So even just saying, “Okay, you’re going do this thing outside”, okay, great. For me, as an adult, finding some regulating activities, these are repetitive, mindless things that just sort of ground me. I will go out and weed the landscaping, I will fold a load of laundry, I will organize something. Those are what works for me. Everybody’s got to find what works for them. And the same for kids, having some sort of regulating patterns and activities that they don’t have to think about, that are not new and overstimulating. Walking can be a great one. Sometimes you’ll watch kids do this for themselves, they’ll pick fuzzies off of something, that kind of thing. Or you’ll see kids start to like, do certain kinds of patterns with toys or blocks or things like that. That’s the brain’s attempt to find a regulating, organizing pattern. So we can find activities like that. And then hydration is a big one. I think most adults and kids are walking around with some level of dehydration, and it’s a really simple thing to solve. And so we focus on “Am I drinking enough water? Is my kid drinking enough water?” Throw some electrolytes in there to add some flavor and make your hydration status even better. These things don’t have to be complicated. We often make it complicated. Especially the more complex a child’s needs are, the more escalated the behaviors, the more frustration, all that, the more we think that the solution is to find all of the theories, methods, there must be a 47 step complex process for how to solve this, and in fact, I think what’s counterintuitive but really true, is that the more we are struggling, the more our children are struggling, the more complex the needs in the situation are, the more we need to go back to the simple, reliable basics to support our nervous system, to support our kids’ nervous systems. Fundamentally, after 25 years of doing this work, and after being a human now for a long time, and a parent for 22 years, that way of looking at it has yet to fail me. And so I think the more complicated it feels, the more we go the other way and go back to the simple basics.
I couldn’t agree more with that, and just the simple idea of drinking water, it has to be more of a parasympathetic situation. You’re not going to be drinking your water, whether you’re a kid or an adult, when you’re in a sympathetic state. So you have to bring yourself down a notch in order to be able to drink that water and take that in. So I love how simple that is, and just like you said, it’s finding those regulating moments, and if you think about it, when you go on vacation or holiday, when you do those things, it’s the relaxing times that recharge everybody’s batteries. It’s not running around 24/7, it’s those pieces to come back and be calm, whether you’re sitting by the beach, or the water, or just kind of being disconnected and allowing your brain to reregulate and just kind of come back to baseline. So I love that. I think those were some great pearls for listeners. And I think as we wrap up, I did want to ask about any other resources you talked about. You have your workshops, you have programs, but then you also have some supplements and things like that, your favorite things that you like, on your website. So do you want to kind of put a little bow on all of that?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
Yeah, I think a lot of listeners may not realize, if you’ve never been to my website or checked out my social media, there’s a lot of resources available in lots of places. So check that out. On my website, drbeurkens.com, you can get to the workshops that I have. I have every intention of creating more in the coming months on the topics that you all ask about the most, but there’s a great workshop there, Digging Deeper, understanding some of the root causes of common child symptoms, behavioral issues, those types of things. And then also the Better Brain and Behaviour Diet, which gives you an intro to the fundamentals of the nutritional aspects of what we want to be doing for kids. So those are on there, all the podcast episodes are on there, lots of articles, lots of videos, and my favorites page where you can find a lot of the specific supplements and other kinds of not only the food products, but activities, all kinds of things that I just find really helpful and useful. And you can find that on the favorites page of the website. Instagram is where I hang out the most on social. If you haven’t joined me over there yet, come and join that. I’m on Facebook, too. But really, most of my interaction with my community is on Instagram. So I would love to have you join there. Sara, this was so fun. We only barely scratched the surface. I’m finding it amusing now, this long list of questions that you and I thought we were going to get to from everybody. So I think we’ll probably look at doing something like maybe an ongoing series of these. I would love to know, for all of you listening, if you enjoyed this type of episode, email us at email@example.com. Let us know if you thought this was a great episode, if you hated it, if you want to hear more. And depending on that feedback, Sara, I think we may come back and do some in a series here. This was a lot of fun. And I thank you for being willing to interview me and have this conversation.
Thank you so much. It was a lot of fun to be here as well. And I hope that we brought some great nuggets to your listeners, and looking forward to all the future ones that you have coming up. There’s so much great content already in the bank, but there’s so much more to come. So I invite you all to continue to listen and enjoy and provide feedback on how Dr. Nicole can continue to bring value to your everyday life to you and your family. And just enjoy.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
Awesome. Thanks, everybody for being here and for listening. We’ll catch you back here next time.