Eps 368: Growing through what we’re going through with Chris Willard

Episode 368

My guest today is Dr. Chris Willard.  

Dr. Willard explains how trying to teach mindfulness to teens ended up being a learning opportunity for himself and why he wrote his new book, “How we Grow Through What We Go Through.”  He explains the three types of trauma, then Casey & Chris connect on how much self-work needs to be done to parent teens.  Casey asks what the first steps are for moving through triggers, and Dr. Willard shares how children & teens can be the catalyst for us to do that work.  They dig into why we don’t punish adolescents and what tools to use when things do go sideways with your teen like pausing, responding vs. reacting, mindfulness, anticipating, co-regulating, building trust, & asking “what are both learning?”  Dr. Willard and Casey wrap-up today by sharing some specific breathing strategies for all ages.

Guest Description 

Dr. Christopher Willard, Psy. D., is a clinical psychologist, author and consultant based in Massachusetts. He has spoken in thirty countries, and has presented at two TEDx events. He is the author of twenty books, including Alphabreaths (2019), Growing Up Mindful (2016) and How we Grow Through What we Go Through (2022). His thoughts on mental health have been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, mindful.org, cnn.com, and elsewhere. He teaches at Harvard Medical School.

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Takeaways from the show

  • Post-traumatic growth 
  • The three types of trauma  
  • Doing the self-work to parent our teens
  • First steps for moving through triggers 
  • The benefits of making amends & repair with children 
  • Why we don’t punish adolescents
  • “Draw out their best, don’t punish out their worst” 
  • Tools for a dysregulated parent to stay connected & supportive 
  • Asking “what are both learning?” 
  • Starting early to build co-regulation strategies 
  • Breathing strategies for all-ages

What does joyful courage mean to you 

Oh my gosh, to me it’s just letting ourselves have fun with all these crazy adventures.  I think about how we got to know each other was through joyful courage.  “Sure!  Let’s get on a 14, 18 hour flight with someone we don’t really know who says there’s going to be this cool thing.  Let’s get in front of an audience of people from a vastly different culture and see what the hell happens, and just have fun the whole way!”  That took a lot of courage and a lot of joyful courage, and now we’re friends!  That’s an example of having fun doing something scary! 

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kids, parents, breath, trauma, mindfulness, adolescent, teenagers, regulation, dysregulated, therapist, people, called, book, posture, learned, response, adolescence, feel, chris, talk
Chris Willard, Casey O'Roarty

Casey O'Roarty 00:04
Hey, welcome to the joyful courage podcast a place for inspiration and transformation as we try and keep it together, while parenting our tweens and teens. This is real work people. And when we can focus on our own growth, and nurturing the connection with our kids, we can move through the turbulence in a way that allows for relationships to remain intact. My name is Casey already, I am your fearless host. I'm a positive discipline trainer, space holder coach and the adolescent lead at Sprout double. I am also the mama to a 20 year old daughter and 17 year old son walking right beside you on this path of raising our kids with positive discipline and conscious parenting. This show is meant to be a resource to you and I work really hard to keep it real, transparent and authentic so that you feel seen and supported today as an interviewer and I have no doubt that what you hear will be useful to you. Please don't forget sharing truly is caring. If you love today's show, please pass the link around snap a screenshot posted on your socials or texted to your friends. Together we can make an even bigger impact on families all around the globe. I'm so glad that you're here. Enjoy the show. All right. Hello, listeners. I'm so glad you're back to catch this conversation with my friend Chris Willard. Dr. Willard is a clinical psychologist, author and consultant based in Massachusetts. He has spoken in 30 countries and has presented at two TEDx events. He's the author of 20 books, including Alpha breaths, which came out in 2019. Growing up mindful, which came out in 2016. And most recently, his book, how we grow through what we go through. His thoughts on mental health have been featured in The New York Times The Washington Post mindful.org cnn.com. and elsewhere, he teaches at Harvard Medical School, we got to know each other on the bus to the Grand Mosque and Abu Dhabi last fall. Chris, I'm so excited to welcome you to the podcast.

Chris Willard 02:23
Oh my gosh, I'm so excited to be here. And to see you again and chat with you again. This Yes.

Casey O'Roarty 02:28
Yes. So, so, so good. Can you start by telling the listeners your story of getting into the work that you do? Yeah,

Chris Willard 02:36
it's a long and windy one. You know, my mom was a therapist. She was a psychologist. So I always sort of saw that work as a potential. She was a child psychologist, and then a kind of general psychologist, she was an educator. Also, as I got older, I got this interest in mindfulness in particular. And the origin story I often tell is, you know, never heard mindfulness when I was young, the word mindfulness but I had these experiences of like, were these camp counselor saying, like, walk in the woods as silently as you can, like a ninja. And that was a really peaceful experience. And it was actually a lot like mindful walking that I then later discovered, and if you've ever tried to walk and not make a sound, right, you're not thinking about the past or the future worried about anything, but each footstep and the texture of the floor and it really brings you right into the moment, didn't it say like, let's listen to the sounds in the forest, see what we can hear in the silence and doing like a basically a mindful listening exercise, you know, that counselors are probably trying to get us to just shut up, you know, in retrospect, but it's, you know, it really did plant these powerful seeds that then I have my own kind of bumpy adolescence and young adulthood, was in college, left college, struggling with depression, with substance abuse, with all kinds of stuff took a few years off to, you know, I don't know what language your listeners like, maybe you could say to find myself, maybe you could say get your shit together, you know, however you want to put that and stumbled into mindfulness. Really, my parents actually dragged me into this retreat with tick, not Han. And it was transformative. I was suddenly like, oh, my gosh, I'm happy. I can focus and creative. I feel like myself again, I stopped doing drugs. I've been sober now, for more than 20 years, I was less depressed, less anxious. Like all of these things just really transformed. And I was like, I want to share this with everybody, you know, and I really, especially when I share this with young people, they wouldn't have to kind of experience some of that. So finish my degree, worked as a special education teacher for a few years with adolescent sex offenders. In the school teaching in special ed school. That was a really challenging job. I had no educational experience. I had never heard with teenagers. I was just like, oh my gosh, I'm so far over my head.

Casey O'Roarty 04:48
Why am I right? I have questions. So you were in like a residential treatment center dental treatment center for adolescents sex offenders. Yep. And you taught mindfulness. Well,

Chris Willard 04:59
I tried to teach my coworker, what did you do?

Casey O'Roarty 05:01
Oh, you're a therapist.

Chris Willard 05:03
No, I was a classroom teacher, with a classroom full of 11 to 19 year olds, and I taught English social studies, math and science, to all of those things. And I taught creative writing. And I was trying to like maybe bringing a little bit of mindful as it was, you know, like total train wreck, you know, and these kids are, you know, like getting restrained and scream. I mean, I was totally overwhelmed. And you know, so it was like, getting every button pressed being totally like, it was such a disaster. And part of actually, what I realized was that the most important student to be teaching mindfulness to was actually myself, like it was not those kids, it was like, Could I take a few breaths in the parking lot? Before I went into that building? Where I was immediately overwhelmed? Could I keep myself calm? When the kids were having a meltdown? When the staff was having a meltdown? Right? Could I keep myself compassionate and connected, you know, reading the files, or hearing about some of the stuff that these kids had done that landed them there. And to me, that was actually the really powerful lesson was going from this guy that was like, I'm gonna teach breathing, there'll be world peace in five years to like, oh, my gosh, totally overwhelmed. These kids are not very interested in this. But who I can impact is myself. And if I'm well regulated, maybe they'll occasionally be. But there's no chance if I'm dysregulated, that they're going to be remotely regulated, and actually did have some successes, both with creative writing, and also with sharing even some shorter mindfulness practices with those kids on a good day. And what I hope, as I look back 20, some years later, is, you know, that they might look back and think that was a moment where I felt safe. That was a moment that felt good, that was a moment that I felt a little bit more in control, in this out of control world. And of course, data, of course, been through all kinds of trauma, you know, on all sides of it, and that they can maybe look back and think that was a good experience that was a healthy adult in my life that was positive. And maybe, you know, I want to try this mindfulness thing again. Or maybe there are safe people out there who can help me with regulation and make different choices. And if anything, that's my hope is I look back that that's what happened, you know, not that I fixed any of those kids or anything like that, but that they had a positive experience. And that continues to be my like, kind of Mo today is not like, everyone's got to practice mindfulness. But like, can we give these kids a positive experience of mindfulness of self regulation can give them a positive experience of a relationship with an adult, or with somebody else. And then maybe they've got that little spark that glimmer that they can then go back to and build hope from have some kind of recovery or some kind of connection or something in their lives.

Casey O'Roarty 07:59
I appreciate that on so many levels. I really love that realization you had around, okay, how can I take care of me? Like I think about CO regulation, right, and vicarious trauma and how easy it is to get pulled in. And I'm imagining this setting as just being landmine after landmine of dysregulation with the kids and the adults. And like, you were just in the Fire Man of just okay, I get to practice what I preach for survival, right? Like if I'm gonna survive this, no, I gotta do the work, right. And I feel like in the context of parenting teenagers, and teen brain development, and you know what walks in the door, you're never sure, you know, my kids, over time have somehow been trained. It's like, they say the same thing. Every time, they're going to drop something big on me. And it is, I have to tell you something, right? And I know if I hear that, I have to tell you something. I immediately say, okay, and I feel my feet on the floor, and I pull back my shoulders and I take some long breaths, and I prepare to receive something that could ultimately trigger you know, like something that I'm not going to be excited to hear basically, my kids don't come to me and say, I'm thinking about doing this thing. My kids say I did this thing in a convent. Yeah. But it's so powerful. And you know, I have a lot of clients, we're going to talk about this kind of towards the end of our conversation, but I have a lot of clients where the dysregulation in the family system is such that my work with them is really how can you be with how it is right now? Right? Like what are the practices and the tools that are going to support you being inside of, you know, the turbulent, rough, messy terrain, which is adolescence, right, which is mid life right now because my Most of us when our kids are adolescents, we're also you know, in the midlife said there's, if we're still with our original partners, there's, you know, that whole situation, you know, 25 years later, how does it feel I was that intimacy, like, there's so many things and it's like, there's our

Chris Willard 10:14
own parents and caregivers that we're trying to take care of. I mean, I mean, there's, you know, I mean, my mom getting sick and dying in the last year. Yeah, you know, I my therapist just told me yesterday, he's retiring.

Casey O'Roarty 10:25
Oh, God, no.

Chris Willard 10:29
Twilight of the boomers. But it is, I mean, all this stuff hits us at once.

Casey O'Roarty 10:36
Yeah, yeah. So your most recent book, how we grow through what we go through. My only problem with this book is that the font is too small for my eyeballs.

Chris Willard 10:46
Speaking of midlife,

Casey O'Roarty 10:49
midlife, I like Damn. Damn you and your small font. Tell me about why you wrote this book. Why was it important for you to get this out there.

Chris Willard 10:59
I mean, for me, writing is about learning. When I was a kid, I was wanting to be a writer. And I feel so lucky that I then was a teacher, and then was a therapist. And then being a therapist, let me be a writer. And we can come back to that. But that writing is how I learned, like, if I want to learn about something, I write about it. And I really wanted to learn more about trauma and this idea of post traumatic growth, how we can come out more strong and more resilient through challenging circumstances. And it really emerged in the pandemic, it's actually been interesting going and doing toxic soup, like, don't talk about the no one wants to hear it. But it has impacted us, right, we have to acknowledge that.

Casey O'Roarty 11:36
And it's still a thing it gives Natalie gone away. Okay.

Chris Willard 11:40
I mean, we're in the middle of another surge right now. And, you know, I was just talking to a friend in China was a huge surge right now. But what happened was, you know, going from like, the beginning of the pandemic, and being like, you know, oh, my gosh, I'm never going to work again, you know, what am I going to do in schools, schools are closed, although it's only gonna be two weeks, right? It's not gonna be quick. Three years later, here we are. And I was getting asked to suddenly, you know, from everything getting canceled to can you talk about trauma? Can you talk about resilience? Can you talk to our employees, can you talk to our kids, and suddenly, like, Okay, I'm gonna better learn about this. So I started reading, and then I started writing, because that's how I synthesize information. And I started doing workshops, one of the first things I stumbled into was that actually, what's more likely to happen after a traumatic or challenging circumstance in our life, is not just post traumatic stress. But actually, we're more likely to experience this thing called post traumatic growth. And actually both happen at the same time, oftentimes. And when I say this, I also want to be cautious because one of the things I think that got popularized in a really healthy way or became part of the conversation during the pandemic, is this notion of toxic positivity. And I want to be clear that this book isn't toxic positivity, if you're not feeling like you're growing right now, that's not about shame, or the shoulds, or anything like that. But I just want to try to plant the seed that it is possible, it is likely happening, even if you can't see it. That's why it's important that we have caring, loving, supportive people, partners, friends, therapists, coaches, sponsors, whoever that is in our lives, who can reflect back to us the growth that is happening in us. But that's where the book came from. It was the pandemic and this need for how can we be more trauma informed? How can we also not just be stuck in trauma, but what can we do to grow through it and grow through it and come through stronger? So to me, I hope it's a hopeful message. That's where it came from. It was started as a workshop, and I wrote down the whole workshop, and then I had a book. That's where it came from. Yeah,

Casey O'Roarty 13:38
yeah. And I really, as I read it, I love the science of it. I learned so much around the science of trauma, but also all the practical application that you packed. That's when the font got really small, though. sections if

Chris Willard 13:55
you want to beautiful.

Chris Willard 13:59
Try your Kindle.

Casey O'Roarty 14:01
I wish it was on my Kindle. I really, but yeah, so educate us on the three types of trauma that you describe in the book. How does trauma show up in our lives?

Chris Willard 14:12
Yeah, I think it shows up in all kinds of ways. And it dis regulates us in all kinds of ways, in a dysregulated nervous system. And so that, to me, impacts our bodies, and our nervous system runs throughout our entire body. And it impacts our brains, which is the biggest part of our nervous system, and it impacts our relationships. And we can be traumatized in any of these ways as well, like in our bodies, and our minds and our psychologies and in our relationships with broken trust, and and oftentimes, trauma is about all three of these coming together at once. Right? We can think about the different kinds of violations that can occur about trust with the world and trust with others and even being able to feel like we can trust ourselves. And so thinking about resilience, I'm a big believer in what's called the BIOS psychosocial model of thriving and mental health and all of that. And it's kind of a fancy sounding word, but it basically, you know, when we were growing up, Casey, like, I don't know about you, I tried a million essays for classes like, is it nature? Is it nurture? Is it nature? Is it nurture? What we talked about now is bio psycho social, which basically is like, you know, what's our genes biological? And what can we do to care for our bodies? That's gonna make a difference? What is our brains basically, like what brains are born with? How do we perceive the world? Things like that? And then lastly, how do our relationships impact us. And so we can actually approach all of these, I mean, they can be damaged through trauma, we can approach all of these for healing, we can find ways to heal and strengthen our bodies and make them more resilient, which becomes then the foundation, right? When we feel strong and empowered in our bodies, that really changes then how we interact with the world, and how we feel about ourselves, actually does start to change our thoughts. And I'm a therapist. I'm a believer in talk therapy, but like, we can just talk and talk and talk. And then eventually things will change. I don't entirely believe that's true. I believe we really do have to act our way into a new way of thinking and feeling we can't think and talk our way into a new way of feeling and being. And so we take different actions with our bodies, whether that's yoga, exercise, mindful eating, breath, regulation, practices, things like that, that can be really for all ages, it can be for parents, for kids, for us to do together, we can also bring more awareness to our brains, our minds, we can practice mindfulness ourselves with our families, we can become aware of what our triggers are, especially when our kids are adolescents, which make us feel like adolescence all

Casey O'Roarty 16:38
over it. Now. Listen,

Chris Willard 16:40
I first started working in schools, I'm probably being like, Why do I feel so insecure? And so amazed? Because it's hitting every button from when you were in middle school in the water? Oh, my God, like, just that was such a relief. And I'm sure I'll forget it again. When I become a, you know, I am a parent, but when my kids hit adolescence, I'll be like, Why do I feel like so uncool? And it's like, you know, and then the social piece, right? So trauma that can be a source of healing through co regulation. So anyway, that's sort of how the book is laid out. Yeah.

Casey O'Roarty 17:25
Well, and I really love that you talk about, you know, the different entry points for tending to ourselves, right. And I think there's people parents, and I say this all the time, my listeners are probably like, here she goes, you know, if you've made it all the way to having teenagers, and haven't done any kind of personal growth and our work, you're in for it, right? It's either now resist, and it just is a shit show. Or, like, welcome to the personal growth and development workshop, you know, like, the doors been open since your child was born, or we drag you are welcome here. But really, you know, the whole parenting journey, there's so many opportunities, you know, when we're, I don't know if the right word is willing or aware enough, or, you know, for me, it was really when my kids were one and four. And I knew I wanted to do things differently. I knew there were some patterns that I was not going to repeat. And then it was like, oh, and for me, for whatever reason, the visual, it was like a yellow brick road, like, Come on, give it to her, you're pissed, you're overwhelmed, you know what to do. You know, my body knew what to do. My body was like, we know what to do this was modeled for us, we're gonna lose our minds all over this four year old. And then taking the positive discipline, parent educator training that I did way back then. You know, while I love kind of the tools and strategies of positive discipline, the other piece was, who you be as a parent, you get to grow as a parent. And really, that was the beginning. And then a really good friend being like, Have you ever heard of Brene Brown? You know, and like a couple other like, this thing and being like, oh, my gosh, there's so much here and letting go of the shame of realizing, Oh, I don't have to feel bad about myself that it's hard to break these patterns. Yeah, you know, I get to integrate, I get to practice I get to be willing in the moment when I noticed my hackles are raised, then it's still a practice, right? To say like, whoa, I'm about to lose my mind. I need to go attend to myself. So I don't have too much cleanup to do in the end. Right.

Chris Willard 19:46
Exactly. And like I often think, how do we not just and I think that's where mindfulness comes in, or self awareness or whatever work it is we do that helps us to be more self aware. But how do we not just totally rebel from what our parents did and do the opposite? Like I was deprived, so well spoil I was spoiled to all deprive I was, you know? And like that's not healthy. How do we not mindlessly repeat what they do sort of repetition compulsion fall into that. But how do we borrow from each of those? What worked? What didn't work? Do that in a deliberate way? And what do we want to do that we've learned from positive parenting that we've learned from our own spiritual journey that we've learned from friends that we've learned from just things are different in 2023, than they were in the 80s? And we're growing up? And how do I apply all of that to my parenting? And then as you said, like, do what I can and pick up the pieces afterwards. And one of the I think, most helpful and inspiring things that I heard a couple of years ago to conference and I've really taken this to heart is, you know, conflict is okay. Okay, I grew up really conflict averse. So I repeated that mindlessly. And then realizing like, conflict is okay, right? It's okay with our spouse, if we get in a conflict, and from the kids, we just need to model the repair and for the kids, that's all we can get into conflict with our kids. But we have to be the grown up and be the one that comes back together and not give the silent treatment and not be punitive and not be bitchy afterwards, we have to come back and say, You know what, I screwed up. I need to make an amends right now. And knowing that actually, the research says that makes you a better parent, you're happier, and it makes your kid more resilient. Oh, yeah, duh, of course, because they'll you have conflicts, have riffs and have repairs and come back together stronger. That's like totally okay. And it's still a work in progress. And it's still a work of ego reduction and humility to be reminded, like, Okay, gotta, you know, apologize to my wife in front of the kids, or whatever it is, or apologize directly to my kid that I screwed this up, or I screwed that up. But it's such a gift, when we're able to do that, even though it can pinch to well, and

Casey O'Roarty 21:50
if humility and accountability, personal responsibility, if these are characteristics that we hope our kids have learned to embody, by the time they're adults, they have to see it, they have to see it, they have to experience it in relationship. And those always come up when we do the lists, you know, when we in my classes, we always start with two lists. And what do you want to see who do you want your kid to be? It was always on the list. So we got to model that. And I'm wondering to coming back to trauma. So taking a few steps back for someone who's, you know, God bless them, made it to adolescence and realizes Holy shit, there's a lot for me to work through here. Like my response does not match the situation.

Chris Willard 22:39
The situation like I say,

Casey O'Roarty 22:42
yeah, when we start to notice that about ourselves, like what are some of the big tenants that when you work with people as they start to address their trauma and how their trauma is kind of taking the wheel of their life? What are some first steps for growing awareness, but then also not only growing the awareness? mean, I'm thinking about like, lengthening that gap between the trigger and the response and taking care of self and just kind of recognizing, oh, this isn't about this kid. This is about what happened to me or what I experience how can fix us? Come on, Chris, you can do it.

Chris Willard 23:22
What I want to protect them from how I want to not shame them how I want I think a lot about you know, a kid, you know, a five year old my friend Kevin sort of uses this example come in Hawkins great educator in Europe, you know, kid walks into traffic, right? What do we do? We scream we grab, we pull them back? You know? And we're you know, and they're looking at us terrified. Right? Right. And we're pissed, right? But ideally, what we can say is we can calm ourselves down. And we can say, I'm not mad, I was scared, right? You're okay. And I'm okay. And I love you. And then we come back together and and make that repair. And what that actually teaches the kid is that they're not a bad kid that they made a mistake that there is danger in the world that we're willing to keep them safe, right? That they you know, then learn how to internalize, okay, that's a mistake I don't want to make is wandering to traffic, right? But the sooner we're able to get to the, you know, I'm not mad at you, right? I was scared about that. Right? Changing it from the person to the behavior, right? All that kind of stuff. Right? Then they internalize a really different message around I'm okay, I made a mistake. Now I feel safe enough to make mistakes. I can tell my parents that I made a mistake. I can tell other people I can be vulnerable. All of these things and I learned what's dangerous and what's safe, right? And on top of it, then like that's the three year old version. Right? Then there's the right what you're going through Casey, the mom I gotta tell you something, right? Which the one thing means you've done something right, right, that they're not hiding it from you. In fact, right and then you're doing something else right by taking your breath feeling your feet on the floor, Catholic to your five senses, and all that good stuff. But that like what's happening then right when they're in adolescent and they make the mistakes that they are supposed to make when they're adolescents, right? We can say, it's because I'm scared, I'm not angry, I'm not shaming you. And also, you know, whether that's around like, you know, they got too drunk, or they made a bad choice, or they're coming out to us in some way about some aspect of their identity, right, that we can, you know, let them know that we love them for who they are, no matter what. And I think the more we know what our own triggers are, I think that's important, and that we work them out, not on our kids. Oh, yeah, at our trauma, but we don't do it on our kids, but they may be the catalyst. Hopefully, they are the catalyst for us doing and it's amazing what it brings up and the realizations and like, oh my gosh, like, wow, like my parents really do drink a lot are like, wow, they really, you know, like, suddenly, like, get into stark relief of how our partner sees Dora our ex partners. And suddenly, right, these things become more clear. But when we're well regulated, we can see that so much more effectively. And we can also, you know, again, I don't want to say like work out our trauma on our kids, but we can work out the solution with our kids, we can talk about, you know, I mean, again, my kids are younger, their foreign aid right now, but it's like, you know, are playing, you know, back in and the other day with my son, I'm like, Thank God, he plays backgammon. And we're past like Monopoly and Candyland, but like, you know, worst agitated, you know, like, Okay, I'm gonna take a couple breaths, like, this game is getting a little stressful for me, right? So it's modeling it, you know, for him in that moment, we're learning these skills together, you're gonna have I don't want to tell him why I'm getting triggered by games, because my grandmother was so mean, to me. It's so competitive when she played games that she accuse me of cheating, even though I didn't did like, Oh, what a bitch. Like, you know, it's like, all of that he's old. But I can just know that, like, games kind of set me off. So that's yeah. But here's what I do.

Casey O'Roarty 26:57
Yeah, I have a 17 year old version of that, which is, you know, my son, again, I have to tell you something, we're driving in the car, I feel my feet, I take my breath. And then he shares about a choice that he had made the night before. And, you know, I could feel my physical response was there. And I managed to stay really calm and ask a lot of questions. And it was a pretty risky choice. And I did notice, like, it was important to me to say to him, like, I know that I'm keeping it together right now and staying really even keeled and calm. You need to know that my body is on high alert. This choice is really scares me. Yeah. Right. And so don't let my response my like, perceived regulated response, send you the message that I'm okay with this. Because I'm not this is really scary. But what's more important to me is that you can process through what you did, how it made you feel how you're feeling about it now? How you'll navigate it, if it shows up, like, you know, and yeah, it was definitely one of those like, oh, yeah, keys, good job. But it would have been so easy to be like, are you? I mean, in, in my mind, I definitely had an Are you fucking kidding? Would you do that, you know, moment, you know. And so just as another example of like, I'm not working it out on him. But I am being really honest and real about my fears. Because I think sometimes parents of teenagers, there's this perception like, well, if I don't get mad at them, or punish them than they don't, aren't going to connect the dots right around, this was the wrong choice, this is the wrong thing to do. And I don't think that that's useful. I know, for me, as a teenager, getting in trouble and getting grounded, really just turned into I gotta get better at getting out the window and getting back in and not getting caught. Right. Right. It wasn't like, yeah, what is the underlying stuff going on for me? And why is this something that I'm willing to do? And what kind of risk is this? And I think that's where, you know, if the goal is to, hopefully get them to the place of this is not behavior that serves me thinking that our threats and our anger and I don't want to piss off my parents or I don't want to get into trouble. You know, for a lot of us, and I'm guessing just from what you shared a little bit about your experience. Like, that's not top of mind. Yeah, in, you know, in the choices that adolescents are making some of them perhaps, right, but even in that situation, what happens when they me go off to college and nobody's paying attention? I went off the rails once I got to college. Yeah,

Chris Willard 29:44
absolutely. And I think that piece about, you know, one of my favorite studies is doing a course again, where I was talking about this in the course and kind of came back this study about the Pinocchio George Washington story and the boy who cried wolf and they gave the These kids like all three stories, and you know, the boy who cried wolf, George Washington, you know, cut down the cherry tree confessed to his father, I cannot tell a lie. And the boy who cried wolf who gets eaten by the wolf at the end, and they gave the kids these stories, and then they they were playing a game and I gave them an opportunity, basically, to cheat. They look the other way. And kids will generally actually cheat like, people are dishonest. Like it's not, you know, it's like, how do we cope with it? It's a shortcut. And like, what happened was like when they gave the kids the George Washington story beforehand, those kids like, yeah, they were less likely to cheat. And they kids who got the boy who cried wolf story, they were more likely to cheat than the kids who got the George Washington story. And so when we tell our kids like, You're a liar, you're punished for the life. Right? We actually, as you said, you get better at you know, figure out, you know, again, like lubricate the window with the soap. I just Googled it, you know, now we're gonna get out the window, and I can like, jump down quietly. If I wear the shoes. Like, that's exactly what happens. Like, it's, we have bad kids. It's not that you're I were bad teenagers. It's like, these are the conditions under which this is what's going to happen is you're going to get better at it. Yeah. And it's human. It's not about bad kids, good kids. It's how we're all wired. Fortunately, yeah, draw out their best and not try to punish out their worst, I think, is the way I try to flip and I don't know as much about positive parenting, but maybe that's what it is draw out their best not punish out their worst. But

Casey O'Roarty 31:22
I love that. I love that. That's coin that let's do it.

Casey O'Roarty 31:35
It's relationship, right. It's really, when I think about positive discipline, and the work that I do, it is centering that relationship and is easy when things are going well. And it's more challenging, because I think of the fear and our past trauma and conditioning, when things are going sideways, which Hello, everyone listening, things will go sideways. It's not a character flaw. It's not you doing something wrong. It's the teen brain. So, Chris, so when that happens, when the sideways thing shows up, and that fear response comes up, and maybe it's connected to trauma, maybe it's connected just to like the basic human condition. Can you talk a little bit about some of the tools that you mentioned in your book that would be useful for a parent that's listening? who's like, yeah, my kid, I find things out, because oftentimes, it's not, hey, I have to tell you something. It's like a school called, you know, so what are some tools that you can offer up that can help a parent who becomes dysregulated, based on their, you know, teens behavior in their own experience, to come back to themselves so that they can stay connected and stay in relation and stay in the process of supporting our teens in making sense of their choices?

Chris Willard 32:47
Yeah, and I think it's about finding that place that we can pause as a parent, and what do we do in that pause? And that space between stimulus and response, you know, in the, you know, how do we respond rather than react to what's going on? Or how we will react internally? How do we not externally?

Casey O'Roarty 33:05
Exactly important? Yeah, I think that's a super important distinction, because I think sometimes people think, oh, like, it's supposed to be like, a full system calm. And it's like, like, we're not robots, right. There's no landing at this place of now. I'm really good at this because I don't have any response. Right, or negative response. So thank you for that distinction.

Chris Willard 33:27
Well, I think like you said, like, when we go in prepared, which I think like, you know, people that are interested in positive parenting and in mindfulness and who listen to your podcast, like you're in good shape, you know, like, we're probably preaching to the choir in some ways, but you will still have some shit that's unexpected that comes up. I've no doubt anyone listening, no doubt, but the more we can anticipate, right, the more actually, you know, we're less likely to have that big reaction. And then that book also talks about just these other skills for regulating our nervous system for CO regulating, and for practicing co regulation as our kids are growing up, right. So it is like, maybe it's doing, you know, some silly mindful breaths together, maybe it's doing gratitude roses and thorns before bed when their kids, you know, so that by the time they're teenagers, there's this built up, trust it saying things like, you know, you won't be in trouble for stealing the cookie, you know, I just want to know, you know, whether you did or not will make me happy. If you tell me the truth like that, when we do that, right, then that creates, you know, more openness and more trust for that CO regulation to happen when it's time to happen when we get triggered, and then we can co regulate with the kid or the kid is triggered. And then we can co regulate and both regulate ourselves down where it can just get that much faster into the conversation. We're both using our words. And we're both I would say learning something from that interaction. What are we both like? This is a question we should ask ourselves as parents. What are we both learning from that should is that your kid made case? You know, what are we both learning from the conflict? What are we both learning from the disappointment, right? That that's important as well that we're walking away with a lesson learned as well as the key Edie, walking away with a lesson learned that the teachable moment is not just about teaching the kid it's about us learning something, too, and not having it be a one way street and getting away from that regulation piece. But I think you know, when kids are young, you know, it's important to laugh and have real quality of presence. I think playing games is an amazing co regulation strategy. I think about games. We were playing charades at a friend's house the other night, and that's teaching, you know, we're all laughing together. We're all having fun, we're actually learning. When we practice a game like charades, we're learning what's called theory of mind, which is can I try to think about what my daughter is thinking about? Can she try to think about what I'm thinking about? Can I get inside her head? Can she get inside my head when we play 20 questions, or I Spy that's actually doing the same thing, which is one of the most important emotional intelligence skills that we can offer our kids is can they have the perception of what another person is thinking? It's the basis of empathy. It's the basis of CO regulation, it's the basis of trust. It's always the basis of compassion. It's all of those things. And it's also important academically, what's the teacher going to ask me on the test? They usually ask this kind of question, what's my boss gonna want from me? They usually want this thing from me, right? What is my girlfriend like, and one for her birthday? Or, you know, two month anniversary when they're teenagers? Right? That I think, you know, games can be wonderful in teaching some of those skills, as well as teaching self regulation, emotional intelligence skills, when kids are younger, and then figuring out developmentally, like, what does that mean, as they get older, right into teenage hood, finding the times, you know, when we can have appropriate conversations, like in the car is sort of a captive audience. But it's also like, you know, sitting down with a kid and making eye contact with them, and staring them down is kind of terrifying. And I, yeah, I remember that from being a kid. And I think about that, as a therapist. It's like, What kind of kid especially a teenage boy wants to like, stare at me and tell me about his feelings. It's like, oh, let's like do something side by side. Right. Yeah. Again, not to like totally gender stereotype. But I think that's why men, you know, take walks together, go fishing together, repair stuff together. Again, you know, I don't want to get into, you know, hard and fast with gender roles here. But like, this is why with some kids, that's what resonates. Because it's mediated by something else. Eye contact isn't as threatening. These are other ways of regulating and CO regulating and doing things together. I think that starts to teach some of that so that in the moment, you know, when we start to calm our breath down, the child can start to calm their breath down. So that in the moment, right, we're more likely to be able to co regulate together, or we're upset because we're having a tough day, at the office or whatever. And our kids say, Hey, Dad, what happened at work today?

Chris Willard 37:47
Like, do you need a minute? Yeah, yeah. Yeah. CO regulating back to us. Yeah,

Casey O'Roarty 37:53
yeah. And I, you know, I have a tool. I loved reading about the section in your book that does talk about regulation and tools. And I have a practice called Breath, body balcony. And moving start, because, you know, it's hitting the fan. Like, for me, the visual is I'm standing at the sink, and my whole body is rigid. And I'm just so pissed, right? And in that moment, I can't talk myself out of being pissed, right. And most parents that I work with can't either. And so this tool is really like the backdoor. When I think about the breath, it's like the backdoor to regulation, right? If all I can do is lengthen, I think you call it the remote control,

Chris Willard 38:39
or talking about the breath being a remote control or the reset button. Yeah,

Casey O'Roarty 38:42
yeah, yeah. And when we can lengthen our breath and really tell the nervous system a story through breath that I'm okay. Right, and then moving into the body and kind of finding those places of tension and getting out of fighter stance for me pulling the shoulders back, opening my heart space, and then there's like room for me to be on the balcony and look at what's happening versus from what's happening. And they often have a lot bigger perspective. And just reading through your book, it felt like that was also presented. And I think that's, you know, in those moments, moms and dads who are listening, who are fabulous parents and get dysregulated because our teenagers drive us desert Surco sometimes because of those sweet brains of theirs, you know, and it feels like but I'm so pissed right now. You know, using breath as the entry point can be a really powerful practice. Yeah, right. Because you have a couple of different breath practices, right? Yeah, I think

Chris Willard 39:49
like you said, our posture like rolling back our shoulders like getting out of that fighter posture or that sort of like faint you know, I talked about the four F's it's like fight flight freeze, forget it or Maybe with teenagers Fuckit response Yeah, but it's how do we get out of those postures and into more of what we might call a tentative befriend or mindfulness and compassion. So posture, I think is huge, right? But breath work, I think also we know that actually, we have different nerve endings in the bottom of our lungs. So we breathe deeply and slowly. That's where the reset button is. it restarts our system, just like you know, you call Comcast or whoever and your computer's not working, the internet's not working, like restart your computer and fixes things. 95% of the time, it's what I tell my parents, right, you know, their phone's not working restarted dad. But like, that reset button, that reset breath is so key. So finding ways to do that as parents, right, maybe it's just as simple as like, the 711 breath, like breathing in counting up to seven, extended exhale all the way out to 11. With our kids, we can make it fun with little kids like my book, brass with my friend Daniel, we do you know, like the butterfly breath, just gently flapping your wings as you breathe in, in as you've written down to the hot chocolate breath, right breathing, smelling, blow out cooling off that these are maybe kid friendly with teenagers. And I think finding these other ways, and one of the things about teenagers is a breath regulation practice that they do to us all the time. Right is sighing Right? Right? So it's so annoying, right? So I'm starting to do this. He's eight. I'm like too soon, dude. Like, don't even

Casey O'Roarty 41:27
Yeah, you're in the pre adolescent. Very adolescent. I can hear them yeah, very mature

Chris Willard 41:32
for his age. I think that's what it is advanced. But actually, I'll teach kids sometimes, like do OSI do a silent sigh, right? You're not gonna get into all this kind of passive aggressive, right? But like, you won't get in trouble. Not that long silence I, your ex extending your exhale, you're pushing all the air out, you're hitting that reset button, you're calming yourself down. And that's actually, you know, a practice that teens might do. Are all shared is like when your friend is overwhelmed. Maybe you want to share this with them or do a 711. Right. You know, leaning back, putting your hands behind your head is another one that notice no, you're doing that like, right. And it regulates and even as adults, of course, you know, and I'm sure you do this in your workshops to know talk about posture, right? What posture are we demonstrating, not just to ourselves that saying stay angry? Or stay effet?

Casey O'Roarty 42:28
Yeah, or beat? Yeah, yes, safely,

Chris Willard 42:31
right. But we're communicating to them. What posture are we holding this communicating to them? We're present, we're compassionate, we're caring. We want to stay connected? What are those postures that are inviting more connection from them because they will mirror whatever pasta and especially from us who's their parent who's the authority figure, right? That's hopefully where the imprinting has happened. If we're ready to fight, they're ready to fight. If we're ready to flee, they're ready to flee. If we're ready to, you know, attend and show up for them, then they're more likely to also and that goes back to again, we have to be the grown up, which sucks.

Casey O'Roarty 43:07
Yep. Oh my gosh, Chris, I have like 100 Other things I want to talk to you about. We do not have time. So everybody that's listening. I want you and you're thinking to yourself, yeah, well, my kids not going to breathe with me or, you know, whatever your Yeah, buts. Alright, now, I want you to go back and remember what Chris said at the beginning about his experience with the teens that he worked with in the residential inpatient place. And sometimes your work is not to, you know, like you said, fix the kid. But it's instead to focus on yourself, right. And so, so much of what we've talked about today, I really want my listeners to remember, it is enough for you to look inside and to do your own work and to trust that that is impacting your kids and your relationship with your teens, even the surly ones, even the ones that are having a really rough go of it right now. It matters. So I just I loved this conversation. This was so good

Chris Willard 44:11
hours. And as we did when we were hanging out.

Casey O'Roarty 44:15
We love each other. So good. So good. So as we wrap up, is there anything else that you want to make sure that you leave listeners with today?

Chris Willard 44:23
Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, just remembering to doesn't always have to be you, especially with parents of teens. I think, you know, as a therapist, I think sometimes parents send their kids to me and they're feel like they're at the end of their rope or they also feel a bit threatened like, oh my gosh, does the kid love the therapist more than me or the coach or like what I always see with parents who are invested in their kids who are the ones who get help are the ones who listen to great podcasts, right, that kids may rebel and push back, but that I feel like you know, and sometimes they do, you know, seek out other adults to rely on for a while and that's actually a really good thing in our job, my job As a therapist is sort of build a bridge like back into the family and they will maybe rebel, but they will come back to the values that you planted in them when they were young. And, you know, I say this quoting someone my mom was in like a parenting support group with when I was a train wreck. 22 year old, who was like, who said, you know, like, you did a great job parenting, you know, like, he'll get his shit together, get sober, you just wait for that Mother's Day card when he's like, 25. And it's true. He said that, you know, she told me that story when she got a really sweet Mother's Day card when I was 25 or 26, after all that, and I'm back to the values that my parents instilled of kindness and compassion and self care and, and all those other things. And I'm back to some of my own path and my own stuff, too, as. And so I feel also really lucky that I had the parents that I did, despite their affections, and they want to but yeah, just keep up the good work. Everybody. You're not alone. Yeah.

Casey O'Roarty 46:03
For sure. So what does joyful courage mean to you? Because that's the last question I always end with is joyful courage.

Chris Willard 46:11
My gosh, to me, it's just like letting ourselves have fun with all these crazy adventures. I mean, I think about you know, how we got to know each other was through joyful courage of like, Sure, let's get on a 1418 hour flight with someone we don't really know who says there's gonna be this cool thing. And let's get in front of an audience of people from a vastly different culture and see what the hell happens and just have fun the whole way. And that took a lot of courage and a lot of joyful courage. And now our friends sample is having fun doing those things that are scary.

Casey O'Roarty 46:43
Yes. Yes. I love that. I love that. Where can people find you and follow your work? Yep.

Chris Willard 46:49
I'm too old for tick tock. Maybe by the time people listen, but I'm on Instagram where I'm mostly is at Dr. Chris Miller, Dr. Chris Willard, videos and little posts and stuff like that monthly challenges on that on the web at Dr. Christopher lloyd.com. Dr. Christopher miller.com. And I'm technically on Twitter and Facebook. You can find me at Dr. Crisco or those places too, but I'm not super active on Twitter but Facebook and

Casey O'Roarty 47:12
Instagram. We will make sure that all of your links are available in the show notes. Thank you so much for hanging out with me. This was so great.

Casey O'Roarty 47:27
Thank you so much for listening in today. Thank you to my spreadable partners, as well as Chris Mann and the team at pod shaper for all the support with getting the show out there and making it sound good. Check out our offers for parents with kids of all ages and sign up for our newsletter to stay connected at the Sprott audible.com. Tune back in later this week for our Thursday show, and I'll be back with another interview next Monday. Peace

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