There is nothing wrong with wanting all the best for your children as long as it is healthy. Sometimes, a parent’s love can be too much that it strains their relationship with their child. Talking about love and limits is clinical psychologist and founder of Little House Calls Psychological Services, Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, PhD. Rebecca shares with us the balance of providing love and enforcing limits to children. On the side of divorce, she also taps into the importance of involving your children with the things you’re going through and then explains how you can let others know how you want to be treated in respect to what you feel.
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Love And Limits In Parenting With Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, PhD
I’m excited about this podcast. Of course, I’m excited every single week, but this time, I’m super excited. Quite often on my podcast, I talk about happy divorce and getting along in the adults in what we do and what we don’t do and all the good stuff. Sometimes, I forget about the kids in divorce situations and that’s not right. I have a guest, Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, PhD. She’s a doctor, a clinical psychologist and Founder of Little House Calls psychological services, which specializes in helping kids and parents confronting a range of common early childhood challenges.
Dr. Hershberg has held leadership positions as a national nonprofit organization serving children and hospital-based infant and toddler preventative mental health programs. She has taught in the Department of Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and has presented numerous seminars and workshops for parents. She lives in the New York City area with her husband and two young sons. She’s the author of The Tantrum Survival Guide. Rebecca, I’m excited to have you here. Thanks for joining me.
Thank you for having me on. I’m super excited as well.
I met you when we were both pitching our books in New York and I’m from Charlotte. I listened to your pitch for your book and I thought it was the coolest thing because you have this super calm way about you, which are the opposite of me. I can see that when you’re working with kids, you must be fabulous. I can only imagine.
Thank you. That’s touching for you to say that. The fact that we are pitchers, we’re only allowed to bid two minutes. The fact that that came across in such a short time.
You were cool but calm and I feel like I could have definitely used you when I was going through my divorce with my guys who are now teenagers, they were 11 and 9. I always thought that they’ll be fine. They’re resilient. Kids are resilient, but sometimes they think like they’re not. If you can tell us a little bit about any ideas of what we can do with our kids when they’re going through a divorce, some tips or something, come tell us.
I’ll start with what you just said, which is that kids are resilient. Being resilient doesn’t mean not having feelings. I imagine that comes up in the context of divorce as well. You can be okay, resilient and strong, and still sad that you’re getting a divorce. Similarly, it used to be that there was this argument in the field when it came to child development that divorce was devastating for kids and they would never bounce back. On the other side, there was the thought that no kids will be absolutely fine. There’s nothing to worry about. The bottom line is that it’s somewhere in between. It depends on a lot of factors. Kids are impacted by divorce, but the way that parents handle divorce and handle divorce with their young kids is what makes the difference in terms of a variety of outcomes. That’s interesting both before and after the separation. The tenor of your home before the divorce, the level of conflict and how conflict is dealt with coupled with the co-parenting efforts and how it’s dealt with after. We have an impact on that as a parent. How our kids handle divorce is not just in a vacuum. It depends on a lot of different things. Most importantly, this is shorthand, but it’s like, “Can the grownups be grownups?”
I don’t want to say involving the kids in the bad stuff and all of the minutiae, but do you think involving them in the divorce is better for them than it is to hide everything from them? What do you think about that?
It depends on the age of the kids, but I go by three benchmarks when it comes to any big events that are happening, whether it’s a divorce, a new sibling or the illness of a caregiver. One, you do want to be honest. Two, you want to be developmentally appropriate. Honest does not mean to your five-year-old like, “Your dad makes me crazy. We were attracted to each other.” Third, to the extent that your kids see you upset and see you having a hard time, you want to emphasize that you are getting the support and help from a grown-up. It is not the responsibility of your kids to caretake you. I see that a lot. I see the dependence on kids completely by the most well-intentioned parents.
They don’t mean it. They just don’t have anyone to talk to.
They’re going through a tough place. Who’s around them most of the time? Their kids, even if they’re not talking. It’s interesting because I had a meeting with a mom in my office who was contemplating divorce. She’s unhappy in her marriage. She talked about how she had been crying at one point, they were in the car and her husband is like, “Why are you crying?” Her son started saying, “Why are you crying?” She did what a lot of us do instinctively, it’s like, “I’m not,” and that I would not recommend because kids are smart. They are onto us and their imaginations are wilder than reality. You’re crying and they know you’re crying. They’re going to go to some crazy place in their head including potentially thinking they’re crazy and they’re not seeing what they’re seeing. It’s okay to say to your child, “I am crying. I’m sad right now.” The cool thing about feelings is that they come and go. I know the different things I can do to help myself feel better and I’m talking to grownups. It’s like, “I got this.”
A lot of us don’t know that we can do that. That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard. I feel like a lot of people don’t think that they can say that to their kids.
It’s the whole idea of emotional education. Kids need to learn and our whole culture is bad at this. We’re bad at accepting being sad or being angry. There’s this sense that if we are one of those things, we’re not okay or that we have to do something quickly to make it go away, even if it’s healthy. Even if it’s like, “I’m going to go exercise. I’m going to go do yoga. I’m going to go meditate. I feel sad.” I often use the analogy of waves in an ocean. It’s going to come and go. With little kids, you can use this helpful analogy of a birthday party or the last Halloween. It’s like, “Do you remember how excited you were to dress up as Superman and go trick or treating? Are you still that excited?” They look at you like you’re crazy and they’re like, “Of course, it’s not Halloween. Why would I be that excited?” Emotions come and go, the good ones and the bad ones. They don’t last and we can ride them out. “I’m sad and that’s okay. I’m going to get out and I’m going to feel better. I’m going to be sad again and I’m going to be happy and excited.”
I have a hard time with this. A lot of times, I’m like that as a female. Not just females, men feel this way, too. We go, we do, we ride the wave, we’re emotional and we go to different ups and downs. I feel like sometimes people look at me and they’re like, “You’re bipolar.” That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m bipolar just because I have emotions. One day, I’m happy. It doesn’t mean because you’re emotional, automatically, my boyfriend will look at me and be like, “Jennifer, you’re crazy.” I know that it’s okay to have feelings and to go through them. Isn’t that correct?
Yeah, and some of the things I see most commonly are that everyone is born and there are nine different temperamental traits that you’re born with. One is emotionality and reactivity. It doesn’t mean it can never shift, but there’s a way in which you are born with a certain proclivity toward a certain level of reactivity or emotionality. I see a lot, either parent in the same family or parents with kids in a family, where they don’t get the other person because the other person’s reactions are stronger or it takes them longer to bounce back. Some of these are just differences in different people and it’s not pathological. Of course, it’s easy to say, “My way of doing things is right and your way of doing something, there must be something wrong with you, but welcome to the modern world.”
Do you think that people, let’s say someone’s a one and someone’s a nine, can they be together? I’m frustrated that my boyfriend doesn’t get me and he’s definitely way more on the other end of the spectrum where his emotionality is way less than mine. That’s our biggest argument. He doesn’t get why I’m emotional and I don’t get why he’s not emotional. That’s one of our biggest issues that we have.
Parenting Love And Limits: Kids being resilient doesn’t mean not having feelings. In the context of divorce, you can be strong and resilient, and at the same time sad.
Where I would start with that and I’m just one person, is why does it matter? It’s about you saying to him, “When I am emotional, here’s what I need from you.” Sometimes, it’s scripting that out for him to say, “When I’m not emotional, here’s what I need from you.” You might not understand why. Even if you understand it, he might say, “Why are you emotional?” You say, “Because I can’t find my favorite whatever.” He’s like, “Nobody cares. That’s no reason to get upset.” It’s never helpful to tell people when their feelings are okay and when they’re not.
It’s time to validate my feelings. I totally get that. This is interesting to me because it’s spot-on with everything. People have different emotional levels and it makes sense. This is awesome. When I was listening to your two-minute pitch, I got this too. You have this amazing thing and if you can explain to my readers because this will rock everybody’s world. You have something called the two L’s, love and limits. Can you explain that to everybody or just a little summary?
The two Ls are love and limits. That is shorthand for the fact that decades of well-conducted elegant research show that children do best on a range of outcomes ranging from mental or physical health to professional success, relationship success and academic success when there are high levels of love in a home and high levels of limits in a home. Some of these are culturally dictated. There are different cultural variations, but for the sake of simplicity, this applies to most families. There’s this misconception that when one goes down, the other needs to go up. When I’m being touchy, feely, lovey and warm with my kids, how could I possibly set a limit? When I’m setting limits with my kids, I have to be firm and hard and I couldn’t possibly be loving and warm. The fact is both across the board on any given day, but then also in any given situation, kids thrive when they feel love and warmth from the parents. Parents, I should say about shorthand for caregivers, grandparents and babysitters, when they feel loved and warm. When they feel contained, boundaried and structured. This is how things are and I’m four, I’m not making the rules.
My kids are better with boundaries. I don’t know how kids can’t be. When their boundary is out of control, I’m like, “Free for all.” They can’t handle it.
I think of it as the boundaries of a container. It’s a fence that’s around your kids. It’s not punitive. Boundaries are not the same thing as a punishment or even consequences. Their job is to push up against the fence. They feel a whole lot better and stays intact because it’s like, “I’m safe here and I know that no matter how hard I push, I’m still safe here.” Versus, “If I push and it falls down, suddenly, I’m in this whole big wide world and I don’t feel safe because I’m too small to be here.”
That is a great analogy, Rebecca. That is the perfect analogy for parenting, the fence. Can people find you everywhere? You practice in New York City, but you have a website. Where have you been all my life?
I need to talk to you every day. I have to show you around in my pocket.
I follow you on Instagram, Little House Calls. You posted something that I loved. I got tears in my eyes because I’m like, “Check.” You listed 30 things that you should do with your kids something that makes them smile or shows them love. What was the title?
I don’t remember and for the sake of full disclosure, I credited someone else on that.
That’s okay because it was great. I loved it. We’ll give you credit.
I do that all the time and I write about that in my book. You have to have connectedness as a foundation and yes, it’s the little things that you can do with your kids. People often go, “Clearly, my relationship with my daughter needs a little bit of a booster. We’re going to plan this super fun outing and we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that.” That may be fine, but you can’t do it for ten days. It’s like, “What can I do for three minutes?” When I’m saying good night to my kids, “What can I tell them three times during the day?” If you’re a parent who works out of the home, what can I tell them three times during the day that you’ve thought of them specifically? It’s not just like, “I thought of you when I was walking down the street.” It’s like, “When I was walking down, I saw a sign that reminded me of the funny way that you’ve been writing your name since you’ve been practicing.”
My kid, Jonah, is in Alaska.
I saw that on Instagram.
You’re killing me. I can’t miss him. My other one is upstairs and he’s leaving for camping. The camp is a tough thing because they’re far away and they’re happy, but at the same time, I miss them. I think you’re awesome. These are such great tips and your two L’s, your love and limits, you can also use for any relationship, not just kids.
If I think about my marriage or my best friendships, I need to feel loved, warm and seen. I love that word. I need to feel seen by them and I need to know the rules of engagement. I need to know that they’re looking out for themselves and that there are boundaries in place. Those are the relationships that feel bad, the ones that feel both loving, safe and clear. When it comes to adult relationships, there’s clarity there. It’s what the adult version of limits maybe is and then you start to feel all over the place. If you have a friend that you adore and they adore you, but you can’t quite figure out where it stops and you begin, there’s a lot there.
Relationships are a lot of work. I love my friends who come to me and they’re like, “Jen, isn’t it supposed to be easy? Relationships are supposed to be easy.” I’m like, “No, they’re not. They’re work.” You have to put effort into any relationship you have. As a relationship coach, oftentimes, people call me and they’re like, “It’s hard and it’s supposed to be easy.” No. If it’s hard, it means you’re trying and you’re putting the work in.
Parenting Love And Limits: Parents need to realize that kids are smart. They are onto us and their imaginations are wilder than reality.
The same goes for parenting. Parenting is a relationship and people forget about that. You and your kid are in the relationship. You work to make it continue to feel connected and continue to feel like it’s flourishing.
You wrote this book and I love it, The Tantrum Survival Guide. My kids are 15 and 17. I remember my kid’s throwing tantrums and thinking, “Someone, help me.” How long has it been out? Can you get it on Amazon and other bookstores?
You can get on Amazon and other bookstores. It’s on my website and there’s a link to it. It has a foreword by Dan Siegel who some people know. He’s written a lot of parenting books. Get it, buy it and use it.
What is your website? Is it LittleHouseCalls.com?
This is easy. Little House Calls is everywhere like on Instagram and Facebook, right?
Yes, but not on Twitter.
Twitter is a lot. I try to get into Twitter. Do you know where I am now that I love? It’s Pinterest. I don’t know what I’m doing over there but people love Pinterest. Pinterest is huge.
I haven’t been on Pinterest since I was dealing with my wedding.
I never thought about it, but I have 700,000 monthly views on Pinterest. It is the craziest thing, Rebecca. I don’t know what people are doing over there and why they care, but it is nuts. For some reason, like my age, they don’t love Instagram. I thought it was like the biggest thing and I can’t get any more followers. Follow me, people. Follow us on Instagram.
Yes, please do. I’m going to ask that.
You’re Little House Calls on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and everything. Rebecca, thank you for coming.
Thank you. It was such a pleasure to be here and for you to approach me at this. I love these little connections that happen.
We met in the bathroom. Did we talk in the bathroom?
We did beforehand. That is exactly what we did.
I had this vibe about you and I’m like, “She knows her stuff. I’m going to get this girl. I’m going to grab her, so thank you for joining me, Rebecca. Again, the book is called The Tantrum Survival Guide. Go get it on Amazon and wherever you can find your books. Dr. Rebecca Hershberg, thank you for joining us. You were fabulous and you’re a wealth of knowledge. Everybody, you know where to get me. It’s Doing Divorce Right (or Avoiding it Altogether). You can get my Hurvitz merch, peace, love, truth, wherever you want to find it. 10% goes to the Isabella Santos Foundation per usual to help raise some money to support children’s cancers, pediatric rare cancers. We’re doing some good stuff over here so everybody, find me and follow me, www.JenniferHurvitz.com. Have a great day. Peace, love, and truth.
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About Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, PhD.
She has taught in the Department of Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and has presented numerous seminars and workshops for parents. She lives in the New York City area with her husband and two young sons.
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