Inside: This week, Robyn Gobbel, MSW, dives into the challenges of parenting kids with baffling behaviors, the impact of trauma on both children and their parents, and her neuroscience-backed strategies to help navigate this complex journey.
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Picture this: your child, out of the blue, decides to cut their hair right down to the scalp.
You ask, “Did you give yourself a haircut?” and they innocently reply, “No, it just fell off.”
This is just a glimpse into the world of parenting children with baffling behaviors. If this rings a bell, you’re certainly not alone – many of us have our own collection of such stories.
But challenging behaviors are not just these baseless fibs (which could be hilarious). The real challenge comes with the behaviors that leave us utterly perplexed.
Like when your child suddenly kicks out of nowhere or when nothing seems to work for them. Or when their emotions switch from “I want nothing to do with you!” to “I need you, I need you, I need you,” all within 60 seconds.
These are the moments (stretching into hours) when we feel utterly helpless, unsure of why this is happening and how to respond. This often leads us to feelings of guilt, a sense of failure, isolation, frustration, and sometimes, even resentment towards our own child.
Then, this week’s episode is designed for you and the countless parents experiencing similar challenges. My special guest this week is Robyn Gobbel, MSW, who dives into:
- the challenges of parenting kids with baffling behaviors
- the impact of trauma on both children and their parents
- her neuroscience-backed strategies to help navigate this complex journey
You really don’t want to miss this one!
Who is Robyn Gobbel
Robyn used to work as a licensed social worker in Texas and Michigan.
Now, she focuses on teaching, writing, providing education, and creating communities for the kids and families impacted by complex trauma, nervous system vulnerabilities, and big, baffling behaviors.
Robyn is also the host of The Baffling Behavior Show podcast and the author of Raising Kids with Big, Baffling Behaviors: Brain-Body-Sensory Strategies that Really Work.
In her book, she decodes the latest brain science into easy-to-understand principles and metaphors, which will help you to become an expert in your child’s behavior. She also shares simple ways to help you regulate and connect with your child, with brain-, body- and sensory-based strategies to overcome day-to-day challenges.
In a nutshell, her mission is to teach people to use neuroscience in order to connect with others. (For more information about Robyn and her amazing work, visit her website – the link is at the end of this blog post).
What Are Big Baffling Behaviors?
Let’s get back to the kids with baffling behaviors…
As I said in the introduction, these behaviors can leave parents dumbfounded. Consider, for example, a child who is brushing their teeth and then is suddenly shoved off a stool by a sibling for no apparent reason.
These behaviors are the parenting puzzles that seem to defy logic. They range from humorous fibs, like a child denying eating a cupcake despite having blue frosting all over their face, to more concerning actions.
In these situations (especially when they are dangerous), all parents find themselves in a mix of confusion and frustration, trying to make sense of actions that, on the surface, seem to have no rhyme or reason.
But Robyn explains that these behaviors often stem from deeper issues. They are not manifestations of a child being mean or trying to manipulate parents or siblings. Also, these behaviors do not indicate that the child is ‘broken’ or that their parent is a failure.
They could be a child’s way of dealing with feelings they can’t express or a response to a situation they don’t know how to handle. Understanding this can help us approach these situations with more empathy and less frustration.
(These are exactly the same things we teach in ‘The Calm the Chaos’ – no wonder I really believe that Robyn and I are like peanut butter and jelly. So, grab your copy of the Calm the Chaos book for more science-based insights.)
Two Types of Attachment Trauma
A key factor behind many baffling behaviors is attachment trauma. Robyn identifies two types.
Direct Neglect or Abuse
The first stems from direct neglect or abuse. These kids often face situations where their basic needs, like food and safe housing, are not met. Their parents might be grappling with serious problems like substance abuse or mental illness, leaving the children in a vulnerable and dangerous position.
Kids are naturally wired to seek comfort from their caregivers, but when these caregivers are the source of their distress, it creates a deep conflict. This leaves their young minds confused as they are torn between seeking safety from and avoiding the very people meant to protect them.
This category of attachment trauma is not too hard to articulate or see. However, the second type is subtler and often goes unnoticed.
Mismatch Between Child Needs & Caregiver Abilities
Sometimes, kids are just tougher to understand and care for. They might have sensitive nervous systems or medical issues that need extra attention. This can leave them feeling vulnerable, needing more comfort and support than usual.
On the other hand, their caregivers, despite doing their best, might find it hard to provide the kind of support they need.
Recognizing you and your super kid here? I know I am. That’s why I want to highlight here a crucial fact that Robyn emphasizes:
It’s not anyone’s fault! It’s just that sometimes, the child’s needs and the caregiver’s abilities don’t perfectly align.
Robyn explains that this mismatch, even with good intentions from both sides, can lead to what we call attachment trauma in children. They feel something is wrong but can’t quite understand why they’re not getting the comfort they need.
For instance, a child might need quiet comfort, but if their environment is consistently loud or overwhelming. It can lead to confusing behaviors as a form of communication or coping.
Understanding this can shed light on why a child might react in seemingly inexplicable ways. It’s about seeing the world through their eyes, recognizing the underlying needs behind their actions, and adapting our approach to meet those needs.
(To learn more about understanding children’s emotions and behaviors, watch the full interview with Robyn on YouTube.)
Two Paths Out of the Struggle
Although parenting kids with baffling behaviors can sometimes feel like trying to solve a puzzle without all the pieces, Robyn gives two key paths to help make sense of this puzzle.
The first is understanding the root causes behind kids’ behavior. Robyn emphasizes the importance of looking beyond the surface. It’s like playing detective in your own home, figuring out the ‘whys’ behind the ‘whats.’
Sometimes, the reasons are so simple, like hydration. It sounds almost too basic, right? But think about it – how often do we, as adults, get cranky when we’re thirsty or hungry? For kids, these basic needs can massively impact their behavior.
But it’s not just them struggling – parents feel it, too. Remember, to help your child feel safe and secure, you need to feel that way first. It’s like putting on your oxygen mask before helping others.
Just as kids act out when they’re not feeling connected or safe, you might find your own balance shaken. Recognizing this is a big step. When you understand your own feelings and needs, you become better equipped to support your child.
This leads us to the second path, which involves adapting your parenting strategies. It’s not about sticking to a one-size-fits-all approach but finding what resonates with your child.
This might mean changing the way you communicate, introducing new routines, or even rethinking your approach to discipline. It’s like being a tailor, customizing your parenting style to fit the unique needs and temperament of your child.
Robyn’s Piece of Advice for Struggling Parents
If you feel guilty or not enough on this parenting journey (as we all sometimes do), acknowledge these feelings but don’t let them consume you. As Robyn says, it’s important to recognize that these challenges don’t define your parenting.
Taking control of this situation involves educating yourself, seeking support, and realizing that perfection is not the goal. It’s about being present, understanding, and responsive to your child’s needs.
Robyn’s key piece of advice for all struggling parents is something I’ve been repeating almost on a daily basis in my social media posts.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with your child because all behavior makes sense in its context.
By adopting this perspective, you’re not just addressing the behavior; you’re nurturing a deeper relationship with your child. You’re acknowledging their struggles, validating their feelings, and showing them unconditional love and support.
Remember, there is no quick fix for baffling behaviors. It’s a journey of deep empathy and patience. It’s about building a bridge of understanding and connection with your child, where each step leads to a calmer and more supportive family life.
And most importantly:
You’ve got this!
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Calm the Chaos Parenting is a podcast offering parents practical tools and strategies to navigate the challenges of raising strong-willed, highly sensitive, and neurodivergent children.
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