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Why is their behavior getting WORSE and not BETTER?!


This episode will open your eyes to a new cycle you might not even know you're perpetuating.

I've been taking ferocious notes during a new favorite show and I've compiled the key takeaways for you here!


  • How you may be inadvertently encouraging your child's negative behavior (it's NOT by being permissive!)
  • The messages behind attention-seeking and power-seeking behaviors
  • Ways to break free of the vicious cycle and eliminate problem behaviors for good


  • How lessons from "the dog whisperer" would help you support your "anxious aggressive Chihuahua" :)

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Danielle Bettmann  0:04  
Ever feel like you suck at this job? Motherhood I mean, have too much anxiety. And not enough patience. Too much yelling, not enough play. There's no manual, no village, no guarantees. The stakes are high. We want so badly to get it right. But this is survival mode. We're just trying to make it to bedtime. So if you're full of mom guilt, your temper scares you. You feel like you're screwing everything up, and you're afraid to admit any of those things out loud. This podcast is for you. This is Failing Motherhood. I'm Danielle Bettmann. And each week we'll chat with a mom ready to be real. Sharing her insecurities, her fears, your failures and her wins. We do not have it all figured out. That's not the goal. The goal is to remind you, you are the mom your kids need. They need what you have. You are good enough. And you're not alone. I hope you pop in earbuds, somehow sneak away and get ready to hear some hope from the trenches. You belong here, friend, we're so glad you're here. 

Hey, it's Danielle. Buckle up. This is going to be an episode. I have been waiting to record for a while. And it's just been dwelling in the back of my mind. Our family has been watching the show on Disney Plus, it's called Cesar Milan. I don't know if you've heard of him. But he's like a world renowned Dog Whisperer. And his show like the one of the tag lines is better humans, better dogs, he goes and he helps these clients kind of rehabilitate their dogs so that they can live more peaceful lives as a family. And to me it is 100% a parenting show. I cannot help but make direct parallels. And I'm like taking notes in my phone as you watch these episodes like a geek. And I have had so much just like mulling around in my brain. And I'm going to try to recap in this episode, one of like the biggest take home messages that could truly if you let it sink in, and have ripple effects over your relationship with your child, completely transform it in and of yourself, just by taking off the glasses that you are currently using and putting on new ones to see their behavior. And I really am not discounting how powerful this is. And what I'm talking about is like, somehow very revolutionary, because it is completely opposite of the way that a lot of behavior is interpreted and the way that we handle, you know, punishment within school settings. And even like the whole jail system, I mean, all of it. It's built on these prerequisites that really need to be examined and and rethought from a different lens. And so that's why I love coming out with this analogy of seeing it through the dog rehabilitation and how we can learn from that and what we can see through that from a new lens. So I can't wait to share it with you today. 

And if you're new here, my name is Danielle, I am a coach for families with strong-willed kids aged one to 10. I have a free training that you can jump right into about how to parent your strong-willed child without threats and bribes so that you can break free of guilt, power struggles and self doubt, go ahead and find the link for that in the show notes. And if you are looking to transform your relationship with your strong-willed child, you are in the right place, schedule a consultation or apply to work with me and my program, Wholeheartedly CALM. Over three months, we improve your patience, transform the way that you communicate as a family and meet your child's core needs, which we're going to talk about today. 

So which I titled this episode, Break the Cycle (not the one you're thinking of) because a lot of times we think about breaking the cycle as a generational thing, right and changing the way that you parent based on how you were parented. And that is huge and so important and I am cheering you on. If you are doing that it is very hard to start from scratch, let alone try to unlearn and relearn all the things that were coded into you like conditioning, so lots and lots of self compassion there. But we're going to be talking about a little bit of a different cycle. And that's a behavior cycle. It's a way of viewing behavior that perpetuates the behavior and how to kind of disrupt that dynamic in a long term way. 

So, back to Cesar Milan, families come to him in similar ways that they come to me, they are struggling with an out of control behavior in their pet or human. And they have come to kind of a breaking point where they've tried all the things they know it's not working. And they have some sort of imminent goal in the future where they want to start having a family, or one of the dog parents is, you know, doing lots of work travel coming up. And they need to be able to empower their partner or their kids to care for this dog, or, you know, there's something that's like they're catalysts for change. And they leave the work with Cesar Millan with a different dog. And he says, it's because they have a different human. 

So some of the things that he teaches is that the dog's behavior is a reaction to either learned behaviors, or the culture of the home, or the vibe that they're getting from their main caregiver, their owner. He teaches these families, how to have a much more calm demeanor, how to feel confident, and how to have much more intentional communication with their dog, usually, with a lot less words. One of the fascinating things that I was writing down in my notes was that there is an order of understanding where the dog first uses their nose, then they use their eyes, then last, they use their ears to hear anything. And what that means is that they sense the energy of the owner or the situation first, then they see what hand symbols are being used or what is happening in the environment with their eyes, then last, they kind of have something come in, where they listen to what's going on, when maybe the words that the owner is using. So that means that they need to use a lot less words and come in with a lot more calm, and then be able to use short phrases and you know, hand hand signals to communicate better. I just thought was fascinating, because that can translate to parenting in a huge way. Since communication is one of my big three things, right. 

So that's just an aside, but usually, an anxious human is trying to parent or care for protective, aggressive dog. And that dynamic is coming up because the dog needs a leader. And when the owners vibe is unsure, or nervous or scared, it makes that dog feel like it's on them to protect that owner, because clearly, danger is imminent. And so then they end up over protecting and becoming very aggressive, usually trying to protect the owner from like their partner or their kids, or just like something that is not even a danger. When they sense hesitation in the owner, then they tend to lash out. Because deep down, they're freaking the heck out because they don't know what's coming. And they are just trying to do the right thing. And then or they're feeding off of other dogs that are in the pack. 

But you know, that makes it seem like it's all the owners fault. And that is definitely not the case. I feel like it's a case of like the chicken and the egg. So let's look at one of the examples from an episode to kind of illustrate what is happening here. 

So there was a dog who had developed an eye condition, kind of like you know, constant pinkeye where they needed eyedrops every day so that they would stop losing more and more eyesight. And of course the dogs not excited about that and you know start to nipping and biting when given the eyedrops because the owner has no idea how they're supposed to be giving his eyedrops, and it's just a disaster fiasco from the get go. And then that escalates. Because now the dog is like panicking all the time. It's getting gunk in their eyes, and they are realizing that they're losing eyesight, which makes them even more scared. And that nervous behavior then becomes more escalation of aggression. Now the owner is not able to even give them a bath because they're getting bit all the time. That is making their eyesight worse and then the human is worrying more. And so then the human gets more and more tense when they go to give the eyedrops when they go to give the bath because they've been bitten so much. So then of course, they're going to have anxiety, and that energy is going to be palpable to the animal. And that's when, you know, they need the calm energy, so that it can subside, and the dog can feel secure and safe. 

But how in the world is that dog's owner supposed to be calm in that moment, right? It's like, of course, they are in actual physical danger trying to do these care tasks for their dog. So that's an entire skill set and problem in and of itself, that Cesar adjusts is to help them do just that, you know, with where he equips them more and speaks to it and, you know, calms them down on all these things, right? breathing, breathing deep breaths is never a bad thing, right. But the dog, also he needs a haircut, so that he the grooming is actually easier, and he's less anxious as well. So there's always two sides of the story. 

And then there's going to be a third side too, because in this episode, the husband of the main caregiver for this dog, he didn't help give the baths at all. And when Caesar was talking to him about it, he seemed very insecure as in, he's like, I just don't know how, like, the whole thing kind of, like, freaks me out. And it seems like to me, he was excluding himself, because he just felt very kind of incompetent. Like, I don't know how to do this. And when Cesar was like, Well can I teach you? He was like, Yes, I want to learn and actually know how to do it, please tell me how, and I'll be good once I know how I'll be able to do it every time. And then, you know, on the other side, he was like, Oh, I never thought I'd be able to do that. This makes me so happy to be able to take care of him in this way. And then, of course, the main carrier caregiver, the human mom was much less anxious about not having to do it alone, which helps put everyone at ease, right? Because you need that support, of course. 

And you know, I hope you're seeing how this translates to parenting. So Cesar's main thing is that a calm, confident leader then unlocks a calm surrender within the animal. And yeah, that sounds like great takeaway, and like sums up everything, but it's very hard. And it's also it needs to be individualized for every family, he has, you know, to works with, and, and is on the show, obviously. 

So this, we're finally getting to the cycle, the cycle that I wanted to be able to kind of illustrate in this episode. A child's behavior creates a negative perception within their caregiver. That negative perception then perpetuates the behavior in the child. And then the vicious cycle continues. And it escalates and escalates and escalates. So I'm going to talk you through this kind of step by step of what this looks like, and how it escalates and how to kind of identify where you're at in this and what to do differently. 

Okay. So with the chicken in the egg of how it works with the animal and the caregiver, I feel like it starts with regular old acting out, right, because that is developmentally appropriate, and typical for toddlers and young kids to be finding their voice, and just struggling in many, many ways, right. And a lot of times this is due to psychological needs, they're overstimulated, they're exhausted, they're hungry, right, et cetera, et cetera. Some behaviors are just necessary even for development for them to even understand their identity separate from someone else, or to be able to roughhouse to learn spatial awareness. And all those behaviors have nothing to do with their parent, and who their parent is and how they're being parented, whatsoever. They're just human being, they're being a human, right. And I think a lot of times, if you are deep into gentle parenting, you can make overwhelming assumptions that your every aspect of your child's behavior is directly correlated to you, and then ends up you take a lot of it personally, and then you really struggle because if they're acting out, it has something to do with your connection. No. Okay, let me hear you. Let me give you this disclaimer right off the bat, your connection with your child does not determine their behavior. There's correlation, not causation. Like a lot of the research, right? So give yourself that break. Give them that break. There's always gonna there's never gonna be a perfect day. Never Gonna be a perfect child. Never Gonna be a perfect parent. Right. 

So let's talk about some of the behaviors that have everything to do with you, who you are as their parent and their relationship with you, especially if there's an established pattern, or an escalating pattern of attention seeking behavior or power seeking behavior. And you might already know what I mean by that, because that's how you're seeing it or how it feels. A lot of this is the sibling rivalry you see very often, or the defiance when they're just you can't get them to cooperate with very simple things. And, and you know, that comes up day to day, just asking them to do simple directions, care, tasks, that kind of stuff, aggression with you or others, and just anger, right, just zero to 60 anger, that feels like there's got to be more of a reason for it. Because it's irrational. And it doesn't seem like it's just a sensitivity, like there's more to the story. 

They end up acting out because their perception is that you- your attention, your affection, your approval, is the most important thing. To a child, it's a literal, matter of life and death. They have to stay in their family to survive. This is like a psychological thing. But they know you are a limited resource, you are a scarce commodity. And they feel like they need more of it. So they've ended up figuring out in their mind making assumptions and drawing connections and connecting the dots between what they do and what works really well to get more of your attention. So you've heard the phrase, they'd rather have negative attention than no attention. Yes, it's very true. If if they are not taught and modeled, really healthy ways to get those that need for attention, and affection and love met in mutually beneficial ways for both of you, they will find them on their own. Because they have to, it's not a choice in their mind. 

But this is not a premeditated thing. This is not a calculated thought based choice where they literally wake up in the morning and choose violence, it is happening almost entirely on a subconscious level. For some kids, they start to think, hmm, I am not getting the attention and affection and approval that I thought I should, I must be wrong, I must be doing something wrong, I will change what I'm doing to please my parents more. Other kids, most of the strong-willed kids, they think I'm not getting the attention or the affection, or the approval from my parents, I thought I would, they are wrong, I'll do whatever I need to do to change their mind.

And in Positive Discipline, this is called mistaken goals, as in their behavior is trying to get something and they end up with something entirely different, where they are trying to get their needs met. And it doesn't work. So I'm going to walk you through two examples of this. 

Their behavior is always communication, every humans behavior is a form of communication, okay? That's a whole take home, in and of itself, being able to kind of run with that understanding, but we're going to keep it localized here to what we're talking about. So I'm gonna look at attention seeking behavior first, then power seeking behavior.

Attention seeking behavior: What it's trying to say is, notice me, reassure me you're still there. Helped me know that I matter even when you're busy. Or despite your stress, or despite the new baby, reassure me and notice me. And that parent interprets the behavior as they're being selfish. They're being entitled, you know, at best, they're being annoying. And they're, and often their first instinct because of how they were parented, makes them feel like okay, this behavior needs to be stopped, corrected and punished ao I need to put them in timeout, or I need to ignore them. So you can start to see, where this vicious cycle is starting. 

If an attention seeking behavior is trying to get the need or the goal met of attention, and then it's ignored, it doesn't defuse the behavior. Instead, it fuels the behavior, because it perpetuates the child's need to escalate the message that their behavior is trying to send, and make it louder and make it bigger or say it in a different way. So that's going to make other behaviors pop up, like whack a mole, because it's still trying, they still have an unmet need, it's still trying to get it met. And and it's maybe being initially diffused, but popping up somewhere else, or is just making it even worse. That's what can happen with attention seeking behavior.

With power seeking behavior: They're acting out again, and the behavior is trying to say, Hey, see me, let me help. Help me feel capable and like I contribute to people bigger than me, or something bigger than me. Help make my life makes sense to me. So I can feel in control. Help reduce my anxiety through these changes. Let me know that you get the message and you got this so I can relax. 

But often, and understandably, the parent sees this acting out for power struggle seeking behavior. And they feel challenged, angry, triggered, or defeated, because they are already trying what they know. And because of the way that they were parented, they're interpreting this behavior to start believing, oh, no, my child is a bad kid, something is wrong, something is broken, something needs to be fixed. Oh, no, it's on me to fix it. And I don't know how. So they have this growing fear, because they care about their kid that makes them worry, the child is not learning lessons, a child is not learning skills they need to be successful making friends or living in the quote unquote, real world. 

So then that leads that parent to start using more and more desperate measures to regain their own sense of control. It's like parent power seeking behavior, of arguing back and escalating arguments and yelling or punishing or giving in. And that, again, perpetuates and makes worse that initial behavior that the child was trying to use to communicate this message and get this need met. And it forces the child to perpetuate that message louder, bigger or in a different way. So it feeds and fuels the initial behavior. And then it continues, and it spirals because it may even start with something attention seeking and then it moves into something power seeking. And then even worse, it can start to be the child thinking I'm hurting, so then I need to take revenge, or I give up because I don't ever do anything right. And then it becomes this self-fulfilling prophecy that is fueled and refueled over and over and fed by this vicious cycle. 

It's like the dogs we were talking about earlier. They the more and more they sense, a feeling of insecurity or uncertainty or fear or desperation from their parent. It subconsciously makes them feel like no one gets it or understands them. Something about them is bad or wrong. Or I'm on my own here. Like the dog that over reacts to be over protective. They can start to almost start to internalize messages like I don't belong. I'm not enough. I'm not lovable the way I am. And then we sit with that hurt too long as humans and we start to think I'm hurting so much, I am going to hurt others. And that's where we see a lot of other yucky behavior when we get older. So all of our behavior at the end of the day to our loved ones is trying to say Please understand me, please help me. And not only do we not answer that message of Yes, I understand you, I'm here for you, I get it, here's some positive love, here's some positive control. Not only do we not get it, but we're missing the mark entirely, often reacting in the completely opposite direction of what they need, without even realizing. Like the need for attention and then ignoring or using timeouts, or the need for power and then upping the ante on the power struggles, right. So we're fueling the behavior, we're perpetuating the behavior. Without even realizing it, we're inviting defiance. And because we're not problem solving, and meeting this deeper root of the behavior. 

So what I'm getting at here is how, you know, how do you get out of this cycle, what, number one, you realize you're in it, you do the work of stepping back and zooming out. And not filling yourself with could have would have shadows and guilt, guilt and shame. Because again, what I remind you in almost every episode is you do the best you can for your child with the information and insight you have yesterday, when you learn something new today, you do something differently today. That's all you can do for your child and for yourself, right. So you just understand, Oh, here's a piece of new insight or information that helps me see what's going on in a new light. This is great. So when you show understanding, which I had a whole free training about the game changer training, when you offer opportunities, positive opportunities to give them attention and give them control or power in positive ways, then the behavior they're using to communicate and get that need met, is no longer needed to send that message. So then the behavior is eliminated. Sometimes that behavior needs more problem solving and support, like replacements, or like more coping strategies for managing emotions or other routines and rituals to support it being eliminated. But for the most part, when we're talking about this pattern, or escalating pattern of attention seeking or power seeking behaviors, they are eliminated in the for the long term by addressing these deeper roots of these core needs. And this is only made possible. Circling back to the whole Cesar Milan analogy, this is only made possible when the energy and the confidence and the patient's level of main caregiver is addressed as well.

That calm energy coming from the parent so that the child can rest and feel at ease and have these needs met is an entire skill set in itself that I teach my clients as well. Because when you're in this vicious cycle, not only are you feeding the behavior, but you're feeding your fears, that's causing you to panic about the behavior that then causes you to clamp down with these desperate measures, understandably, and you as a parent, when you've gotten into this cycle, again, not by anyone's choice or fault, right? It's just like the eyedrops- it just starts someplace and then spirals, because you didn't have; you weren't equipped to handle that initial initial situation. And then it kind of keeps going. You need support, to stabilize your sanity, and to create a new foundation to move forward on and build your toolkit. 

When you only have superficial tips and tricks, or one new script to kind of run from, the resource you're learning from, doesn't talk back. It doesn't answer your questions. It doesn't help you when you inevitably get stuck. And when the caregiver has no one to validate their fear and speak directly to it, when they don't know that they're truly not alone. They stay stuck. They stay afraid because that underlying fear is still there that there's something they're missing. There's something that's wrong, there's something about their child that needs to be fixed and And they're not learning lessons. And they're not being set up for success to make friends or, you know, be who they need to be in the real world. And if that deep root of the parents fear isn't addressed, nothing sticks, you can't be consistent with anything. Because you're not able to get to that full sense of clarity and confidence that what you're doing is setting them up for success and that their behavior is truly understandable and that you are on the trajectory to where you want to be. That's deep inner work that cannot be done, and fit into the tiny margins of the fractions of time that you Doom scroll. I'm sorry, it's just not. 

And so I hope by painting that picture, and kind of illustrating that those examples, I can just help you see that there might be another explanation for the pattern that you're in with your child currently. And the way to move forward, that might be the exact opposite street the way, road that you're going down right now. But there is hope, you can have a cautious amount of optimism, that new answers and insight are just around the corner. And this doesn't have to be intense intervention, and really, really strict behavior modification. It's actually just a whole lot more love and peace and joy in your home. By changing that culture, and changing your sense of inner peace and peace of mind as a parent, which is a whole lot more fun to do with friends. 

So I hope that you have been able to internalize this for yourself and your family. And if it resonates deeply, say hi on Instagram, let me know you listen to this episode. And we can chat back and forth about what's going on at your house. And now, I would really encourage you to send this episode to another caregiver of your child, because they have not likely been equipped with this insight. They are often not interpreting your child's behavior in this way. And they also have deeper rooted fears that are perpetuating and feeding the cycle. And without addressing theirs, you also can't move forward with the support you need. So help create a more consistent level of understanding within your home or within your extended family by spreading this message. I really feel like this, even just this one little piece of understanding can be enough to spread a lot more compassion for humans everywhere. If we can translate this across relationships. I know I have work to do in this area for the other adult humans in my life. But if there's anything that I can help influence in the world, it is this message of just we're doing the best we can. Your kids are doing the best they can. They are not maliciously out to make your day miserable. They don't like being miserable, either. Nobody does. When they feel better, they do better. We don't have to make them feel worse. To help them do better. It actually perpetuates that original behavior in the first place. When we meet these core needs of power and attention and really tangible felt ways that you have to do very intentionally and specifically and strategically for strong-willed kids. It's not kind of just like a simple love language thing. It's has to be at a felt level of safety and security. But when you do this, which is what I teach in my program, you unlock a whole new level of just feeling okay? Not constantly feeling like you're on edge. You're feeling held hostage in your home, and your child is no longer feeling like they have to be on that attack mode. Danger is imminent. I'm on my own. Nobody gets it. I gotta be the little tiny Chihuahua. That's the most aggressive dog you've ever seen. They don't have to feel like that anymore. That's what's possible. 

So, I let you go after this, you know, super long TED Talk. But please share this message with your partner, your mother in law, A friend and shared in your Instagram stories and tag me and I would love to hear what you thought of this episode if it was enlightening at all or inspiring. Or if you've already been far on this journey of figuring this out, I commend you, your kids are so lucky to have you. If you are ready to do this work and transform your relationship with your strong-willed child and the culture in your home, and your sense of inner peace, then schedule a consultation at the link in the show notes. I believe in you, and I'm cheering you on. 

Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of Failing Motherhood. Your kids are so lucky to have you. If you loved this episode, take a screenshot right now and share it in your Instagram stories and tag me. If you're loving the podcast, be sure that you've subscribed and leave a review so we can help more moms note they are not alone if they feel like they're failing motherhood on a daily basis. And if you're ready to transform your relationship with your strong willed child, and invest in the support you need to make it happen. Schedule your free consultation using the link in the show notes. I can't wait to meet you. Thanks for coming on this journey with me. I believe in you, and I'm cheering you on.



Tuesday, Sept 27th at 1:00 PM CENTRAL

Confidently parent your strong-willed child without caving in or dimming their spark so you can finally break free of power struggles, guilt + self-doubt!