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The #1 Way to Get Kids to Behave Better

By Brian A. Stenzler, M.Sc, D.C. and Roseann Capanna-Hodge, Ed.D., LPC, BCN, LLC.

Listen to the audio (19 minutes)

For this Wellness Wiki, I interviewed my friend and colleague, Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, a leading children’s mental health expert. Interestingly, Dr. Ro and I recorded this interview just a few days before the recent tragedy at Michigan State University. My heart aches for all of those directly and indirectly affected by the college campus shooting, including the good citizens of our nation and those around the world who watched the news footage of yet another senseless killing.

Most people are aware that children are dealing with more mental health issues now than in the recent past. We must remember that children who grow up with unresolved mental health issues often become adults with mental health issues. While this Wiki is not necessarily about mental illness, we must all be vigilant in discerning when a child’s behavior problem is more than just “being a kid.” We must also have the tools necessary to help the children under our care feel empowered, valued and most importantly, loved. How we communicate with them and make them feel can have a lasting impact on their behavior and mental well-being.

During this conversation, Dr. Ro will reveal the number one way to get kids to behave better.

[Much like the previous Wikis that I have done interviewing an expert, I have transcribed the interview and slightly altered the text to enhance the reading experience. I highly recommend watching (or listening to) the interview, but if you prefer to read it, go for it!]

For those who may not make it to the end of this Wiki, I wanted to make sure that you didn’t miss the opportunity to learn about Dr. Ro’s brand-new podcast. Dr. Ro, I just want you to just talk about that for two seconds let them know how they could find it and then we could wrap up at the end and maybe talk a little bit more about it.

I have this awesome podcast, it’s called “It’s Gonna Be OK.” It’s designed to be THE resource for parents [and other caregivers] with kids that have behavioral or mental health issues; and [provide] short actionable episodes. You can go to www.drroseann.com/podcast to find it, or it’s on all the major platforms awesome.

I’m so excited you have over 20,000 downloads already and you just started. You know folks, I wrote the book, DREAM Wellness: The 5 Keys to Raising Kids for a Lifetime of Physical and Mental Health.  So when they start asking me questions about children’s [clinical] mental health issues and behavioral issues, I’m like, “I gotta talk to Dr. Ro”. I wrote about the health sides of it [and how to promote mental wellness]; I’m not talking about behavior.  So, Dr. Ro is my expert, my go-to person.

When we said that you’re going to [talk about] the number one way to get your kids’ behavior to improve… look you know I’ve got a seven-year-old son, and so he’s going to be dealing with big emotions, big feelings, big changes in school; his friends will too. He’s going to have to really understand [about] socializing; so this is not only for my audience here, but this is for me too as a parent, and I know my wife Brooke is going to love this too.

I would love you to start giving some good strategies. We know that kids’ mental health is at an all-time low. There are more issues than ever before [and] I’d love to get your insight as to why you think that is. And just talk about some of these strategies and how we can get them to work.

Yeah, and you know your seven-year-old by the way Brian, you know he’s not a little guy anymore, you know what I mean? He’s starting to move up, but we’re gonna have a conversation about how to support kids’ mental health and it’s kids of all ages. So, whether you have a three-year-old, a 10-year-old, or a 27 year old, this is a relevant conversation. And we’re going to talk about something that is really surprising and really the number one way to improve a child’s mental health.

Regulate yourself! And you’re like, “Say what Roseanne?” This is really the truth. This isn’t self-care, this is something called co-regulation.

Our children regulate off of us, so when we got it together, our kids actually don’t just feel it; they see it in our body language [and] they hear it in our tone of voice. And on top of that, when we have it together, we have a lot more patience for [those] typical behaviors which might be frustrating; as well as when your child has a clinical issue like ADHD, autism, or sensory integration; whatever is going on. This is really something that I think people don’t talk enough about, and it’s not a point of shame or blame. This is a point of action because there’s so much we can do for ourselves that actually have such a direct impact on our children.

I love that and also I want everyone that’s [reading] to know that this is not just for the parent. This could be any caregiver. This could be for the grandparents. I have my parents come out and visit from New York, and they spend time with my son. Aunts, uncles, and any form of caregiver. This is really important for them to work on as well.

That’s a great point Brian because when you think about your kids, particularly in the younger grades, when they just have one main teacher, you know when it’s going to be a good year for your kid because of the way that that teacher makes your child feel. And it’s not what they’re saying it’s how they say it. And when we think about co-regulation, there’s the part where there’s a direct impact on our kid. There’s also the indirect because we’re role modeling all the time.

When we dive into co-regulation, what does that actually look like in the real world? When you’re at home and your child didn’t do their homework… like today, my son, he’s very orderly, he’s a Virgo, and they like structure and order, and he’s very independent. He’s always been great at managing his homework, but I was like, “Why do you have your computer in the bathroom before [we’re leaving] for school? Did you finish your homework?” And he didn’t lie, but he ‘massaged’ the answer. He said, “I’m just finishing up.” I said, “Oh okay, are you gonna be able to get that done?” “Yeah,” he said. “Okay, fine,” I replied, and he did… he got it done. This isn’t a kid that does this all the time, but if I had said (in a high, reprimanding voice), “I can’t believe it, last night… yada yada yada yada…,” what would have happened? I would have dysregulated; he would have dysregulated. What would he have learned? Now, when he gets home today, what am I going to do? I’m going to sit him down and I’m going to say, “John Carlo, let’s get out our Google classroom and just check through [it]. Do we want a repeat of yesterday? No, okay what’s a better solution?”

I like to really focus on solutions especially when our kids are really struggling with self-regulation. What does dysregulation actually look like? It can look for like under stimulated behaviors or over stimulated behaviors. Under stimulated, think forgetfulness, inattention, withdrawn behaviors and over stimulated [shows as] hyperactivity, anger, snappiness or irritability. Kids can go through those types of behaviors for totally normal developmental reasons and we [only] worry about them if they’re clinical, when they occur for extended periods of time. If you see something and it’s going on for a while, take some action. But the best way to start when you’re dealing with your kid and communicating with your kid is to put your ‘oxygen mask’ on first.  This morning I felt myself bubble, there’s no doubt.

Then I was [thinking to myself], “Okay, this kid never does this, and you can’t be perfect. He didn’t try to get out of his homework.  He did it, right? So, I will remind him because he does not like to do things last minute and I’m sure he genuinely forgot.”

Sometimes it’s just a matter of gentle reminders. Your children are picking up everything from you, so how I manage that situation with him wasn’t just about the interaction that I had with him, it’s how I manage stress in general. He’s looking at me to keep it together and that’s how he’s watching.

I remember I was with my teenager who’s the most sensitive person in the house. We were going to pick something up and all of a sudden, my phone rang, and it said Meta. I said, “Oh my God, it’s Facebook calling me. I am so mad at them right and I still haven’t gotten my account back after 11 months.” So, he puts his hands on his ears [expecting me to yell on the phone]. I said, “Oh I’m so glad you’re calling me,” [though] it was something unrelated. I gave the guy the riot act in a very appropriate way. I said afterwards [to my son], “Hey Max, was that as bad as you thought it was going to be?”  He said, “No,” and I said, “Well why did you cover your ears?” and he said, “I was afraid of what you were gonna say!” I asked him if I should have said something different, and he said, “No.” We had a point of conversation, and you know my kid is a very sensitive kid and I have to be very careful with him. If I’m neutral, he takes it a certain way; if I am angry, he really doesn’t take it well. And there are times that you should be angry with your kids, but if you have one emotion and it’s irritation and anger, what kind of message is that sending to a kid?

Monitoring your tone, monitoring your body language, and self-care like doing things for your nervous system to regulate. Today, when I wondered why my kid was he was hiding in the bathroom with his computer, [we need to remember] we can’t always think about things from a disciplined perspective. We’ve got to think about things from a learning perspective. Today was a learning opportunity for my kid.

I love that too because being a loud New Yorker myself [where I’m originally from], it’s hard to manage my tone and I notice sometimes my tone could be better. I notice when I do things a certain way my, son does that too. And he speaks to me back that way and it’s not okay. So, that’s great advice, thank you.

I’m almost New Yorker as I’m on the border. Tone loudness and irritation… my teenager is more sensitive to it, so I also must be careful. We also are very playful house, so we do a lot of fun kind of stuff. I feel that humor is the greatest diffuser. I can talk about heavy, heavy stuff with my kids with humor and get away with a lot. My 12-year-old is going through ‘the change’ right now, so I do a lot of humor around that if he’s cranky. I’m like, “If there ain’t no attitude of gratitude, forget about it.” Now, as soon as I say it he just starts cracking up he can’t even be mad at me. Or if they’re cranky, my husband and I are like, “You need a hug.” And then we chase our kids around and we do hugging on them and they hate it and they love it at the same time. They literally stop and wait for us to hug them.

If you’re reading this, and you’re like, “Well, where do I start?” you just start. With all things, if this is about learning for yourself and your kid, you need a constancy. You’re not going to just all of a sudden have a hug fest like the Hodges and it’s a one and done. This is what we do literally, every day. I need humor. I think it’s just such an amazing thing and it allows me not to take things so seriously. My kid not doing his homework one time is very different from your kid never doing his/her homework every day. If your kid is struggling every day in a non-angry time, you’ve really got to figure out what’s the root cause of that. Does your kid have an attention problem, or a learning problem; is there depression? Something is stopping your child and if it is always a point of friction and your kid is very capable of doing their homework (per your teacher), then maybe this is just something that you conflict about because you’re struggling with the communication with your child… and maybe it’s time to seek some help.

I think that’s such great advice and you make it so simple. And it’s counterintuitive. You think if a kid is misbehaving; if they’re not self-regulating, we assume it’s the kid’s problem and the kid’s fault which sometimes it is. But more than likely, if the parents aren’t checking themselves, there’s going to be some major issues. If you’re reading this and your kids are not behaving the way that you think they should be behaving, then check yourself, look in the mirror. Kids love to play Follow the Leader. Are you being the leader that you want them to follow?

Right! So a lot of times people like, “Do what I say not what I do.” That’s just not the way it works, and a lot of parents learned to parent from their parents. Everything is changing at such a fast pace. How do you manage technology? How do you do this? We had Atari when we were growing up and we had cable we had a lock box on our cable. There were not devices; it just wasn’t that way and when it comes to modern parenting, we keep what our parents told us that are great, and our values and they can be anchors but we need different techniques.

A conversation I have with every single parent I work with, and I work with parents from all over the world, is they want to know if their child doing this on purpose. So many parents think kid’s behavior is intended and very purposeful. I’m here to tell you that’s not the way the brain works. A lot of times, behaviors happen on a more autonomic level where the subconscious is acting in a certain way. Particularly with kids, they just don’t know another way.

Whether they’re lacking a coping skill, or they have poor stress management, or they are doing purposeful avoidant behaviors to avoid a punishment, I always suggest to parents that they remove themselves (and this is where self-regulation is important), “Pull yourself back, take an aerial view try to look at the pieces as to why this is happening.” Don’t look at it through that emotional lens which is not easy. I’m not saying it’s easy. You have to try to be a little more problem oriented and try to figure out why is this happening.

If you need help, ask for help. Go to a counselor for yourself who does parenting and maybe start that way. We try to give up our power as parents, and so many parents go to a physician and ask for help and what do they recommend? Psych meds and maybe counseling if you’re lucky. Really, the biggest influence on a kid’s lifelong mental health is the parent’s mental health. And actually, maternal mental health is a number one determinant of a child’s lifelong mental health. So, people should be empowered by that not frightened or overwhelmed.  It all starts with that co-regulation between a parent and a child.

That is awesome. I have so many more questions that I had jotted down but for the sake of time, I think that is a really good place to leave it. Is there anything else that you wanted to share from the questions that I shared with you beforehand or anything else that we’re going to leave out, or do you think that that wraps it up pretty well?

When you’re [reading] this, take one small action and stick with it right. If it’s for you and starting with doing breathe work every day, or you’re making dietary changes. Whatever you need to do to regulate. Start, and if you can try to include your kids, it just becomes much easier. And even teenagers will do stuff people will say, “Oh my kids won’t do that.” Just ask. When you start doing it yourself and they see what’s happening to you, they’re much more likely to do it with you.

That’s so awesome and I’m sure you probably cover some of this stuff in your book “It’s Gonna Be OK” also you cover that?

I do, and on the podcast, we talk all about it too. The podcast is really designed for parents that are looking for ways to support their child’s behavior and mental health because they know something’s going on. I wanted it to be a resource we’re not taught. We’re not giving direct support for parents who have kids with clinical issues (that’s what I’ve done my whole life and I want to share that with more people).

That’s awesome. How often are you doing the podcast?

It’s every day every day, five days a week. We don’t know if it’s going to stay at five or go to three. People are listening every day, so we’ll see what happens with Dr. Ro and her time. But they’re short episodes, 10 to 15-minute episodes because we’re busy.

Brilliant, I love it I love it. And the beautiful thing, is they could catch up because with podcasts they could just watch/listen one after another. So, forget binge watching Netflix and binge watch Dr. Ro.

About Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, Ed.D., LPC, BCN, LLC
Dr. Roseann is an Integrative Children’s Mental Health Expert and founder of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health.

She is a Connecticut Certified School Psychologist, Board Certified Neurofeedback Provider (BCN), and the podcast host of the “It’s Gonna be Ok!™ with Dr. Roseann”: The parenting resource for children’s behavior and mental health.

For 30+ years, she has helped thousands of children and families overcome the most challenging behavioral and mental health conditions through her BrainBehaviorReset™ program. She has done over 10,000 QEEG brain maps and is named by Forbes as, “The thought leader in children’s mental health.”

As a trusted media personality, Dr. Roseann has given expert opinions in hundreds of major publications such as the New York Times, The Washington Post, Parents Magazine, National Television, and podcasts.

She has authored three books that focus on improving children’s mental health, It’s Gonna Be OK!, Brain Under Attack, and The Teletherapy Toolkit—the first book ever written on teletherapy activities for children and teens.

Dr. Roseann is a national speaker on topics related to calming the brain and achieving mental wellness at home, school, organizations, and businesses. She believes we are making mental health way too hard and that every individual has the power to cultivate mental well-being when they have the right brain-based tools.

As a mom of two special needs boys… she understands what it’s like to see her children struggle.  Dr. Roseann takes great joy in empowering parents and helping families find calm, experience lasting relief, and lead happy lives.

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