The Psychologists Podcast

Tantrums Suck

May 01, 2021 Julia & Gill Strait Season 1 Episode 1
The Psychologists Podcast
Tantrums Suck
Show Notes Transcript

In this debut episode of The Psychologists Podcast, Gill and Julia discuss:

  • behavioral modification (reward and punishment, or positive and negative reinforcement)
  • Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)
  • co-regulation and emotional regulation
  • temperament and parent personality interactions
  • DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy)
  • shame
  • the upside of strong personalities
  • poop in the bathtub

Selected Readings (No, there won't be a quiz...this time):

The Psychologists Podcast Web Site
The Psychologists Podcast Patreon (support us if you feel like it!)

Gill Strait PhD and Julia Strait PhD are both Licensed Psychologists (TX) and Licensed Specialists in School Psychology (LSSPs, TX). They are alumni of The University of South Carolina School Psychology Doctoral Program (Go Gamecocks).

Gill is a teacher, researcher, and supervisor at a university graduate psychology training program. He does trainings on Motivational Interviewing in all of the luscious free time afforded to him by having a full-time academic job, two children under 5, two dogs, and a mortgage.

Julia is a testing psychologist at Stepping Stone Therapy in Houston, TX. She writes books and blogs; creates content to help people deal with stress; trains school-based and mental health professionals in neurodiversity, trauma, psychometrics, and assessment; and likes squirrels.

Julia Strait  0:00  
Hey, welcome to the psychologists podcast. I'm Julia.

Gill Strait  0:04  
And I'm Gill.

Julia Strait  0:05  
We're both psychologists.

Gill Strait  0:06  
And we're married.

Julia Strait  0:08  
We used to agree on almost everything. And then we started having kids and working in different places.

Gill Strait  0:15  
Now we sort of agree,

Julia Strait  0:16  
not really. Welcome. Today, the topic is tantrums.

Gill Strait  0:35  
I got a confession. All right. So a couple nights ago, I was with the girl. And I was reading her her bedtime story. And she chose the daddy is awesome book, which was awesome. We read it. But then she immediately said, Now, let's read the mommy book. So for the listeners, we also have a book called my mom is amazing. I was almost 99.5% sure that that book was in her brother's room,

Julia Strait  1:08  
the little one,

Gill Strait  1:09  
the little one. And the little one was asleep. And so we didn't want to go in and disturb the little one as he was really trying to go to bed, or wake him up. And so I said, we can't do that. But that then led to a mini tantrum, which was, I want the mommy book, I want the mommy book, I want the mommy book, give me the mommy book. And my theory on this is that I should not reinforce the tantrum, I should not go get the mommy book. I should ignore it. And I did for a while. But the mommy book, please just got louder and louder. And then I finally said, Alright, let me look on your bookshelf, which I should have done in the first place. Let me look on your bookshelf. And if it's not there, you can choose another book. How does that sound? And my daughter said, cool. I'm in. And I went and looked on the bookshelf. And guess what was there? The book the book, the book, was there mean, dad? Yeah. So not only did I fail in by ignoring her tantrum, I also fail because the book was there.

Julia Strait  2:24  
Okay, so we've been having a fight about this for a long time how to handle tantrums, particularly with this little girl one because she has a lot. And I know that Gil and I were both taught in graduate school kind of this behavior modification model, right, which is like B mod 101. So for those of us who are not necessarily so interested in psychology that we want to read bf Skinner's tomes, guilt, can you enlighten us as you would one of your classes on kind of like the one I want to behaviorism?

Gill Strait  2:52  
Yeah. So I mean, if you had a good psych 101 teacher, or you read BuzzFeed, you probably already know this concept. But basically, it's the idea of reinforcement. And there's two types, positive and negative reinforcement. And the key to remember, there's two things positive means adding to the environment. Negative means taking away from the environment. And reinforcement is really just anything, if it's positive, anything that you add to the environment, that increases the likelihood the behavior would increase. Now, typically, most of us just think about that as like a reward or something that they like, but it's really anything that would increase behavior. Negative is when we take something away. And it also increases the likelihood of behavior. So maybe you stop something that is not pleasurable, like you turn off really loud music and so that makes asking your husband to quit playing guitar reinforcing. And the crux of it, especially with kids and tantrums, is parents get negatively reinforced for bad parenting strategies, because if they do it in the kid, it like stops crying, we've now been negatively reinforced, like, if I give in like if I went in like disturbed, the little ones are the My daughter is a brother to go get the book, she would have stopped crying, and it would have been nice for me, but I would have also reinforced her her begi whining and whining, she basically wins. And so and in doing that, I would also be positively reinforcing her. Because basically, she would cry and then I would say, Here have a book.

Julia Strait  4:35  
So like, she'd be more likely to do it again because you gave in.

Gill Strait  4:38  
Yes, exactly. And so the kind of wisdom is that you ignore the tantrum for certain things, obviously, if they're really hurt, or or actually like or if they're really like struggling with like something that was bad that happened, that you obviously provide care and and try to soothe your child, but in this case, We would normally recommend ignoring

Julia Strait  5:02  
like, like, is that what they call low level behaviors like whining and

Gill Strait  5:07  
whining, crying tantrums, just because they're not getting their way.

Julia Strait  5:11  
Okay, so we ignore it. And the hope is then that it will not reinforce it, they will punish him at Penn, punish it, which means anything that makes it go down,

Gill Strait  5:20  
right. But there's a problem, because there's this thing called the extinction burst, where the behavior will actually get worse, before it gets better. And it takes a lot of will to sit there and let it get worse. And well, I'll admit it, I'm pretty weak. It is hard to deal with baby screens or toddler screens or even five year old screens for a very long time. It triggers the stress response system, our heart start racing, and it's no fun for anybody.

Julia Strait  5:52  
Yeah, it's like uniquely annoying. Yes, annoying isn't even a strong enough word.

Gill Strait  5:57  
Makes me want to have a tantrum. In fact, I probably have.

Julia Strait  6:01  
Oh, I definitely have. Okay, so. So basically behaviorism would say that these low level behaviors, and we're supposed to ignore them, okay, so I think Gil and I like going into having kids. We textbook agreed about that, like, yeah, that's how we're gonna do it. I was trained in something called pcit, which is Parent Child interaction therapy, which is very heavy on the timeouts and the rewards and the punishments. And I was, like, all for it. As long as it's someone else's kid, because I was pretty good at it when it was other kids, right? Because there's like less of an emotional connection, I guess. Or like, there's less of a emotional chip on the table. That's a bad metaphor. You get

Gill Strait  6:36  
to leave

Julia Strait  6:37  
the bottle at the end of the day, you get to leave. Yeah. And like good luck with that at home. Okay, so So fast forward, we have our first child, she is what you might call a highly sensitive child or a intense child, beautiful, wonderful, passionate, passionate, yet very passionate, she feels things intensely positive and negative. And so she has many tantrums. And I was kind of complaining one day at work to a friend of mine, Dr. Henry, and she has kids who are quite a bit older than ours. And she kind of laughed and said, Yeah, I used to be a behaviorist, too until I had kids. And I thought that was perfect. Because it's like, yeah, my whole world is crumbling right now, because these things do not seem to be working with my own children. So like, why is that Gil? Give me an idea.

Gill Strait  7:24  
Where emotion emotionally invested. That's probably that's probably why. And when your own kid cries, you do feel a different, you do feel a different?

Julia Strait  7:36  
Yes, it definitely hits different when it's your own kid. And, you know, going forward, like in my professional training, I was pretty heavily into like trauma research and trauma stuff for a long time. And it used to kind of scare me, because we'd have parents come in and say like, well, doesn't timeout traumatize the brain. And you know, we kind of roll our eyes. But then when you listen to your own kid crying in their room, and they're like, Oh, God, to hear this child cry, I'm telling you, man, it's it really is just like grating on your nerves. And it really makes you want to react. And when that has gone on for four years, it gets harder and harder to just like straight up, ignore or walk away, do all the things you quote unquote, are supposed to do. So in attachment theory and trauma world, sometimes we talk about, like co regulation. And so Gil and I started arguing about this, because I was like, you know,

Gill Strait  8:29  
I'm still holding on.

Julia Strait  8:31  
I know, and I go back and forth in my head, but behaviorism You know, there's tons of research behind it, like the general reward and punishment system, schools use it. prisons use it. dog trainers use it, Gil, for dogs. Anyway. So yeah, it's effective for certain things. When you add the emotional layer gets harder. And so I started reading, like attachment theory, like I said, kind of this co regulation thing, which means, you know, when a baby's crying, like how do you sue that? You hold it? And you say, Sure, and that's how it learns to soothe itself. Like there's a physiological reaction that not only calms you but calms the baby, and that's co regulation, right? Like we learn to regulate our emotion through other people. And so I started arguing with Gil saying, like, you know, it's not really fair, because you're saying, well, she needs to learn to regulate herself like she needs What is it you say? She needs to learn to calm down,

Gill Strait  9:25  
she needs to learn to be able to regulate her own emotions, and we need to give her that space to do it. And at the same time, we need to be caring and loving and warm parents. So it's we're not we're not purely cold hearted here.

Julia Strait  9:42  
No, no, no, but at the time, like I remember you very vehemently, saying like, No, we have to base we have to stay strong. We have to stay strong. And this harkens back to like the cried out stuff, too when kids are infants, right? Like, no, we have to stay strong. We can't we have to ignore them. Right.

Gill Strait  9:57  
Well, what do you mean by the cry it out myth

Julia Strait  10:01  
Okay, rewind yeah cried out method is, you know what it sounds like when you're trying to sleep train your child, which is in itself kind of controversial, because by the way, research shows guilt. I don't know if you knew this, but I can find any research article to support any opinion I already have cried out methods of sleep training in general, actually, if you look at it longitudinally does no harm or good in the long term when you look at those kids when they're like teenagers and adult. So anyway, back to my story. But yeah, sleep training. If you've had a baby, you know, right, there's a bazillion books about it.

Gill Strait  10:35  
I, at this point, because I can tell Julia, she really she really wants to prove her point. And I'm competitive. So I'm going to ask her a question, which is, of the two children? which one goes to bed a little easier?

Julia Strait  10:51  
A little one?

Gill Strait  10:53  
who normally puts the little one to bed?

Julia Strait  10:55  
What's the little one's temperament compared to the big one? I would argue

Gill Strait  10:59  
who knows the little one, the

Julia Strait  11:01  
little one came out with a different temperament,

Gill Strait  11:03  
who's been quote unquote, sleep training? The little one?

Julia Strait  11:06  
Gil? I know, that's why I struggle in my mind, because I know it technically works, but I just don't want to be the one to do it.

Gill Strait  11:12  
And technically, when we do when you do, put the little one to bed, does it take No,

Julia Strait  11:20  
just like tonight, you're gonna go out with a friend. I'm gonna be stuck here for like midnight trying to put these two children to sleep and they won't go to sleep because they know I'm like the inconsistent one. Like, okay, you can have some ice cream.

Gill Strait  11:32  
And that is called a discriminant stimuli.

Julia Strait  11:36  
But the point I wanted to make is that and what gives me pause about, you know, the reward and punishment, everything. Is this, this idea of CO regulation, this idea that like, Oh, well, she needs to learn, okay, true. She needs to learn about how do we learn things, we learn things by other people modeling it, which, hey, I'm not a great model for self regulation, Gillis, that could be a huge difference as well, we can talk about the confounds there. But you know, you learn from other people, or by like, explicit instruction, and no one has ever explicitly taught her how to calm down. So for a while, I was going into her room and kind of holding her and rocking with her. And not really saying anything to make it worse, but just kind of trying to ride out the storm with her and, you know, giving her that like body feedback, and that breathing feedback of like, hey, everything's okay. And this is how I regulate. And this is how you regulate, and we're calming down together. And while it took longer, typically, she does react to that better now, what Gil is saying over there, I see you your little eyes. And what most people probably would say is, well, aren't you reinforcing it, then you're going in there, you're giving her a hug?

Gill Strait  12:41  
Yeah, or the behaviorist might also say you're modeling the appropriate behavior. So it could actually still fit into the paradigm of behaviorism. But it did get better. I was like, I mean, and, and the severity of maybe those tantrums needed that.

Julia Strait  12:58  
Yeah, the soothing aspect. Thank you. I was gonna win so early in the game, partially, partially. Well, okay, so,

Gill Strait  13:05  
remember, we only sort of disagree.

Julia Strait  13:08  
Yeah, I mean, moral of the story, like, I think is really easy for people to say, we should definitely do this, you should definitely not do this. You know, there's this whole like attachment parenting land, and there's this whole, you know, like free range parenting all these capital letter movements of like, you should raise your children like this. And I think at the end of the day, like, we've kind of talked about, okay, you have to have some consistency and rules and things, but you It also has to be wrapped in this emotional like soothing element, which, you know, behaviorist wouldn't say is bad. Like, I'm not trying to paint that oversimplified picture. But I do think like, therapies like DBT, which is dialectical behavioral therapy does a good job of this. We're like, yeah, there's, there's strategies you can use like timeout and things like that. But you also have to kind of wrap it in this really relational carrying attachment style type mindfulness, so most softer stuff, which until I had my own kids, I thought was total BS, just like, didn't seem it seems like if I saw other parents do that was working with I'd be like, No, no, don't kiss them all the way to timeout. That's bad. I think until I have my own kids, and I have that emotional investment in my own children. I didn't really realize like, Oh, yeah, just the straight up textbook stuff is not gonna work. Not only because I have trouble being consistent, which is what I used to get mad at other parents for before I had kids. But also because there is that emotional piece like you're we are wired to respond to our kids emotionally. Like, that's what emotions are. They're not bad. They're just directions for how we're supposed to respond.

Gill Strait  14:35  
Right? And different different approaches are needed for different kids.

Julia Strait  14:41  
Oh, are they so are you saying the temperament does matter?

Gill Strait  14:45  
Most definitely. Yes, most definitely. I do. I'm not that stuck in my ways. And maybe that's flexible. And maybe that's something to consider if you're struggling with this type of thing, is that there are behavioral approaches. That would include things like maybe planned ignoring, but also increasing attention prior to in like tantrums or increasing what might be reinforcing certain unwanted behaviors, and trying to give them that unconditionally. But at the same time, you have to all we're all different. And our children are different. And our kids are different. Oh, amen. And so you really do have to find what works. And you always have to make sure that I mean, that you're being safe when you're doing that. Yeah, I mean, there's certain behaviors you can't ignore Spoken

Julia Strait  15:34  
like a true professor. Pause, just a quick break to tell you that we do have a website, the psychologists, you can submit ideas for guests questions, any comments you have that are nice, and you can learn more about us. Also, we do have a Patreon. If you want to be a subscriber, we're planning on offering subscriber only content. It is slash the psychologists. Alright, back to the show. You mentioned that everyone's different. So kids are different, but parents are also like we're born with aren't so temperament. FYI, is like the precursor to personality, like kids do have different temperaments. There's a lot of research about that. And then as you develop, they can develop into certain personality patterns, which are relatively stable ways of responding, acting relating. But not only do little kids have their own individual temperament, but adults also, like we have, I mean, I just joked about it, but like by emotional regulation, is very effortful. Like I really have to work on it guilt out so much. So like, how does that change? You know, I'm saying like, maybe, I've always wondered if they're better around you, because you just like, have that soothing presence? And I don't do you think that's true that different parents? I mean, there's an interaction there, right? Like, I mean, the parent is the kid is which?

Gill Strait  17:00  
Yeah, not in our kid. I mean, our kids act differently when both of us are there. Yeah. versus if it's just one of us and, and how they behave. I mean, I do think with me, they know that I'll maybe jump to like, like putting them in timeout a little quicker, or ignoring some of the, the begging and pleading, and that I'm more likely to give in if they try to present a logical argument. Now, the youngest one has not figured that out. Because obviously, the logic isn't there. For example, the other day, he went to the bathroom, in the bathtub. But he did. I mean, this is old. And we walked in, and there was there were some people on the floor, and we know what happened and he blamed the dog, dog, but then in for a second, we almost believed them. And then we looked in the tub, which had water in it, and it was there to everywhere. So our two year old, he has learned the art of lying. I mean,

Julia Strait  18:00  
if you consider that like the word like lying and manipulating have a bad connotation, but really, evolutionarily I mean, it's manipulating your environment to get what you want. I think that's fairly adaptive. Right? smart. Yeah.

Gill Strait  18:11  
I mean, obviously you didn't get in trouble you're getting a little kids have accident so that when we

Julia Strait  18:15  
walk, he doesn't have the logic yet to to really convince you convinced is way out of timeout, like Lucy does. Because she, Oh, my gosh, like she will bargain with you. She She must have read the the Trump What is it how to make a deal with the book? I swear she read that like in the womb, because she is constantly Let's Make a Deal mom. And she can kind of argue her way out of it with you and you respond to that logic. And I like at work and even with you girl, like I'm pretty almost overly logical sometimes. But when it comes to those kids, man, I just go into like, soft puddle of mom mode and I can't, it's like I have no scruples. Like, I'm just Oh, you want you know, the smart pepperoni pizza for breakfast. Okay, like, just don't cry. Because whatever you do, please don't cry.

Gill Strait  19:00  
The flip side of this though is if they are really upset or sad about something, who often do they want? Mama?

Julia Strait  19:08  
Right. But you think that's biological evolutionary? Or do you think that's like learned behavior from how I respond?

Gill Strait  19:16  
I don't know if I want to answer that question.

Julia Strait  19:19  
I will say that when they get hurt like I'm, I think I'm faster to kind of like defusing go into like crisis like band aid, Huggy mode, rather than just like, what are you doing?

Gill Strait  19:31  
So what's the big picture here? What? What's the ultimate compromise?

Julia Strait  19:36  
I don't know. I really like there's a book. I swear I get no money from this, although I'm willing to if anyone wants to send me some. But there's this book that I recommend to parents that really helped me and it's called parenting a child with intense emotions and it's based on DBT dialectical behavioral therapy, which using this DBT frame as a model, which is basically you know, this behavioral core of like concrete strategies. Why did you do that let's fix it like but wrapped in a very like mindfulness and acceptance cloud, right? Like, I accept you for who you are. It's kind of that what you You are not bad, but like your behavior was a bad choice kind of thing. This kind of comes from that, right? Like, I accept you for who you are, and I can validate your feelings without validating the behavior. And I think that even like the staunchest likes, Canarian people would Oji like, I think even they would agree with some of those ways of modeling things like you really have to wrap it in this nice stuff.

Gill Strait  20:31  
You want to show your child that you understand.

Julia Strait  20:34  
Yeah, and like they accepted. Like you're not a bad because I think the reverse can cause shame, right? Like So shame is this huge ogre over over everyone's childhood. Like we all remember feeling shame about things and I think there's no way to avoid it. But I want to avoid like, okay, you You spilled something on the floor, even like you did something really bad, like poop in the frickin bathtub. Just kidding. That's not the worst thing I've done. But like, but like, you are not bad. You are You are there no bad in you. It's not internal. And like, I was 36 before a friggin therapist had to tell me that right. Like, and I don't think it's necessarily a thing my parents did or said. But it's like, that's our natural inclination is, it's easier for me to explain the world in terms of my agency. So if there's bad things going on, maybe it's me, that's bad. And so I think I'm very cognizant of that now. Like when the girl one has a tantrum, I just want so badly to make her know. Like, it's okay to have feelings and it's okay to be you. But then I struggle with like the behavior itself still.

Gill Strait  21:34  
And I'll say I had a good friend who who's not a psychologist, but put it really elegantly, he said, The tantrums that his kids have her basically expressing how he feels inside or how he would feel about that situation. My buddy David Moya, Moya, he's, yeah, he's an art professor. And he is like, if I say, Man, we can't have pizza tonight. And they start freaking out. inside. He wants pizza to who doesn't want pizza? Yeah, who doesn't want to go have fun all day?

Julia Strait  22:01  
Yeah, there's that there's another book how to talk so kids will listen and listen. So kids will talk. They talk about that like saying like, Yeah, man, I wish I could have pizza too. Like, I

Gill Strait  22:09  
wish I could eat bluebell

Julia Strait  22:10  
all day long. And just like open the ante, like, gosh, I wish we could have a tune pizzas all the time. But anyway, but that's the idea behind it, right? The kind of interaction between your parent personality and yours. I found this article the other day that said, Oh, this hurts my feelings. You know, things like postpartum depression are very highly correlated with the frequency and severity of child tantrums, like around two years old. There's a lot of variables there. But as many people know, like I've struggled a lot with postpartum depression. And sometimes that makes me think like, well, maybe it's my fault. Or maybe she inherited some personality trait for me that makes her blame herself and feel shameful and but articles like that make me think like, you know, it is that interaction between the parents personality in the child's personality. And it's taking me like a long time. I'm not really out of the woods yet, but like to be able to distance myself during those moments of tantrum. I think that's the key to of why it was so much easier when it was someone else's kit, you can distance yourself really easily and be an outsider looking in. In fact, when I did PSAT, we literally had a two way mirror. So I was quite literally outside the room looking in that it's very easy. And now I tried to like imagine that sometimes. Okay, if either kid is tantruming or losing their mind over, you know, whatever, dropping their popsicle kids tantrum, right, right, for sure. But like I try to, that's a little trick that I sometimes use, like I try to imagine, okay, what if I'm like, up on the observation deck, as they say, in therapeutic assessment, but what if I'm out looking at this, it's kind of a mindfulness thing to like, psychological distancing, right, like stepping back and saying, Okay, how can I like, stay present, but also see the situation for what it is. And that, to me, is super helpful. Like just riding the wave holder, whatever it is that I do, sometimes I get so dysregulated that I need to take a break. And it's really funny, because Lucy, she likes storm out and say, I'm done. And I'm like, Oh, crap, she got that for me for sure. But now she's starting to say like,

Gill Strait  24:03  
I need a model, you model taking a time out for yourself,

Julia Strait  24:08  
right. And I think there are some parenting methods and even just therapy methods that would make you think as, as I did, well, I just need to change my personality. Like there's something wrong with me, it's I'm dysregulated, whatever. And to a certain extent, I can work really hard on my self regulation skills, and I have, you know, for a long time, it doesn't mean that there's something wrong with me, I can work on these dysregulation skills, but part of that too, and this is something to think about with kids that I think about Lucy all the time is the other side of that like Angry passion is a ton of excitement and like enthusiasm for life and just like fun and so yeah, I mean, I think there are downsides definitely to really strong personality and a little kid that likes to tantrum but and maybe that's just like me projecting and hoping that that's how people see me but I also think personality wise, you can't throw the baby out with the bathwater, like if she didn't tantrum so much. Didn't have such strong emotions. She also wouldn't have such positive. I mean, like, how many times does she do her Oscar winning speech every time like she opens a friggin cheese stick or whatever, she could string cheese. And she's like, Mom, this is the best day ever. And it's awesome. So it's like, you can't exercise that out of someone. And I don't want to their kids first. Yeah, and

Gill Strait  25:25  
and we're people first?

Julia Strait  25:26  
Yeah, it's hard.

Gill Strait  25:28  
We can we try different things. And consistency is important with certain things that you don't want to if you start trying something, you don't want to necessarily give up right away. But we had to have different strategies.

And we burn it in the garden in the hallways, and we bought it on


I hope it does.

Julia Strait  26:04  
There you have it. I'm sure we could say a lot more about that. Since this is our first episode, we're going to talk a little bit here at the end about what we hope is to come.

Gill Strait  26:13  
Hopefully, in future episodes, a we have some different topics. And we also hope, agree or disagree or talk about different things that we actually get some different people involved in these conversations, because we know a lot of psychologists and even some people we don't know, maybe maybe we're stocking down at some point in time.

Julia Strait  26:33  
Oh, I am excellent at the subtle stalking.

Gill Strait  26:35  
Joy is an excellent site good at it. She has a really strong Google Scholar game. Peer review articles as your find out she's got an encyclopedic knowledge for that, which is amazing. And so we hope to bring in other people at different times potentially in have some different topics that were discussed. Yeah. Thanks for joining us.

Julia Strait  26:54  
Yeah. Thanks for joining us on the psychologists podcast and we'll see you in a couple of weeks. Remember to go to the psychologists If you'd like to learn more, or we have a little contact form set up if you'd like to suggest a guest or be a guest or write in and tell us your problems or your perspectives about you know, parenting but also just psychology in general like questions of who we are and what we're doing here. And we would love to talk to you.

Gill Strait  27:23  
catch you on the flip side by

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