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Episode summary:

In this episode, Susan coaches a parent whose son is reluctant to go to school because his feelings have been getting hurt at recess. Susan offers a kid-friendly way to help her child take things less personally by looking at the Bad B’s (negative beliefs) that fuel his insecurities.

About Susan Stiffelman

Working with children has been Susan's life-long passion. In high school, Susan had an after-school job as a teacher at a day care center. When she went to college, she became a credentialed teacher, and was later licensed as a Marriage, Family and Child therapist. She has been an avid learner throughout her career, sharing insights and strategies in her two books: Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting With Presence (an Eckhart Tolle Edition). In recent years, Susan has shifted from private clinical work to online events for parents around the world on topics like Raising Resilient Kids, Helping Anxious Children Thrive, and Raising Screenwise Kids. Susan's greatest joy is working directly with parents in her monthly Parenting Without Power Struggles membership group, and in her Co-Parenting with a Narcissist support group with Wendy Behary. Susan is thrilled to be doing work that she loves, and hope she can help you and your kids along your parenting  journey!

Things you'll learn from this episode: 


Uncovering the root of a child’s complaint
Helping kids break negative thinking patterns
Modeling healthy ways of coping with tough situations

Widening the perspective on how today’s parenting approach will affect the adults our children will become

How to respond when a child desperately wants something, without giving in

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 1: (00:09)
Welcome to The Parenting Without Power Struggles Podcast. Today you're gonna hear me coaching a parent whose child doesn't wanna go to school because he's being teased. We're gonna dive in in just a minute, but first, hello there. I'm Susan Stiffelman, your host and the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting With Presence. In this podcast, I get to share some of the things I've learned over the 40 plus years I've been a teacher, a marriage and family therapist, a parent educator, and a mom. We cover all things parenting with guests like Mona Delahhooke, Byron Katie, Julie Lithcott Haims, Janet Lansbury, Dan Siegel, Maggie Dent, Tina Bryson, and many other wonderful and wise speakers. Before we get started, do make sure you're taking advantage of everything that we have to offer at There are over 40 deep dive masterclasses on everything from chores and homework to raising sensitive kids and helping anxious children thrive.

Speaker 1: (01:08)
Even a brand new class with Dr. Yamalis Diaz on the Power of Routines, a very practical, really useful session at the website You can also get my free newsletter and you're gonna get periodic parenting tips and inspiration, as well as all the scoop on future classes, including a class coming up on Orchid and Dandelion Children with Dr. Vanessa Lapointe. And a special session on attachment with Dr. Gabor Mate. You're gonna also be notified of special flash sales on all of our classes, so be sure to sign up in today's episode, you're gonna hear me coaching Rebecca, one of our podcast listeners who asked for help around an issue with her seven year old son. Have a listen and then we'll come back for the wrap up. Rebecca, hi. I am so glad that we get this time together. Thanks for joining me.

Speaker 2: (01:58)
Thank you, me too.

Speaker 1: (02:00)
So you offered to just have a dialogue with me about a situation with your son. We're calling Jacob, and I know that you're familiar with my work. Right. Do you wanna just sort of share a little bit about what you already know? So I, because for some people hearing this, they don't know anything about what I do and maybe we can kind of

Speaker 2: (02:19)
Okay. Well, I've listened to a lot of your content on your podcast. I absolutely love your show and your parenting philosophy. The part, the main message that sticks in my head day in, day out that you put out there is this captain of the ship idea of being like a sturdy leader in my child's life. Yeah, yeah. Setting healthy boundaries, but also leading from a place of like, it's, you know, we're two humans or I have two kids, so, you know, navigating the world together and I can help them kind of lead that. But yeah,

Speaker 1: (03:01)
On that. Great. Okay. And we're talking about your son, who we'll call Jacob. Yeah. 'cause I'm, you know, super protective of people's privacy and how old is Jacob?

Speaker 2: (03:12)
So he's nine. He's in the third grade.

Speaker 1: (03:14)
Okay. And you wrote me to, you know, with a situation that you wanted some help with. Yeah. So can you just briefly describe, you know, some of the high points or the, the key points of that?

Speaker 2: (03:24)
Yeah, so starting about three weeks ago, he's been really resistant about getting ready for school in the morning. So, you know, hard to get him out of bed. Then it's a struggle to get him to put his clothes on. Then when it gets to leaving out the door, he's really resistant and a million excuses. So that's been hard. And as we've, my husband and I have talked to him in those moments where he is receptive to kind of talking through things, he's revealing that he is feeling really teased at school.

Speaker 1: (03:57)

Speaker 2: (03:58)
Yeah. And so it's been, you know, he doesn't wanna go 'cause it's not a comfortable place for him. And talking with his teacher, she's not noticing anything. I think according to my son as well, it's happening a lot at recess. And so I wanna, he's a sensitive guy. I don't wanna diminish that. I think it's a beautiful quality, but I wanna help him see how maybe he could make some safer friends. How we could navigate that social world and maybe not take everything so personally.

Speaker 1: (04:30)
Okay. Okay. So you're not, it's not your impression that the things that are happening on the playground are, are, are overtly bullying that he's not being, it's more that he might be not included in something that he wants to do, or that he is not invited to join a, a group that's running around or playing a game.

Speaker 2: (04:51)
Exactly. It's that kind of stuff. I don't think it's bullying. Okay. it'll be a situation where, say they're playing a pickup soccer at recess and he's assigned us goalie, and if another kid scores on him, his teammates are like, oh, Jacob, you know? Yeah. Yeah. You like, you're so bad at that. Like, just that banter third graders.

Speaker 1: (05:10)
Yeah. Okay. Okay. Really helpful to know because obviously if it was more than that, we would approach it differently. But I, I love what you're saying and I love the question. I think it'll be universally interesting to people because a lot of kids are sensitive and what you're, what you're describing is the dilemma that parents of sensitive children have, which is, how do I encourage and allow and support my child in being exactly who he or she is not trying to change them or toughen up kid, or, you know, let things roll off you. I did. You know, we're not approaching them as if there's something wrong with them. There's not. It's a, it's an incredible trait and it contributes enormously to the survival of our species to have sensitive humans in it and to navigate the world as he's getting older, he's going to have to learn exactly what you said.

Speaker 1: (05:59)
So, so wise when you say, not take anything so personally, because we can't change what other people do, wish we could, can't . So what we can do, and what you're trying to do, from what I hear, is empower him to maybe make a different meaning out of the things that are said to him. Hmm. Sometimes when I have kids in my office, I'll who get really triggered the, they didn't pass the ball, nobody passes the ball to me. Right. And they, and, and that sort of creates a waterfall effect of bad feelings. And, you know, something's wrong with me and I'm not likable. And, and certainly other third graders may fuel that kind of perception. So I invite kids, I, I do this thing called the bad bees. It's a game and I'm just gonna teach it to you and you can try it, and then, you know, we can stay in touch.

Speaker 1: (06:51)
But the idea is that the first thing that happens is I'll have a, let's say I have a child and a parent in my office, and I will demonstrate something to the child and the parent about how our feelings are so often dictated by what we are telling ourselves is going on. The meaning that we're making the interpretation of an event has so much power over how we eventually feel emotionally. And the way I'll do that is I'll tell Johnny, let's say Johnny's in my office with his mom, Sarah. And I'll say, okay, Johnny, let me just sort of show you something. And let's say I look at your mom's shoes, Sarah's shoes. And I say to Sarah, wow, Sarah, I really like those shoes. In fact, I had a pair just like them. Strangely, they disappeared after the last time you were here.

Speaker 1: (07:41)
Hmm. And now Johnny's like, you know, they're kind of looking at me and they know me. You know, they know that I'm, I'm going in a good direction. So nobody's worried, but you know, it's still a triggering, the implication is easy to go to, which is, oh, you think I, so I I I'll say to Johnny, so if that happened, A equals, this is the formula A equals the actual event, we'll skip B for a second. C is the consequence. It's sort of the result of feeling, however, what you feel from that actual event. But they're linked by B, B is the belief. Mm. It, and you have to have a certain belief to feel. And I'll say to Johnny, so how did you feel when I said, gee, Sarah, I like your shoes. In fact, I had a pair just like them except they disappeared after you were here last time.

Speaker 1: (08:28)
How did you feel Johnny, when you heard me say that? And Johnny might say, and or his mother kind of bad, like, mad upset. And I'll say, okay, well that's the c that's how you felt. But they were linked by this belief. What was the B? And then what, what would you have to believe Johnny to feel bad after I said that? Well, that you think my mom stole your shoes? I said, yeah, that's one. Or that I, that your mom hid them or Right. There's a a lot of, and we call those the bad bees, right?

Speaker 2: (09:04)

Speaker 1: (09:05)
But we don't know, like are, and and then I play a game with, with Johnny and, and his mom. And I'll say, okay, what, what number am I thinking of right now? . And they, you know, I don't know. And I'll say, that's true. You don't know because you're not a mind greeter. Are my feet warm or cold right now? And they might say, cold 'cause mine are cold. No, actually they're warm. So I I I then point out, you cannot read anyone else's mind. You can say you can, but the truth is we don't have a high accuracy rate a lot of the time. So Johnny says the reason he got upset when I said that about his mother's shoes is that he believed I was accusing her or thinking she had stolen the shoes. That's the bad B. And then I'll say, well Johnny, can you imagine I have scraps of paper in and and they're in this little hat and I'll hold a little pretend hat in front of them. Now reach in there and pick a good, be a belief that makes you not feel bad when I make that comment. So I'll do that with you, Rebecca. So imagine here that we've got the, that now reach in my little basket. Yeah.

Speaker 1: (10:13)
And pick a, a leaf that if you think that belief, you kind of feel good. When I say, gee, Sarah, I like those shoes. In fact, I had a pair, they disappeared after you were here last time. Now pick a bee that leaves you feeling good.

Speaker 2: (10:30)
Oh my gosh. We have the same taste. Yeah.

Speaker 1: (10:32)
Yeah. That's so neat. Susan and my mom like the same kind of things. Yeah. Do you see that? It was, so I, the point is that I try and teach children, we do this much more in depth in the membership and in the courses that I teach. But this is like a little taste. Mm-Hmm. to start to learn that we have a choice about the meaning we make. So with your son, I might play this game. Yeah. That when someone says, dude, you should have blocked that, that you know, goal.

Speaker 2: (11:02)

Speaker 1: (11:02)
The bad B and let's first help him identify what is he thinking and believing. Because just that alone gives him some objectivity. It gives him a way to start observing his thinking and it's potentially detrimental effect on his mood and feelings. So what might the bad be? Be Rebecca, or you could speak on behalf of your son. Yeah, yeah.

Speaker 2: (11:26)
Like, oh my, you know, I'm, I'm terrible at this being goalie and my teammates think I'm really bad at this.

Speaker 1: (11:33)
Right. What's another one, Jacob?

Speaker 2: (11:37)
Pretend you're Jacob. Yeah. I shouldn't even be doing this. Right.

Speaker 1: (11:42)
Okay. Let's even take it further. Let, let's just go crazy. Like what's the worst thing that you can imagine that they're thinking?

Speaker 2: (11:50)
None of them even wanna ever be my friend.

Speaker 1: (11:52)

Speaker 2: (11:53)
Or I'm worthless or something like that. Yeah.

Speaker 1: (11:55)
Yeah. Thank you honey. And, and you know, speaking to Jacob, by the way, , I'll call him that. This is called, you know, and, and I won't go into it today, but, you know, we do help children sometimes make friends with the worst case scenario that, that we bump up right against the thing we're most fearful is true. So that we can find out we could actually survive that also. Or that it may be, you know, punch some holes in it. But we won't do that today. So thank you Jacob for sharing some of the things that you're, some of the bad bees, some of the things that make you feel not only that you don't wanna play soccer with those kids, you don't even wanna go to school.

Speaker 2: (12:32)

Speaker 1: (12:33)
Am I right Jacob, in thinking that those things are making, you know, when you believe that, you know, the kids don't wanna play with you, or they think you're bad at that game, or they might not wanna be your friend, that that makes you feel more and more like you don't wanna even go to school.

Speaker 2: (12:46)

Speaker 1: (12:47)
Yeah. Well thank you so much sweetheart, for, for telling me kind of what's really going on. It helps me be your mama and be there for you and help you. So I really, I really appreciate it and I admire you for being so clear.

Speaker 2: (13:04)

Speaker 1: (13:05)
And then I would teach Jacob, so out of the role play here, I would teach him this idea of the bees. Maybe even get scraps of paper and put them on a hat and put some bad bees in there and some good bees in there. Yeah. And then, and then you start to experiment like what you know. And for those of you listening, hopefully you're, you're following along all of you, I want you to think of another interpretation of a kid saying, gosh, Jacob, you should have caught that. You should have blocked that besides, oh, they hate me. They think I'm terrible. So what's another meaning we could make of a kid saying that to him?

Speaker 2: (13:39)
Just like a, a teammate kind of in the sport. Like how you would like, oh, you'll do better next time or Right. Yeah.

Speaker 1: (13:50)
Like it's a third grader's version of we are in this together or Yeah. Like, dude, you know. Yeah. I remember when my son played basketball and so I watched, feels like thousands of hours of basketball on tv. 'cause He's a huge, huge fan. And when growing up, that was something we, we would do sometimes together. And, and he would sort of sometimes tell me, 'cause you can't always hear what's being said on the court, but the thing of trash talk, it's like, that's a thing. And it would totally hurt my feelings. Like , I'm so sensitive myself, but when we would play basketball, I started to get into it. And it might be something you do with him. Mm-Hmm. Maybe you could go outside and practice trash talk. Not like horrible things, not mean things, not cursing, but just, oh dude, what do you have eyes in the back of your head? Like, oh my gosh, where's your arm? You know, like just silly. You could get fun with it. And I think those are some of the ways too that you sort of inoculate him, you fortify him to start to have a different experience in his skin when he's playing a sport and that's, you know, going on. What do you think about that?

Speaker 2: (15:03)
I, I just, that is fantastic. I love that. And I already see like how we would be doing that.

Speaker 1: (15:10)

Speaker 2: (15:11)
Oh, absolutely. That's really good.

Speaker 1: (15:14)
So, you know, these are ways, I mean, there's a lot we could talk about. There's a lot of other tangents I might go on. I don't wanna overwhelm people and I don't wanna overwhelm you. So I kind of wanna give you this one idea. Ultimately though, you know, I think one of the, the things I am most into doing as we raise children, I think as a whole section, I have this parenting without power circles intensive course. And I, I devoted AAAA, you know, a reasonable chunk to this idea of looking at what we're thinking and believing and then in turn teaching our children. So the other thing I'll add before we wrap this up is that you can start modeling that for him. Mm-Hmm. . So let's say that you're driving in the car and you're catching every red light and you already got a late start and there's a lot of more traffic than you expected and you're trying to get to a place that might close at five and it's like 4, 4, 4 45.

Speaker 2: (16:07)

Speaker 1: (16:08)
Let him hear the, the story in your head. Like, oh my gosh, I, we should have left earlier. I can't believe I, I took that phone call. I should have gotten offline sooner. I should have told my, my friend, I couldn't talk. Why is there so much traffic? I'm gonna be late. And, and, and then you can actually externalize your voice and say, you know what buddy? I just wanted to tell you I'm working on that thing about the bad bees also.

Speaker 2: (16:35)
Mm-Hmm. .

Speaker 1: (16:37)
And I'm looking at what I'm believing that's leaving me more tense, more upset, more of a pit in my stomach, more sweaty palms or sweaty pits. It's like, and I'm gonna work on it so you get to watch me even if I'm late. You know, so the worst case scenario here is I'll be late, the place will have closed. Darn it. I would be upset, but here's how I would, you know, befriend that outcome. Here's how I would be okay with it. Or you could say, well this, this story that I'm telling myself that I should, I shouldn't have taken that phone call. And that my friend imposed on me and didn't take the hint when I said I really need to get going and kept talking and then I kept talking 'cause I felt so bad. Maybe I can tell a different story. I feel really kind of great that I prioritize my friend. Yeah. Over getting like that there's so many ways we can spin something. I mean that's why after every political debate you get the spin people like, right, how am I supposed to think about the thing that just happened? Like,

Speaker 2: (17:37)
Yeah. I love that. That's beautiful.

Speaker 1: (17:41)
Okay. So do you think you could do that too? Start to let him hear some of the, the bad bees that go on for you and, and watch you.

Speaker 2: (17:49)
Yeah. In the bad Bees is a new layer to add in. We've never thought about that and like choosing those ways. I love that hat scenario and that role play. Like, nice. I, yeah, this was hugely helpful.

Speaker 1: (18:01)
Great. Yeah. All right. So I'm gonna, any, any final thoughts, words, ideas?

Speaker 2: (18:08)
No. The thought that comes to mind is like that idea that you're driving past that person going 25 miles an hour and you're getting really irritated and then you realize it's 'cause they have like a three layer birthday cake. They have to drive slowly . Like if you learned that later, like you're like, oh my God, what a lovely person. They were transporting this cake anyway. Yeah. I thought of that when you thought of that example. So that was front of mind for me. Like, nice. You, you know, you choose that belief. Yeah. 'cause you don't know other people's circumstances.

Speaker 1: (18:38)
You really don't.

Speaker 2: (18:39)
You really don't. The

Speaker 1: (18:40)
Other day I was with a, some friends and this woman came by in, in her motorized wheelchair. It was at a Whole Foods and she had just bought something and we were all at a table outside and she started to engage us in conversation. And you know, the first thought was, oh, there's this older woman and she's just sort of lonely and she's chatting and, and she said, look at this. I got some ice cream. And I said, wow, that's great. We were all like, well, she said, oh, my son will be upset because I'm a diabetic. And we're thinking, oh gosh, well, you know, okay. But then we, she goes on to say, you know, I just wanna enjoy my life. I've lost two, two children and I'm 85. And as her story unfolded after she left, we just looked at each other and said, we just don't know what's going on for anybody else.

Speaker 2: (19:28)
Yeah. It's so true. Oh my gosh. Beautiful. Thank you.

Speaker 1: (19:32)
So do you have any kind of final thoughts?

Speaker 2: (19:34)
I just think this or deal around that Bad bees. It helps me because I, all I really felt like I could say is like, don't take things so personally or toughen up. Like there wasn't a lot of words there for me that I felt like I had at my fingertips, so to say like, let's, you know, let's reach in that hat. Like what belief are we gonna have next time? You feel like you were teased. Right. It's just such a huge reframe. Nice. And I really being so visual as well, I think it'll really resonate with a girl.

Speaker 1: (20:06)
Awesome. Awesome. Okay. And thanks so much again for being so brave

Speaker 2: (20:10)
. Thank you.

Speaker 1: (20:12)
I hope you found that helpful and interesting. I love this idea of bad bees. I love the idea of helping our children from a young age start to have some objectivity around the stories and thoughts and beliefs that they harbor and build sort of cases for that, that they almost become lawyers and, and they use evidence that they gather to prove that particular situation meant a particular thing that often leaves them feeling bad or, you know, ashamed or insecure. We get to teach our children how to do it differently. And of course in the process we ourselves get to learn as well. So you might think about this week looking at whether you're harboring some bad bees and how you might change the meaning or interpretation you're making of a situation that's leaves you feeling frustrated, sad, hurt, lonely, anxious, all those things. So much of our mood and our experience emotionally is dictated by what we're believing and thinking.

Speaker 1: (21:11)
And that is not always accurate. Sometimes we can step back from it and using this model, reexamine the interpretation or the conclusion that we've come to. If you have a question of your own, visit and you could submit it there. Now, if you'd like my consistent personal support, you can try out our Parenting Without Power Struggles membership. I meet every two weeks with parents to answer questions, to offer coaching, share strategies and ideas about every situation and every aspect of parenting. You don't have to show up live. You can submit a question in advance and parents get so much help for literally a, a tiny fraction of what it would cost to have one-on-one support. So you can check that at and you can just stay in touch there. Get the free newsletter. So much support, so much is being shared in the hopes that we can help your parenting journey be sweeter and easier and more fun and more joyful.

Speaker 1: (22:08)
Certainly we could all use that in this world. Please now take a moment and just acknowledge yourself for showing up. You know, you're not only helping your family have fewer power struggles and more connection and all those good things which are wonderful, you're also helping break patterns. So your work right now in parenting is really a gift to your great-grandchildren. You're helping your kids if they decide to have children of their own break patterns that you may have unconsciously inherited, way down the line through your own parents, grandparents, and so on. We get to be a generation that is now doing things differently based more on a desire to offer our children secure attachment, consistent support and love, just a healthier climate to grow up. And again, we certainly could use that. So I'm glad you're here and I hope you can acknowledge yourself as well for making the time. And now taking a breath, maybe putting your hand on your heart. Just soak in the place of gratitude and of intention and clarity. It's in there even if we feel foggy and confused. Remember that no matter how busy life gets or how hard life gets or how anxiety producing life gets, we can always look for moments of sweetness and joy. Stay well, take care and I'll see you next time.