In this conversation, Susan and Dayna talk about how important it is to understand that even if our child has behavioral struggles, they aren’t broken and we aren’t failing. They go on to discuss creating a plan for parenting storms, not taking things personally, and shifting our perspective.
Dayna Abraham, author of Calm the Chaos: A Failproof Roadmap for Parenting Even the Most Challenging Kids. As a National Board Certified educator, parent of three neurodivergent children, and an ADHD adult herself, Dayna brings a unique and out-of-the-box perspective to parents raising kids in the modern world. Through her compassionate framework, Calm the Chaos, she has helped millions of desperate parents around the world, find peace and meet their children where they're at when conventional parenting tools have failed them.
Things you'll learn from this episode:
How to use Fact Finder Freddy to avoid negative thought cycles
How to ride out a parenting storm
Hi there. Welcome back to The Parenting Without Power Struggles podcast. I'm so glad that you're here. This podcast is all about helping you have more fun and fewer power struggles as you raise your children and your teens. I'm your host, Susan Stiffelman. I'm the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting With Presence. And it's my honor to share some of the things I've learned in my 40 plus years as a family therapist, an educator, a mom, a teacher, so many different career paths, but they all converge here. And we cover everything. Everything that has to do with raising joyful, resilient children, with guests like Dr. Dan Siegel, Dr. Mona Delahooke, Martha Beck, Kristen Neff, Janet Lansbury, and so many other wonderful and wise speakers. Before we get started, make sure that you're taking advantage of everything that we offer for parents by visiting susanstiffelman.com.
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Today's guest is Dayna Abraham, author of Calm the Chaos. Hi everyone, I'm so happy to welcome Dayna Abraham. Hi Dayna. Hello. How are you? It's really great that we get to connect and I'm really looking forward to this conversation. Let me tell people about you, Dayna Abraham has become a trusted and proven leader in the parenting community. She's the founder of the popular parenting site, LemonLime Adventures, which has accumulated over 41 million viewers in less than seven years. She's also the CEO of Calm,the Chaos, a seven figure company, which offers Dayna's compassionate framework to support thousands of parents worldwide. Her work has been showcased in Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Buzzfeed Attitude Magazine, Positive Parenting Solutions. And she's also the author of Super Kids Activity Guide to Conquering Every Day and Sensory Processing 1 0 1. And you have a brand new book coming out, Calm the Chaos, which I know we're gonna talk about. How did you get into what you're doing?
Yeah, so I kind of fell into what I'm doing. I was growing up, I was that kid that never felt like she fit and that something must be wrong with me. 'cause I couldn't quite figure out why I didn't fit. And my older brother was bipolar, and so I was on the receiving end of explosions and meltdowns and, you know, fist pumps for a while. And so I grew up in chaos and when I became a teacher, my favorite kids were the ones who came with a long paper trail behind them. The ones who parents came and kind of said, I'm sorry, when they handed 'em over. And and those were my favorites because they had so much to give and so much to teach us and so much for me to learn from. And they just were waiting for someone to see them for who they were.
And so when I became a parent, I'm like, I got this figured out. Like I know what it's like to not fit in. I know what it's like to to to be a kid that isn't understood and, and teach these kids and have all this education. Now I'm gonna be a great parent. But that did not happen. And I was handed a child who kind of proved me wrong in every area of my life. And so by second grade, he was getting kicked outta school every single day. And I was, he was suspended way more days than he was even in school. And I was given an ultimatum from his principal that basically said either let this police officer take him into custody or take him home and don't bring him back till you figure out what's wrong with him.
And it was in that moment that it was just clear we needed to do something better for him and he deserved more than what we were able to give him. And so I quit my job and I started homeschooling him. And my sole purpose really was just, I didn't want him to hate himself for not fitting in, and I didn't want him to hate the world for not understanding him. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So that's what we really dug into. And over the years I kinda shared the ups, the downs, the good, the bad, and started realizing I wasn't alone, that other people were struggling as well. And I started sharing what I was learning and what I was figuring out. And now I've worked with tens of thousands of families around the world sharing what works.
You know, nothing will motivate us, like the love we have for our children will, you know, hundred percent I to look at myself and the way I've changed and grown. And gosh, I would never have signed up for that <laugh>. Like, that's okay, I'll pass. And yet you have this being and your heart is completely overtaken with the dedication to, you know, showing up well as you did with whatever it takes. So what have you learned, you know, how, how do you help a parent whose child is challenging and they can't figure out why?
Well, I think the, the first thing is I think that parents need to know that they're not failing. So if they're coming to this situation where they're feeling like my kid is, is challenging, my kid is not fitting in at school, my kid is having trouble at school, the first thing that a lot of parents start to do is start to doubt themselves and they start to think that they're failing. But if you're looking for help, you're not failing, right? You are already trying to do the best for your kid and you are the best person for your child. And then the second thing is that your kid's not broken. There is nothing to be fixed or nothing to change about your kid. Your kid might need different tools, they might need a different approach. And so they're here to teach us and challenge us to learn better, do better, and show up differently.
But that doesn't mean that something's wrong with them or something's wrong with us, right? Right. So I think that starting out, every parent needs to know that. And then one of the things that I realized is I kept searching for that one secret thing, that one missing piece that nobody was telling us about. And it wasn't that it wasn't one thing that made a difference, it was a combination of things. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So what I found is that there's really four basic ingredients to a good relationship to solving problems, to getting through challenging times. And that goes with, if you're dealing with an argument with your partner or you're dealing with a kid who's getting kicked outta school, really it all goes together. And, and it's based in the science of behavior and the science of our, you know, neurodiversity and psychology and communication and all these different things.
There are, there's so much research that we can base what we're doing on, we don't have to guess. We don't have to just trust our intuition. And so having these four pillars to lean back on, we can actually create an out of the box solution that works for our unique family instead of this cookie cutter, oh, well they said say this thing, or they said, do this thing. Exactly. I can adapt it to my own family. And so that was, that was how it started. And so I'm happy to go into those four pieces. Yeah. Let's talk about them. Absolutely. Yeah. So before pieces that I've found, we call it the UQ framework, which is you as in yourself, connection is the C part. So connection is more about accepting the kids you have in front of you, not just not just the playtime, not just the one-on-one time, but really accepting the kids you have not the kids you thought you'd have.
Exactly. The understanding piece Yeah. Is really getting under the surface. There's that science part of like, why is this happening? Where is this coming, coming from unraveling where things are happening and where the breakdown is happening. And then empowering each person that's involved. So it's not just a one-sided top-down approach from the parent, but it's also not child-led where the kid is getting to choose everything. It's empowering both parties, it's teaching skills, it's hearing and collaborating and advocating for each other. And so those four pieces, you need a sprinkle of each of those in whatever you're dealing with. And, and then when you use those combined together, that's when you start to see progress.
Okay. You know, I have this analogy and it made me smile when I heard you say it because a lot of times, you know, we, these ideas bubble up in our consciousness and it's always fun for me to see that they are emerging in different people around the same time. So I have this idea, I call it snapshot child syndrome. So imagine I'm holding in my hand a snapshot of Johnny and Johnny. This is the snapshot of the idealized version. And Johnny, when you say, honey, will you turn the iPad off and come help me set the table? Sure Mom, I'd love to do that. And, and after that, would you mind taking out the trash? Thanks for reminding me. I'm gonna try and remember on my own next time. Right. So that's the snapshot. And then there's Johnny over there, you know, completely ignoring us and absorbed in the game. And you ask him, please, 12 times to take out the trash. I don't want to ask your, ask my brother. And when we lose our cool, so what happens in our reactivity that sort of moves us toward a dysregulated, angry, hurt, upset state is the mismatch between the Snapchat child and that real one. And that, and, and that's what the term came for me. That, you know,
And the expectations versus what, and this idea and this this is what I think is should happen, but yet I'm not telling anyone that, and nor am I actually creating this snapshot based on their unique makeup.
Exactly. Yeah. And so the sooner that we can come to this is the child I'm raising, this is the child I've been given. Mm-Hmm. And I think in your book you're talking about, you know, calm, calm is just such a wonderful word Yes. To begin with, can you say a little bit more about how we hold onto that state of regulation of calm when the snapshot or the real child is, can be quite triggering and we can be activated or we can be in, in great sorrow that this is the path in front of us for the moment.
Yeah. So one of the things that I found after teaching this framework to people is first, I, I just did the connection, understanding, and empowerment part. And we were getting a lot of results for parents and we were seeing a lot of changes. But when it, what made the biggest difference was adding in that u piece, your own perspective change, your own ability to stay calm and regulated your own ability to focus on one problem at a time instead of trying to solve everything at once. And when we added that in, that's when the changes really started happening in pa parents' lives. And, and the trajectory really just shot forward. And so I wanna really highlight that piece, that it's really important for us to be able to shift our own view of what's happening. And the, one of the simplest ways to do that is to see all is communication and to just remind yourself, okay, my child is, I call it, you know, operation Carly Simon, but like, you know, the song you probably think this song's about you <laugh>.
Well, the meltdowns not about you, them turning off their electronics, not about you. Right. So just if you can remember, this is not about me, it might, they might be saying I'm a terrible parent. They may be saying they hate me, they may be telling me to shut up, but it's not really about me, it's about something else. What is it about? And in my program, I joke, we have this phrase, people will be like, it's never about the banana oatmeal because this, this mom came to a coaching call and she's like, my child's really struggling. And then I gave her banana oatmeal and she just lost it. And she threw the banana oatmeal everywhere and we spiraled everything out. It had nothing to do with banana oatmeal. Yeah. She was overtired. There was, she was worried about what was happening later in the day. And like this was the one change that broke the camel's back. Like she just couldn't handle that one change. And so I think that's the simplest way is just reminding ourselves that, and removing that personality and that emotion to the behavior that this isn't an attack on you. Right. And that way your brain will be reminded like, oh, my child's not a bear. Like they're not out to attack me right now.
Right. Because that can just be so painfully hurtful. Like, I love them so much, how could someone I love so much take this out on me? And they're not, and I love that, you know, clearly we're in, in real alignment about that. Yeah. In your book, you have five kind of plans for parenting challenging kids. Can you walk us through one of them?
Yeah, absolutely. So let me just share the five plans real fast. Yeah. So like I said, I, I'm constantly was iterating this process because I never wanted to be like, oh, this is my way, this is the way that it works. And so I would, you know, teach what I was learning to parents and then try it and see how it was working and see those traps and pitfalls. And so after adding in the U piece and seeing a lot of progress, I still saw a lot of people that couldn't access the information because they were just in the worst situation. They were depleted, they were exhausted, they were getting triggered. And, and so a lot of times we start with parenting advice at the, let's get ahead of it, right? How do I handle if, how do I get my kid to stop doing this?
And so we talk about, we start at stage four or stage five even. We talk about creating more structure or we talk about creating a better relationship or more routines. And really you can have the best structure, you can have the best routines, you can have the best strategies and tools, but if neither you nor your child can access that information, then it doesn't matter. And so the plans came about in this, how do we get you to a place where you can access those great tools and the great routines and the great rules and strategies and boundaries and all those things. How do we get you there? Well, we start with stage one, which is just riding the storm. So right before we got on this call, it's noon on a Wednesday here, and I actually joined late because the tornado sirens were going off.
They go off every Wednesday here. And so to practice so that you have a plan in place when the storm happens. And so I like to think of it like that. You need something, a plan in place that allows you to ride through the worst of it no matter what is happening. And your goal is not to get it to stop. Your goal is not to shorten it. Your goal is not to fix it. Your goal is literally just to keep everyone safe. That's it. And so that's stage one. Stage two is a stage that all parents skip, especially women. And that is your energy reserves. We like to skip into the behavior and the solving and the fixing. But if we are depleted, we won't have the time and energy to be able to show up for our kids. We won't be able to access that presence and that calmness and whatever it is we need to stay UNT triggered, right?
Like we need that energy. So that's stage two. Stage three is where we're talking about diffusing the situation. So now we're actually looking at how do I show up? How do I show up in this situation and what do I say, what do I do? How do I use my body in the heat of the moment when the siblings are going at each other's throat, when my son won't get off electronics when the school calls, right? What am I doing in the heat of the moment that will actually make it shorter or it will allow us to come out of this still connected and not disconnected. And then now we can move into the third, the fourth stage, which is about getting ahead of it. How can we unravel what's really going on? What's really under the surface? How can we build skills? How can we problem solve? How can we collaboratively come up with a plan together? And then that final stage, now that we've gotten ahead of some of these challenges, now we can start building systems that make it so that these things don't happen again. Right? And those are personal boundaries and those are routines and those are, you know, more agreements between family members that allow you to create a family that works together.
Fantastic. So simple, so clear. Let's talk about one of those. 'cause I know this is <crosstalk> for a lot of parents listening, whether they have a neurodivergent child or they just have life <laugh> and yes, the child has a a livelier disposition, we could say. So will you talk a little bit about in how you talked with parents about dealing with the moment? So they're in the storm, the winds are blowing, the the hail is coming down. Let's jump to that stage.
Yeah. So I'll quickly share, ride the storm plan. It's all about you. It has nothing to do about your kid at all. You're not talking at all. You're keeping your mouth as closed as possible, <laugh>. And and you are, you're, you're doing something. I call it stop, breathe, anchor. So you're actually planting your feet in the ground, even if it's for a second. I'm not talking about doing a 10 minute meditation, but you just stop ground yourself. Put your hand on your heart. If you have to take a big deep breath, get oxygen into your brain, and then anchor yourself with something that will that will help you not be triggered. That's really all we're doing there. And so ride the storm plan is really simple 'cause I want people to be able to access it when they're flooded, right? <Laugh> and you know, when the hails coming down and when the tornado sirens are going off.
So in the moment, that means that you have the ability to anchor yourself. You've already created a, a ride the storm plan, and you already have energy in your tank. So you've already created these little daily habits that are giving you energy, that are helping you stay unstressed so that when you're in the moment, you can be present. But we're assuming we've already done those two stages. Okay? Okay. And we're gonna jump into in the moment, so in the moment, if we, all of the plans use that, those four pillars I talked about earlier. So the, you connect, understand, empower. So the you piece in the moment is what I call thought swaps. So it's, and we do this whole plan before we ever need it. So let's all picture the last argument we had the last big fight, the last big meltdown. And since you used electronics, I'm just gonna use that as my, as my example.
So what goes through our head when our kid, when Johnny won't get off electronics, oh, he never listens to me. Right? That might be a thought that goes through your head or, ah, here we go again. He's so obsessed or ah, he's so defiant. Right? Some, some of those things might go through our head. So if we already know we're gonna think that thought, then we can go ahead and swap that thought before it ever happens. And we can say, okay, that is kind of like the always and never beast coming and saying, Johnny always or Johnny never. And so I can use fact finder Freddie, he's my super swap. Mm-Hmm. So I can call him fact finder Freddy, and I can say, find me proof that he sometimes gets off electronics. Oh, you know, yesterday he got off electronics without a fight. I wonder what was different there.
Okay. All right. So he doesn't always refuse. Okay, I'll remember that next time in the moment. So when my brain says, oh, he always, I'll say, Hmm, seems hard for him to get off right now. Right? So I'm just gonna swap it to the, to the actual fact then for connection. I'm not gonna be in the kitchen saying, Hey Johnny, it's time to get off electronics. Hey Johnny, five more minutes. Hey Johnny, like I'm gonna move closer and I'm gonna sit on the couch and I might not say anything. I might just sit on the couch and that's it, right? It's closer and lower just so that we're in the same area. We're disarming our body, right? That's the connection part in the heat of the moment, right? The understanding part. You can't ask 20 questions as much as we want to. You can't.
However, I do have a, a system most of us have talked about or have seen an iceberg, and there's all the things that could be under the surface. And what you're seeing above well, I have something called the behavior funnel, which takes the most common needs behind a quote unquote misbehavior or a challenge. And it organizes them so that you can kind of sift through it like you're digging for gold. And the first one is basic needs. So you can have this little checklist in your brain that's like, okay, are is he tired? Is he hungry? Is he does he feel safe? Right? So maybe there's a big event coming up later in the day and it is just so much easier to focus on the game instead of get off of the game because if he gets off the game, it means he is gotta go do that thing.
Yeah. That is scaring him, right? So or does he, does he feel connected? That's the second rung, right? Does he feel heard, seen, valued? Oh, he had a fight with his brother earlier today. Okay, that might be why he's kind of being a little, little, ugh to me. And then sensory is the next one, which is so missed for so many parents. But it's, is he overwhelmed? Is he overstimulated? Well, if he's playing electronics, guess what? He is getting sensory input, right? So he is getting stimulated by visual input. He is getting stimulated by the auditory input by the movement. And he is probably lacking in sensory input and hasn't moved in a while. Yeah. So it might be hard for him to disengage. And then we have skills and we have avoidance and desires. There's other things there. But in the heat of the moment, you can just do a quick check 'cause it gives you empathy and it allows you to be curious and it allows you to, you're still not saying anything.
You're still just sitting closer and lower. But you are, you're like, okay, hmm. What could be going on here? Yeah, but before you say anything, you now have done this like assessment, the empower piece still isn't about your kid. The empower piece is, what are you gonna say do and provide in the heat of the moment? And it's just one phrase, one action, and one tool. That's it. And you created ahead of time. So if we're thinking of the last time that he fought, what am I gonna say? I'm gonna say, I see that you're at the end of your round, right? Or I see that your time is up. You might say something like that, what am I gonna do? Well, if I touched my son, it would send him into a tailspin. So I'm gonna break his gaze. So I might take my hand and just put it in between his, his either the TV or his face and his face where I might put it in between what he's playing on.
Like if he's got it in his hands and his face and we've talked about this ahead of time, that this is how I'm gonna break your gaze. 'cause You don't like to be touched when you're playing. And so my do is that I'm just gonna break his gaze and then my provide is I'm gonna provide my wait time. Because a lot of times we'll say, get off your electronics, it's time to get off. And if they don't do it immediately, we say it again, and then we badger and then we, and then it ends up being a fight. We'll be that. I'm just gonna wait right here, right? And then if it needs to escalate, then we can, you know, to a different phrase and a different tool we can. And the key here is that we, if we have one thought swap ahead of time and we know we're gonna move closer and we know that we're just gonna stay curious and we have those three things, the one thing to say, one thing to do, one thing to provide, well now we can tweak it like getting braces or, you know, like doing an experiment.
You can change one thing at a time instead of saying, well, that didn't work and throwing our hands up.
Great. I wanna encourage parents. Obviously they're just getting a taste. So there's so much rich content and material in your book called The Chaos coming out. And and it's funny, I'm smiling because I, I think you know, that I'm putting together a summit on tech-wise parenting, raising kids in the rapidly changing digital world where I we're just, I'm immersed in these interviews and these conversations and, and of course people, you know, should go to my website and sign up, it's free. But I really want to include some of the pragmatics because sometimes it really does come down to how do I disengage my child from the device when it is so compelling. And particularly if a child is struggles with anxiety or depression, they feel a little bit awkward with others. It's such a great place for them to feel relaxed or sort of go into a trance or be entertained or feel competency. So I'm really happy that your example kind of so nicely overlaps with this issue. Yeah, that's so much on my mind. Thank you. Let's make sure that people know how to find out more about you.
The, the best place to find information about the book is to go to calm the chaos book.com. We've put together some amazing bonuses for anyone who's grabbing the book. You can grab it from your local store, you can grab it online. But if you go to calm the chaos book.com, we've got all of these tools. The book is full of, I'm a very visual person, so it's full of doodles and charts and lists and things like that. And so you can download those if you go there. And then the other place to find me is just on every social channel I am calm the chaos parenting.
Calm the chaos. All right, Dayna, Dayna Abraham, thank you so much for this great conversation. I look forward to talking with you again.
I hope you enjoyed that. That was a great conversation. And listen, the best way to integrate the things that you're learning is to practice, to choose something that resonates for you and try and bring it into your actual week, you know, to make a commitment to try something new. It's baby steps. And of course, if you want more support and my support, visit susanstiffelman.com. There's all kinds of programs and memberships and classes and our special, special tech-wise parenting summit that I urge you to sign up for and tell your friends about. So that's it for today, everyone. Let's just take a moment and acknowledge yourself for showing up and being here. That's no small thing. I know in the midst of a busy day, and as you move through your day and your week, remember, no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness and joy. Stay well, take care and I'll see you next time.