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Reforming Parent-Child Connection & Growth through Compassion with Heidi Rogers


Reforming Parent-Child Connection & Growth through Compassion with Heidi Rogers

Felicity Cohen: Hello, I’m Felicity Cohen. I’m so excited to introduce you to my wellness warriors podcast. For over 20 years, I’ve been a passionate advocate for helping thousands of Australians find solutions to treating obesity and health-related complications. Through surgical intervention and holistic managed care.

My podcast is dedicated to all the people past, present, and future who have helped shape my journey and continue to inspire me to work consistently to achieve a healthier Australia in both adults and future generations. I hope you enjoy it.

Heidi Rogers, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you here today. I know you’re joining me from Melbourne where you’re still experiencing a lot of restrictions in terms of being in lockdown still. And it’s been quite a long time for you in lockdown.

Heidi Rogers: Yeah, we had our first one in June and then that was only maybe five to ten days. I can’t even remember. And then we got out of that one and then went back into another one. So yeah, we’ve been in and out of lockdowns a long time now. Long time.

Felicity Cohen: Yeah, Heidi you’re a psychotherapist, counselor, a trauma specialist, a speaker and wear many hats. You have done some incredible things over the lifespan of your career. Tell me about what took you into this space in the first place. Why psychotherapy and why did you choose to work in the specific area of working with children and families?

Heidi Rogers: I think it started in my early twenties and going through my own depression and my own just hell, mental health wise. That’s when I first got exposed to therapy and did my own therapy then. And in that process, I guess I sort of realised what was possible and that you could go from being super depressed and suicidal, do therapy, and then come out the other side -feeling good about yourself, build your confidence up, kind of rebuild your life. And to see that that was possible is how I then got excited about going to University and studying it and doing it myself so that I could kind of provide that same sort of gift to other people. Because it was such a gift that I got from my therapist. So that’s what got me sort of interested in therapy. And then I started my career in my early and mid twenties working with children and teenagers.

Then as I got older and worked with them longer, I started to discover that the real magic happened when I worked with the parents instead of the kids. And then also I think having my own kids really sort of honed that in for me. That I kind of became really clear that the more power can happen, like more behaviour change, can happen for kids when you’re working with the parents. And so then I started doing parenting programs and running parenting groups and public speaking on parenting topics. Then just when it was like, oh my God, this is so cool. This is like the secret sauce. This is what’s been missing in the frustration that you have sometimes in working with children. Just because their brain’s not fully developed. They are limited in power and autonomy and things like you know, they don’t have a bank account, they don’t have a car and they can’t make a lot of choices for themselves. The parents are making a lot of choices for them. So when I started working with parents, that’s when I realised kind of the power, I guess, in helping children change their behaviour, improve things, improve their mental health if I worked with the parents.

So that’s what I’ve been doing now for about 18 years is working with families.

Felicity Cohen: Being a parent is probably one of the greatest gifts ever, but it’s also one of the greatest challenges that we face in life. And it’s such a long journey. Every age going through as a parent with looking after children and seeing them grow through all the different stages of childhood all the way through adolescence, et cetera, it comes through such a huge, big challenge. Every single phase is different.

What do you think are some of the greatest challenges that children are facing here and now that is different for you and new in terms of how you treat?

Heidi Rogers: I think what would be the hardest thing that I would say kids are going through now would be the impacts of the pandemic and the impacts of, and this is globally, like obviously in Australia, there’s the lockdowns. The in and out of lockdowns that we’re going through that I think is tremendously damaging to the mental health of children and to families. But I think the overall implication of the pandemic on mental health is huge. I mean, the statistics and the research that we’re seeing coming out on teenagers in particular, so the age range between 12 and 25, they are significantly impacted by the pandemic on their mental health. The depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, self-harm, eating disorders —all of those kind of maladaptive mental health issues — are significantly impacting that age bracket.

So I think what’s probably the most relevant at the moment is the pandemic.

Felicity Cohen: Absolutely. I’m very well aware of some of those statistics in terms of when we look at Beyond Blue or Lifeline and some of these organizations that have been reported incredible increases in call volume and people reaching out for help. And looking at things like the suicide rates, et cetera, that are just pretty horrendous and quite frightening.

How are you coping with dealing with this and managing and navigating your way through treatment at the moment with children or adolescents and young adults?

Heidi Rogers: So since I’m working more with parents now, parents are kind of cool to do tele-health, but kids and adolescents just do not engage. They just don’t like zoom. They don’t like phone. So most of my colleagues that work with young people will be seeing them in person still. I still have maybe 10 adolescents and kids in my caseload that I still work with, that I still see in person. Basically, because I know they’re not going to engage any other way and it’s not worth it to me to, especially my teenagers that are suicidal. It’s just not worth it to have them disengage from therapy because they don’t want to do zoom. I guess, to being fully vaccinated, once I got my second shot, I felt a bit more invincible. Maybe that it was easier to do in person. So I’ve been doing in person for adolescents and basically anyone who’s at high risk. We’re having to adapt. We’re having to pivot like all last year, I did tele-health like zoom and phone, but it was just so hard for my young people. Anyone that was in that age bracket of 12 to 25, most of them either disengaged or would kind of reluctantly do zoom or reluctantly do the phone because they knew it was sort of what was helping them keep their head afloat.

I think any of us that are in a helping profession need to be really mindful about our own mental health and our own health in general. And so I’ve been putting things into practice, like cutting down how many clients I see a day when I’m doing zoom, phone sessions. Because I find it so much more draining doing zoom sessions. Normally when I see clients, I have like seven or eight a day and I leave feeling energised and recharged because I love my work. But with zoom, it’s so exhausting because your brain is working so much harder to read facial expressions and like understand the little nuances, tone and stuff that your brain has to work harder to do in zoom versus in-person.

So I find that when we go into lockdowns, I will like just sort of pull back on my workload and try to make it sort of as do the bare minimum. If I have to do reports or GP letters or taking on new clients, I’ll just sort of pull right back to sort of make sure I have enough in the tank, obviously. Because you can’t give to others if you don’t have enough in your own cup.

Felicity Cohen: That completely makes sense it all starts with you for sure.

I guess also for kids when they’ve been doing homeschooling, they’ve been in front of a computer screen all day as it is anyway. So exposing them to more of that, they probably feel like they’re just so trapped and locked in. I think the challenges that come with homeschooling, not just for those at school age, but also university students as well, the isolation that goes with that. It’s really hard.

I’ve seen even in the young university students, how difficult that is for them to cope with that isolation and lack of contact with their peers. It is incredibly hard. And I’m sure it must have a huge impact on their mental health.

Heidi Rogers: Yeah, absolutely. I mean the whole purpose of the adolescent phase, like if you were to open up a child psych textbook and in child development, what’s the point of the teenage years, the point of 12 to 20, but really 25 because you’re still kind of a young adult, the whole point of that bracket, the whole goal is for the child to pull away from the parents to differentiate themselves and to form their identity. So you’ll see things in that period, like dying their hair blue, piercings. “I want to leave the family religion”, “I hate our culture”, “I love our culture.” “What do I believe about gender stereotypes?”, “What do I believe about gender roles?”, “What’s my gender identity?”, “What’s my sexual identity?”

Like all that sort of, who am I? And why is all about what adolescence is about. And when you are doing it normally, you’re going to school, you’re socialising, you’re going to parties. You’re doing all these things to kind of explore that and be away from your family to figure out who you are. This is why the pandemic sucks because all these kids are trying. They’re built and wired to do that. And then they can’t, they’re stuck at home, literally with the people that they’re biologically wired right now to be pulling away from.

So it makes it really hard. If you think about toddlers, like in the toddler stage, or like when they’re say one and a half, it’s all about putting stuff in my mouth to explore things, right. And I have to touch and put everything in my mouth. And the concept of don’t touch that or don’t put that in your mouth, they just don’t get it. It’s just a phase of life where you sort of expect and understand that that’s what this normal behaviour, right.

And if you were to take a toddler and any of us who have kids know what this would look like, if you took a toddler and just put them in a box and then took them through a toy store, but it was like, you can’t get out and you can’t touch anything. What would happen? They would implode. They would have a meltdown. They would have a tantrum.

And that is sort of what’s happening to our teenagers is we’re not letting them because of the pandemic. They’re not able to do what they are wired to do at the stage of their life. And that then causes a lot of internal friction, a lot of unhappiness because I’m supposed to be doing X and I’m not allowed to.

And that just doesn’t sort of sit right with them. And that’s why we’re seeing such significant mental health issues for that bracket. I think the other part of that too is the part of the brain that is responsible for forward planning, motivation, productivity, logic, reasoning, impulse control, emotional regulation, all that good stuff.

The cortex doesn’t fully develop until 25. Some research shows 28, 29, 30. So if you think about all of those awesome traits not really being online yet until about 25, I mean, they’re there obviously, but they’re not at their best strength until 25 to 30.

So then if you add that in the mix that teenagers don’t have a fully developed brain to regulate emotions, be motivated, be productive, plan ahead, understand consequences, logic and reasoning. That part of their brain is literally missing. So it makes this period of adversity even harder for them because their brain isn’t fully capable of navigating that stuff.

Their brain right now, well, everyone’s brain up until 25 is predominantly driven by the amygdala, which is the fight or flight response. It’s more survival focused and less sort of consequence-y. If that makes sense.

Felicity Cohen: Absolutely. What are some of the positive things that we can take away from this? In terms of they’re facing adversity now, it’s going to build resilience and strength and possibly some other characteristics that will be more positive in the future. Do you think we can look at this as well from a positive framework?

Heidi Rogers: Yes, but to me, only if the parents are prioritising the right things. A lot of times people say things like children are just resilient. Kids are really resilient. I totally disagree. You need to be taught how to be resilient. You don’t come out being resilient. You have to be taught how to be resilient. Resilience is a skill. And if you want your kids to be resilient, the number one thing that you need to be focusing on is the relationship, the connection, the attachment, the you and me thing — that is what’s the most important.

When parents fixate on other things, like right now I have a lot of conversations with parents that are fixated on the academics and stuff with their kids. And will say to me things like they won’t log on to zoom meetings and they’re not doing their homework and they’re not doing their reading. And I get it. That’s annoying. It’s frustrating to see your kids not doing the things that we want them to be doing. But when we fixate on that and we fixate on the doing and the performing and the achieving, it makes all of us, not just kids — feel not heard, not seen, not valued, not worthy.

And so what we want to be doing instead is focusing on our relationship and getting curious with them. What’s going on for you. So you didn’t want to log on today. You don’t want to do your assignments. Tell me what’s happening. I want to know what’s going on for you. It looks like you’re having a hard day what’s happening. When I approach them that way. And when I go into it with a curiosity, empathy and compassion and validation that then makes them able to share.

And that is then what enables them to build resilience. Resilience is built through connection, not through adversity.

The analogy I like to use is a boxer in a ring. So a boxer is the child. They go into the ring, they get hit, they fight, they maybe learn a few things . The right hook was good. The left jab worked better that time. Move your feet this way. Then they have a round, they come and sit down on the stool, who goes to them is their corner men, right. Which is the parents. And what we want to be doing as corner men is going in there and not telling them how they suck, how they’re not doing it well enough, how that last round was pathetic.

Like no, corner men go into the corner. And if you read any corner men’s guide for boxing, it will say you pump up the box or you tell them what a great job they’re doing. You tell them the weaknesses of the opponent. You tell them how proud you are of them. You’re rubbing Vaseline on their face. You’re giving them water. You’re pumping them up and being their biggest cheerleader, not their biggest critic and picking on them. And that is what I think is one of the biggest mistakes a lot of parents are making right now in the pandemic. Their kids are getting their butts kicked in the ring.

They come and sit down on the stool and then the parent stands there going, you’re not doing enough. Just like finger wagging of just like shame on you for this and this isn’t good enough and that’s not good enough. And then it makes them feel worse. It’s almost as if the parents are then slapping them on their breaks and sending them back into the ring and be like, good luck!

So to build like a resilient fighter, if you want a resilient boxer, when they come into corner, it’s building them up and telling them how great they are. I have your back and I’m in your corner and you got this off you go. And then they go out again. They get their butt kicked, they come back.

That’s how you build resilience, but you can’t build resilience unless you have a good connection.

A lot of parents will say, I want to be able to control my kids or, or be able to sort of dictate what they do, what they wear, what they eat, what they don’t do, the social media. They come to me, “I want to be able to control them.”

And I’m always like, you can’t control someone though. You can’t. You think you can. The illusion, I think, in parenting is that you think you can control your children. What you can do is you can have influence over them and influence is way more powerful than control.

Because influence means that the other person wants to hear what you have to say. Whereas control is forced. So if I have influence over my children, then I can influence their behaviours, their choices and things like that.

How do you get influenced though? Connection. It’s by being the kind of corner man that when they get their butt kicked in the ring and they come back to the corner, they want to hear your influence. They want to hear what you have to say, because you are empathetic, validating, compassionate, kind, supportive, respectful. That is what will make them want to listen. But if they come to the corner and you’re screaming at them, shaming them , berating them, or telling them all the ways they suck—it just depletes them.

It makes their brain turn off so they’re actually not taking in anything you say. And then you kind of send them back out into the ring, more vulnerable than when they came.

So the positives would be to use this time. And I know it’s hard with homeschool and just working from home and the 24 /7 as of parenting right now. Truly, the greatest positive that parents can be taking away from this time is utilising the amount of time we have together, not obsessing about school, not fixating on that stuff, but rather instead prioritising the relationship and prioritising our connection.

So that might mean doing fun stuff like crafts, painting together, watching shows together, going for walks together. Just doing whatever it is, the young person or the child wants to do, and just spending time with them.

Felicity Cohen: The gift of time. I’m sure it’s actually changed a lot of family dynamics and relationships just from the mere fact that they don’t have a choice that they’re all spending so much more time together.

You’ve often got a situation where you’ve got mum and dad working from home because they don’t have a choice. Also you’ve got children at home as well. How do you think that rolling out overall? Do you see families coming together in a better environment, building those connections? Is that a positive thing that you’re seeing or are you seeing more the other side of it?

Heidi Rogers: It’s hard, I guess, because my job by nature is problem-solving. So I feel like a lot of times people will only come and tell me the horrible things about their partner, their kids, their workplace. They’ll report the good things obviously, but for the most part, I feel like people will come to me with the problems to have me help them fix them and sort them out.

But I would say most families I’ve been working with, I find went through a phase either last year or at the beginning of this lockdown, where they were obsessed about homeschool and doing it right and nailing it. And then they realized how much they were fighting, how much disconnection that was causing, how much just pain and suffering it was causing with logging on and fights with their kids.

And I think some parents have really valued my permission from a professional to say, it’s okay to not do homeschool. It’s okay to write to your child’s teacher and say, we’re really struggling and there are tears and tantrums and rolling on the floor about logging on today or every day. We’re going to need to find an alternative solution of how my kid is educated or demonstrates their knowledge to you because this isn’t working for us. It’s kind of empowering parents, I guess that like, that’s an option? You can do that? And you can say to your kid’s teacher, yeah, it’s not worth it right now.

It’s outweighing the stress and the pain that the academic stuff is causing us. Is it worth it? Because again, I go back to that whole connection thing. It’s the most important thing, right? And so if the academics piece is causing disconnection, friction fighting, that is not what we want to be focusing on.

We want to be focusing on connection because a huge part of what children get from an adolescents get from the connection thing is safety. And that’s what all of our brains are needing right now is safety because on a conscious, unconscious level, the experience of a pandemic sets everyone’s amygdalas into a low level. Fight or flight response. Because it’s a threat and how the brain perceives threat is essentially anything that makes me feel uncertain, uncomfortable, or lack of control. And those three things are in full effect with COVID right? So everyone’s amygdalas, everyone’s nervous systems and brains are on a heightened level and are producing more cortisol and adrenaline.

And that then is making everyone kind of run at a higher sort of level of stress. Depending then on your childhood, your trauma, how your nervous system is sort of wired in general, depends on then how you respond to the adversity and the uncertainty, discomfort and a lack of control that COVID brings.

So then you take that whole piece and put that into what is happening with our kids and how they’re navigating this. And then that’s why, I guess I go back to again, we have to be focusing on the connection piece because communicating to our children that they’re safe happens predominantly and most effectively through the relationship. So that’s why I say if you were fighting so much about academics and school performance and stuff, or even just motivation and productivity in general. I find that a lot of parents are saying to me, My kids are not motivated and they’re not productive.

One of the basic things that helps them understand is just how the nervous system works. So when I explained to them the polyvagal theory and the polyvagal ladder and how essentially right now, a lot of us are in the middle of fight flight response or in the shutdown response that you have to work to get the nervous system back up. And back up to a safe social state that it’s able to do work, get out of the house, do those good things that help us. You can’t just choose that, it doesn’t work like that. The nervous system doesn’t work like that. It’s getting the nervous system regulated first, making the body and the brain feel safe.

You do that through connection once the body feels safe, then it can do all of those things. And so focusing on the safety piece with the connection piece is often the kind of best place to start. I don’t know if that answers your question.

Felicity Cohen: Well, that’s fantastic. It’s fascinating. Thank you so much for that. I saw that one of the webinars that you ran recently was titled They Only Listen When I Yell.

Oh my gosh. That’s so interesting. And pretty much every parent on the planet, there’s a tipping point. There’s that boiling point. When you feel like those triggers have just been, all those buttons have just been pushed once too often.

And that response ends up being the yelling or you screaming or you raise your voice. And that’s when they actually respond and do as they’re asked which is sounds like the most terrible way to behave. And then there’s the guilt that comes after that. I yelled at him and that’s when he actually did, as I’ve asked him to do.

But then afterwards I feel so guilty. I feel so terrible. So this sounds like that would be a recipe for some, a lot of mixed messaging going on.

Heidi Rogers: Yeah. And I mean, the yelling is such a huge part of all of our childhoods. I think most of us were raised by yellers. Most of us were raised by parents who were doing their best. A lot of them had their own trauma backgrounds and were raised by parents who had PTSD because wars and scarcity and poverty were a lot more prevalent back in the day than it is now. The old school kind of parenting has just sort of trickled down into how we parent today and it’s watered down, thankfully.

We don’t beat our kids. Whipping and stuff was the norm back in the day. And then that evolved to spanking and smacking, and that was the norm, and then that’s evolved. And that evolved then into timeouts. Then that’s evolved as more research has gone on, we went, oh, whipping is not that great for kids, spanking is not that great for kids. Time-outs really damaging the kids. All these things that we kind of, as we evolve and do research and learn that that actually isn’t the best way. And so now we know the best way is to communicate with kids. It’s not yelling, not time-outs, not spanking and hitting and all that sort of thing. But it only comes with research and time that we can figure out what works and what doesn’t work.

And one of the things that we’ve worked out with yelling is what it actually is doing is it’s making the child’s nervous system be afraid. It sends their amygdala into a fight flight response, and the fight flight response then says to sort of hijacks everything.

And makes them go; this grownup is scary. I need to do, as they say, to stay safe or to maintain relationship because for our children, the most important thing for them is our relationship. Which is why timeouts are so damaging because you’re basically withdrawing your love, your safety, your connection exiling and abandoning them. It’s a massive masterclass in shame by sending kids into timeout because they are then isolated and disconnected from you.

They don’t have a fully developed cortex, so they don’t know how to regulate their emotions and you’re just leaving them all alone to regulate. They need your cortex to help them regulate and to teach them how to calm down and to work through their feelings. So gist of it is when I yell at my kids, it sends their nervous system and their brain into a fight flight response.

And they actually are afraid of me, which is why they listen. Their brain says, their amygdala says I care what this person thinks of me. They’re the most important person in my world. I don’t want to be disconnected from them. I want to make them happy. If they’re pleased with me, I’m safe.

They’ll keep me safe from predators. They’ll provide me with food, shelter etc. Very, very primal. It’s sort of how the brain would process this in milliseconds. So keep them happy. So put my shoes on, get in the car, clean my room, do whatever the thing is that they just yelled at me for. It’s all in an effort to stay safe.

So it’s not actually compliance. It’s not actually obedience. It’s fear. It’s a fear response. And for a lot of parents, when they learn this and I teach them this through webinars or my programs or whatever, they’re like, oh, that makes me feel so bad. I’m basically scaring my kid. And I’m like, yeah.

I yelled too, and I know all of this stuff. Not yelling is really, really hard because first of all, the template that we all are parenting from is based on how we were parented. So I have just default stuff in my brain and how I respond that’s based on my mom and my dad.

I mean, how many times you yell or say something to your kids and you’re like, oh my God, I sound like my mom. And we cringe because it’s like, I didn’t want to be like them, but here I am. So it’s like, you got to first look at how was I parented. What do I know from my childhood, good and bad, that has informed how I parent today. What’s the template that I’m using.

And then once you’re kind of clear on that, you can sort of make more conscious choices about how I parent and how I respond. So if my default setting is, I ask you once I ask you twice and you don’t listen to the third time I’m going to yell. That’s how I was trained, sort of in my template as a child and most of us were.

I have to then consciously work very hard to regulate myself. And calmed down and do the strategies and the things I know that work for me. So that could be belly breathing, diaphragmatic breathing. I might walk away for a second, take a deep breath. I’m a big fan of, I have to go to the bathroom really quick and I will just go to the bathroom and just take deep breaths to regulate my nervous system, to take me out of the fight flight response.

Because that’s what yelling and anger is, it’s the fight response. It’s my amygdala gets triggered because you weren’t listening to me. And so in order to make you listen, I need to escalate. I need to yell, intimidate, manipulate, coerce, demand, just be scarier to make you listen. And so I will take myself away to regulate that and calm that down and also to model it.

I would love to be, and this is one of my like kind of passions is to be a cycle breaker and to stop the patterns and the history of my family and my ancestors of being yellers or not knowing how to manage anger. I want to raise kids that don’t do that stuff to their own kids. Wouldn’t that be cool?

If my kids could be the first generation in my family that don’t yell and know how to manage their anger. But with anger, anger is a beast man. Anger is one of the hardest emotions to navigate, I think because it’s so complex.

The analogy I always use is anger is really sad body guard. And so when you feel angry about something, you want to look behind anger and go like move over anger. I want to see sadness. Because the sadness feels helpless, vulnerable, weak, those feelings don’t feel nice and they feel vulnerable. And I don’t want to feel vulnerable right. On a primal level, because that means I could be attacked by a predator.

So I don’t like feeling sad. I don’t like feeling helpless, powerless. Anger come over here, and then I bring anger in and sort of recruit anger is my body guard to stand in front of the sadness. Cause I don’t want people to know that I’m like helpless or hurting. Anger then stands in front and then I feel better. So anger is like a mobilising kind of response. That’s why we do it, but if you can stop and get curious. What am I actually sad about? What am I actually sad about in this moment of anger where I’m feeling like I want to yell at my kids? Is it that I’m feeling helpless? Is it that I’m feeling powerless because they’re not listening and I’m tired and I’m frustrated or whatever.

So can I come at this from a different place and kind of get curious about what’s actually going on for me. And can I then care for myself with compassion? Because the antidote to anger is compassion. That’s how you kind of melt that anger iceberg anger is what you see. And then the helpless and powerless that is below. To melt it and get down to the feelings is compassion. So if you have compassion on yourself, have compassion on your kids. That’s probably the greatest way to diffuse anger. But honestly, we could literally talk for like 200 hours, just all about anger like there’s so much to it.

Felicity Cohen: Thank you. So interesting.

I think one of the things that I hear parents talk about a lot is the addiction to devices that they have as a problem, as a barrier and as a prevention to that connection, and good communication. So often, my child’s addicted to whatever game it might be or whatever device they’re on or addicted to and just can’t let go of.

But it’s also at the same time right now, one of the tools that they’re using to connect with their friends, because that’s their only opportunity sometimes to actually be in communication and talking to their friends. And it’s also, I see as an anything for peace type solution in the family home. And it’s a prevention for other potential eruptions happening.

I think it’s probably worse than ever that addiction to devices that addiction to everything that’s social media, et cetera, that we’re, that we’re seeing right now. What, what do you think about that?

Heidi Rogers: I think one good place to start for parents and young people is to watch a Netflix doco that came out sometime last year called the Social Dilemma.

And one of the things that I think we forget is these apps and social media platforms are built by scientists. Like they are engineered by psychologists and engineers who are building something that is designed to be addictive, designed to suck you in. And very sophisticated in lots of little things from sights, sounds. But mainly, responses in your brain and your nervous system and what kind of kicks off. Also what is fascinating in that documentary is they have all of these founders. They have all these guys who like founded various apps and platforms. And they all say, I don’t let my kids have social media.

My teenagers don’t have devices or they very limited usage where they have a phone that just has like a phone and a messaging component has no platforms. Very interesting. Why is that? Because when we get onto those apps, there is the happy hormones that the brain releases, which is serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine.

And the thing that we have learned through research is essentially when I am on my phone and I see likes come through or positive comments on a post I made, or even just see cute videos of puppies or whatever, my brain will light up with dopamine. And what they have found is the researchers have found is basically the brain lights up the same way with drugs, gambling, lots of other sort of synthetic ways to manufacture dopamine in your brain, is what happens when we scroll.

So a lot of us adults included, but definitely our kids because of the stuff I was saying earlier about them not being able to engage in their friends, the teenagers, especially. A huge purpose of what they’re getting out of social media is that dopamine hit that they need, that they’re not able to get with their friends and laughing at jokes and watching funny movies with their friends or whatever. They’re having to kind of get it artificially through social media and through their phones.

And so what is important to understand is our kids, all of us need and love dopamine hits, but is to realize that that’s what’s happening for them. That that’s why they’re so addicted to it. That it’s kind of not really within their control in the way that you think. I think like a lot of times as parents, we put these like sophisticated behaviours on our children that aren’t fair and aren’t accurate.

Saying things like they’re manipulative or it’s attention seeking behaviour, or they’re just being difficult or they’re just being stubborn. You’re giving them too much credit. Their brain is not at that sophisticated kind of level. I prefer to say instead of attention seeking, it’s care seeking.

What’s the function? There’s an unmet need. There’s something they’re trying to get out of this interaction or behaviour. So what is the behaviour trying to communicate to me? So if you see your kid on the phone all the time, it would be asking yourself, getting curious, okay, what’s the behaviour? What are they trying to communicate? What’s the unmet need that they’re having right now and then meeting that need.

So typically it’s dopamine and connection seeking is what they’re trying to get in the social media experience. So can I provide that in another way? Can I provide a dopamine hit by playing a funny board game with them or charades or something that makes them laugh. Can I watch a silly movie with them? Can we do silly dancing? Can we do something that facilitates that connection and the dopamine hit?

The other piece to this, I think is just the expectation piece that parents need to really adjust their expectations of what is reasonable right now with the pandemic and with lockdown. Normally we would be saying let your kid be on a tech device or, you know, social media as little as possible.

That’s what we would normally be saying. But right now it’s like all bets are off. Like we have to just get through. And I think it’s just having conversations. I would never say anything like one hour a day or a maximum of four hours a day. The short answer is always as little as possible.

Like we all know that like to be on your device, like as little as possible, but we don’t know what’s going on for these kids, like behind the scenes of why they’re on their device so much. One thing I hear a lot from parents is I tell them to turn their phone off at 9:00 PM or then it’s 10:00 PM or 11 or 12 or whatever, and they won’t get off their phone.

And it doesn’t matter what the consequences, you’re grounded for a week or you lose your phone for a week or whatever. What the parents often don’t realize is what’s happening on the other end. The number of times I have had adolescent clients that will tell me, Katie was texting me that she was going to kill herself if I got off the phone, my boyfriend was telling me he was going to cut himself, if I didn’t get off the phone. And then my mom comes storming into my room, snatches my phone.

What parents are not realising is that their kids are holding a lot, especially the teenagers. You aren’t going to know that whole story of what’s going on if you’re not connected to them. I go back to that control connection, influence thing. If you are just going in there and snatching the phone and yelling at them, you’re not finding out the whole story. You don’t know if, what happened 10 minutes before is someone tagged a picture of an elephant and tagged your kid in it and said, oh, look at the elephant’s ears look just like Jenny’s. You don’t know what just happened.

So when they’re being obsessed on their phone, you don’t know what’s going on if you’re not connected to them. So that’s why, again, I go back to connection, connection, connection, and having a better bond with them. The other thing is if you’re trying to help navigate how much time they’re spending on it, that’s not going to happen if you’re being a dictator.

And if you’re just doing that whole it’s nine, o’clock turn it off, you know, and I’m going to grab it or whatever, they’re going to hate you. They’re going to be resentful. I want them to instead be happy to be influenced by you and happy to take boundaries and limits and that sort of thing.

But we have to have a conversation with our children. A discussion, a compromise, a collaborative discussion around what’s working, what’s not. I’ve noticed that even when we’ve said, you’ve got to turn your phone off at 10, I saw you sneak into the kitchen and get your phone off of the charger. And then when I walked past your room at like 11.30, it looked like I could still see the light from your phone on your face.

What’s going on? I know you’re a good kid, so I know that you would not follow our rules about tech, if there was something really serious happening. What’s going on, sweetheart? Why did you do that? I know you’re a good kid. So what happened?

And then when you meet them like that with empathy, compassion, validation. That’s sort of my favorite line of, I know you’re a good kid. It does help sort of take them out of shame and makes them feel like you have my back.

If you go into it that way, then they’ll go, oh mum, you know, Jack was texting me last night and he was saying he was going to hurt himself and I didn’t know what to do. And so that’s why I went down and got my phone. So it’s like, you’re able them to parent and help them. If you want to do that, if you want to help them, you have to realize that your job title has changed when your kids are about 10, 11, 12, you will transition out of manager and into consultant.

And my hope is for you that you will be rehired that when you get fired from being a manager at that age about, you know, 11, 12, That when you become a consultant, they want to employ your services. And that’s why a lot of the parents that I work with that have younger kids. I’m always like your window is closing.

Like at 12, if you continue with this dictator control, control, control, control, you’re going to lose them and they’re not going to hire you. And then they’re going to be basically flying solo in life from 13 onwards of not having a consultant. And they need to have a consultant because that’s the thing they’re going to be alone.

They’re going to be without you. They’re going to be at their friend’s houses. So when they have choices to make or decisions or behaviours to engage in or not engaging, they have to be thinking about that for themselves. And we want to have set up sort of a pattern. That you can come to me when you screw up, I will help you.

I will not shame you. I will not punish you. We will work through it. And it’s a learning experience for the next time, because I know there will be times where I’m not there and I’m not going to know what’s going on. And so that’s why I would rather be a consultant than a manager, because if I’m a consultant I’m in the loop.

And I don’t want a 17 year old that is out with friends at the park. And then someone is drunk and says, well, I’ll drive you home. And she says, yeah, I can’t call my mom because she’s going to be mad at me because I wasn’t supposed to be here. I wasn’t supposed to be with people who are drinking.

I want to be a consultant. I want to be called. I want to be called and consulted about that and say, mum, can you come pick me up? Or, you know Lois is so drunk right now that I don’t know what to do with her. Can you help get her home safely? Sure, sweetheart, I’ll be there in 10 minutes. You know, like that’s what we want.

Felicity Cohen: A hundred percent agree with you. And it’s a really good place to be when you do arrive at that point of feeling as though you are the consultant and the trusted advisor, I think is a really great place to be. One of the things that I seem to see a lot of with the patients that I’m working with all the time here is an increase in the number of people that tell me that their child has some form of ASD or ADHD.

And I see this increase and I’ve seen it over the last few years that consistent increase in those diagnoses or are they labels or are children being over-diagnosed with these kind of conditions? Is there something that you see in your work? Do you see a lot more of people presenting saying, oh, my child has this or that.

Heidi Rogers: Yeah. And I think that because that’s due to research and understanding more of what stuff is when you and I were growing up, kids would have been labeled as quirky. Now they’re being labeled as ASD because we have diagnostic tools to assess for what that looks like. But again, I think like we got to remember that a lot of labels are a spectrum.

So there’s the autism spectrum, which at least has the word spectrum in it. But I think all of them, everything can be on a spectrum . That it’s varying degrees and varying shades of how it manifests and what it looks like. So my belief around labels is a bittersweet.

I have a love hate relationship with labels. I was actually talking to a colleague the other day of a client that we share who she’s an adult client of mine. And she saw my colleague for ADHD or ADD diagnoses, she specializes in that. And she was curious if she had ADHD, it had never been diagnosed.

So I said, yeah, why don’t you go talk to her and see what she thinks and came back with a mild ADHD diagnosis. And this client was saying it was so amazing and revolutionary for me to hear this because it made me feel less shame and guilt about why I’m the way I am. It made me understand myself more.

So I think sometimes labels can be great in that a lot of times, for parents to have their child get an ASD, your ADHD diagnosis makes them feel like less of a failure. I think a lot of times parents think my kid’s just poorly behaved or they’re don’t listen, or they are just nuts and that’s my fault and parenting or that’s their fault, they’re a screwed up kid.

And then when they get a diagnosis, they’re like, oh, it’s just their brain. It’s just their brain is wired differently. And so it can be quite helpful and frees up then a lot of compassion for parents to have a lot more compassion and empathy of just like, oh, well, that makes sense now.

I understand why transitions from house to school. Inside outside play is hard for you because your brain just kind of gets stuck when it comes to transitions. That makes sense. So it can provide a lot of compassion and empathy. It can also provide a lot of kind of excusing, and just going, oh, well, that’s my ADHD and that’s my ASD. And that’s why I didn’t do the thing. And it can kind of get blamed, I guess, that way.

But the way that I like to look at it is we’re all on a spectrum of some sort of something that it’s just differing degrees of neuro-typical and neurodiverse. And so I just look at it as whether or not my child has an ASD, ADHD diagnosis. I just look at them as, and that is how you are. And this is the child I have in front of me. And I often say to parents, you need to love the child in front of you, not the child you want, the child you fantasized about, the child you think they should be, or their potential or what their older sibling is like.

You got to love the kid in front of you. And if the kid in front of you is consistently showing you, I can’t deal with transitions, I can’t leave the park when you tell me it’s time to go, I can’t turn my phone off at 10:00 PM, whatever it is, it’s just recognising, this is the kid I have. This is the unsolved problem in front of me. These are their lacking skills. I need to help build up these skills. I need to help them solve those problems.

Diagnosis, it can be really helpful. And it also, I think, is useless in some ways. If you find out your kids on the spectrum, you still have to figure out how to get them in the bath. If you have a kid with ADHD, you still have to help them figure out how to do their homework. So sometimes the diagnoses can be good in getting specific strategies and tools for brains that are wired that way. But ultimately it’s like, you still have to get stuff done, you still have to do life.

And so I think it kind of comes down to learning a lot of those fundamental principles of like focusing on connection, prioritising safety, prioritising the relationship, that sort of stuff.

Felicity Cohen: Heidi, in your total parenting transformation program, it runs for nine weeks. What do parents expect to gain out of a nine-week program working with you?

Heidi Rogers: I think improvement is what most of them would say. They’re hoping for is my kid’s behaviour, changing, less yelling. They listened to me more, less sibling fighting. If my kid has anxiety that at the end of it I’ll know how to manage it. I’ll know how to support them.

Because most of us didn’t go to parenting school and we don’t know what we’re doing and we’re all winging it. Most of us are parenting based on how we were parented, the good and the bad. Like if your dad beat you, you might go, I’m never going to touch my kids and I’m going to swing to the other end of the spectrum and I’m going to be super permissive.

So it still is impacting you. Even if you’re not modeling exactly how you parent based on how you were parented. So I think what most parents would say that they would get out of it is a transformation in their parenting style. That they learn the ideal way of how they wish they had been parented and then learning that and kind of understanding a very different way to parent. Because the way that I teach is based off research of course, because I’m an academic. So I love the nerdy science stuff, but also based on my practical experience of being in the clinic and seeing my adult clients.

What did your parents do wrong? Why is your depression, anxiety, whatever the issue is, why is it like this? What could your parents have done differently? What did they do wrong? What did they do right? What can we sort of look back from the ages of zero to 20 that could have happened? That could have been different. And what I find is that a lot of it comes back to parenting style, but the way that adults are the problems that they have comes back to parenting style and a huge facet of that is a shame-based parenting style.

And so that’s why I teach a lot of moving away from shame and instead leaning in towards vulnerability, compassion, and empathy. I went and saw Brené Brown talk a few years ago. And in it, she shared this anecdote of a research study that I think was done at Harvard that covered 55 years. And so over this 55 year span, they follow these kids from babies to 55 and tried to see what was a correlation and how these people turned out. And what they found is in this one group, they had high levels of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, divorce, obesity, overall life dissatisfaction.

And then the other group, they had significantly lower levels of anxiety, depression. And they were like, this is amazing. These are two significantly different groups, right? What’s the correlation? And the thing that came through the research was parenting style, but specifically a shame-based parenting style.

So the ones that had the high levels of all the issues had a shame-based parenting style and the ones with low level stats had a compassion, vulnerability, empathy based parenting style. And when she said that, and then I actually went into the research and read the article. I was like, oh my God. So basically so much of the stuff that I see in clinics in the clinic as adults could have been prevented.

So then that’s why I started focusing so much more on parenting. Essentially, my dream is to like put myself out of a job so that I don’t have to get these kids when they become adults in my office talking about stuff. Because if I can sort of, it’s like the whole, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. Like if I can teach the parents now, the prevention model of how to help your kids mental health and how to support them now, then we could save like a lifetime of pain and suffering.

Felicity Cohen: Prevention is always so much better than cure. I loved Brené Brown and that actually reminds me a lot of the 7up model. The give me a child and heal until he is seven and I will show you the man. And I remember watching that 7up series that was done in the UK there, where they followed the children in different socioeconomic, family environments to right through out until they were, I think, beyond even 28.

It’s fascinating. Thank you so much, Heidi, for sharing some of your wisdom and insights with me today, it’s been amazing and fascinating. I’ve loved listening to you. And I really appreciate your time. I have one final question that I like to ask all of my wellness warriors guests.

What does wellness mean to you, Heidi?

Great question. And thanks for having me, by the way. It’s a fun opportunity. Wellness to me means wholeness. And wholeness means if there’s all the different parts of me that make me up. I like to use a boardroom table analogy that we have all these little board members that sit around this table and I have present me, little me, anxious me, angry me, mum, friend, sister, daughter, therapist, like all the different parts of myself.

The parts of me that I find hard to love, the parts of me that I want to reject your abandoned, that I go find them. I recover them. I allow them to sit at the table. I reconcile with them and I integrate with them. So that could be things I’m ashamed of that I’ve done that have happened to me. Parts of me that I struggle with, lazy me, or any of those kinds of parts of me that I find hard to love.

I think wellness means wholeness, that all of those parts of me are allowed to sit at the table. All of those parts are loved, welcomed, receive compassion. And that then the wholeness is what equals wellness.

Wonderful. Beautiful. Thank you so much. And it’s been a pleasure meeting you today.

Heidi Rogers: Yeah. Thanks for your time.

Felicity Cohen: Thank you for joining the wellness warriors podcast. It’s been a pleasure to have you online with us. If you enjoyed the series, please leave a review, subscribe and follow. And we look forward to sharing many more stories with you in the future.

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