Navigating the turbulent waters of divorce can be a daunting task. Imagine trying to parent effectively amid it all, especially when dealing with a high-conflict ex. Today, we were privileged to delve into this sensitive topic with AJ Gajjar, a seasoned trauma-informed child development specialist and parenting consultant. Her insights reveal the challenges children face transitioning between drastically different environments and how stress impacts their brain development. She also underlines the importance of prioritizing children's needs during a divorce, something that can often be sidelined in the heat of the conflict. As a children's advocate, AJ's broad understanding of child behavioral patterns arms her with effective strategies to help mitigate their trauma. Her vast knowledge of the workings of the amygdala, hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex, and how they play a significant role in regulating emotions, is critical for parents in understanding their children's behavior. She emphasizes the importance of creating an emotionally safe environment for children, and building strong relationships with them, as these are key in trauma healing and supporting their overall development. What sets AJ apart is her invaluable advice on how to parent effectively with a high-conflict ex. AJ will cover three main topics:
Why Co-parenting or parallel parenting with a high-conflict ex does not work
How to mitigate your child's painful experiences so they don't turn into Trauma
The 3 keys to parenting with a high-conflict ex
It's a conversation that's not only invaluable for those going through a high-conflict divorce, but for any parent wanting to shield their child from potential trauma during a divorce. Free Gift from AJ Gajjar. AJ Gajjar's Website Contact AJ Directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Grief and trauma are the two biggest struggles women deal with as they go through their divorce. It's highly likely that you are experiencing both and don't even realize what you're feeling. I'm here to tell you that it's okay for you to grieve your marriage (even if it was shitty) and it's normal to be experiencing some kind of trauma (which is essentially a disconnection from yourself - your mind, body and soul). I can help guide you through the grief in all of the forms it show up so you can heal. I can also teach you how to ground yourself in healing so you can ease through the trauma. Schedule your free consult by clicking here.
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Full Episode Transcript:
You're listening to Becoming you Again, episode number 137, and I'm your host, Karin Nelson. Welcome to Becoming you Again, the podcast to help you with your mental and emotional well-being during and after divorce. This is where you learn to overcome the grief and trauma of your divorce. We're going to do that by reconnecting with yourself, creating lasting emotional resilience and living a truly independent life, so that your life can be even better than when you were married. I'm your host, Karin Nelson. Today's podcast is incredible and I'm so excited for you to all have the opportunity to listen in because I had an amazing conversation with my guest. My guest for this podcast is AJ Gajjar, and she is a mom. She is a trauma-informed child development specialist, she is a parenting consultant and she is a children's advocate that specializes in supporting concerned parents who are going through a high-conflict divorce or separation in a way that protects the children both from their current experience of harm and from future trauma. What I really love about AJ is she supports forward-thinking parents to help them break free from trying to co-parent with a toxic ex and instead empower their kids to thrive despite having a high-conflict parent, which I think is so important because, as so many of you know it is not always possible to co-parent with someone who is toxic, with someone who is maladaptive, with someone who is just not interested at all in putting the children's needs first. So for all of you out there who have been struggling with this, this is a conversation that you need to hear. In our conversation, aj is going to walk us through why co-parenting and even parallel parenting with a high-conflict ex does not work. She's going to teach you how to mitigate your child's painful experiences so they don't turn into trauma, and then she's going to give us the three keys to parenting with a high-conflict ex. I promise you you do not want to miss this conversation, because it is invaluable to anyone who is going through a high-conflict divorce. But also, I just think that our conversation is incredible just for anyone who is a parent in general, who is going through a divorce, who really wants to help mitigate the trauma that your child may be experiencing because of the divorce. You're going to hear so many tips, so many things that are going to help you as just a parent in general, but also if you are going through the experience of a high-conflict divorce. This is the conversation you need to hear. So, without further ado. Here is my conversation with AJ. Welcome back to the podcast. My lovely ladies, I am so excited for you today because today we have a special guest. Her name is AJ Kajar and she is a trauma-informed parenting consultant who specializes in navigating high-conflict divorce in a way that really protects children, and we are going to talk about all of the ways, all of the things, today, and I'm so excited. Welcome to the podcast, aj. I'm so glad you're here.
AJ Gajjar: 3:06
Thank you for having me. I'm super excited to be here today.
Karin Nelson: 3:08
Yeah, me too. So I know I just gave you a very quick intro, but why don't you kind of tell my audience a little bit more about yourself, about your background and anything else you want them to know about you?
AJ Gajjar: 3:19
Yeah, of course. So I'm a mom. I am a trauma-informed child development specialist, a parenting consultant and children's advocate, and I specialize in supporting the concerned parents through high-conflict divorce and separation in a way that protects the children both from the current experience of harm that they're having and then from any future traumas that they may experience as a result of what's happening to them. Also, high-conflict separation and divorce tends to be a little bit different than just your run-of-the-mill regular divorce where both parents can be amicable and can co-parent successfully and things like that. So the impacts on the children are quite a bit different, right? So I support really forward-thinking parents into breaking free from that ideology of co-parenting is the only way to do this and really being able to support them in a way that puts their children first.
Karin Nelson: 4:17
I love that. I think this is really important, and again I'm just going to reiterate how excited I am to have you on the podcast, because most of my listeners know my story and my story is very. My ex and I had a very amicable divorce and we co-parent very easily, and so I don't have experience in my corner of having to like firsthand having to deal with high-conflict divorce, high-conflict co-parenting or parallel parenting or whatever you want to call it, and so I just love having someone like yourself who is immersed in this and works with people to teach them how to, like you say, put the children first, which I think is so important, especially when you're going through a divorce, because it's not only is it hard for you, but it is so hard in so many different ways for your kids as well.
AJ Gajjar: 5:12
It is so hard and I think like there's just so much going on in your brain when you get a divorce right, there's so many things to consider, there's so many loose ends to tie up, there's so like right finances in the house where you're going to live and schooling and like just everything that I think sometimes, despite our best of intentions, children kind of get lost in the mix sometimes, you know, yeah, I think you're right about that.
Karin Nelson: 5:37
So I know that when you had emailed me about being on the podcast, you had talked about kind of that idea of high-conflict parenting and you kind of even said this just a second ago. It doesn't have to necessarily be co-parenting or parallel parenting and that doesn't actually work when you go through a high-conflict divorce or you have a high-conflict ex. So can you kind of talk more about that and why you believe that to be true, why that doesn't necessarily work?
AJ Gajjar: 6:08
Yeah, so I think, just based on the systems that we work in, right, we talk to doctors and therapists and lawyers and parenting coordinators and mediators and all that the one thing you hear consistently across the board is you need to learn how to co-parent it's the best thing for the kids and you need to learn how to co-parent, right. So I see a lot of parents really getting stuck in this place of, okay, I'm going to put all my eggs in one basket and I some way somehow need to learn how to co-parent and I can say this from a place of personal experience. Also, I used to teach co-parenting and I used to support people in co-parenting in my previous work and I did that for about 10 years, right, and when I got divorced, I used the exact same strategies that I was teaching everybody else. This is how you're going to co-parent. This provides best outcomes for the kids, right? You're going to be amicable and this is all going to work out lovely. And I tried to co-parent for about two years and I was running around in circles because there was Karen. There was no forward movement and no forward progress on anything Like. I remember there was a decision that needed to be made for my daughter and this email thread went around in circles for about three months because we could not come to a solution. Right, and that's part of the reason. It's a big reason why co-parenting when the other person is less than healthy, I guess from a psychological standpoint right. If they're high conflict I like to use the word maladaptive, which really, by definition, just means that they're causing more harm than good to their children. If you're dealing with dynamics like that, the typical co-parenting strategies are going to work, because you're actually coming from fundamentally two different perspectives. Right, like your average co-parenting relationship, you have communication, you have cooperation, you collaborate together and you have common ground as far as wanting to make decisions that are in the best interest of your kids. Right. When you have a maladaptive other parent, what you're looking at is this dynamic where you have one parent who wants to make decisions that are in the best interest of the kids and you have the other parent who's looking at making decisions that are in the best interest of themselves. Yeah, Right. So there's no common ground there. You're not going to see eye to eye, and this is where you start getting into that. How are you going to communicate with them? How are you going to make decisions? Because there are going to be joint decisions that have to be made when there's children involved. But if you're going to continually go around in circles, that's not healthy for you because you're going to get stuck. You're either going to be triggered or you're going to get stuck in this stress response of being angry and anxiety and frustration and all that, which then unfortunately trickles down to the kids. You really need to find a way to be able to step back, regulate yourself and really try and find an approach that not only protects your kids and keeps them away from the conflict and the harm and all that, but also can create an environment where you can actually move forward and these kids don't get stuck in these decisions of well, mommy, am I going to be able to go to that extracurricular activity or not? It's like three months later we still don't have an answer for them right.
Karin Nelson: 9:22
Yeah, oh, I can just see so many women who are just probably shaking their heads like, yes, you're so right, because when you do work in a co-parenting relationship where the other co-parent is, like you say, coming at it as the best interest of the kids, it's so much easier. It's so much easier because you're both on the same page. But unfortunately, we cannot control the other person in this relationship. We can't ever control the other person in the relationship, but especially in this type of situation where we're coming into a high conflict X who is, as you say, maladaptive, and this idea of wanting to get on the same page and yet it's not going to happen, that's got to be the most frustrating thing. As a parent who really wants to just make this as easy as possible for the kids for them, I mean, it's already just a terrible situation in the first place. I mean maybe it's better because you're out of the marriage, but it's terrible in that you're starting anew and you're figuring things out. It's a major transition all across the board. Then you have this other person who is just out of the loop, just will not cooperate in any sense of the word. What do you do when you're in a situation like that, if we can't co-parent and we can't parallel parent, what is the answer then?
AJ Gajjar: 10:47
I would say parallel parenting is kind of the first step in the right direction because it does help eliminate or significantly reduce the amount of conflict that's happening.
Karin Nelson: 10:57
When you explain what that is, what parallel parenting is.
AJ Gajjar: 11:01
I was just going to say. For some of your listeners who might not know, parallel parenting is really a co-parenting approach that is recommended in high-conflict situations where one parent, when the children are with them, they parent the way they want a parent, no interference from the other person. When the children are at the other parent's house, same thing they parent the way they want a parent, no interference from the other parent. That is a step in the right direction because that minimizes communication, you're able to put up your boundaries and things like that. Where parallel parenting I find falls short is it actually doesn't take the impacts on the children into consideration. Mom and dad have separated. There's minimal communication there, so that lessens the conflict, which is again a step in the right direction when you are looking at a maladaptive parenting. Dynamic maladaptive personalities tend to thrive on power and control. The parenting style that they're likely going to gravitate towards more often than not is going to be an extreme authoritarian style of parenting. You can just look at parenting research. It doesn't even have to be divorce research. You can look at parenting research where it shows long-term outcomes for these kids, who are raised in an extreme authoritarian environment, are not good. You're looking at increased mental health concerns and increased rates of depression and anxiety and self-harm and risky behaviors and addictions and all of these things down the road, which is not something that any of us want for our kids. Oh, absolutely not when they're dealing with an environment that is super authoritarian on this side and then potentially a more functional parenting strategy on this side, but there's no communication between both parents. The environments are just so night and day that it's one thing for children to adapt. Children are super adaptive and they can learn how to adapt to these different environments. But when the differences are just so extreme, there's no functionality when it comes to similar expectations or similar rules or similar disciplinary strategies or just nothing. It's just the impacts on the child are just so much greater and that's where we see these children are suffering quite a bit more, because transitions between one parent's house and the other parent's house on a good day in an amicable divorce are difficult for the kids.
Karin Nelson: 13:22
Nobody wants to live in two different houses and it's only for the kids, that's probably my kid's biggest complaint forever since we got divorced was it's so hard living in two different houses. I always tried to make it. Oh, but it's so cool. But then I hear them and they're like it actually kind of sucks having to go back and forth and take my stuff back to each house. You're so right, it's already having to look at it.
AJ Gajjar: 13:47
It's so hard. We expect these kids to just adapt to it. When I actually take a step back and think about what adult out there would actually agree to living in one house seven days of the week and then the other house seven days of the week, it's just, it's not functional for them. They're already struggling with it. Then when you add these additional dynamics of now they're being parented in an extreme authoritarian way there's no commonality between the two houses that becomes a huge stressor for them. That's, I think, where parenting falls a little bit short. Then where we move to from that is. It's actually a model that I've created, just really based in child psychology and neurobiological development and needs of the child. I call it trauma healing parenting, because what we need to recognize and I apologize if this is news to a lot of your listeners, because it's sometimes hard to hear if it's the first time you're hearing it, but what we need to recognize is children who are being raised by maladaptive parents are experiencing trauma. There's no way around that, right, they just are, unfortunately, maladaptive personalities. They don't have what it takes, unfortunately, to meet the needs of the children you find these children. What I hear from a lot of kids is I don't feel seen, I don't feel heard, I don't have any opinions, I'm ignored, I don't belong there, I don't feel like that's my home. I've had times where I'm talking to our daughter and I'm like, well, once you get home, make sure you give this person a call or finish your homework or whatever. She looked at me one day and she was like what do you mean? When I get home, I'm like, well, dad's house, mom, my dad's house is not my home. She's like that's my dad's house, this is my home. Interesting. I was like, oh wow, the nuances to that degree that we as parents may not recognize sometimes. Right, so they are, they're experiencing trauma. So what we need to do is really recognize not from a blame perspective, because really the capacity just isn't there for this person to parent. And the way these kids need to be parented Right you need to recognize is what they're not getting as far as their needs being met. Go at that parent's house and then we need to really overfill that and fill the gaps when they come back to us. Right, the way I really like to explain it to parents and have them recognize it is like we know from a lot of trauma research. Trauma is not the event that happens, right. Trauma is how we internalize that event and what's with us after the fact, right, there's a really great quote by Dr Gabor Mate, who I'm not sure if you're familiar, but he's like what about leading trauma researchers out there right now, right? And he said I'm going to quote him actually because I will mess it up otherwise but he says trauma is not what happened to us. Trauma is the wound that we sustain as a result of what happened to us, right. And then, in addition to that, there's so much stuff coming out right now around an empathetic and connected response, so I try and explain it to parents in a way where, if we treat the time or the week that these children are spending with the other parents' house as the traumatic event holistically, then when they return back home to us, we have this amazing window of opportunity where we can meet them in an empathetic and connected way, through our attachment relationship with them as the parent, to be able to help them process those emotions, to be able to help them process their experiences in a way that they can flow and release, so they don't embed themselves as trauma in their little bodies. I love this so much.
Karin Nelson: 17:33
Right, I talk about trauma and processing emotions and I mean these are topics that I talk about constantly on this podcast. But I mean normally, unless I'm having a parenting expert or someone like you on talking about it in terms of self right, talking for yourself, and that we're not in control of other people's emotions and we can't really control that. But we can always create an environment to foster a place where kids feel safe, feel comfortable. They get to decide for themselves what is and isn't. But I love this idea of really looking at it like okay, that week that's going to be their trauma week, when they're at the other parent's house, they're going to come home and how am I going to create this environment for them to feel these things, to feel safe, to be able to process through their emotions, to feel seen, to feel heard? Whatever it you've identified is the thing that they possibly need so that they don't take this in, take that experience in over there as trauma. I love this so much. Tell me more. What else? What other things have you kind of identified as ways to help mitigate a child's trauma response when it comes to being in that high conflict? Parents' home?
AJ Gajjar: 18:48
Yeah, the first thing we want to do is we really I always take the parents back to very basic understanding of child development and brain development what we really want to recognize, as the brain is layered into three areas. The bottom part of the brain is responsible for our autonomic functions, things we don't think about breathing and respiration and heart rate and all those things. The first thing these kids need when they return back to the safe parents or the concerned parent is to be regulated again. I know you talk about regulation as well. Not only does the parent have to be regulated, but we have to get these kids out of their stress response because chances are when they're at the other parent's house, they're living in their stress response for the entire time they're there. Living in their stress response for an extended period of time is detrimental to their own brain development. It's detrimental to health outcomes physical health outcomes, mental health outcomes as quickly as possible, we want to get them out of that stress response and we want to get them regulated again. We want their brain feeling safe again. We want their bodies feeling safe again, because until their brains and their bodies are feeling safe, nothing else is going to move forward for them. That week there's not going to be a lot of learning capacity, there's not going to be a lot of emotional regulation, there's not going to be a lot of stuff, and your week is going to be really, really difficult if we're not able to establish that safety first. It's like things like making sure your house is totally calm when they come home. Transition days are rough. On a good day, a lot of things that I do is give children choice and opportunity. What do you want for dinner? I don't care what it is, we're going to have. Whatever it is you want for dinner, it's your favorite meal, or we get to watch an hour of TV today before bed. That's not a normal routine, but this is transition day and we just want you to come back. We want you to feel safe. We want you to regulate. You want to keep it relatively low key no surprises that night, no surprise visits, probably no play dates. Kids really just need their time and space to just readjust to their new environment. Then, like I said, just really calm down and regulate their systems before they can actually move on with the rest of their week.
Karin Nelson: 21:01
I love that. I love those examples too, because I teach a lot about grounding and being able to ground so that your nervous system does come back online and is realigned, thinking about it in a different way. For kids, those actions can be grounding for them. What kid doesn't want to watch an hour of TV before bed? When the normal routine is okay it's homework, now it's clean your room, now it's take a shower and get ready for bed. Maybe that isn't something that is in the normal routine, but it can feel very calming, very grounding and very safe to them. I love that example of just think about what they might need in that moment, in that transition day that is really going to serve them.
AJ Gajjar: 21:47
And I would really like to emphasize transition days the day. That's out of the norm for them, right? So it might not be normal depending on the age of the child also for them to have an hours worth of screen time before bed on a regular routine regular, right. Transition days are different Transition days, I tell parents, like your rules, your expectations, they all get very, very loose, like things kind of go out that window that day, right. And I say that from a perspective of there was a time where my daughter was going through some really difficult things and I've heard some other kids were going through some really difficult things, mostly on transition day. And if you had plans that day, like we're gonna have dinner and we're gonna do this and we're gonna do that, she could have a two hour meltdown and your plans are out the window anyway, right. And now not only are you concerned about oh, I had plans with this person and we were supposed to do this and we were supposed to do this, all this stuff was on the agenda and now I have to deal with this kid who's super dysregulated and I don't know how long this is gonna last, whereas if you don't have any plans and you don't have any expectations when they do, because chances are they might right. When they have that meltdown, you can be fully present with them. You're not distracted by all the other things that you thought you should have been doing, because your only goal for those first couple of days is making sure, like I said, they feel safe and that they're regulated. Yeah, I love that.
Karin Nelson: 23:11
And then you had kind of mentioned the other parts of the brain that you're gonna kind of work into. Can you talk about that a little bit? After you've got the kid's home and grounded and feeling safe in this environment of your home, what's next?
AJ Gajjar: 23:27
So then? So the bottom part of the brain, like I said, is the body brain right, all the autonomic functions. We want that feeling safe first. The second part is their emotional brain, right. So that's the mid part of the brain where the amygdala lives and the hippocampus lives. So the amygdala for those of you who are not fully aware that is responsible for your stress response right, your fight, flight, freeze, fawn, all of those things, and the hippocampus also lives there. So while the amygdala is firing, like just going off the rails, while they're at the other parent's house, the amygdala, the hippocampus story, is not doing what it's meant to do and that's responsible for memory and learning right. So I tell a lot of parents, if you feel like your children are struggling with a learning disability or they're struggling to take in new information or their memories just don't seem to be on, it's not because there's necessarily a deficit or a disability or a delayed function there. It could be that they're just living in their stress response right. So once the body brain's regulated, then we're able to regulate that, bring the amygdala kind of offline a little bit, a little bit more in line with what the environment is actually telling them, so it's not super hyper functioning, and then the hippocampus can actually come back online and the brain can start learning, it can start using memory the way it's supposed to. You start seeing better functionality with these kiddos. And then, once the emotional brain is online, then it opens up capacity for the prefrontal cortex, right. And now what we know with children is this part of the brain isn't fully developed until close to the age of 30. So, depending on the age of the child, they either have very little access to that critical thinking, problem solving part of the brain or they don't have access to it because it hasn't started developing yet. Right. But once we're able to calm down the body brain and then the emotional brain, that actually opens up capacity for this part of the brain to develop, because it's not gonna develop otherwise. Right, it's a huge difference.
Karin Nelson: 25:28
That is so interesting because, yeah, like I said, hearing it from a child's perspective or knowing from a child's perspective that it is not developed yet, which I I was thinking that it was like age of 25, which it doesn't surprise me at all that it's even closer to the age of 30 until it's fully developed. But yeah, again, like this is something that I talk about from a self perspective when it comes to my audience and my listeners. But you really have to change the way you think about it when it comes to your kids, because it is so different If you want them to be in a space where they can possibly open up to that prefrontal cortex, where we make decisions and where we can think critically and where we can really look at things in a different way. If our kids aren't even in a space where that has developed at all or is developing, we really want to do everything that we can to create that environment, to let that happen and to understand, from their point of view maybe, why they are acting out or why they are having anxiety about certain things or why they are reacting to things in a way where you're looking at them going, what is going on and if you can just think about it from a different way, from the way you've kind of just explained things, so many more things will make sense. So many things will come into play of understanding what might be going on for them, why they're not reacting in the way you think they should be reacting.
AJ Gajjar: 26:56
Well, and I think a lot of that too is I think we as parents, when we're in our everyday lives, are busy right. When we're in our everyday and you start seeing a dysregulated kid, you want to talk them down. Right, but then talking them down, you're starting with the front part of the brain, which is fully offline at that point. So that's not going to work right. And the other thing like I see light bulbs going off in parent's eyes when I start talking about this stuff, because it's like, if you're, there tends to be a difference between chronological and developmental age for children who have experienced trauma, right? So if you have a 10-year-old and you're expecting them to behave as a 10-year-old, that's their chronological age, that's great. But if they've been on the receiving end of a divorce environment of a maladaptive parent they're going back and forth between houses. They've been on the receiving end of potentially of trauma their brain development they're probably behaving more at a seven or eight-year-old age, right. So for you to interact with them. As these guys are 10 years old, why are they behaving like a seven-year-old? It's because that's where their brains are at.
Karin Nelson: 28:04
Yeah, yeah, that's interesting that you say that, because so often I will hear a parent say, well, they're old enough that they should be able to do this, or they're old enough that they should know better, or whatever it is, and that explanation right there explains so much of like. Maybe not you could be wrong about that. Let's think about it in a different way that really takes the child into consideration and the things that they are going through and the struggles that are happening at both houses, and how can we make this easier for them so that they can develop perhaps into their chronological age, but more just into their emotional life? That is really. That's. The concerning thing here is the emotions that are going on for them, the things that they don't know how to deal with, they don't know how to process through. They don't understand what's happening in the body and what's happening in that part of the brain. It's not even on their radar. So it needs to be on your radar as the parent.
AJ Gajjar: 29:02
And you mentioned a really good point, karen. I just want to emphasize like it is different when we talk about regulation for the parent and then regulation for the kid. It is different because our understandings are a little bit different, but really, when you break it down, it's really the same thing, right? When you talk about deep breathing and grounding yourself and regulating yourself, that's all just making sure that the body, brain, is feeling safe before we can move into higher level functioning. Yeah, absolutely, it just looks different implementation wise for our kids.
Karin Nelson: 29:33
Yeah, and when you teach parents this or children, I'm not sure. Do you work? Tell me really quickly. Do you work mostly with parents? Do you work mostly with kids? Is it kind of a mix of the two?
AJ Gajjar: 29:44
I work mostly with the parent. Okay, because I believe like the most impact a parent can possibly have is, like trauma, healing happens through a connected attachment relationship. Right yeah, so much power as a parent and the amount of healing that can happen in a short period of time is so much greater from the capacity of a parent because they already have that standing relationship with them. Right yeah, absolutely, it can happen in other contexts, but I don't necessarily want to be that person that goes in and builds and develops that relationship with them when it really should be the parent. Yeah, I love that. I love that.
Karin Nelson: 30:19
And so when you are working with the parents and you're teaching them these concepts that you've kind of just gone through about the brain levels and really working with your kids when they come back to your home, are you teaching them language that they are going to then use with their kids? When it comes to grounding, like a kid isn't going to probably necessarily understand what that means, but are you teaching them things like that, like language that they need to be using, or just teaching them kind of methods to use with their kids so that these things kind of happen naturally? Or is it more of like okay, we're going to really get into our body and get yourself centered, or do you know what I mean? Like does that make sense? Are you teaching them so that the kid kind of, as they grow, knows what's happening, or is it more of just a very? From the parent's perspective, I'm just going to make it a safe environment and really have this great attachment with my kid in this way.
AJ Gajjar: 31:16
Honestly, I think it's a little bit of both. So, yeah, what we really want to do is make sure that the parents are in a place of understanding and knowing what's happening, and so they're going to create this environment, both from a physical standpoint and from a relational standpoint, where the children can feel safe and they can thrive. And when the kids are just regulated, you're not going to be able to explain to them what's happening in the brain and this. So a lot of that stuff is really happening under the radar for the kids, so to speak. But then I do. I ask parents, right, as parents, you know your children best. So when they're in a regulated state and when you can actually chit, chat with them and have a conversation with them, it might be worth showing them a link to, you know, the Dan Siegel Flip your Lid video and you know things like that, for them to really start gaining an understanding of. Oh, when I'm feeling out of control and I'm feeling like my emotions are really big and my feelings are scary and things like that, then this is what's happening. So I think, just with the education piece that I do with the parents, they're naturally being given the language that they can use with the kids, right? Because the kids are not going to identify with. Oh, I'm feeling dysregulated right now, mom. Right, it's like feelings and scary emotions and they're feeling, sometimes their bodies are scary to them right. So a lot of that time it's just a matter of okay, we're going to go into, like, when they're dysregulated, we're just going to go into doing mode, but there's going to be really like very little talking, if any, because if you talk to them, they're not going to hear you. Anyway, to be right, right. Like they're just not processing language at that point. So it's a matter of having the skill set and that's what I tell parents. Right, it's one thing to have a great relationship with your kid, and that is absolutely foundational but it's another thing to kind of be a parent who can really consciously work on healing your child's trauma, because you need the skill set to do it right. You kind of need to understand what's happening in the brain, what's happening physiologically in the body, and then be able to recognize okay, this is the state my kid's in. So this is what I need to implement at this point in time and this is how I'm going to approach it. Right, and then there's other times, outside of the crisis situation, where we can work on not only building further, building that attachment relationship, but really looking at it from a place of I think a lot of parents get stuck in this place of I'm the parent, they're the kid, it's going to be top down, they're going to do as I say and that's it right. Yes, but if we really try and build a relationship with these kids from, like a human perspective, like I do date nights every other Saturday with my daughter- right, I love it yeah. You talk upstairs, the phones are off, tv's off and we just sit and talk like two human beings, and the amount of stuff that comes out of her and she's nine, right the amount of stuff that she opens up about her week and what happened and friends and school, and, like you, get such a different insight into their little lives outside of our everyday regular routines Because, like I said, we're all so busy, right, so it's really really being mindful. And even during those busy moments, karen, to be honest, like really being able to recognize oh, my kid, I was starting to get dysregulated we need to hit pause for a second, like we have, you know, soccer lessons to get to where we have piano lessons, to get to where we have a birthday party or whatever it is. We just really need to hit pause for five minutes. We need to figure out what's going on here and then we can continue with the rest of your day because really, we've all tried to do it, right, I've tried to do it myself. We just try and push them through. Sometimes because we don't have time, we're just going to push through this, right, and that never tends to go very well.
Karin Nelson: 35:01
Yeah, you're so right. This just reminds me of one time I was coaching one of my clients and she was talking about an experience where she had her kids and she just like flipped her lid at them and just lost it. And I just remember, as we were talking and coaching, just offering the suggestion of the next time you start to feel dysregulated and the kids aren't really listening to you and they're not doing what you want them to be doing. What if we interrupt the pattern that would naturally happen and we just start doing something else, like hey, kids, we're going to stop homework and I'm going to stop what I'm doing and we're just going to turn on some music and we're going to dance and go crazy around the house or like whatever, like whatever comes to you in that moment, just switching it up for a minute, because maybe what you want to happen, your expectation, is I'm going to yell at them, they're going to listen to me, we're going to get through this and it's going to be fine. But what is that teaching? It's just reinforcing this idea of I'm dysregulated, the kids are dysregulated, nobody's listening to anybody and we're all going kind of crazy and frenetic and it's just not what we want. It's not the outcome that we necessarily want. Let's interrupt that for a minute and throw in something totally crazy and totally that they're not expecting, something you're not expecting, and you might get a different outcome because of it.
AJ Gajjar: 36:14
I love that language, yeah. Pattern interrupt. I love that language, yeah.
Karin Nelson: 36:18
Yeah, now, frankly, that was just some fantastic idea of having date night with your kid, of really just connecting with them on, like you say, a human level. I think it's so important. I think often you say we have that hierarchy a lot of times as parents, which is natural. I think it's a very natural thing of like I'm up here and they're down here and they're gonna respect me, and blah, blah, blah. But I really think that it has to go both ways. Like you want your kids to respect you, you also have to respect your kids. Even though they're kids, they're still, like you say, human. They are still little people and the way to teach them respect isn't to like force it down their throat. It's to really just Exemplify that in the relationship between the two of you. So I love that you like have that one-on-one time with your kid, where it's just the two of you really connecting. I feel that same way when with my kids they're older now, but you know, when they were living at home, being in the car together, one-on-one was like my favorite time, because that's when we connect, that's when we would talk, that's when they would kind of open up, they could listen to their music and you know, sing their songs and we could talk about things that were going on for them. So I love that idea of just one-on-one connection in a way that isn't Isn't the norm, isn't like I'm up here and you're down here and you're gonna listen to me and we're gonna do what I want and you know. However, that looks for a lot of parents. So you have identified three keys to parenting with a high conflict X. Can you kind of share with my audience what those three keys look like?
AJ Gajjar: 37:46
Absolutely. I think this perfectly like ties in everything that we've just been talking about. So the number one key to parenting with a high contact X is you have to rewire yourself. So that's making sure that you're regulated, making sure that you're dealing with your own traumas, making sure you're dealing with your own struggles. You know, whether that looks like therapy or it looks like Into it appealing, or it looks like whatever that looks like for you, you really need to make sure that we are regulated and we are, like you said, grounded and we're in touch with ourselves Before we can actually support another human being, even if it's our child, right? Yes, um, it's like that. I know it's such an overused analogy, but it's still so relevant. Right, like you got to put your own oxygen mask on first. Yes, absolutely, you can help your kid, right? So that's the first thing is you have to rewire yourself and make sure you are fully Okay to be present in that moment. Number two is all the stuff We've been talking about in terms of how to rewire your child, right? So regulation, making sure we're working with all three parts of the brain, and then the additional piece to that is making sure that, like I said, we're filling the gaps as far as their needs go, so that when they return back to the other parents house, the things that are happening to them and the things that they're not receiving Don't impact them as much as it could impact them. Right, because we've set them up, we fortified them. They know they're coming back to a safe environment. They know that they're just kind of in this holding pattern for a period of time. There's light at the end of the tunnel and I'm going back to my safe parents house, right, so that's a rewire your child piece. And then the third key that I work on with them is outcome creation. So there we really work hard on. So you've done the rewire yourself, we've done the rewire your kid, we've created this great environment. You know, both from a relationship standpoint and from a physical standpoint. How are we going to make sure that that doesn't get derailed now, right? Yeah, and that's where we start talking about boundaries with the other parent, how to communicate with the other parent, minimizing conflict. We look at a lot of strategies around really just Holding true to your separation agreement or your divorce decree in terms of the things that actually absolutely need to be discussed and things that maybe don't need to be discussed Strategies on how to use third parties Like lawyers and mediators and parenting coordinators in a way that actually maintains your own power and your own autonomy within the process, because I think once things start going into the legal process, I hear from a lot of parents right, it's like they have no power left. Yeah, everything gets taken over, and it's like okay. But how are we going to actually strategically use these parties to be able to get the outcome we want for our child and also maintain our own power within that right? And I've been super lucky, We've created this program between a friend and a colleague of mine who her skill and her expertise is in the rewire your parent piece right. So she works exclusively with the parents and then I come in and talk about all the all the child development and the brain stuff. We piece all that together and then together we work on the outcome creation piece where it's just we have to regulate yourself, you have to regulate your kid. We got to look at the outcome you're looking for and what's the best way for us to get you to that outcome. But it's like all those three pieces that have to work together. Yeah, I love that.
Karin Nelson: 41:13
I think that really just kind of dials it down to. These are the most important things that we need to be focusing on right now, and some of this other stuff that might seem kind of important. Let's just really narrow it down to this thing. Now, you had mentioned to me that you have a. Is it a master class that you've got going on? Why don't you tell my audience a little bit about that?
AJ Gajjar: 41:34
Yeah, so for one, I have a free gift for any of your listeners that are interested, and it's a three-part master class that really goes over these three steps of rewire yourself, rewire your child and then outcome creation. And then the other thing we have going on is starting in February is, between my colleague and myself, we're hosting a 10 month mentorship program where we're going to take those three steps and we're going to walk you through them in real time, right. Yes, because the thing we see with high conflict dynamics and maladaptive parenting dynamics is there are a lot of, let's say, unexpected and unforeseen things that tend to come up, and for a lot of parents, it's like, oh, I got this irate email and I have 48 hours to respond in and I don't even know where to start Because this is just going to get worse and worse and worse. Yeah, so we're there to help you in real time, right, where we can actually walk you through the best way to approach situations like that that you're not familiar with. Oh, I love it.
Karin Nelson: 42:30
That's going to be so useful to so many people listening to this podcast, because I think that's where we get stuck. We get thrown a loop and then we're like I don't know what to do now. And what a benefit to have someone who works specifically in this realm of understanding the maladaptive parent and kind of walks you through this is what we're going to do, this is what you do, this is how we handle this, so that again, it's almost like you're helping them regulate themselves in that moment so that they can get their brain back online and really understand what's going to be the next best step for them. So that sounds so invaluable. Aj, thank you so much for being here. This has been such an amazing experience. This has been such an amazing conversation and I really appreciate you and your expertise and your wisdom. Can you please tell my audience where they can find you if they want to know more about you and how to work with you?
AJ Gajjar: 43:33
Yeah, of course. So you can reach me directly through my email. So it's ajatthetraumahealingparentcom. Or you can also go to my website, which is thetraumahealingparentcom, and then on that page, actually, if you go to the consultation and program page, that's where you'll find all the information about this mentorship program that's coming up in February also, and then I believe you're going to post the link below.
Karin Nelson: 43:58
I will. Yes, absolutely. I will post all of the links that she sends me. We will have it all in the show notes, so don't worry, if you didn't have a chance to write any of that down, it will just be right below in the description and you can find it right there. So thank you so much. Is there anything else that you want to leave my audience with before we jump off? Today? I just appreciate you even being here. You're amazing.
AJ Gajjar: 44:21
Thank you. No, I just really want to let your parents know there is. They have so much power and so much potential in the relationship that they have with their kids and we just need to be able to harness it, to be able to support these kids in a way that leads them to healthy and successful and happy lives in their future, so they're not stuck in therapy for the rest of their lives.
Karin Nelson: 44:46
Yeah, I love that. That's a beautiful way of looking at it and I think it's totally true. I totally agree with you. We have so much power and often we don't recognize it. We feel very powerless as we go through a divorce. So I love that reminder that, parents, you do have so much power and you can help your kids through this process in such a beautiful way. So, aj, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it so much. Thank you so much for having me.
AJ Gajjar: 45:10
It was a great conversation, Karin.
Karin Nelson: 45:11
Hi, friend, I'm so glad you're here and thanks for listening. I wanted to let you know that if you're wanting more, a way to make deeper, more lasting change, then working one-on-one with me as your coach may be exactly what you need. Together, we'll take everything you're learning in the podcast and implement it in your life, with weekly coaching, real life practice and practical guidance. To learn more about how to work with me one-on-one, go to KarinNelsonCoaching dot com. That's wwwkarinnelson doc com. Thanks for listening. If this podcast agreed with you in any way, please take a minute to follow and give me a rating. Wherever you listen to podcasts, I'll be back with more details about how I can help you live an even better life than when you were married. Make sure, and check out the full show notes by clicking the link in the description.