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Episode 47

What to do when you are
faced with chaos and rigidity

September 19, 2022

[Kyle]: In today's podcast we're going to talk about some big words. We're going to give you some concepts about how to approach conflict in your home differently, by looking at chaos and rigidity and how Dr. Siegel’s work in interpersonal neuroscience, can give you some real practical tools to shifting those dynamics in your family. 


[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode 47 of The Art of Raising Humans. I’m Kyle.

[Sara]: And I’m Sara.

[Kyle]: And today we're going to talk about something that's going to be so helpful to you, but it's going to sound kind of weird at first. But before we dive into it, I want to remind you-- We just started talking about this the last couple episodes, Sara, about how we want to do more speaking stuff. So, we've already got two for sure booked for September and we've got a few more in the works, three other ones for maybe November, maybe into the spring, you know. So, our goal is to get maybe four to six over the fall and into the spring, maybe a couple more. Just want to reach more people with this message of, you know, parenting, moving away from fear, shame and help in disciple your kids and you know, all that kind of stuff. So, all the stuff we've been talking about. So, if you have any ideas or would like and be interested in seeing if we could do a speaking event at your church, at your school or your small group, whatever it is, reach out to us at That's or you can always reach out to us through this podcast and put some kind of comments on the podcast.

[Kyle]: And speaking of that, love for you to give us five stars. We love those reviews; we've gotten a lot of cool feedback over this past year. It's always really encouraging to see how it's impacting families. So, please take a moment if you're enjoying this content, to share it, to comment on it, to-- You know, five-star it, it'd be awesome. So, today, to dive into it, what are we talking about today, Sara?

[Sara]: We're talking about linkage and differentiation.

[Kyle]: Linkage and differentiation. Well, we'll get there. First, I want to talk about chaos and rigidity and the reason why we're talking about this, Sara, is we just did a several episodes on school and getting ready for school and lately, what I’m seeing in practice and you and I are seeing and just talking to adults at this time of life, there's a lot of chaos and rigidity happening and so, we've talked in the past about power struggles and how to work through that, resolve conflict. I just love this particular wording that Dr. Dan Siegel uses. Now, we're not experts on everything Dr. Dan Siegel teaches, he's a fantastic neuroscientist, has a lot of great parenting books. If you want to learn more about this stuff, pass what we talk about, dive into his books. He's got some great information on parenting from the inside out, no drama discipline, the whole brain child, these are all fantastic books that will dive into this subject deeper. But I particularly wanted to just touch upon it with you, Sara, because I think it's going to be really helpful just reframing some of the conflict that happens in their home, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah, I think-- I came across Dan Siegel early on in my career at a training I was sent to and he blew my mind. I love-- I love neuroscience, I love the brain, I love looking at how the brain changes and responds in relationship with another person.

[Sara]: And Dr. Siegel's great at that, so I know we have used a lot of his information and all the things he's learned through the studies he's done in parenting.

[Kyle]: Well, he really informs a lot of the new wave of parenting, to where it's just more knowledge-based about the brain and about emotion and about how it affects and interacts and so, I even love his whole branch called “Interpersonal Neurobiology”. What does that mean, Sara? What is interpersonal neurobiology?

[Sara]: Well, it's kind of what I was just saying, you know? Where you're watching the brain. Before we would do things and we were looking from the outside to see what happened, but now we can more have a better idea of what's happening in the brain. If I parent my child this way and we have this kind of an interpersonal relationship, we can now actually see what it does to the brain and we can see-- Now we know what it does 10 years down the road, 20 years down the road, 40 years down the road. We're able-- We have a lot more information to see if I pair my child this way, what kind of adult are they going to be? How's this set them up for relationship later?

[Sara]: And interpersonal biology, neurobiology, is just that look at the interaction between you and I and me and my child and what that does to our relationship.

[Kyle]: So, a quick example of that to be, to kind of break it down so listeners can understand. A real quick way of looking at that is simple is, if I’m gonna sit down and talk to my kids about school and maybe I’m frustrated with them, whether or not I express that frustration, whether or not I say it at all, I will send that frustration towards them, right? Like, so my frustration will impact or let's say in our marriage. If I came to you and I was upset about something, it would impact you without you knowing about it, you know?

[Kyle]: You would feel the upset from me and it would make it harder for you to stay open-handed and calm and receptive, like we've discussed in the past about how we want it to be. So, if I’m going to talk to my kid about school and I’m frustrated or judgmental or critical about how they're doing school and then I don't want them to be defensive, that's going to be very difficult, because they're going to be less receptive because our brains aren't siloed. I mean, they're engaging each other and they're interacting with one another.

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, we can't just act and then think it's not going to impact to them and it's not just the words or this one moment, it's our body lang-- It's the way that we're completely engaging the relationship in that moment and across time, how that happens between people and it gets really, really deep.

[Kyle]: It does and we're not gonna-- Yeah, and we're not gonna get into all that stuff today. What I just want to hit today is, I love this wording and some clients, it really helps them see it different; I know it did for me. It’d want to help me take it less personal, it also gave me a path towards like, resolving the conflict and moving out of the power struggles, you know?

[Kyle]: So, typically, you know, what Dr. Dan Siegel might do, he might draw like, a river, like a waterway and there's water flowing and on that water is chaos and rigidity, you know? And so, you might be seeing-- Anytime you're seeing your kid, I don't care what age they are, two-year-old, four-year-old, teenager, whatever it is. If you're seeing them act in a chaotic and rigid way, it's telling you something, you know? It's telling you something about where they're at in the brain, but it's also telling you what they need from you in that moment, to shift the chaos, to move from rigidity to flexibility. It's also helped me when I see that. I’ve noticed in myself and the parents that we help, that we tend to want to match that, you know? That if I’m conscious of my own chaos and rigidity, if I’m acting really chaotic in my thinking, I’m being very rigid. Meaning like “there's only one way to do this and it's my way”, you know?

[Kyle]: Or if the kid's doing. You'll find what happens a lot of families, the power struggle is the kid gets rigid and chaotic and then the parent comes back and says “well, yeah? You're going to be rigid and chaotic? Well, I’ll be rigid and chaotic back and I’ll overpower you” and that the chaotic is like, the yelling and the raising of the voice and the-- Just, you know-- I mean, every parent listening has been there, we've all acted like little kids with our kids.

[Sara]: The temper tantrums, that would be the chaos, yeah. When older kids--

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. Sitting in traffic and like “come on!”, screaming at the traffic. It's all very chaotic and then the rigid is the inflexibility to change your mind or try to see it in a different way.

[Sara]: This is the only way I’m doing it. If the kid says “this is the only way I’m doing it” and then the parent says “oh no, this is the only way it will be done”, that's matching rigid.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and I think this is happening a lot when kids are coming home from school. They're tired, they're stressed, there's a lot of social stuff going on, a lot of pressure. They're doing-- You know, parents come home and I mean, kids come home and parents “let's get on homework” and a lot of times the reaction is chaos and rigidity. You know, the kids they don’t want to do it, they're like on the ground or the teenagers shutting the door, closing you out and so, there's a lot of like, conflict happening on a daily basis. So, I thought this would be so perfect to talk about the antidote to chaos and rigidity, right? Moving away from these power struggles and these battles of will. So, going back to what you said initially, what is the antidote to chaos and rigidity? If they're seeing that stream, it's flowing through their family quickly, how do we get past that?

[Sara]: Well, with differentiation, to begin with.

[Kyle]: And what is that?

[Sara]: Yeah, big word.

[Kyle]: That's a big word, differentiation. I love writing it on a dry erase board and seeing kids go “what is that? What in the world--?”. Yeah, exactly.

[Sara]: It is where I just start by acknowledging that we're different people and that's okay. That we're gonna have different agendas, different wants, different needs, different priorities and as a parent, sometimes that can be really hard to do, because you think you're coming in with this value, you're coming in with this “I want you to be a hard worker” or “I want you to be a very clean person” or “I want only A's” or-- And you're coming in with this and you want to lay that on top of your child. But kids sometimes as we all have learned, I’m sure, even at one and two years old, they're like “no, I actually don't buy into your-- This is what I value” or “this is what I want” or “this is--" and so, differentiation is just sort of the acknowledgement that we are going to be different.

[Sara]: Our values, our priorities, all those things are going to be different and that's okay and moving into acceptance, right? And that is a healthy relationship, right? Even in a marriage, it would be very strange if you and I wanted all the same things, have all the same priorities.

[Kyle]: It would be gross. Because you become me and it'd be like I’m marrying myself.

[Sara]: Well, if you've ever met that couple “we never argue, everything we want is always the same”.

[Kyle]: Yes, that’s right.

[Sara]: You know, and over time you think “huh, you just never want anything different” and it's healthy, right? If I’m a whole person and you're a whole person at some point we're not going to line up in what we want or think and that's okay, we'll work through it.

[Sara]: And so, it is the same with a child. They are their own unique different person than you and so, sometimes you don't line up and differentiation is just moving into that space of “okay, you're you and I me. What do you want and think? What do I want and think?”

[Kyle]: I think as you're saying, it all sounds so healthy. I think the thing though, the fear that rises up is, “if my kid is not learning this thing from me--”. Like, let's say like, “I’m really assertive and I really do a great job standing up for myself” or “I’m really organized and I really want to--“, “I value cleanliness, why don't they?”. It almost-- Instead of it being like “no, they are just being them, which is different from you”, it's almost like a rejection of you. It's almost like, they are refusing to learn this thing from me, you know? “I heard modeling is the most powerful teacher, well, I’ve been modeling this and they're obviously not learning it”, you know? And so, it almost seems like a failure on my part, to be able to give the best of me to my kid and the flip side is that, it seems like-- Because fear does this, is we can easily see all the worst parts of ourselves in our kid and it's like “why are they getting all the worst parts and not getting the good parts?” and so, there's ways in which we-- The differentiation is so freeing, you know? Because it really isn't about rejecting you at all, it's an embracing of them, you know?

[Kyle]: And understanding maybe there's something they have to teach you too, you know? Maybe there's something that they're good at that they could teach you and Siegel's really good about-- Talking about especially teenagers, teenagers are really good at being creative and thinking outside the box and like, our brains are kind of old. Like it's harder for us to--

[Sara]: Well, in a part of your brain you're just not in that same space, your brain is on to a new skill, the teenage brain is still very flowing and creative and--

[Kyle]: Yes, yes, it's a much better to get it.

[Sara]: But I think-- Yeah, we’re not old brains.

[Kyle]: That’s right, sorry.

[Sara]: But I think though, when you say that fear part of it. Oh, I think that's tough as a parent. Because I think, one, you think maybe you have this thing you want to leave for them, right? This legacy or this thing that--

[Kyle]: These values, yeah.

[Sara]: Yeah, “I want to give this to you to help you be successful in life” and then there's also this fear of they're just going to run wild. You know, and where will this lead, our brains go to catastrophizing “If I don't have them do this and this, then all hell's going to break loose, it's going to be horrible. It's the end for my child”. I think we have to-- That's the part that gets a real struggle as a parent.

[Sara]: And what does it look like if I differentiate “what are you talking about?”, what's that going to look like?

[Kyle]: Well, especially if I learned these things and they've really helped me be successful in life, I really want to give them to you, because I want you to be successful in life and if you don't have them, you know, maybe we've told ourselves “If I didn't have these, I wouldn't be successful”. Now, if I don't have-- So, fear can start taking you down that road. So, it's a big-- I know it sounds really simple, but it is very hard to do. When you start to get frustrated or upset or at least-- It's almost always a lack of differentiation. I’m starting to get chaotic and rigid because I think you should see the world the way I do or I think you should understand this moment the way I understand it. So, I can be so much more open and receptive whenever I approach anybody, my wife, you know, the kids. “You're not me and there's no expectation for you to see it the way I see it”, you know? So, then you see how the goal then is just understanding. Like, I’m trying to understand you and how you see it, because you're not me and then, I think typically the other person is open to trying to understand you and how you see it.

[Kyle]: And that's actually a really healthy way to do the interaction, but you can't do that unless we first start there. “You're not me, you don't need to see it like me or think like me or believe like me”.

[Sara]: Yeah. It's kind of like you take off the boxing gloves. You know, to me, that's what it does. Everyone just sort of lets down their guard and “oh, you just-- You're trying to understand me?”

[Sara]: You know, similar in a friendship or a co-worker if you have that, you know, if you go in and just battling each other. But the moment you go in and say “you know, I had a different view of this, what were you wanting to do? Can you tell me more about that?” and suddenly you see them relax and they tell you, but then they start wondering about you.

[Sara]: In a lot of relationships of course, that [Unintelligible] always work magic. Generally--

[Kyle]: I think in most, in most. When you're saying it, I’m like “I hope our listeners get this idea”. Yes, we're talking about parenting, helps in your marriage. I know you and I have both done it with coworkers, it's worked awesome. Done it with friends, it works awesome. Almost always the conflict with the friends and the co-workers was “I think you're an idiot because you don't do it like me”, you know? And then once I was like “oh, that-- Oh, they had a reason why they did it and they thought it was a good one and just like I thought mine was a good one” and once we learned it, they were more open to my way of doing it and I was more open to their--

[Sara]: Well, you feel that tension, you feel and that's the chaos and the rigidity. You feel that, it's like-- Almost feels like something you can touch when you're in a room and there's that battle going on and so, if you just move into different-- “Okay, here's you and here's me”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and I’ll just remind you that one of the biggest things for teenagers that we've discussed before in previous podcasts, is they feel like you don't understand them. Teenagers feel like you just don't get it and it's because we're not respecting the differentiation and as teenagers specifically, they're very much trying to differentiate themselves and so, I think the more you do this well, the less they feel like they have to push you away. The less they feel like they have to reject you to become them, you know?

[Sara]: And it's their task, that's their task at that age, because their brain knows they're about to head out and so, they have got to get this figured out before that day comes. So, differentiation is something they're supposed to be doing and so, let's help them by acknowledging that with them, for them, in each moment.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and I almost think-- Just one last thought on this, Sara, is sometimes you have kids who are just super people pleasers, super compliant and I almost-- The other [Unintelligible] I’d want my kid to differentiate themselves from me. I don't want them to think like I think and say what I say every time, I want them to have their own thoughts and opinions, ideas. So, you might have some kids who seem to be it's like “oh, this is great, my kid just does everything I say and they're like--”. You actually want your kid to ruffle some feathers because they aren't you, they should not think like you or say-- You know, there's going to be some similarities, but for the most part, you gotta realize they're not you and they need to find out who they are by voicing those.

[Sara]: Right, and you actually want them to, because they're going to have to go out sometime in the world and do that, and how much better would it be if you're the one practicing with them? Instead of some relationship someday they realize “wow, I haven't been me this whole time, I’ve just been doing whatever you want to do or liking whatever you want to like or in a job and career and realizing this isn't me, I never really actually got back to figuring out me”. So, we want to use those teenage years and to help them later.

[Kyle]: Okay. So, we've thrown these words out. Keep in mind chaos and rigidity, if you're seeing that within yourself, within your child, within relationships around you, the antidote first is differentiation. Take a step back, take a deep breath, this person is not me, my child is not me. They do not have to think or feel the way I think and feel at this moment. So, the goal isn't to get them to do that, the goal is next to create linkage. What is linkage?

[Sara]: Linkage is that wonderful time where then you come back together. So, you're you and I’m me, now we're going to come back together and link. I love the linkage because you're going to find that common ground. Okay, now that we know what you want in your agenda, now we know what I like in my agenda, where can we come together on this? Here's where we're going, and how can we come together in this moment to accomplish the task or to grow and learn or to whatever it might be? So, I think when we were talking about being scared, you know and I think “oh, man”. If I look at my teen and I just say “okay, you're a different person than me, you go be you” and you know, our fear goes “oh, they're gonna go crazy!”

[Sara]: But that's where linkage comes back in, because it's not just a “be free! Run!”, it is a “okay, you're you and I me, but where can we find this common ground? How can we come back together?”. Because you don't want to just leave the separation and the coming back together isn't to change them or to change you. It's to look at the thing that you're-- Whatever the situation is and find the common ground and move forward together and creating that thing together.

[Kyle]: Well, go back to the understanding. Yeah, you're co-creating, right?

[Kyle]: Going back to the understanding is, once I’ve sat there and we've come together you're not me, I’m not you and now the goal is to understand you, you tell me about you and what you're wanting in this moment, I tell you what I want. That's the only way we could co-create it, right? That's the only way. So, it's through the linking that once I understand you and you understand me, that's the only way then we can come back together and say “what do we both actually want to do in this moment together?”, right? I think a real fun example of this is-- It's a classic one Dr. Siegel uses at his conferences. So, this is just a real fun example about how to do this with a two-year-old, you know? So, he was talking about, we've all been there with our two-year-old getting into the car seat and maybe the two-year-old doesn't want to put on the seatbelt, you know? It's fighting getting in the car seat, right? So, you're seeing chaos and rigidity. The kid’s saying “I’m not you! I don't think it's that important to put this on!”. Why? Because the two-year-old doesn't understand the idea of safety.

[Kyle]: I’ve seen some parents go this route and I’m not heaping shame if you've done this, but some parents have gone so far as to like “oh, police officer here--” at the local Venus or I’ll have him come over and scare my two-year-old to doing it, like “people die if you don't--”. So, you could do that, but all that's going to do is create more chaos and rigidity, it doesn't create linkage and differentiation, you know? And so-- Or you could-- Some parents-- Maybe some listening have done this, you physically make the kids sit there. You put it on them, tell them to leave it alone, right? Once again, you have accomplished the task, but you did not help the chaos and rigidity be less likely to happen in the future. The kid is going to think “oh, this is what we do? I tell you I don't want it, you make me wear it and so--" I want to help-- So, this is a good example just for a two-year-old, but you'll see how it plays out among all ages, okay?

[Kyle]: So, what Siegel says in that moment is, you take-- First of all, you respect the differentiation, the kid doesn't get why this is so important. The kid is tired, the kid is hungry, the kid is just wanting to move his body, whatever. So, you respect he's not me, he doesn't get it. So, then he says the next thing you do is you create linkage and one of the most powerful ways to create linkage with anybody, is by creating a story together, you know? I think about that, I’ll get to the two-year-old in a second, but I get to-- Like with our marriage, you and I have a vision about what we want to do in our marriage. We have a vision what we want to do as parents, we've created a story together that helps us in conflictual times to come back and link together, you know?

[Kyle]: To say “how does this create that story? How does it complete the story we created?”, right? So, with the two-year-old, he says all you got to do is say something like-- We're going to call him Bill. So, I’d say “hey, Billy. Yeah, I’m glad you won't sit in the car seat, because if you did, my invisible friend Johnny, he's sitting there. If you sit on him and put that seatbelt on, he's gonna scream his head off and he's gonna make me do this funky dance. I don't wanna do it! It's embarrassing!” and he's like as soon as you say that, that two-year-old's gonna be so excited to see that funky dance and the child's gonna sit there and you're gonna be like “oh my gosh! Johnny's screaming!” and you're gonna do the funky dance, he'll buckle himself in and Siegel would suggest you do that two or three times, you don't need to do that anymore after that, you know?

[Kyle]: That Billy will have learned that you're on the same page, you're not against each other. You created the linkage through the play.

[Kyle]: So, I just love that example, because I think it really articulates that how you can do that with little kids, you know? What some ways you'd think, Sara, we could do that with older kids? You know? Elementary age and teenagers.

[Sara]: You can still try a funky dance.

[Kyle]: Yeah, that's right! Teenagers would love to see that, right?

[Sara]: They would. Maybe.

[Sara]: But it-- Well, it's a similar idea. Maybe you're not doing a silly dance, maybe you are, but it's just the coming back together to say “what is this going to look like for us?”, you know? If it's “how to take care of your space, your room, what's your-- What's important to you? This is what's important to me. What can we--? How can we do this? What can we create together for how your space is managed?”

[Sara]: Or grades, school.

[Kyle]: School is that “what do we want this year--”. You did that in the previous podcast, setting the goals for them, that was all creating linkage. You were designing the year together, right?

[Kyle]: Just because you want school to go a certain way, doesn't mean they want it to go the same way, right? But it doesn't mean the way they want is more important than how you want it. Both ways have equal value in the family. So, you bring them together and you co-create where both voices are being heard and both are valued and then, through the linkage, you create a story together. You create like “how do you want this year to go? How can we help that happen?”, you know? And the kid starts to feel that power of “oh, I don't need to do school the way you did it. Just because you did school that way, it doesn't mean I have to do school that way”, right? Or just, you know, it's real popular nowadays where parents who went to college, have kids who don't want to go to college because it's so expensive. I get that. So, yeah, but some parents won't respect the differentiation “but no, college is the only path, it has to be this way because I did it” and the kids I’m seeing in counseling and sessions, they're pushing against that, you know? And they're saying--

[Kyle]: So, what I found is once the parent was open, it's like “wait, the path I took isn't the path you have to take. What path--? Where do you want to go?” and you'll find they both link together. The parent wants the kid to succeed and the kid wants to succeed. The parent wants the kid to be financially independent, the kid wants to be that.

[Kyle]: What could we do to create that?

[Sara]: There is a lot of common ground, but we're in that rigid and chaos place, it's hard to see that common ground, so it's hard to create something together in that space. But when you separate, listen to each other, then you can come together and there's a lot of common ground and then you actually come alongside your child and helping them get where you're hoping they go, where they're hoping they go and those things aren't as different as we often fear that they are.

[Kyle]: So, I hope as you're listening, there's a lot of topics in parenting that you could cover this with. From going to school to doing homework, to phones, to screens, to plans for college.

[Sara]: Friendships, relationships.

[Kyle]: Yes. Siblings getting along and all these this-- You know, Siegel’s done a great job of how this covers all of these different topics. It all starts with if you're seeing chaos and you're seeing rigidity, first manage it within yourself, don't let yourself meet it with chaos and rigidity. Instead, take a deep breath, compose yourself, understand that you are not them, they are not you. They don't see the world the same way you do and it's good, that's a good thing. The fact that the other person doesn't see the world the same way you do, is good, it's a strength of the relationship. So, then you come back and then create linkage. How do you come back together and work together to co-create a different moment together? So, I hope you're seeing how this all can work to help with these conflicts and these power struggles in your family, just by seeing it and reframing it in this way. Hopes it gives you some real helpful tools going forward.

[Kyle]: So, we appreciate you guys listening. Please share this with any of your friends, who you think this should be helpful, with other parents. We just really think this knowledge is really good for families who, you know, really struggle with working together to create different outcomes. So, I hope this podcast was really informative and we thank you for listening.

[Sara]: Thank you, have a great day.

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