Do you feel equipped to prevent your child from being a bystander, victim or bully?
Kayla Taylor is a best-selling author, researcher, advocate and parent. She recently published "Canaries Among Us", an important expose that blends poignant storytelling and groundbreaking scientific research to empower those caring for the millions of kids challenged by learning differences, bullying and anxiety.
In this episode, Kayla shares openly about her family's journey coping with the bullying her daughter endured despite a caring teacher and ongoing conversations with administrators.
If your child doesn't fit society's definition of "normal", you might have this fear as well. Tune into this deep dive into all things bullying prevention, powerful advocacy, working with the school, and raising kind humans.
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Kayla Taylor 0:00
I think I would have wished I'd realized sooner that while the administrators had the best of intentions, they weren't as informed about this topic of bullying as I would have hoped. One of the reasons I wanted to write this book is I know my my situation was not alone. I think a lot of parents and kids are interacting with schools that are well meaning, but they might have put a poster on a wall that says, you know, no tolerance for bullying, or they might have a one off assembly in a year. But what I learned through all my studying of all the research and all the people who dedicate their lives to understanding bullying is that effective programs are pervasive and long term and integrated and highly tied into the culture. So you can't have a one off assembly you can't hang a poster on the wall. Instead, one of the best preventative efforts is creating an authentic culture of caring, mutual respect, inclusion, where differences are valued, and that's role modeled on top.
Danielle Bettmann 1:04
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 your buds 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. Before this next school year starts I have an interview that is a must hear for every single one of you. So so, so excited to share it. It is hugely on my heart. And I'm sure it is yours as well. I have Kayla Taylor on today's episode and we are talking about all things bullying, how to prevent it, how to help our kids if they are experiencing it on the victim side of it, what is really proven to help and contributes to it, and how to really advocate for our kids when they aren't society's you know, version of normal in school settings, and how to be a good advocate and how to be brave and kind of equip ourselves and how to support these kids really well.
So let me introduce you to Kayla. So Kayla Taylor is a best selling writer, researcher, advocate and parent and she recently published this amazing book called Canaries Among Us A mothers quest to honor her child's individuality in a culture determined to negate it. It's an important expose that blends poignant storytelling and groundbreaking scientific research to empower those caring for the millions of kids challenged by learning differences, bullying and anxiety. This heart rending chronicle tackles harmful stigmas while documenting the joy and heartache inherent in raising kids who don't fit society's definition of normal.
So in this episode, I have her define what a canary is and how to tell if your child might be a canary. How to work with your child's school and advocate for what's going on socially and emotionally in the classroom. How to start really young in your home and create a deeply rooted culture of kindness and inclusion from a young age. I know so many of you really want to do that well and are really afraid of when you're seeing signs that that is not happening. And so we're talking about the two kind of human things that conflict with that and what is normal, and I think you're just going to feel so heard in your plight as a parent of a kiddo that is maybe not on entirely neurotypical and we just talk about what truly matters... what is worth worrying about and what can you do and I this one, gives you practical, practical ways to incorporate these things into your conversations and your parenting right away today. but I also really, really recommend you get Kayla's book, Canaries Among Us. It is everywhere books are sold. And I really think that you'll benefit from hearing the story that in the way that she tells it. It is just so compelling and important in creating the world. We want to raise our kids in the next decade in the next generation. So we're all in this together. And I'm so grateful for Kayla's time today in being able to empower us with even more insight. So, without any further ado, I will let you hear our conversation. Here's my interview with Kayla.
Welcome to Failing Motherhood My name is Danielle Bettmann. And on today's episode, I'm joined by author Kayla Taylor. Welcome, Kayla, thank you so much for joining me today.
Kayla Taylor 5:55
Danielle, thanks so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Danielle Bettmann 5:59
I am so excited to have you. I just told you, but I'm gonna reiterate it again, I heard the title of your book come across my inbox. And it is Canary's Among Us: a mother's quest to honor her child's individuality in a culture determined to negate it. And I knew by that title alone, we have to talk; I have to have you on the show. Because I feel like that is a common thread of not only the experience within my home, a lot of my clients home, but a lot of my listeners homes as well and a much bigger, more common normalized issue than we may realize if we're not talking to each other about it. So I'm excited to be able to have a bigger conversation about raising neurodiverse kids and struggles in school and bullying and all those things. So I thankfully have gotten a chance to have access to the book. And I really hope that every listener gets a chance to dive in themselves. But we're going to talk about a couple of those bigger topics today. In your book, your daughter experiences bullying at a very young age in elementary school. And by like page two, my heart already broke for both of you. It's just so hard to hear it like laid out like that when you can feel your heartbreaking when you see her like life getting sucked out of her. And you change all the identifying factors in the story. So it can be told without compromising privacy for everyone involved, which I think is so respectful and important to be able to really talk vulnerably about this, which is so cool. So before we get into the idea of who canaries are, and you know some of that struggle, let's talk first about bullying because it's a problem for all of us to solve and all of us to be involved in this conversation. And I feel like at least for me, there seems to have been many initiatives started to address it. But there's also a perception that it only seems to be getting worse. So is that true? And what do you feel like it's contributing to it continuing to happen?
Kayla Taylor 8:05
I think one of the biggest obstacles to understanding of bullying and identifying it and addressing it is that people don't seem to have a common idea, a common definition of what bullying is exactly. So we all know bullying is bad. We all know it's wrong. We all don't want our kids to be bullies. We don't want to be bullies ourself. But because we don't know how to recognize it. It's hard to stand up when we see something happening. It's hard to know what to do. So maybe we should just start off with the definition of bullying. Yeah, when I was... You mentioned I had a really hard experience at school. I don't think I'm going to be telling the you know, blowing the cover off the book by telling something that happens in the first pages. But for your listeners, I pick my child up at school and soon found out that an "I hate Hannah" club had been organized by her classmates. And my child is Hannah. And so I had heard a number of things earlier, some of what you're talking about. I'd heard about spitting in the face pushing and mean behavior, disruptive behavior in the classroom. And I had ignored Well, I wouldn't say ignored. I had assumed a lot of it was indiscriminate. So when across the classroom, different kids were involved, I thought, but when this I hate Hannah Club was formed, I really, I really had to pull my head out of the sand. And so I did a lot of research. And I learned that of course different scholars have different opinions, but they all seem to hone in on the idea that bullying is the act of repeatedly and intentionally causing physical and or emotional harm to another person with less power. And I think there are a lot of pieces there that we don't generally recognize. So for example, we all know and recognize physical bullying if your kid comes home with a black eye, you know, we know to start paying attention, but the impact of verbal bullying, taunts and threats, or even especially social bullying, exclusion and humiliation can be quite significant. Also, you know, I said repeatedly one black eye is unfortunate, it's more than unfortunate. But bullying is the act of repeatedly and intentionally and we can get an intentionality because I wonder if the bullying scientists will will refine that because in my opinion, just because you didn't intend to do something, doesn't mean you didn't harm someone. And I think it's you know, incumbent upon all of us to understand the impact of our behavior and learn from it. But bullying is repeated. And in some experts will say, if it's repeated, then it must be intentional, because especially if you tell a child, hey, that's mean, and the child continues in the same way, then you can assume that that's intentional unless the child is cognitively impaired. So you're hearing me say a lot of unless or in this case, I think that's another problem that there's a lot of subjectivity involved. And I think we as people just don't want to believe that our child is hurting others. So we often you know, our gut just tells us to find excuses or other reasons to consider why maybe something other than bullying. But I think if we can all take the time to really look inward and be honest with ourselves, we can we can support our children and help them be the kind of people that they want to be. And of course, you know, we all want to raise kind citizens as well.
Danielle Bettmann 11:25
Yeah. And in those first few months of when you had kind of notice or gotten notes home from school, or reports from your daughter about those first few incidents, you kind of were trusting the school, trusting the process a little bit it sounded like and that is, I'm sure what a lot of parents would do, especially you were attending a well known private school at the time. So their big focus was on raising good citizens. And you felt like that was going to be then kind of covered like you were good. You didn't have to speak up because clearly they were handling it. And then later you realized that they really weren't I was that experience kind of informed what you recommend. Now, other parents do maybe more proactively or what what would you wish you would have realized sooner?
Kayla Taylor 12:18
I think I would have wished I'd realized sooner that while the administrators had the best of intentions, they weren't as informed about this topic of bullying as I would have hoped. One of the reasons I wanted to write this book is I know my my situation was not alone. I think a lot of parents and kids are interacting with schools that are well meaning, but they might have put a poster on a wall that says, you know, no tolerance for bullying, or they might have a one off assembly in a year. But what I learned through all my studying of all the research and all the people who dedicate their lives to understanding bullying is that effective programs are pervasive and long term and integrated and highly tied into the culture. So you can't have a one off assembly you can't hang a poster on the wall. Instead, one of the best preventative efforts is creating an authentic culture of caring, mutual respect, inclusion, where differences are valued. And that's role modeled on top. And one of the reasons it's really important to note that differences are valued would go back to our bullying definition, I probably didn't spend enough time talking about how bullying is in the cases where there's a power differential. So two kids who are peers who are bickering at each other, teasing each other, that is not necessarily bullying, it's when one child has less social power than another. And it could be because they're from a marginalized group. Because a gang of kids gangs up on, you know, an individual, it's been shown that the most common targets of bullying are racial minorities, people in the LGBTQIA communities, people with disabilities, kids with learning differences, or really anyone who's deemed different. So one of the important things the school can do is really recognize those power differentials, and really, really work and role model supporting kids and families and kids of all types. You know, for example, not letting certain kids or certain families with certain social status, get away with things that other people can't get away with.
Danielle Bettmann 14:22
Yeah, yeah. So differences being celebrated. Sounds like one of the bigger principles that matters when it comes down to how that's integrated at a more deeper, consistent, comprehensive level. Would you agree?
Kayla Taylor 14:39
I would totally agree. I think for this whole experience, I you know, heard people preach tolerance. And I assumed that was a great thing. But then in my experience, is do we really just want to tolerate one another is is that really our goal here? Or do we want to create cultures that really celebrate the individual? So for example, a kid who's being bullied, clearly, we have less power. But if you could, as a teacher somehow create an opportunity to show how that child has, you know, special gifts in their own way and celebrate those and help the children see that those are worthy as well. Not just the kids who fit the standard, you know, box we fit kids into, which is, you know, athletic, socially adept, you know, quick witted, probably good in math, but not too good. So that they're, you know, nerdy, I say nerdy in quotes. I'm actually I consider myself a nerd. But I think you know, anything we can do to use that word that you said, celebrate, really, the wide variety of our humanity is really helpful.
Danielle Bettmann 15:41
Mm hmm. And that was kind of a theme that I stumbled across by reading a book, which books are our friends, as parents, they create the really, really important conversations and bring vocabulary into our home that we just didn't have before. And I'll link it in the show notes. But it was a book about Marlon Bundo. And it's a story about these bunnies, and these animals, and they basically talk about politics at a preschool level, and all vote and decide that different is good. And for some reason, I was able to jump onto that language when my kids were like two or three, and find so many ways to bring that into conversation. Oh, this is another example of how different is good and let's see, you know, how how we can value that in this circumstance in this circumstance. And with this, you know, particular attribute or this, how do you see differences between you and this friend, and it has really, really served us but I think without stumbling across that book at that time, I don't know that that would have been on my radar as much until right, it affected our family personally. So you talk a lot about how, you know, no one seems to take action until it's their child. What do parents that haven't had a time where they're sitting in the principal's office, you know, really needing to do all the deep work that you already have? They're not there yet, thankfully. What do you hope for them to learn sooner than later?
Kayla Taylor 17:11
I think you nailed it actually, with what you just said, this pointing at a young age, how differences are worthy. And it not just that interesting. So I think, you know, early on, you were I mean, you said it really pragmatically you're saying this is good. But you did more than that you got rid of any form of judgment, which is just so negative and weighs people down. And instead, you created space for joy. So to look at Oh, how interesting that is, how cool is that? I mean, the whole environment gets so much more...to use the word again... joyful for your own family. So even if you aren't sitting in the principal's office, even if your child isn't being targeted, to take every opportunity you can to introduce the variety of life and take pleasure in that I think is benefits everybody. Unfortunately, I think it's not something that's generally taught. So you were lucky you read this, it sounds like a board book of some sort at an early age and just stumbled upon it and happened to be in a frame of mind to really integrate the key message into your everyday well being. Yep, unfortunately, not everybody is taught that. But I think you know, all your listeners now have that opportunity. I'm guessing you've preached this message before. And you know, just one person, what you can't really affect the world, you can affect your family and your kids and create that joy just in your family.
Danielle Bettmann 18:34
And they think, you know, if this wasn't something maybe that's the way that we were parented and we are working really hard to parent from scratch. And a lot of these ways, especially with, you know, emotion regulation and, and some of this like character valuing,
Kayla Taylor 18:49
I'd say it's more than from scratch. We're actually I think, trying to unlearn some of the things that we learned. So so many things that were normalized for us that we took for granted. Like of course, there's this box that everybody should be put in. Of course, we should all work towards being an ironically, it's an average, like, do we really just want to be average and undiscovered. But that's what we were taught to tow the line to be seen, not heard, you know, all of that. And to the point that I really had to unlearn a lot because I was second guessing my own thoughts because they were different from other people's my perceptions. And we weren't taught necessarily to value our own individual perspectives, unless they were aligned with other people's especially people in authority. So I had that struggle when I was there to parent my own kids. In some ways, I was still a child because I still had embedded in me everything that had been taught to me, it's from such a young age.
Danielle Bettmann 19:43
And you can you can see that when your view of the situation differed from the principles view or the teachers view or the you know, other practitioner that you're seeking out support from. We were taught as kids not to listen to that voice. within us, because we need to essentially listen to the more authority figure, right. And that really does a disservice when we're now in this parent role. Because then we're just missing our gut. And our instinct, and we're just missing, essentially, are being an advocate for our own kid when we really, they really need us most. But that was the way that we were conditioned for years and years and years. And we can't discount just how much that's still impacting us today, especially if we're terrified of our kid pointing out a difference at the grocery store, and being mortified because they're bringing, you know, someone's attention to a racial difference or a wheelchair or, you know, something that's like, oh, no, like, mortified.
Kayla Taylor 20:45
Right. But so I think we're all still learning in, you know, I don't have answers here. One thing I've grown to appreciate, you know, when people talk about my differences, I can speak from my own perspective, is that when it's done from a place of love, and curiosity, and respect, I'm cool with it, and my kids seemed fine with it, too. It's when there's judgment involved, or some sort of social status and superiority or expectation that, you know, I or my kids behave differently in people who don't even know us or experience or assuming that, you know, someone in my book joked, and I have felt the same way that, you know, I, you know, I am not perfect here, I used to judge other mothers in the grocery store line when their kids weren't behaving. And then I had my own kid who didn't behave. And I realized, oh, my gosh, you know, some kids are harder to parent than others, this is not all the same. And maybe some people just got a few that, you know, are very compliant and easy, and have therefore no understanding of what the other parents are going through.
Danielle Bettmann 21:47
Yes, that is so true. We are the best parents ever until we have kids.
Kayla Taylor 21:54
Danielle Bettmann 21:55
So anything else that you feel like is really important that has been proven to help prevent bullying? Or is something that's going to create the movement and the tie that we hope to see over the next, you know, decade for our kids that are currently in elementary school? What would you like to see happen?
Kayla Taylor 22:16
So on my website, it actually, I made for free the chapter on bullying, because I just feel like these issues are so important. And I wanted to share all I learned from all the research I did, so you can go to my website, Kayla Taylor writes (with an s) .com. But I will say one other really important thing is so often as parents, we dictate to kids about what they should do. But you know, this authoritarian dictator role is actually not what we want to be role modeling, right? And it totally dismisses kids individuality again. So I think one thing we can really do is listen to kids and empower them to define their own cultures, you know, they can get in a classroom, and make their own classroom rules about what is important to them. What kind of behavior is expected, what should happen when, when things don't go according to plan. And one of the most important things I think, is, as part of that teaching kids how to repair damage done, too often, we just force kids to say a glib, "I'm sorry". And anybody who's ever received one of those knows how empty it is. And almost it often even hurts, it's another punch to the gut. So if we can really teach kids about taking responsibility and repairing damage, but in a way that respects the person they hurt, you know, asking that person, what do they need to feel whole again, so really empowering the kids, especially centering the kid who was most injured, versus deciding for that kid what they need to feel to feel good, is really important. I think we just can't dismiss the role of the children themselves.
Danielle Bettmann 23:47
Yes, the end so much like a broader idea in principle, but that's something that I teach with, with my clients is instead of saying, I'm sorry, ask them, you know, how can I help? Would you rather have a stuffy or an ice pack? Or would you like a hug or a soft touch, you know, something that takes action to kind of embody that idea of I cause harm, I'm taking responsibility and repairing this relationship. And it's there much more easy to cooperate with that. And, you know, that's one advantage, but then, that if you have a pattern of that in your home, and you're even, you know, modeling that yourself, that can create so much more of that, like deeply embedded culture of mutual respect that it creates that that healthy expectation ongoing?
Kayla Taylor 24:36
Absolutely. I think, you know, you actually mentioned something really important, probably one of the most valuable things we can do as parents is to have our kids see us apologize ourselves, not just to our peers, but to them to the kids, which again, going back to our raising, I don't think our parents did very much because I think they were worried that that would show a sign of weakness or giving up control. And that wouldn't be good for a parent to do, but I think we now we cerebrally understand that that actually shows huge strength. So if we can do that for our children, then they'll be more able to do that for other people.
Danielle Bettmann 25:10
Because it's that power differential. And when they, they feel that, you know, no matter what, even if we, no matter how we parent, they know that we hold the power. So when we're creating that more dictator role, or not being able to embody the things that we're trying to expect out of them, I don't think I'll ever forget that image of like that meme. Or maybe it's like a New York newspaper comic where it's the picture of the mom, and like her tongue is coming out to like the son, and that tongue is continuing out. And you know, it's harming another child. Have you seen that image? Do you what I'm talking about?
Kayla Taylor 25:45
No, but I completely get where you're going with with this. It's a lesson I had to learn too myself. I mean, I to, you know, having kids, I think really makes you, hopefully reanalyze your own perspectives, right. So I too, I look back on my childhood. And I think of the kids on the playground who were different. And, you know, fortunately, as far as I remember, I don't think I bullied them. But I also didn't lend a helping hand. And I didn't demonstrate a lot of respect, right. And I so wish I had done that. And while I didn't say it out loud, I probably thought, oh, that kid's weird. Or oh, that kid's strange. And somehow, in a way that seems to justify the poor behavior, like, oh, they deserved it, because they're different. So if we can change that whole dynamic, I now try, and it's hard. It's a lot of unlearning. But I try to never use words like weird or strange, or crazy when referring to other people, you they'll say a situation is weird, but people are not weird. And I really try. And actually, when I catch my kids using that words, I really try and use those as opportunities to think about what the implications of that are, because they totally marginalize, they totally treat other people like they're less significant. I mean, if you go down to your local coffee shop, and let's eavesdrop. On the teenagers there, the amount of times they use those words, is high, right. But if we could just take those opportunities to reach out to those kids and help them understand the impact, you know, kids want to be kind they don't want to be mean. So that's one lesson I've learned.
Danielle Bettmann 27:21
Yeah. And that, that kindness is, I talked about this with another episode of like, is kindness, an intrinsic thing, you know, like, does it come pre-wired. And I really do believe that there's a pillar of Positive Discipline that talks about, like, an intrinsic desire to be a part of something bigger than you and contribute to a community and, you know, wants to belong in this in that community, but also want to feel capable and competent and hopeful. And I do think that kids come pre-wired with that. But there's also that really human desire that feels like I have to edge out others to feel like I can get that need for belonging met, and those things are competing against each other. And if that our kids are really, you know, self conscious, or other people's kids are really are struggling with their identity and wanting to belong, then that might be one of the drivers or motivators for some of that harmful behavior. Would you agree?
Kayla Taylor 28:17
Absolutely. I think you're hitting on one of the hardest things here to work with is that none of us believe we're bad people, right? None of us want to be bad people. But when something difficult happens, we often our brain works really quickly before we like before, sorry to sound nerdy here, but like our prefrontal cortex is even aware like our reptilian brain, the amygdala starts working right with things like social normative influence, and doing what we can do to get along and our instincts write a story, you know, we come from communities, Darwinism has has worked so that we value communities of people who look like us who act like us, right? Because people who didn't, were threats. And so now our instincts process those differences before we're even aware. And so, while we know we're good, we'd like to believe we're good. We actually need to stop and think about oh, wait, in this situation. Did I get to judgment a little too quickly? Did I assume that kid was targeted because they deserved it a little bit? Or because they're odd, or do I not care? You know, so I studied because I was really curious, like how the seat should have been so easy, right? My child was being targeted again and again. And the teacher felt so bad about it. But the administration was really unhelpful. And I was shocked to see the number of adults like kids parents that were apathetic, and I just I'm like, this should be so easy. A kid is bullied. People should say, Oh, that's not good, right? And, you know, people should say, try and help the kid who was targeted feel better or the kid who behaved poorly helped them learn how they can behave better next time and the other kids can learn how to support one another better and that just wasn't happening. So went and did a ton of research. on empathy and compassion, and you know, it's interesting, empathy wasn't even a word until like the 1920s, or something, it was all about sympathy feeling sorry for someone, and he created a word, empathy to show that you actually feel in your heart, that feeling. And a lot of the research really, there was a ton more research after World War Two, when little kids who grew up during the Holocaust, just couldn't understand how peers just looked the other way. And I guarantee you, everybody we know now for the most part, would say, Oh, well, if I was alive, then I wouldn't have looked the other way. But look what happened. It was human behavior, the vast majority of people did look the other way. So it'd be presumptive less to assume that we wouldn't do the same. So people, a lot of scientists studied that and how there's sympathy, and there's empathy, and then compassion, actually taking action to support people in need. And that's harder to do, it's easier to do if you understand that your brain wants to shut down when things get hard when someone looks different. When you're fearful for your own life, when you're fearful of being judged by the group. Especially because most often there's that power differential. So you're reaching out to someone who other people think don't fit in who are marginalized, who are strange, who are not worth the effort, there are others, right? But if we're aware that our brain does that, I think we can do a lot more to be compassionate towards one another. Exactly. And recognize that we're not perfect, right? We're in valuable we like, we have weaknesses that we often don't even recognize. And so hopefully we can work to overcome those.
Danielle Bettmann 31:29
Yes, and we don't have to identify with like, the shame, we feel because it's not an identity piece of like, I'm a bad person, or they're a bad person, you can't just like completely overgeneralize and other the other person because we all make mistakes, we all are human, we you know, we can have when we have self compassion, then it's much easier to extend that to others and be able to see that, like I'm doing the best I can with the information I have today. And so is that person, and then tomorrow, we have new information, and we can make new decisions and just be able to have a lot more grace is huge.
Kayla Taylor 32:09
Absolutely. I couldn't agree more.
Danielle Bettmann 32:27
So big emotions from little people are running the show at your house. Is that right? Do they fall apart when something doesn't go their way? Just once? Why can't they accept the fact that the answer is no. Am I right? The struggle is real. You're not alone, and you're in the right place. When your days are filled with relentless push back, it is so hard to feel like a good parent, especially when you're in laws aren't shy and sharing how they think your kids just need a good spanking. Every time you lose it when they lose it, you feel like a failure. The worst part is, without addressing the root of your child's behavior, you're doomed to play a fruitless game of Whack a Mole reacting rather than preventing the next conflict. And next time, nothing's gonna go differently. The good news is, when you have a handful of effective discipline tools in your pocket, you're able to step into full confidence as their parent, parenting actually becomes a whole lot easier. I promise you're not failing them. You just need more tools. So if you have a tiny human who's full of love, and yet so so difficult, if you can only be so nice for so long. If you've tried everything and still feel defeated on the daily, I free class, authentic and unapologetic is for you. In this free training, I share five huge misconceptions in parenting strong-willed kids that inadvertently invite defiance for mistaken goals. They're using their behavior to meet and what to do about it. How to let judgment roll off your back and truly feel like the parent your kids need and why what you're currently doing just isn't working and isn't going to anytime soon. So go to parenting wholeheartedly.com/unapologetic To access this exclusive free training immediately. That's parenting wholeheartedly.com/unapologetic The link will be in the show notes.
I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about the idea of a canary. So that's the title of your book. But also, I just want to be able to kind of define that for listeners who haven't got to dive in yet. Where did that idea for you that analogy can originate? And how can listeners maybe tell if their child is a canary?
Kayla Taylor 35:17
Right. So the book is Canaries Among Us. And early in my journey, I realized my child is highly sensitive. It's a trait that I'm sure you've talked about study by a lot of scientists like Elaine, Aaron, and highly sensitive people are, are more in tune with their environments, especially the senses around them, like sensory stimuli, like smell, touch, you know, all of them, an fMRI scan show that that these individuals, which is about 20% of the population, it's not the random one off person, it's a good chunk of our population actually process the senses more deeply in the brain. And they're often called canaries. So you probably know, up until like the late 1900s, people, miners often took canaries down into the mines with them. And the reason they did this is because the Canaries too, were sensitive. In their case, they were sensitive to toxins in the air. So if the Canaries stopped singing, the miners knew they needed to flee the mine, or they might be poisoned by carbon monoxide. And I love this analogy, because, you know, today, when people talk about kids, or even adults who are sensitive, it's usually with a condescending tone of voice, you know, oh, they're overly emotional, they're weak, they're pathetic. They're way too sensitive, they just need to chill out, right. But this shows how actually, the sensitivity not only benefited the Canary, but benefited everybody associated with a canary. And so I really liked that idea. And as I kept going, through my experience, I realized that my kid was being bullied because my child was different. In my case, my child has some learning differences. And when I overlay the idea of a canary on to any type of learning difference, it felt relevant to me. So for example, kids with dyslexia, you know, they're told they are disabled that they have a disorder, they have a wider visual perception mode, which Yes, can make reading harder. But scientists have shown that on average, people with dyslexia also are often able to notice the bigger picture more they able to connect dots, they have strong social skills, they have high creativity. So if you only look at you know, reading speed, for example, or you will be missing a whole part of that child just like with a canary in the coal mine, ADHD, something similar. So yes, kids with ADHD have trouble sitting in high chairs and staring at whiteboards for a long time. And ironically, that it's you know, attention deficit. But in fact, kids with ADHD often are able to hyper focus on areas of interest. They're also develop often develop high resilience, creativity, conversation skills, spontaneity, a lot of really great skills, Autism, similar. So yes, often troubled social skills. And I should say like, no kids with autism, who is the same as all other kids with autism, same with ADHD, dyslexia, these are all whole people. But on average, kids with autism often recognize patterns that others don't recognize, they demonstrate higher levels of honesty, focus, sensory awareness, concern for justice and fairness. So if we just look at autism, as a difference, I sorry, is like a wrong is a disability is something we need to train out of these kids, we are missing so much of them. And not that child, yes, suffers. But so to do the rest of us because we don't benefit from the great gifts they have for this world.
Danielle Bettmann 38:34
Yes. And I love that you described in detail the analogy of how the canary benefited everyone in the mine, I really do feel like these, these kids are in these environments for a reason. When we're able to listen to them, we benefit, like they are here to Yes, challenge us in some ways. And we can, you know, when we choose to accept that mission, we can really grow in ways that we didn't think possible and find strengths we didn't know we had and things when we were supporting them. But also they are there to really just put an end to the way things have always been, or the environments that are unnecessarily and you know, to use kind of a cliche word toxic, because they're just not going to put up with it. They're not okay, with the way that everything is just overlooked or lumped into one big sum of how they're treated. And you know, if you just say do this, because I said so. That's not going to cut it.
Kayla Taylor 39:40
Right. So I agree with you on a lot of points. Danielle, I will make a distinction, which I think you'll agree with as well, that, you know, I don't feel like their job is to be here to teach us. That happens for sure. Yeah. But you know, these are children. They're here to be exactly who they are. And unfortunately, you know, they're not given much space to write. And the great irony is that a lot of times when parents see this difference, and they want to advocate for their kids, they go to the specialists, and the specialists and pathologize them, you know, tell them okay, well, in order to get the things they need, which by the way, like, often don't cost much at all, and really just take a kind open heart more than anything else. But in order to support them, we are now pathologizing them, we're telling them that their disorder, they're dysfunctional, they've got these deficits. And through that lens, these kids are considered stupid or lazy, or incapable or willfully disobedient, right? Worse, we just stepped back and said they are who they're supposed to be. And the problem most often is not the child, the problem is the environment that isn't allowing them to be who they are, then I think we can have a whole different conversation. Yes, I talked about in the book, how, when I was trying to work with my kids, teachers, and we had some lovely teachers who are highly empathic. And we also, you know, honestly came across a few teachers who were rigid. And I understand teaching kids who are different in this restrictive environment is really hard on teachers. But we had a teacher who refused made it very difficult for my child to get the very basic accommodation, in this case, a wiggly stool, and she considered that stool a toy, rather than a tool, right? And so Oh, all the kids should be able to have access, and we only have five, so let's let them take turns, which meant my kid only got one once in a while. And you know, the other kids didn't need them, but my kid did need them a few kid, not just make it a few kids did. And even when I offered to, you know, try and raise the funds for so that okay, every kid wants a school, every kid gets a school, that teacher wouldn't allow that, I think, to her that felt too indulgent. You know, I don't blame the teacher, I think the teachers are put in a really hard spot. Teachers aren't taught when they get through their training about learning differences. So how can we expect them to have the resources and understanding that the children need, if we don't provide the teachers with that information, I think we're really leaving them high and dry.
Danielle Bettmann 42:08
Oh, 100%. And I, I can see both sides of that coin, because I have a teaching degree. And I was certified to teach in elementary school. And you know, student taught and really just saw firsthand just how unequipped you are as a teacher coming in, not only just for like classroom management skills, and you know, supplies in your classroom, I mean, there's all sorts of facets to it, your own well being, you know, like you don't can't even pay your bills at home. But like, you truly don't have the ability to individualize to the extent that every child deserves in your classroom, especially if you have high ratios, or anything else that's going on that that's a challenge to make that happen, even if you are the most well intentioned teacher. And the other thing that really stinks is there becomes I don't know if it's just out of the survival of feeling like your backs against the wall, but there becomes a dynamic of like, teachers versus parents, yes, that I feel like I saw firsthand being on both sides of that coin now, where it feels like as a teacher, you are fighting against parents for trying to get your job done. And that there has been maybe a lot of parents that push back against things, maybe we don't need to push back on or teachers feel very unsupported by, you know, some of the students parents within their classroom. But I think that becomes then this way to generalize dynamic that both sides feel like we're on our own here where it could totally change and be a lot more valuable for the kids.
Kayla Taylor 43:49
Right? I think, you know, unfortunately, there are some parents who are highly entitled, oh, my child is gifted and want the teacher to bend to that one parents specific desires, even though the parent might not be educated in teaching. And I can totally see how that just builds a huge amount of resentment. What I found is that dynamic plus the general societal dynamic to like, be cool, be laid back, you know, show no emotion and then you look like you're in control. You know, if you raise a problem, you're pretty quickly dubbed, I was pretty quickly dubbed. And my problem was so obvious. It was mind bending to me, but I was considered, I assume no one actually use this word to my face, but I felt like I was considered a helicopter, an overly indulgent parent. You know, I just wanted my kid to not be bullied and to be able to go to school and not like, be crying every morning, curled in a ball in the bed. Like I just wanted my kids to be able to show up. Like, that's all like, yeah, there have literally been years where like, I don't care if my kid learns a thing this year. I just don't want my child to feel trauma. ties, you know, at the end of the day, yeah. And like my bar was really low. And I say that though, like that that bar is so fundamentally important, just feeling basically safe,
Danielle Bettmann 45:12
incredibly foundational. Yeah. But
Kayla Taylor 45:15
when I tried to advocate for that, you know, even other parents, even my own friends, some of my very closest friends, you know, didn't want to be associated with me when I was raising problems. I sensed, you know, they were more worried about status, they wanted to be invited onto the school board, they wanted to leave the PTA and you know, you can't, that can't happen if you're the one, you know, causing problems, I don't think is causing problems. I was raising awareness, but the issues are different ways to phrase the same thing. But anyways, I think like this idea of helicopter parenting, you know, we there's all the millennials, you know, parents went in and advocated for grades for college students and kids went off to college and didn't know how to do their own laundry. There's that whole thing, but I think the generation behind is trying to prove so hard, that they're not helicopter parents, that we've in a way abdicated parenting like, we don't get involved at all. So when we see kids being cruel on the playground, or you know, me and on the playground, we don't engage, it's Oh, they'll figure it out. Oh, boys will be boys, you know, whatever phrase people put on that, because they don't want to be seen as a helicopter, indulgent parent, I think we need to rethink that. I came down on the side that, okay, yeah, like, my kid needs to learn how to do the dishes, like, can you do all that, but when it comes to areas that related to strong values, and our family, like being kind, then I was going to engage wasn't gonna, like do their homework, I didn't care about grades, but kindness that that is when I wasn't going to let go.
Danielle Bettmann 46:42
That's such an important distinction. Because without being able to bring attention to that might be subconsciously, a fear of yours as a parent or something that was driving your behavior without really knowing it, then, yeah, you're going to abdicate that advocacy at to everyone's detriment really, for trying to save face or trying not to be that parent. But if you can kind of differentiate No, in these cases, I'm not I'm going to empower my kids, I'm going to take the teachers word for you know, the grade is the grade and, and I'm not going to do all their homework for them. But when it comes to their safety, and their, you know, social-emotional development and peer relationships, I am going to say something and that is warranted and okay, that's probably a just enough perspective to really empower you and help you be brave, because that is that that's hard. It is hard. And I think if environments could support other parents who were trying to engage on those levels, that would be helpful. Yeah, versus dismissive parent who speaks up for anything at all, right? Because that stigma is there for a reason. And that's because, you know, parents like that haven't been taken seriously, or have been ostracized from social peer groups, because of the things that they have spoken up about. Right. It's so hard,
Kayla Taylor 48:03
you know, is it interesting for me, because so I actually had a fair amount of social power, I thought, you know, that I felt a moral obligation to when we were leaving the school to support other kids. So as you know, because you've read the book, I wrote a letter to the school, to the board to try and help other families who are still suffering, who didn't have the mobility that we did who aren't able to leave. And it's interesting how, how quickly, I was negated. You know, I was I was respected as long as I toe the party line, I didn't realize that how tenuous how vulnerable, my position was, it was very strong, as long as I played the part, right. And so I think there's a lot to learn there. And for us to think about in terms of, you know, there have been these huge social justice movements over the past few years, and we're all trying to learn how to be allies and to support one another. And I think we haven't really learned how to support the whistleblower, you know, they're often you know, books are written about this, you know, what was it bad blood about the Ferien case? Like, there are a lot of cases where people whistleblow and they're treated like traitors. There are a lot of really bad ways we perceive people who come forward, right. But if we can learn to appreciate the strength it takes to come forward and celebrate the whistleblowers, the truth tellers, versus demean them. You know, I think we would all benefit.
Danielle Bettmann 49:27
Yeah, it's kind of like a being a parent version of a canary.
Kayla Taylor 49:30
Yes. Yeah, I guess it is.
Danielle Bettmann 49:34
That way. Yeah. That's kind of full circle. So of all the important messages in your book, is there one more kind of takeaway that you really hope every listener hears from you this episode?
Kayla Taylor 49:47
Well, we talked about celebrating differences versus tolerating them, right. I think along those lines, one thing that I learned and you know, you and I've spoken about how a lot of your listeners their kids don't fit a mold, right? And so often in the beginning, you know, we look to the people who are the leaders in these spaces, the therapists, the teachers, the experts. And so often, the suggestion is to remediate these differences and to send them to after school, you know, all sorts of therapies. And while I think it's helpful to help kids at the margins, what I didn't do at first and I regret so much is, I didn't lean into the strengths. So if you have a quirky kid who loves I don't know, dump trucks, instead of pulling that kid away from the dump truck to teach them, teach them a skill they really don't care about, like, why not like, let them use that dump truck and maybe use that dump truck to learn other skills, or maybe not at all, like, let them lean hard into that dump truck for a while. So they feel competent and capable. What I found is if you spend so much time trying to remediate and change a kid, they get the message. They're not good enough, right? They are wrong. Yeah, they're bad. Yeah, that they feel like they're stripped of their own dignity and their capability. And then that leads to anxiety and you know, all this other stuff. And now you're not just handling say, a speech impediment. Now you're handling sense of worth anxiety, like mental health, serious mental health issues? Yeah. So I think, you know, we all talk a lot about like growth mindsets, and being willing to try new things, and you know, all this positive words, but I think our practices really aren't in place yet to really lean into those strengths, no matter how quirky or different they are, and celebrating those and letting our kids shine in really different and maybe even peculiar ways, but in a way that honors who they truly are. I wish I had done that earlier.
Danielle Bettmann 51:42
That's so, so beautiful, when you know, it's painted as a picture of like, the world we want to raise our kids in, and the parents we want to be, and it just feels like Well, yeah, we're all doing that, and that we're all capable of that. But you don't realize just how much your fears or your thoughts might self sabotage you from me being able to even do that in the moment or not even be aware that you're not doing that in the moment. And that's where what I kind of alluded to before, where it's like, if you choose to accept the mission and grow as a parent, a lot of the times in order to really let your kid be themselves and have an environment that helps them succeed and thrive, you are the one that has to change, you are the one that has to get face to face with some of those fears, or some of that people pleasing or worrying about other people's opinions and judgment of you or, you know, having to work towards ways to learn how to regulate your emotions for the first time. So you can be more patient or, you know, let those little things slide because you want to just not, you know, push reading, if you're homeschooling, you know, like, all of those little things that come up to the surface, are, are helping you turn around and then be able to just like hold space, essentially, for your kid to be who they are in their fullest sense. And that's the biggest gift we can give them truly,
Kayla Taylor 53:01
it is but you know, as I'm listening to you, I feel exhausted. What I'm realizing is not only are we trying to teach our kids all these social skills, but at the same time we're trying to learn them ourselves. Right? So I feel like we're the generation that is breaking this pattern. And it is exhausting, right, because hopefully going forward, just the generation itself will learn just the kid themselves will learn the skill. And we're trying to teach something as we're learning it. And oh my gosh. Talk about like trying to learn to fly while being thrown out of an airplane. Right?
Danielle Bettmann 53:38
Literally. Yeah, it's hard is an understatement.
Kayla Taylor 53:42
So I guess if we can all maybe just have a little patience for ourselves and grace and compassion, not just for our kids, but for ourselves. I think what we're doing is hard.
Danielle Bettmann 53:52
Yes. And the willingness to keep putting that effort in day after day is admirable, and is really, really worth the effort. But you might need to take take a minute to take care of yourself along the way.
Kayla Taylor 54:05
I think so. And you know, it's one of the reasons I wrote this book because there were so many points in time where I was like, How do I not know this yet? Like we talked about how to to offer a good apology. You know, things about belonging, dignity, bias, victimization, isolation, trauma, like learning differences, like how do I not know this when I was pregnant? I read all those books What to Expect When You're Expecting and you know, all those different stages, but I felt like oh my gosh, there's so much crucial information about raising children that no one told me you know, how to demonstrate caring and compassion. That is such a basic thing, but no one is taught that. So that's why I tried to integrate. I mean, my book is primarily a story right? But I tried to integrate the learnings because I so wish someone had given those to me, and I was a big dork who spent hours and hours and hours reading all the self help books I could find going to the footnote And then reading the medical journals that they footnoted and doing all that I just don't think parents should have to do that. And those self help while lovely, and so appreciated, so often I finished, you know, 300 page book and I thought, "oh, but that could have been summarized in five paragraphs or five sentences." So I tried to do that for my readers. And then if they want to read more, you know, I in the back, I put in the the sources of my favorite sources of information, not all the sources, but my favorite ones. But I do feel like we're flying blind here as parents these days, and there's so much I wish someone had told me.
Danielle Bettmann 55:32
Yes, I hear that so often is like, I wish I would have known this years ago, I wish I would have learned this with my first kid rather than my third. You know, is it too late? And yeah, you cannot blame yourself for not knowing what you didn't know. Right.
Kayla Taylor 55:49
And that wasn't readily available. You know, a lot of the science and the research I found, a lot of it is, you know, 50 years old, but it's not readily available. You know, again, I had to pay $29.95 for one medical journal article that summarize the work. I mean, that gets expensive for just every individual idea. I think, researchers are amazing, but there's also competition in these ivory towers to withhold their information. So no one else, you know, claims it as their own. But, you know, we're learning this in the healthcare system that really hurts patients. Right. But to the extent that doctors from different facilities can work together and make their learnings more widely available to benefit the patient that, you know, that's a good thing.
Danielle Bettmann 56:34
Yes, yes. It's sad that trying to have practices that benefit patients is still a work in progress. Right.
Kayla Taylor 56:42
I mean, hospitals are like literally founding translational facilities to translate the research into practice, like they're dedicating whole buildings. So that's kind of a new practice. And maybe, and I think it'd be wonderful if we did that in education and child rearing as well.
Danielle Bettmann 56:57
Oh, 100%. Yes. Yeah, it's good that we have all the Instagram accounts now. But it can also feel very chaotic and conflicting.
Kayla Taylor 57:05
Right. And a lot of it, it's hard to know what's peer reviewed, and what's actual fact and what's not. Right. Oh, yeah, that can bea minefield.
Danielle Bettmann 57:13
Yeah, exactly. Well, that I feel like puts a kind of a bow on our conversation. Sure, we could keep talking for a while. But I want listeners to get in touch with your books that go ahead and share the ways that they can connect with you.
Kayla Taylor 57:28
Thanks, Danielle, I so appreciated being here in this conversation. So my book is available most places people buy, I'll do a plug for the independent bookstores like bookshop.org. But of course, it's available on Amazon too. And as I mentioned earlier, well, the book is Canaries Among Us. And my website, Kayla Taylor writes.com has a resource page for people who are interested in some of the topics we discussed today.
Danielle Bettmann 57:52
For the nerdy overachievers wanting to read the footnotes. Yes. Those all those links in the show notes as well. So the last question I ask every guest that comes on is how are you the mom your kids need?
Kayla Taylor 58:05
I think I am my best self. And this isn't all the time for sure. When I just stop and listen to them, and believe them and hear them when I really just take the time instead of injecting my own point of view or try and make it a teaching moment when I'm just there being with them and listening to them. I think is when I'm being the mom they need.
Danielle Bettmann 58:31
Yes. They need less direction than we think actually. Yeah,
Kayla Taylor 58:35
I think so. I think so. I mean, of course. So again, engage if they're behaving very poorly and being mean to others. But for the most part, they just need someone to listen and to care. Yeah,
Danielle Bettmann 58:47
Well, they're so lucky to have you and such a gift for you to have created this book and to be sharing it with the world and, and in a way that really protects the identities but shares the vulnerability of your story. And it's so commendable. So thank you, for for that gift to us. We will be sharing it far and wide.
Kayla Taylor 59:04
Thanks, Danielle. And for the gift that you're offering everybody just to share all these ideas, not just hosting me as a guest, but everybody you host to help parents feel like they're flailing a little less, to have a little more compassion for themselves. Thank you. You're you're doing amazing work.
Danielle Bettmann 59:19
Oh, yes, so needed. So thank you.
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 know 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.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai