Ep. 46 – David Loyst – It’s Never Too Late To Have A Great Childhood
- It’s not your childhood that determines your parenting, it’s your story about your childhood.
- Conscious attachment parenting means constantly growing ourselves up so that we can raise our children.
- Alpha parenting is about being both firm and kind as we lead our pack.
Ninety percent of our values, attitudes, and beliefs are shaped before we are 7 years old – shaped but not set in stone. Where needed, we can re-parent ourselves and grow ourselves up to be the people and the parents we want to be. In this episode of family360, family therapist David Loyst shares how his childhood shaped his adult perspectives, and how he didn’t recognize this until his own marriage and family were in jeopardy. David describes how we can revisit our childhoods to revitalize our perceptions and our parenting.
David LoystDavid Loyst is a speech and autism specialist, as well as a family therapist. For the last 3 decades, David has worked with children and families in hospitals, child development centre and home family care.
More recently, David has joined company with Dr. Vanessa Lapointe to create Parenting 2.0, an online course for parents that is focused on developmental attachment theory and its implications for educational environments.
Transcript: Ep. 46 – David Loyst – It’s Never Too Late To Have A Great Childhood
Rachel Cram – Thank you so much David, for coming in today, really appreciate that.
David Loyst – My pleasure.
Rachel Cram – And we interview such a wide range of people; artists, storytellers, specialists, that we love to have a jump-off point, that maybe gives some commonality to how our interviews begin. So, here you go David.
David Loyst – All right.
Rachel Cram – So Aristotle said, “Give me a child until they’re seven, and I will show you the adult.” Is there a story or event from your childhood that has shaped the person that you are now?
David Loyst – It’s such a brilliant question. I think about the good, the bad, the ugle and the gift. So, my parent’s married because they were pregnant with me. My dad was 19 and my mom was 18 when I was born. So having a 21 and a 19 year old now, I can just imagine, like holy cow!
Rachel Cram – How did they do it?
David Loyst – Right! How did they do it? And so the good, I think of, my mom has this beautiful heart. She’s so soft. She’s so compassionate. And she’s also fierce in a ‘standing up for the rights.’ She just had this, ‘OK. Do the right thing.’ And so I had that. And I think the people who work with me would notice those traits in me and also the people in my life, my relationships.
My dad is a huge man. 6’ 3” in his prime. 225 pounds. I mean, physically, athletically, amazing. He was just so big and strong. He loved music. And also a sense of humor and joie de vivre. When he was on, he was just so much fun to be around because he was so full of life. And so I find myself joking around and I just see so much of him coming through me in that way.
So really to me, that’s ‘the good’. The quote, if you would have asked me that five or six years ago, I would’ve said, “Absolutely. That’s absolutely the case,”
Rachel Cram – That Aristotle was right. The child that you are is the person you’ve become.
David Loyst – Absolutely.
Rachel Cram – Ok
David Loyst – Absolutely. But what I didn’t realize was ‘the bad’, the dark passengers that I carried around from my childhood. And, the way I learned to get love and be loved as a child was something that I carried on into my adult relationships and in my parenting.
So my dad, with all of those wonderful qualities, he also had a dark side. He was raised by a father who was very emotionally and physically abusive towards him and his mother and his brother as well. And so that came down the line. You know, my dad didn’t have time to grow himself up before he became a parent and was very volatile. And there were physical and emotional things.
And so as a child I had to be very hyper vigilant. I had to watch him. Who’s coming through the door today? And I have to be quiet when there’s noises. I have to make sure that I was safe. And when I did all of that, I thought, “OK, I’ll get his love.”
My mom on the other hand, came from this super, warm, loving, nobody ever raised a voice in her household. And so to be around my father she was overwhelmed.
Rachel Cram – Could you sense that as a child? What did “overwhelmed” look like for her?
David Loyst – Well, she became very sad and probably depressed. And so I had this thing that I learned from my mom. That to be loved by a woman, you need to wipe away her tears. You need to keep her happy. And so, if you can imagine those early experiences that we have before seven, if you don’t get those needs met, then you’ll stay stuck in those things.
And so, it’s no surprise to me that I completely codependent every relationship I had with a woman. Which meant I didn’t speak my truth with power and grace. I didn’t tell that person what I thought and when I felt. I only did things to keep her happy. But when you co-depend and you don’t speak your truth, you just get filled with such bitterness and resentment that it eventually wears away the relationship. So it doesn’t surprise me that, you know, 22 years later, after being with the mother of my children and my wife, I blew that up. That I thought, “Oh there’s got to be something better out there for me.”
And then I went in search for the magical other for, I don’t, know five or six years after that still.
Rachel Cram – What do you mean by the magical other?
David Loyst – The magical other, the person that was going to get me, that was going to understand it. I mean really on the surface everything looked great. We had, you know, big property, beautiful children who were succeeding in school, the right cars, the right interior decorations. In this material world, we were the model of success but I felt so empty. I felt so sad. And again I think because I put myself in that situation because I didn’t get my attachment needs met. I didn’t really
Rachel Cram – Your attachment needs from your childhood.
David Loyst – That’s right. And so I was looking for that to happen from the outside. And you know, childhood had passed. You’re not going to get it from the outside. If you think that everybody you work with, everybody you’re married to, your children, are going to fill you up and make you happy, well, marriage is not about a lifelong love affair, it’s about being transformed. It’s about coming to a better realization of one’s self, growing one’s self up, and then you can be happy. So.
Rachel Cram – So you were looking for this magical other you said.
David Loyst – That’s right. That’s right. To get what I didn’t get as a child. I didn’t know that. This is all subconscious. Right. The programs that we have, that we learn in those first seven years, it’s not like I thought to myself, “Oh you know I’m just going to find a surrogate mother. That’s really what I want.”
Who would say that as a 40 something-year-old? And yet I see it so often. I see it so often.
Rachel Cram – In your family practice?
David Loyst – Absolutely. And so I see the people who are struggling with their wake-up calls, relationships, health and abundance. Right. 15 to 20 years is usually the prime spot that they’re kids are getting older and now they’re looking across and saying, “OK I would spend the rest of my life with this person. Is this really what I want?”
And they, in their own mind, they have two options. A is, ‘Yeah I stick with this person and I just resigned myself. Like OK. I guess this is as good as it gets.’
Or, I end it and go find the magical others somewhere else.
Rachel Cram – Like you’d been thinking.
David Loyst – That’s right. So when these relationships, this magical other stuff didn’t work out and I ran out of fingers to point at or there’s something wrong with this person and there’s something wrong with this person and this person, I realized that when you point the finger at someone you have three pointing back at you. Because I didn’t see that what needed to happen was for me to grow myself up.
Rachel Cram – Well, I think you’re describing an amazing but very complicated process David.
David Loyst – Absolutely.
Rachel Cram – That means taking a long hard look at yourself. I’ve heard you quote Wayne Dyer who says, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Which is a very provocative statement and I think part of what you are describing here? Our perspectives are so shaped by our childhood and it often takes a lifetime to see many of our blindspots and our misconceptions.
David Loyst – Well, you know like the Dylan line, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” Right? Right? You don’t you find that as you get older? Like, but not being overwhelmed by it. Like being actually excited by the mystery of it all. Yeah. And that has been The Gift for me. It’s never too late to have a great childhood.
Musical interlude #1
Rachel Cram – Another great line David. “It’s never too late to have a great childhood.” Can you flesh that out a little further?
David Loyst – Really, the underdeveloped parts of ourselves, the things that we didn’t get as kids, we can now re-parent. We can bring some of those programs to the surface. We can care for our inner child, those times when our inner child is so upset and freaking out. It’s not for my wife to fix that, or my kids to fix that, or my employees to behave in a certain way so I don’t feel this. It’s for me to observe, “Oh, I still got that program going on. Look at me.”
And this is an opportunity for that experience to be a mirror, to reflect back to me things that I need to grow up in myself. And so, I think that you would not be able to see the man I am today by my childhood. It’s not your childhood that determines your parenting, it’s your story about your childhood. Your narrative.
The Gift in that, I want to emphasize that point, is that because of this growing myself up, the outside world has changed. The dance now is so different.
Rachel Cram – Can you give an example of that? How we “re-parent”? Because I don’t think, in general, we see our childhood recollections as a “narrative” or a story, that’s weaving its way into who we are and how we move, or dance as you say. I think we tend to just assume our childhood stories, good and bad, as being what they are, and there is no going back. So can you give an example?
David Loyst – Yeah, I’ll tell another story. This goes around parenting. So my daughter is 16. She’s now 22. And she’s doing an online physics course. And I’m sitting in my apartment in Nanaimo. And I’m looking out at the water. And I’ve got my turntable playing. And I’ve got my favorite mug with my favorite kind of coffee, just right. And I’m reading a book. I think I’m reading a book like, Eckhart Tolle, The Power Of Now. Like, it could not be more calm. I could not be more Zen. I am just like in it. And she starts yelling and screaming. Like screaming at the top of her lungs. She’s got a tablet that is not working and she can’t do this online physics assignment. And now her whole life has gone down the toilet.
Now I’m sitting in my chair. And as soon as she starts screaming, I want to jump out of my chair. Run into her room and say, “Stop yelling! Stop it! What’s wrong?”
Rachel Cram – The Power of Now is gone.
David Loyst – The power, Yeah. That’s exactly it. Because all overreaction is an age regression.
Rachel Cram – Overreaction. Age regression.
David Loyst – That’s right.
Rachel Cram – Can you explain that a little bit more?
David Loyst – So I have just become my 3 year old self, where, and I’ve told you, if it gets loud and noisy in my home with my father, then there’s gonna be a problem. Right. So I’ve got to shut this down right away. So, thankfully I’ve done a little bit of work. And I could see myself in that. I can actually see myself losing it. And so I see myself and I’m like, “Whoa, David. That’s a bit of a reaction. Do you think you might want to take a look at that?”
So I actually sit in the chair and I do a little bit of inner work. I realize that it’s my little guy who’s afraid. And again, it’s not my daughter’s job to stop being upset so that I feel better. It’s my job to be her parent. So I realize I can hear my little guy, feeling the loud noise is too scary.
Rachel Cram – Right back to that time with your dad.
David Loyst – Totally. Yeah totally. And it’s almost like, what would I do? It’s kind of like, if you can imagine, if you can visualize what you would say to that little guy who is really scared in those times. And so I’m saying to myself, “Yeah, it sounds really scary. Yeah, it’s really loud. I get it. I hear you. And you know what? You’re safe. I’ve got this. We’re OK.”
And then I walk into my room and I am the father that my daughter needs me to be. So now I’m my grown up self I can actually just help her adapt and help her move through that and talk to her. But in order to be that parent, it’s not just doing. We’re not human doings, we’re human beings. I needed to change my being as I came into the room. I could have done the same things but my energy would have been all wrong because I would have needed her to stop that, right. As opposed to, “My sweet girl. Yeah. You’re really struggling with this. I get that.”
Rachel Cram – As I’m listening to you describe this it amazes me that we never stop maturing right. Life is just this one continual journey of maturation.
David Loyst – Absolutely
Rachel Cram – And if I can return to the quote I mentioned earlier about what you’re looking at, what you’re attending to and how you shift it.
David Loyst – Umm, when you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.
Rachel Cram – Exactly.
David Loyst – Wayne Dyer.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. And it has to be a conscious choice to do that. But as you’re describing your life there’s never a moment where we’re done is there?
David Loyst – That’s right.
Rachel Cram – Maturation goes on and on and I think that is a big part of your work right now isn’t it.
David Loyst – If you choose it. You’re always hitting a crossroads. As I said, it’s not there to make you happy. It’s there to transform you.
What’s not there to make you happy?
Your marriage is not there to make you happy. Your kids are not there to make you happy.
Externals aren’t there.
No no no.
They’re not there to make you happy.
And when you hit that crossroads there’s two paths. You can be victim or you can be hero right. And if you choose to be victim then you just complain about it. You can argue with reality but you’ll lose but only 100 percent of the time.
Rachel Cram – Well, that which we resist persists, or so the saying goes.
David Loyst – Right. So my kid won’t do their homework. My kid won’t go to sleep. My kid won’t blah blah blah. Most of the time what I see is people arguing with that reality. So what would the hero path look like rather than arguing that resisting reality. Well the hero path would be “OK, what’s going on here? What’s the opportunity? I can actually choose how I feel about that.”
Victor Frankl is credited with saying, “Between stimulus and response there is a gap and in that gap is our freedom to choose. And in that freedom is our power, our growth.”
So everything that happens is neutral. I can go down the rabbit hole, or I can actually see it as a challenge. One of the greatest gifts that I ever received as a parent was, my dad comes once a year and stays a week. Before my work I would count the minutes until he left. It was so stressful for me. You know, I would codepend him and make sure everything was right and he would feel uncomfortable with that. Now he comes, I just can’t wait for him to come, and I’m so sad when he leaves, not because he’s done a lot of work because it only takes one person to change a relationship. So anyway he comes and I’ve been doing my work and my son is
Rachel Cram – When you say, “Doing your work.”
David Loyst – My inner work. Yeah. Thank you. And so my son is in a period of time where he’s not going to school. He has quite a severe learning disability or what I would call a learning exceptionality. Incredible IQ. Off the charts IQ, performance and verbal and yet his executive functioning, his ability to get that out, to break things up into chunks and plan, makes getting math homework and history essays and English essays is really difficult for him. And so he’s now not going to school because he’s failing and he’s feeling depressed. Right. So people who are depressed are sleeping all the time. And so we’ve arranged a lunch with my dad and myself and my son who’s sleeping at his mom’s that night. So we’re gonna have dim sum at noon or whatever. Ben is not awake. Ben actually misses the lunch because he sleeps in. My dad is just livid. Right. “I’ve travelled three thousand miles and he can’t get up. You know what you should do!”
And he has an earful about how I should parent him and in a very, “Takeaway this and do that you know, like you know, back in my day we’d just tune you up.”
And, yeah I remember that. And I remember the effects of that and they weren’t good. So part of my work is, you don’t have to agree or disagree with people. Everybody on the planet just wants to be seen and heard. So I can just listen to him. And I listen to him and I let him know I’ve heard him and you think this and that. OK. Thank you. Thank you means ‘I’ve heard you,’ but it doesn’t mean like I agree with you and I’m going to do it. My safety lies in my defenselessness. I don’t need to defend my parenting I don’t need to tell him what I’m gonna do I don’t need to create a separation or a fight I can just listen to him. So I just listen to him and I don’t know that I really did feel very clean about it. As the week went on I’d still have this chirping in my head like you know, “Ben, couldn’t you just get your ass out of bed and do the lunch?”
And I’d hear that and I’d talk to myself and I’d make sense of it but it was just sort of this thing in the back of my mind. It was like this little bacteria that was kind of growing and multiplying. And so a week later Ben’s at my house and it’s 10:00 on a Wednesday night and one of his friends is in trouble. So he’s like, “Dad will you drive me to so-and-so place because they’re really struggling.”
And I sat back and I didn’t answer right away. I needed to give it some thought like OK what do I want? Well what I want is my son to have some rules some boundaries. He’s Grade 9 so he’s like 14 I think at the time. And no that’s not OK. It’s not OK on a school night to go out at 10 o’clock because you’ve got to get up in the morning. So I said, “No that’s not what’s going to happen. You know what the rules are. There’s a curfew on school nights and that is 9:00 and so bedtime is 10 o-clock.”
“Arrrgh.” You know he just loses it.
And when I am my grown up self another part of consciousness that I’ve learned is you don’t have to take anything personally. Like when my dad was saying, “You should do this.”
I don’t have to take that personally and think I’m a bad parent or when my child doesn’t agree with me I don’t have to take that personally as well. But I did.
Rachel Cram – It’s so hard
David Loyst – It’s so hard. It’s really hard. And then I could choose the victim path right. Like, “Oh this is so hard. And you know my son he just won’t do this.”
And really we’re human beings. So you do need to be able to express that and vent that if you will, and talk about that. And so I did do that, and I do do that. And then I can come to that place of a grown up self where I feel like I have people who can care for me in that way. But it’s not my son’s job. So anyway, I wasn’t clean. I wasn’t doing that. And then I felt like this, you know, the, ‘Put the foot down,’ kind of thing. So I can feel that rising up in me right. And it just kind of came out of me. “Are you,”
and I think I swore.
“Are you F-ing kidding me? You can’t get your ass out of bed to have lunch with your grandfather and now you want me to drive you to one of your friends, at 10:00 on a school night? You must be out of your mind!”
And I slam the door. Walk away. The first step I was like “That’s right. That’s what time it is!” I felt really good about myself.
The second step was like, “You just puked all of your anger all over,
Rachel Cram – Everything you’re holding on to.
David Loyst – Yeah well, and again it’s not his job to resolve my anger about Dad, it is my job right. And I have places and people to do that. That’s one of the beautiful things too as, you know, it takes a village. It takes a village. You need a village of people around you that are talking this kind of personal development and parenting approach so that you can raise yourself up so you can be that. And I had those people. I didn’t need to take it out on Ben. But I did.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, well we do these things as parents and as people don’t we. And it’s humbling and unfortunately hurtful to both parties, all parties. So where did you go from there?
David Loyst – Well, so the second step was me like, “OK that I’m not happy with that.”
And I actually like turned around to come back in to his room and say, “You know, I’m not really happy with myself. That wasn’t about you. It was about me. We’re good. We’ll figure this out.”
I didn’t get that chance. Boom he runs by me. And so we live in Nanaimo at the time and there’s a seawall there and it’s hours and hours and hours and I’m texting everybody. I’m texting him. My daughter’s freaking out because Ben’s a very sensitive child and so we were pretty worried. Where is he and is he safe? So about three hours later I just started walking the streets to find him and I found him down by the sea wall and I said, “How you doing my son?”
He said, “Not very well.”
I said, “Tell me about that.”
I was challenged to grow myself up at that time. I could have gone to victim, and I could have let him down.
Rachel Cram – What would ‘going to victim’ look like in that situation?
David Loyst – Probably needing him to say, “I know everybody gets mad and it’s ok.”
Rachel Cram – So getting him to affirm you?
David Loyst – Affirm me, or sometimes we get overwhelmed with life and I could have just gone to bed or I could have gone the other way and I could have tried to force the issue.
Rachel Cram – So make it about you. Basically, is ‘going to victim’ making it about yourself?
David Loyst – Absolutely. Yeah that’s right. And then wallowing in that. And I’m not saying that we don’t have those feelings. We need to honor those feelings and we did accept those feelings but not in front of your kids and not not for weeks or months. That’s the job.
Rachel Cram – So was that event a defining moment for you and Ben would you say?
David Loyst – So that event, I realized OK I’ve been parenting in more behaviors ways. If you don’t go to school you can’t have your x box. If you don’t go to school you can’t do musical theater. I take away the things that he loves.
Rachel Cram – And behaviorist ways means if you put forth this action then I’m going to give this reaction.
David Loyst – That’s right.
Rachel Cram – In hopes of changing your future actions.
David Loyst – Your behavior. Yeah. See it’s all about the outside stuff right. So if you go to school and you get a degree everything is gonna be fine.
Now, in the science of developmental attachment parenting is that when we give our kids the secure attachment, the love they need, the acceptance they need and realize that they have their own path and our job is to cheer for them along that path. Then they actually behave in the ways that we want them to behave, not because they’re worried about somebody else looking to see that they behave in that way but because they are internally motivated to behave in that way. Right. So behavior follows development. How do I understand where he is in his development and what needs to mature in that development and how can I create an environment for that development and not be attached to the result. Not needing to see the behavior. It takes a lot of faith to do that because we all intend to do the right thing with our children and then our mom comes out of her mouth or my dad comes out of my mouth. That’s what happened in that story with Ben. My dad just jumped up and came out of my mouth. And I’m like, “That’s not what I choose.”
So conscious attachment parenting means that I am constantly growing myself up so that I can grow up my children because we have a lot of adult children trying to grow up kids because we get stuck in those first seven years of development. We don’t have those needs met. And so we’re constantly searching for the environment to provide that for us. So I think that answers your question.
Rachel Cram – My opening Aristotle question?
David Loyst – How much time do you have?
Rachel Cram – Well we can use all of that. That is a great answer. Wow.
Musical interlude # 2
Rachel Cram – Okay, I know there’s so much we can talk about right now. I am thinking why don’t we lean in towards talking about your comment about ‘our being’ as parents, and being that big person our child needs? How does that fit for you? Do you want to head in that direction?
David Loyst – Yeah, I feel like the Alpha Mountain stuff is really valuable and really good. So what does it mean to be an alpha parent? You need to be firm and kind. What is, you know, ‘the top of the mountain?’ And then what happens when we fall down? And then what do we do about it when we fall down? And how do we atone, become at one with our kids again?
Rachel Cram – OK.
David Loyst – And maybe that’s a good way to run at it.
Rachel Cram – So can you share a little bit about how you move yourself into that place. How you live from that ‘big person body’ so that your child feels secure.
David Loyst – Sure. Kids can lean into you, they can feel at rest in your relationship when you’re in charge.
Rachel Cram – And that’s what you mean by Alpha Parent. Like an alpha dog. You are the firm and kind leader of the pack.
David Loyst – That’s right. Exactly. And you’ve got that. So, I need to set intentions every day, to be my best self. And what most people think about Alpha Parenting is one side of a mountain. And that one side of the mountain is a ‘firmness’ side. That side of the mountain means that we set boundaries for our kids. We let them know when they’re two and they’re chomping on somebody else, that we’re gonna be in there. They can’t help that. They don’t have impulse control. But we don’t need to be an idiot about it. And we don’t need to be mean about it. Like, “How dare you! And blah blah…” and get embarrassed around all the other people.
Rachel Cram – So you are saying, “chomping on somebody else.” Can you use that? What do you do when your child is biting?
David Loyst – Sure. So I’m at the community center, you know the drop in program. And if you watch, you mostly see parents very close to their 2 year old. Because if my 2 year old’s walking towards that red car and your 2 year old’s walking, we know there’s going to be something up. They can’t negotiate it themselves. They don’t have the language for that. They don’t have the ability to perceive others’ thoughts and feelings about that. So I’m gonna need to meditate. That’s my job.
But sometimes I’m distracted and so my kid bites your kid. So what do I do? I go in.
Rachel Cram – So, you come in as an alpha parent. And what do you do then?
David Loyst – So I separate the kids. So I’m holding my kid back because they’re biting your kid because they want the red car. And I say to the other kid, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t watching.”
I don’t make my kid apologize. Have you ever seen a 2 year old apology? You make them say sorry but there’s no remorse in there, right.
Rachel Cram – No, because they don’t understand what’s happened.
David Loyst – They have no idea. They haven’t developed that yet. That’s the other side of being an Alpha Parent. It’s being firm but also being kind. Being kind. Being compassionate. Being supportive. Setting the bar where they can jump. Two year olds don’t have that ability. So why would I expect you to behave like a six or seven year old, who has impulse control and who has developed integrative thinking, when you do not have the neurological capacity.
Rachel Cram – So can you keep carrying through that situation? Because I think this is where we get stuck as parents in trying to reason with our child and reasoning doesn’t often work. So you say to him,
David Loyst – The other child. “Sorry I wasn’t watching and here you go. This was your car.”
Now my kid’s flipping out, right. So what do I have for a young child? All we have is adaptation. I can’t actually talk them through that. I can’t reason. Like, “Look. You gotta learn how to share.” Right. “And if you don’t learn how to share, you’re not going to have any friends.”
Like, OK. Let’s say you do that. Now you come back to the same playgroup. Same dynamic happens. What happens? They don’t get the car and they chomp on them. How did your lecture work? Not very well because kids don’t have the ability to do that.
Rachel Cram – At two years old, right.
David Loyst – Right. Exactly. So, where’s the opportunity? What can you do for your child? Well they’re gonna be really mad. And they need to learn this process of self regulation, of moving from this feeling of madness to this feeling of sadness and do that over and over and over again. And then you learn to become adaptive.
Rachel Cram – Adaptive. Adaptation. How do you know when that is happening? What does that look like on a child?
David Loyst – So what does that look like? Well, I say to my child, “I know you really want the car,” and they’ve got these hot, angry tears
“I want that car daddy!”
And, “No, we’re not going to have that.”
So being Alpha means I’m setting boundaries. No, you can’t bite people and you can’t just take their cars. I’m going to set a boundary there but I don’t need to be a jerk about it. I can actually be compassionate. I can realize that you feel really hurt about that.
Rachel Cram – And that’s the other side of the mountain. One side is boundaries, the other side is this compassion for the developmental process and the time and practice that requires.
David Loyst – Yeah. Yeah. And there’s nothing I can do, my two year old sweet little boy or girl to make you move through that faster. You have to learn that. That’s a muscle inside of your body that you need to train. And so this is the perfect opportunity for you to train that.
So what do I do? I just hold the space for them. Because those hot angry tears, if I’m not a jerk about it, will transform into those soft tears. And that’s how I become an agent of futility. I’ve not let them get away with everything. They need to feel the futility. They can’t get whatever they want. But then, when they transform, when they have got to the place where they’ve transformed mad to sad, then I can be an angel of comfort. Then I can hold them in that, and say, “I know, it’s really hard.”
And do I care what anybody else thinks while I’m doing that? Not my job. Not my job. My job is to care about your little 2 year old heart. Not to worry what other programs are going on. That’s where setting the intention to become that top of the mountain kind of parent, that’s where it’s so important, that you set it every day and you have a village. You have a community of people who work through that kind of stuff with you. And you stay in it.
Rachel Cram – That’s a great example of Alpha parenting with a younger child. I’m wondering, David, can you give an example of Alpha parenting with an older child?
David Loyst – Okay, we’re gonna just tell story after story.
Rachel Cram – That’s fine.
David Loyst – This is so interesting. So the best predictor of going from first year university to second year university is not IQ. The kids with the highest IQ don’t necessarily go to second year university. The kids with the highest EQ do.
Rachel Cram – Emotional quotient. Emotional intelligence.
David Loyst – That’s right. Exactly. My daughter, she’s in university, gets a 53 percent on her first exam, Organic Chemistry midterm. And so she calls. Which is great. She wants to talk to me about this. And so I didn’t say, “Oh, you know I’m paying lots of money for this university. You better get your act together.”
I said, “So how was that for you?”
She said, “Well, I went home and I cried and I watched all four Shrek movies.”
And I said, “That’s right,” because I know that she needs to adapt to the things that she can’t change. And adaptation is one of the big emotional quotients, the EQ, that is gonna be part of her success. And so knowing that ‘crying the tears of futility’ when you can’t change the things, you know, you cry about it. And so she got to that part.
I said, “Yeah, that makes sense. You cried about it. Then what?”
“And then I went and looked through the notes Dad, my textbook and my notes, and two thirds of the questions were from the text, but another third we hadn’t even talked about. It’s not even in class. So this is a weeder course.
I’m like, “Oh what does that mean?”
“Well, it means that all the people who are taking this are trying to get into dentistry and medicine and all these science based professional programs. And they’re just trying to weed out the people who are not really going to stick to it.” And she was right. Of the thousand students that were taking that course, 250 dropped out after that midterm. And she said, “I’ll figure this out.”
And by the end of the course that term, 500 students had either failed or dropped out. And she carried on. And now she’s in her fifth year doing a program that wasn’t her original design but speaks to who she is as a person. And so I’m happy for her for that. That she’s found out who she is because she adapted, not because it was an I.Q. based thing.
Rachel Cram – So who were you being as an Alpha parent at that point then? What were you bringing forth? What’s the philosophy behind that?
David Loyst – Sounding board.
Rachel Cram – Yeah
David Loyst – Just listening. I mean, we’re talking about a young adult now right. She’s launched. She’s on her own. So what do I do? She needs to come home. She needs to cry her tears. So that’s what I was. That’s what I was for my daughter at that point. And she had figured out what she needed to do.
Rachel Cram – She wasn’t needing you to step in with advice.
David Loyst – No. If I ever give her advice, I always ask permission first. “Can I offer something?” Most of the time she says, “No.” Which is perfect.
Musical interlude #3
Thanks for listening to family360 and our conversation with Family Therapist, David Loyst.
Next episode we’re back from our summer break with Dr. Natasha Beck, known as Dr. Organic Mommy. We’re discussing ten helpful hints for helping healthy eating habits, a creative conversation to launch school lunches and mealtime success. Join us!
And now back to our conversation with David Loyst and the familiar ploy of threatening a child with separation.
Rachel Cram – You David have mentioned the word futility. The importance of experiencing it. What’s the learning around futility? Can you describe that?
David Loyst – So the learning of futility. There’s no course you can take on that. And you don’t need as a parent to set up situations so your kids learn that. Life will give you plenty of examples.
Rachel Cram – Yeah
David Loyst – It’s so beautiful – nature. When I started to study this, I was like, “This design is so awesome!” because we have this emergence around a year to two. Kids start to move forth and explore and individuate. We want them to be independent but then we’re actually really mad when they’re independent.
Rachel Cram – When you say individuate, do you mean individuate from you as a parent?
David Loyst – That’s right. Yeah. They go forth. You’ve done such a great job as a parent and now they’re like, ‘OK, it’s safe for me to explore.’ So they go out and they get into stuff.
Now when they get into stuff, there’s stuff where we need to say, “no”.
And what are the favorite words of a two year old? “No! Mine!”
And so, ‘futility’; not everything is yours. You can’t have everything you want. And so those are times that they realize they don’t get everything they want. ‘Futility’. And we can hold them in that and we can hold the space where they move through the process of adapting to those things. That’s what the tears of futility are so important for. That’s why it’s so important to cry.
See what I learned in my journey as well. Like, what I heard when I was a kid is, “Suck it up princess. I’ll give you some to cry about. Don’t use that tone of voice with me.”
So whenever, I had feelings like that, I would have to push them down in order to stay safe with my main attachment. Now what I do with kids, and I’m what I trained my staff to do with kids, and what I encourage parents to do with kids is, to accept all of the emotions that a child has. They all have a purpose. You need to move through those things. Your heart needs to be open so it continues to grow. Not a rock wall around it.
So those are the kinds of things as an Alpha Parent that we do. Not only setting boundaries and being in charge but also being compassionate and understanding and realizing that nature has a plan for this. And this is how you grow that brain.
Rachel Cram – You used the phrase hold the space. So with that are you describing giving space for those emotions to be expressed in a safe way, but you as the alpha parent aren’t fixing those emotions.
David Loyst – That’s right. That’s right.
Rachel Cram – You’re just letting them be felt.
David Loyst – When I fall down to the bottom of the mountain is when I need those things to be stopped right away. “That’s enough!” You know somebody is in trouble if the first thing that happens is their eyes go up to the adults around them. Right. That they’re not just locked in on their kids. That’s usually when we regress, when we fall down the mountain. And we can fall down one of two sides. If we fall down the firm side then we usually become that yelly- shouty, angry, behaviorist, “I need you to stop that right now and I’m gonna do something,” and there’s really effective ways to do that especially at a grocery store. “If you don’t put that down I’m leaving.”
We threaten their attachment.
Rachel Cram – And those separation tactics can work. They can get children to comply but perhaps at a cost.
David Loyst – Right. I saw this little girl at the ferry terminal and she was standing with her mom. And the mom was holding a baby who was sleeping and she wanted this baby to sleep. And this little girl wanted to get on the boat so she could go in the play area. Well the doors hadn’t open yet and so she was frustrated. She was getting mad about that. “Well let’s go! Let’s just go!”
“Can’t go yet.” And Mom’s rocking the baby.
And she said, “Well let’s go back to the playground.”
“No we don’t have time.” She’s explaining this to this little three or four year old. There’s no explanation. It’s a benign dictatorship. These are the rules. No, we’re not going to do that. See she was trying to make her child feel better by explaining, “It’ll open up in a few minutes and we’re not going to go back because we don’t have time.” But all that did for this child was like, ‘Oh. So this is a game of poker. I put in my bid and then you keep on bidding and we keep on’, whereas no means no. I’m not playing that game, so no, we’re not going to do that.
And then what happened is, this little girl started to escalate and get louder and the Mom was really worried. And she said, “Well you need to be quiet and if you can’t be quiet then you need to stand over there.” And she sort of pushed her child’s hand away to go stand in the corner.
Now there’s 100 people waiting to get on the ferry. This girl is terrified. And so she grabs her mom’s hand and she shuts up. But I look at her and what happened inside of her was a sacrifice play. She pushed down her frustration in order to stay close to her mom. There was no resolution of that frustration. There was no transformation of mad to sad. She didn’t adapt to it. She just externally adapted to it.
Now what’s the problem with that? Well, just wait until there’s a younger sibling around. Just wait until there’s a dog or a cat around. Those guys are going to get kicked because what is inside me, this frustration that keeps on getting pushed down, it’s actually how I learn bullying behavior. I’m not saying this little girl’s becoming a bully. But if you can imagine that if I use separation tactics and never resolve frustration, then this is not a child that’s gonna become adoptive. And so the frustration gets pushed down again. On the outside it looks like everything was done right because she stopped talking. But on the inside you could see her roiling.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. Yeah. We missed the mark. Because there is so much we are trying to do and in the flurry of our days and moments we blow it as parents.
David Loyst – Absolutely.
Rachel Cram – But we keep learning.
Musical interlude # 4
Rachel Cram – So David there’s a little bit of a fear in their thinking, you know, am I creating a bully in my child? I know that you’re not fully saying that. Can you just walk us through? What could that mom have done that would have been more effective for the child?
David Loyst – First of all she could have just said, “Yeah I know. It’s really hard to wait.” Everybody just wants to be seen and heard. Rather than battling against that and trying to talk her daughter out of feeling frustrated. What would happen if she just acknowledged, “I know you’re really excited to go on the boat and it’s hard to wait and I get that. Come here sweetheart.” and there’s a pulling in. Now maybe that’s all it takes, just to be seen and heard. Maybe she’s had this experience over and over again so she becomes more quickly adaptive in that moment. Maybe the tone of voice goes up. And this is where you kind of surrender to the reality. I have this little frustrated three or four year old and it might get louder. All right. Let’s see what’s gonna happen now. I can’t control this. I can’t argue with reality. I would like this to happen but sometimes it doesn’t go the way I like. So now my child gets more and more upset and all I do is I listen to them and I hear them.
You know sometimes, like if I’m at a birthday party and my kid is losing their mind. Am I going to interrupt the birthday party and nobody can do anything while I talk to my child about this? No. We’ll find a refuge area. We’ll find a little quiet spot. Maybe I take my child off into another place and we’re not gonna be the first ones on the boat. Come on. We’re gonna go over sit here for a little while and then we’re just gonna. Yeah. And when you’re, when we’re ready, when we’re calm, we’re gonna move back.
Maybe that escalates the behavior. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you need to have those big emotions come out so that you can go from mad to sad.
Rachel Cram – So listening. Just acknowledging the feelings of the child.
David Loyst – Yeah, That’s the biggest thing. When you do that you actually give children the opportunity to learn the words. When are they going to learn the vocabulary of frustrated and disappointed and angry and upset except when they’re feeling that. So you just give them those words. “I get you’re really frustrated. I get you’re really angry right now. You’re really upset.”
I mean, what if we listen to everybody that way. Wouldn’t that be the best way to do relationships?
Rachel Cram – And that’s really what you’re setting up in these stages of life, isn’t it.
David Loyst – Absolutely. Imagine the kind of people that we would grow up, and the relationships they would have if they learned that when they were 2 and 3.
Rachel Cram – Well, that’s the goal.
David Loyst – You know I heard the speaker talk about their little child who was a biter at two and bitter hand when she didn’t get a cookie or something like that. So what do you do in that situation. Well most of us would scold the child and we’d be in pain too and so we’d be reactive. She didn’t do this. What she did is she actually pushed her hand into her daughter’s mouth so it released the hand. Then she grabbed a pillow, bit the pillow and she said, “Oh I heard I’m frustrated.
And then she gave her daughter the pillow and your daughter was like what is happening here. But then she started biting the pillow and then she said to her daughter I know you’re really frustrated you’re really upset. You can’t have a cookie before bed. I get it you’re really upset. And through time her daughter transformed that angry. And she’s not biting her mom now she biting the pillow and she’s like angry and frustrated. And then she’s terrified. She just bit her mom. She just bit the woman who was there and and she’s counting on. “I’m sorry Mommy! I’m so sorry!”
And most of us would then say, “That’s right. So next time don’t bite mommy because Mommy loves you and you don’t want to do that.”
She didn’t say that to her. She said to her daughter, It’s all part of being a person, just part of being a person.”
And this daughter could rest in their relationship. You’re never too much for me. That’s an alpha parent.
So now this little 2 year old girl instead of biting her mom, she’s now starting to use these words for her feelings.
“Mommy I fuddudated. I so fuddudated.”
It’s the cutest thing. And then as she transforms that mad to sad she’s actually saying to herself, “Ah Mommy, is all part of being a person Mommy. It’s just part of being a person.”
Like what kind of person does that person become? Can accept themselves. I want that person to be my Prime Minister. Do you know what I mean? I make mistakes. Yeah I accept myself as that person.
Rachel Cram – Well, and those are the types of children we want to raise. People that feel good about the person that they are. With all that includes, the hardness that includes, and can accept other people for those things.
You’re talking about how your brain, there’s actually biological things inside your body as you explore those emotions. And I think that that’s really helpful to remember, that it’s not all about external behaviors that you’re seeing in kids or ourselves, that there’s biological things that are happening inside of us that make it difficult to change how we’re reacting. Can you just describe that a little bit more? When we hit frustrations what’s happening inside of our brain?
David Loyst – So if you look at brain studies now, now what we have is these functional MRIs and other tools that can actually see what’s going on in your brain when I do something. So I don’t just need to look at the behavior to see if you’ve got this or not, I can see what’s happening in your brain right. And so what’s happening in our brain when we become frustrated is that the blood flow moves to a different part of our body. When we are really overwhelmed by emotion the blood leaves the cortex and moves into our limbic system, our amygdala.
Rachel Cram – You’re showing me this with your hands. Your frontal cortex is right behind your forehead.
David Loyst – Yeah. And what is not grown in children up to about five to seven is an area called the medial prefrontal cortex. So they don’t even have this part of their brain online. That’s why you hear some child development specialists saying, “We need to be the child’s frontal cortex.”
Rachel Cram – Until they’ve got one.
David Loyst – That’s right. Yeah that’s right. And so with preschool kids that just isn’t online yet. You see glimpses of that and you see those glimpses in that little 2 year old that I was talking about. I’m frustrated. Now she’s actually able to give a name for the feeling of an emotion she feels. So we want to make sense of those. We want to bring the blood back to the cortex that make sense of our feelings and our thoughts around that. And so with kids we want them to recognize when they’re going into their limbic system and then start to make sense of that. The same with adults.
When I go into the reaction I have when my daughter is screaming in her room at 16, I need to make sense of what’s going on and I don’t operate from my limbic system because that is not my grown up self. And that is not the part of the brain that we want to be active when kids are now in school and somebody hits them on the soccer field or they get knocked down. Do they get up and just react? You know we want kids to become more reflective than reactive. Well, all of that is built up in the preschool years. And then we see the outcome of that in the early school years and then later school years.
Rachel Cram – So with adapting and self regulation then, it’s practice again and again.
David Loyst – That’s right.
Rachel Cram – Of going into these situations where we’re frustrated. Originally our adult’s help us calm ourselves.
David Loyst – Yes.
Rachel Cram – And they in their alpha way lead us through that discovery into calm and through that practice we start to be able to do that ourselves.
David Loyst – That’s right. That’s exactly right. Self-regulation is not an on/off switch. It is practice.
I grew up skating and playing hockey. Well what if I had a coach that as soon as I walked onto the ice I fell down? And they said, “Go to your bedroom and think about what you’ve done and come back when you don’t do that anymore.”
I’d never learned to skate. Thankfully I had patient coaches that laughed as I fell. And it is all part of the process. And they thought it was great. And then I just kept on going. So they held the space for me to grow that pattern, to grow that practice. And that’s all I’m talking about with emotions as well. All of our emotions are functional. There’s no good and bad emotions. They all have a purpose and they are necessary for our growth. When parents can come alongside that and recognize that, then that is the soil for self-regulation.
Rachel Cram – So, David, before we end this conversation, is there anything more you’d want to say about Alpha Parenting? Anything about the balance between setting boundaries and showing compassion? Anything more to clarify so that we can hit the ground running?
David Loyst – I think what I’ve learned about parenting all these years later is, what a beautiful opportunity for me to recognize, through the experience of parenting, where are the areas that I need to grow myself up to become the person I want to be. To find your calling in growing up children and growing yourself up at the same time.
Rachel Cram – Well these are fantastic things to think about David. You’ve given us a lot to ponder and practice and we will have to have you back again.
David Loyst – Thank you. I’d be happy to.