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Episode summary:

Susan talks with Maggie Dent, beloved parent educator from Australia, about raising children who are especially strong-willed and energetic. “Rooster children” can wear out even the best-intentioned parent! You’ll get tips for creating calm, getting rest, and managing expectations.

Commonly known as the "Queen of Common Sense", Maggie Dent is one of Australia's favorite parenting authors and educators, with a particular interest in the early years, adolescence and resilience. Maggie is the author of seven books, including the bestselling 2018 Mothering Our Boys and her 2020 book, From Boys to Men. She hosts the ABC podcast, Parental As Anything. Maggie is a dedicated advocate to quietly changing lives in our families and communities. She is the mother of four sons and a very grateful grandmother.

Things you'll learn from this episode:

What your sons may not say but wish you knew

The importance of character development


How to address poor choices without shame or withholding love


Susan and Maggie's Master Class on Helping Anxious Children

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 2: (00:14)
Hello and welcome to the parenting without power struggles podcast. I’m Susan Stiffelman, I’m your host and I’m very glad that you’re here. This podcast has become a really great way to reach parents with lots of good information and support based on my work as a teacher and then a family therapist for nearly 40 years. And it’s also a whole lot of fun because I get to share wisdom from some of my favorite people.
Like today’s guest, my Australian sister, Maggie, Dent. Hi Maggie.
Hi beautiful. Susan!
Maggie isn’t really my sister and in fact we’ve never even met in person, although we’re going to soon, but we have forged a lovely friendship around our shared passion for helping parents raise great kids while enjoying the ride. So I’m so excited, Maggie. We’re going to actually be in the same space. We’re going to be together here in California very soon.
Speaker 2: (01:08)
And um, we’re going to be co-teaching a masterclass on helping anxious kids. So please stay tuned for that. You can sign up for my newsletter at Susan’s and you’ll get all the scoop. So Maggie, I’m going to just share a little bit about you and then we’re going to jump right in to talk about raising roosters. Okay, fabulous. So Maggie is one of Australia’s favorite parenting authors and educators. She’s got a particular interest in the early years and adolescence and resilience. She’s the author of 11 books which should almost disqualify you from being my friend and your best selling 2018 book, which is sitting here on my shelf mothering our boys. Such a beautiful, beautiful book.
Maggie has four son, so this is definitely a lived experience. Maggie’s also authored several ebooks and has tons of resources for parents and teens and educators and teachers and is also in addition to having those four wonderful sons is an enthusiastic and grateful grandmother. Maggie lives in Australia with her as you say your good Steve. Yup. Or the little dog. Mr Hugo. Walter Dent All right. So Maggie and I, we of course struggled to pick a topic because there’s so many places where we’re aligned, but we decided or I decided, made the unilateral decision that we were going to have what I know will be a lively conversation about raising roosters. Now you might say, wait a minute, I thought this was a parenting show. We’re not talking about roosters that make noise in your garden. Um, but roosters are those fiery, lively, often challenging kids who bring a lot of in life to the world
Speaker 3: (03:00)
but can sometimes be tough to raise her little challenging. So Maggie, let’s talk about rooster children. What do you mean by that? It’s sorta self-explanatory, isn’t it? Um, so isn’t that, roosters strut around the Chook yard and we call them, took out hanging out, whatever we do, wherever we are really like the sense of their own importance. Like I am so important. So we know that some of our children turn up, I call it like a spectrum. So at one end, a feisty, strong roosters at the other end are lambs. And we don’t want to leave them at those end points because we want them to be somewhere in the middle, but early on, oh golly, you will know if you’ve got roosters cause you collapse on the couch every night. Um, with exhaustion and um, they are the, you know, they’re are that firstly they’ve got so much energy, the energy of a rooster is, you know, we know toddlers have a lot of energy and some of it, but this is it.
Speaker 3: (03:52)
They just, they just don’t want to stop for a sleep. So that dropped their day sleeps beyond belief. I’ve had two roosters and um, the second one was he was really done by about 14 months and seriously, I really look forward to him trying to have a day sleep so I could recover enough energy to survive till I got him to sleep later that night. Now they don’t want to miss anything. They actually hate sharing their stuff because it’s mine. So they’re not really good at the sharing stuff. They’re a little bit power driven. So there’ll be times that you will, you know, you’ll be having, you know, an argument with a young child or right the way through to teenagers where they question your parenting and you know, what dammit, what often they’ve got some really valid points which is even more annoying. Often they’re impulsive, you know, very impatient.
Speaker 3: (04:45)
They just got absolutely zero in patience. They Want it now. And I think the other one is, um, they like to be independent. So quite often they’re the ones doing things like ahead of the ball game. They’ll climb higher, they, they’re brave, quite often fearless and like I said, you will definitely eat more chocolate. Um, if you have a rooster child. And I think one of the things that really, really can be an annoying trait of roosters is not only do they question, your, um, choices. Um, they, they’re not doing it to annoy you because, but they’re actually doing it to seeking clarification of the choice that you make on their behalf. And that’s that place again, which can be frustrating cause we think children, you know, need us be grown ups to make their choices. But sometimes roosters, I just want to clarify why you’ve made that choice for me.
Speaker 3: (05:36)
Uh, and sometimes they’re loud. Sometimes you can have, like I said, go roosters and boy roosters can be a little bit different because our girls can be a bit more emotionally manipulative early, uh, than boys. Boys aren’t quite so sharp in that area. Boys will often be the ones that want to jump on top of kids to have fun and make poor choices like that. So when we actually explain it, their parents go, oh my God, Oh my God, I’ve got one of them. And so it’s not a bad job. They can take a lot more energy, Susan in that parenting domain, can’t they? Yeah, yeah. And you know, in, in service of honoring our kids and who they’re meant to be. And of course there’s tons of wonderful attributes that these children have that they take forth into their adult life. We don’t want to squelch who they are, but how can we support our rooster kids while also helping them develop a little bit more restraint?
Speaker 3: (06:30)
And then sort of maybe we can segue into, we want to take him somewhere. We want to take them to grandma and GRANDPA’s house. We don’t want them to create chaos. I think the first one is what are the, what are the ways that I can build empathy into my rooster chart? Because they don’t turn up with that every now and it says little teachable moments that we have consciously model. Um, oh golly. I wonder how they feeling right now when they’ve fallen over. It’s little moments of teachable moments all along the way that we’re trying to imprint that experiences can create uncomfortable or painful feelings that, um, I really recommend getting the Guinea pig. Um, you know, anywhere from two, three, four with, I have to learn how to stroke it and be gentle with it because it doesn’t always come. You know, it doesn’t always come and you’ve got to keep….
Speaker 3: (07:17)
No, no, no. Gentle gentle, gentle. Careful, careful because we want to build that neuropathway of gentleness. That’s way Hugo Walter comes in. He’s been wonderful for my, a couple of my rooster grandchildren. He’s been patted quite firmly now. He’s petted quite gently. Uh, but I would, you know, they’re getting, it’s about the stroking. We’ve got to help them build that. I think the second one is actually really listening when they’re trying to tell you, um, how they see the world. Like tell me, you know, and rather than going, don’t be ridiculous. I make the choices here because that’s not validating. There’s something inside them that wants. And I often find our roosters a very strong social justice campaigners. So surprisingly I was still, you would find that hard to believe. And I remember very early standing up in class with aquatic children and standing up saying we don’t like being shouted at or you know, you need to stop being like that because your meanness is upsetting.
Speaker 3: (08:16)
Other students, I was six. So you’re right, there are these qualities in us that we don’t want to crush, but we also want to bring them into the center so they can claim some lamb around how they claim, how they say the world, which should be right or wrong. And then the other one we have to help out. Roosters, learn to fail cause failing can be really, really quadruply painful in a competitive rooster child and that can become problematic. So it’s about as knowing every, you know that that loss gives us gifts when we file and it feels yucky yet you want to stomp your feet and, you want to lash out. But we just all have to learn. It’s one of the toughest lessons I think that roosters need to learn. Say Lots of board games, lots of card games, lots of one-on-one games where they lose frequently in the light environment with people who love them.
Speaker 2: (09:09)
And I would add to that. Thanks Maggie. These are just such practical things and I think that’s one of the reasons that I adore you is that you and I sort of share this. We’re not, we’re not up in the ivory tower theorizing about this–, this is how it is. No, Okay, do this or here’s a suggestion practically. But one of the things that I’ve seen a lot with children, and they may not exactly fall into the category of rooster, is that many times children who have trouble losing or who gets so firey, um, when they’re frustrated, they actually need a lot of our help in crying, in finding their tears, in dropping into sadness because it’s easier to just lash out and throw, throw the game board across the room when, you know, when you’ve lost the game. But it’s another to have a parent or caregivers, they come and have a cuddle. It looks like you just had your heart set on winning and almost to draw forth from them, their tears so that they can kind of access that part of the, their emotional,
Speaker 3: (10:06)
uh, finding those states of calmness. Like where do they stop for a minute. Yeah. Because they go, go, go, go, go. And they can wear themselves out and then become overwhelmed. So every now and then it’s, you know, just, just get the outside side or what can I do that just brings them down a little, you know, it’s that quiet plaintiffs, you know, some healthy snacks or some healthy fruit just for five or 10 minutes to give their little bodies a chance to pick up. You know, they do have a lot of energy, but when it’s actually, it became, become problematic if they’re always on the go because we want them one day to be able to be in, you know, in our school environment. So they go to sit on a mat or to be still, and that’s something that if you can try and have those quiet moments, reading to them or just having chats with them about how they see the world.
Speaker 3: (10:55)
Oh my goodness. It was so funny with every now and then, my grandchildren are an all under five. Um, and I like sitting, having chats with nanny on nanny’s chair and, um, I’ll ask them things like, how do you think that beautiful moon got up into the sky? You know, and, and, and, and I want to tell you, cause I, I think I know, um, and that conversation has gently brought their body down into a, um, you know, more serotonin and more dopamine place at rather than Hypo, Hypo, hypo. And I think those little moments of not only connection, we think they’re stronger to Susan. Um, we know they’re braver, but they just as sensitive as our lambs with feeling disconnection or a sense of being misunderstood or unloved and thy get disciplined more, let’s be honest. And well technically, they do need to be because they will push the boundaries more, let’s say natural states. So push your boundaries. A check. Have you got me safe? Yeah. And um, yeah, that’s why I’m, if you’ve got two of them in your house, your, you’ll know about it. Um, and if you’re in a classroom teaching, you’ve got more roosters and lambs. Oh, you will know about that too. And, and, and it is just, it’s not bad. It’s not good. That’s just the way they’ve turned up on the planet. Um, we do think there’s a genetic thing in there, which is quite funny, but we won’t go into that too much.
Speaker 3: (12:16)
Oh, this is great. And you know, I’m going to just add as another option. I have a podcast coming up with Susan Kaiser Greenland who wrote um, Mindful kids was one of her hallmark books. And , I love her work. I know that our podcast is coming up. We did a class together similar to the class you and I are about to do a on mindful parents, mindful kids. And there are simple things you can do with when kids are really revved up. And maybe before you walk into the door at grandma’s where things are a little calmer, quieter, maybe you, well, first of all, obviously you might just have them do some intense physical aerobic stuff for three minutes. Right. I think the other is, you know, I’ll have parents have their kids rub their hands together.
Speaker 3: (13:05)
Just the simple thing, if I’m doing it lightly now, but it’ll probably make the mic sound bad. But if you just rub your palms together back and forth for about 30 seconds and then you notice when you’re finished that they’re warm and that there your hands are tingling and you can ask your child, what are your hands feel like? It kind of can slow things down. Similar to the, I love the thing about sitting with you and looking at the moon and imagining listening to them, but, but things that anchor them back to their body or um, one hand on their belly and one on their chest and take maybe three breaths looking to have the belly hand go up and down so that the breath is less adrenalized, which is what you get from the chest and more of an anchoring quieting breath down from the belly.
Speaker 3: (13:51)
And another one of my favorites is the tickle spot, which I think I have on youtube somewhere. And the tickle spot is high up the back just below the neck. And it’s a, it’s like an accelerator button for making serotonin and it’s, if you just, it’s where we put the shower on when we’ve had a really tough day. We just stand they with it on that cause it acted activates Serotonin ‘s the calming chemical. So what I love is if you could start doing very gentle circles or um, sideways number eight or pretend you’re doing letters on that point at the back that can bring them down beautifully. And if it’s a habit you can do, especially when you’re in the lolly aisle at the large supermarket and you know, that it’s taking a while to get there and that is just so difficult for any of our children.
Speaker 3: (14:35)
But roosters, the temptation for, you know, meter her meter or temptation just simply too much for most of them. But if you can start doing that, so what letter have I written? What’s these? You can actually bring them down because it not only makes Serotonin, it brings the, brings them through to their prefrontal rather than their panic mode at the back. Like want it now. And I think it’s a beautiful thing to do when your children are younger, especially as a boy champion, I can tell you that there’s something beautiful about doing that on new 14 year old son’s back when he’s not really all that talkative and he will just, you’ll see it just the wriggle a bit. Sometimes they’ll come and stand in front of you cause I just want you to do the tickle spot. But without talking man. I love that.
Speaker 3: (15:21)
And that might be, you know, I wanted to just touch on sleep. We’re not gonna go into it today, but that can be something that you could do as well. Right? It looks safe is a really, it’s a tricky one because they’ve got this high energy thing going on, so we know that routines help them for sure. We, if he can do that, there’s a predictability in the brain that we’re, we’re coming to that point, but I am going to put my hand up and say, my second rooster, so the third of my four sons, oh my goodness. He landed on Halloween and that was obviously a sign that he was going to be quite a party boy, you know, boss for we were all wanting to go to bed by nine, nine 30 in our house and that boy was still doing some assaults and at some point I realized he was bouncing out of bed in the morning.
Speaker 3: (16:01)
So I thought wow, you know I sat down and had a really big conversation and said, Babe, look, um, ,I’m going to put you in your own room so you can keep doing somersaults or building things or playing and, but you can turn the lights up cause we were all, we’re all done, we’re going to bed. And it sounds really crazy, doesn’t it? Because he had very strict gross. He couldn’t actually get into the kitchen so we couldn’t burn the house down the toaster and he kind of turned the lights off in our house. From that time onwards. He is still a very not out boy. He’s a night owl boy now. He’s not so good in the mornings but he actually now has a job. He works in finance, he does international trading. So he’s actually needing to work in the hours that he is best at.
Speaker 3: (16:42)
Isn’t it funny how so without shutting that down. Um, you know, he was taking self to bed and he would bounce out a bit the same, but he was wasn’t ready at half past eight, nine o’clock. So the plateau I was having was creating more tension, which meant it would take him even longer. Um, yeah. So interesting isn’t it? But that was obviously in a world before technology. Um, and I think that’s, he wasn’t allowed the TV he only could play with. He had plenty of toys. He could build some amazing things while we were all asleep.
Speaker 3: (17:17)
What a joy. Oh my gosh. Well this is one of those times when I wish this was an hour long, but I’m trying to stay true to my promise, which is short and sweet. So Maggie, one of the things I want to do with all of my episodes is give people something to focus on for the coming week. What would your tip or your suggestion be? Something that they could, you know, set some intentions around or make a practice on. Well, I think now you see the lens through the high energy child who is that that does struggle being told what to do. I’m going to just give you the gift. Roosters well All children I believe, but [roosters] is a highly sensitive to being told what to do. In other words, they’ve got an automatic push back. So all you do is, you know, basically when you want things done is to ask as though you’re asking your best friend request in a way that’s respectful and then pause, just pause because um, they’re considering it but it will, it just deescalates the whole –as soon as your command them get in the bath, do that.
Speaker 3: (18:19)
They’ve got to push back. It’s like, you know, really some, they’ll push back in a loud way that this triggers everybody. So try and get into the habit of asking respectfully as though you’re asking your very best friend, would you like to help in the bath now or in five minutes time? Because they want to know they’ve got some agency and some choice in their world. And I’ve found that it just made my life so much easier just just every now and then giving them that you know, always had. And also you’ll always use, an endearment term. So for me it was always, come on little honey bunch. What are you doing? Are we ready? Hey Matey, which of course is Australian, but the Indian and the request just de-escalates. The need for them to push back on us. I love the,
Speaker 2: (19:05)
I’m Maggie, what a fun, fun conversation. So everybody, um, I sure hope you’ve enjoyed it. You know, obviously Maggie and I could talk about different things for, you know, many years too and we will, we’re always collaborating. But to find out more about Maggie’s work, please visit Maggie if you’ve enjoyed our conversation, you might want to subscribe because then as soon as I release a new episode, you’ll have it on your phone. It’ll just automatically appear. And it really is great. If you’d like to leave a rating or even better if you would write a little review and then Maggie and I are going to do a class on anxious kids and that replay will be available if you don’t catch it live. We’ve got so much experience, decades combined and we’re going to share ways to support those children and teens who struggle with anxiety. We
Speaker 3: (19:57)
And some where down the track. I’ll think we’ll have to do another one of these about lambs and how we can encourage them to become the best expression of themselves as well. Let’s do that too Susan,!.
Speaker 2: (20:15)
If you have a question that you’d like me to possibly answer on this podcast, please visit Susan you can get the newsletter there and if you want to find out more about ongoing support from from me, I have a membership program. You can visit Susan and then there’s a tab for
Speaker 3: (20:33)
Help for Parents. Any final words, Maggie? No, just just anywhere where you are out there in parent land. Know that it is meant to be messy and unpredictable and difficult to manage. That’s just the nature of parenting. You’re not a lousy the parent, we’re just, it’s a by day
Speaker 2: (20:48)
moving feast with high peaks and low peaks, and you’re all doing a great job. Uh, ain’t that the truth. Thank you. Thank you, dear Maggie, all of you. Thanks for joining us. Remember, no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness.
Speaker 1: (21:05)
Have a good week and I’ll catch you next time.].