The Caregiving Soul:

Name It to Tame It: Helping Kids Handle Big Feelings

Hosted by Dannelle LeBlanc, May 1, 2023

Jamie Roberts, founder of Equilibrium Counseling Services, shares about her decision to become a therapist, which stems from her own personal experience of struggling with mental health as a teen. She realized that she wanted to provide support and guidance to others in hopes that they would gain the tools to navigate difficult situations more mindfully. She and Dannelle discuss mindfulness, improving communication with your child, and what questions to ask when searching for a therapist.

About Jamie Roberts

Jamie Roberts is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) who has been practicing since 2012. Jamie is the founder of Equilibrium Counseling Services, a teen and young adult mental health center in Southern California. She is also the author of the book “Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety: A Practical Guide to Manage Stress, Ease Worry, and Find Calm”. She has worked in community mental health, on school campuses, and in private practice. Additionally, Jamie has received specialized training in ADHD assessments. Jamie uses a strengths-based approach to help teens and young adults develop coping skills, increase understanding, learn emotional intelligence, and cultivate independence. Jamie is neurodivergent herself and is educated in how neurodivergent brains like ADHD, Autism, and more, present with unique learning styles. She is an active speaker on Neurodivergent and Teen topics and “later in life” diagnosis for graduate level therapists, advocacy groups, as well as podcasts and documentaries.   


[00:00:00] [Music] 

[00:00:03] Jamie: So, I experienced a lot of anxiety and depression in my middle school and teen years and decided I wanted to understand the brain and why I was feeling so confused and overwhelmed. And immediately started my first training in a middle school with that age population to really help kids understand and process their emotions as they’re happening so it doesn’t become something that’s stored in the body, and we’re in our thirties, forties, fifties, processing what happened as we were kids. How can we support kids to understand what’s going on as it’s happening?  

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[00:00:38] Dannelle: Jamie Roberts became a therapist because she wanted to be the person she needed when she was younger. So many struggle with mental health in our teen years and beyond, frankly, and understanding these challenges in her own life led her to help others better navigate difficult situations more mindfully. Jamie now practices as a marriage and family therapist focused on providing psychotherapy to individuals and young adults along with their families. 

[00:01:14] Welcome to The Caregiving Soul. I’m Dannelle LeBlanc. 

[00:01:21] [Music Ends] 

[00:01:18] Dannelle: You know, that’s so interesting that you bring up processing emotions as they happen, so they don’t get stored in the body, because I’m not sure that we all understand that unprocessed emotions are stored in the body and show up later as chronic illness, all sorts of things, that we did not address in the moment. 

[00:01:50] And so, right now it seems like it’s more important than ever to do this because the world is crazy and there’s not a whole lot, it seems like, healthy outlets for younger adults, for teens. And so, just bringing awareness to resources like the ones that you provide is just super important. 

[00:02:16] So, can you share a little bit more about what it looks like for a young adult or teen today? What are folks going through? 

[00:02:28] Jamie: A whole lot. [Laughs] There’s a whole lot going on right now, especially in the last few years. I think there’s a lot of input. We’re getting information online so fast now, and live streaming as really traumatic things are happening. So, there’s a lot of vicarious trauma that our youth are, is experiencing. 

[00:02:50] I think there’s an increase in isolation because so much went virtual during the pandemic, but also that there’s decreased safety in a lot of our public areas, so kids aren’t going out and hanging out at the mall, they’re not hanging out at the movie theater. They’re hanging out online, and so that increases some of that disconnect while at the same time, I’ll say, being online has increased some connectivity, but I think that we’re just flooded with so much information. 

[00:03:18] A young brain that is still developing is learning how to process the information at the same time they’re receiving it, and that creates emotional flooding. And when something floods, it’s hard to manage it and control it. 

[00:03:30] Dannelle: And you know what, I’m a full grown, 51-year-old woman, and I feel emotionally flooded oftentimes going online with all of this, this input and this vicarious trauma as you put it, because it is tra-, it is traumatizing, whether we wanna acknowledge that or not, you know, they can call it like doom scrolling or what have you, and the safety issues involved. So, what do we do about this, Jamie? 

[00:04:01] Jamie: So, first we start off with being able to name what we’re experiencing. [Music] Dr. Dan Siegel is a neuroscientist at UCLA, and he does a lot of research on the adolescent brain, and he has a phrase called “Name It, to Tame It”. And if we can’t name what we’re experiencing and we can’t name the situation, how do we manage it? 

[00:04:20] So, if we start with being able to name what my emotion is, then I can know how to manage it. And we know that we have five primary emotions: happy, sad, mad, afraid, and scared, but there’s also secondary and these layered emotions. And if we can start with the first one, then we can get more nuanced into, am I afraid or am I nervous or am I overwhelmed or is it I can’t anticipate it. 

[00:04:45] We can help give that language so that kids can accurately identify it internally, but then be able to have the language to express it to their adults or their caregivers, of what they’re feeling and experiencing so that we can support them in that. It’s hard to support when we don’t know what’s going on. 

[00:05:04] [Music Ends] 

[00:05:04] Dannelle: So true. Whether we have named it, as a teen or a young adult, experiencing this overwhelm, or as a parent or caregiver, guardian, what are the options to help support a child, or a teen, who is going through this kind of turmoil? 

[00:05:28] Jamie: I think the first step is meeting them where they are, and that can be as basic as sitting in their room with them versus making them come out and join the family. Go to where they are. Listen to their music with them, join in the game that they’re playing online. Meet them at their level. I think a lot of times we try and make kids meet us at the adult level – use your words, tell me what you need, come out here and present it as a polished person. 

[00:05:58] We have to go to where they are and use their language and join in their way of communicating because there’s a lot of non-verbal communication that goes on before we have spoken language. So, listening to their music can tell you what they’re experiencing, What their soundtrack is, that’s on repeat, can show what emotions they’re dealing with or how they’re viewing things in their life. 

[00:06:20] The next step would be being able to engage in those conversations. If you as an adult can’t talk about those hard topics or feel uncomfortable talking about the hard topics, your child isn’t comfortable talking to you about them. So, start naming those things and dropping it into casual conversation so that is an invitation that I’m comfortable talking about it. I’m a safe person to talk to with these things that feel bigger or more intense.  

[00:06:44] And then starting to find support systems, whether that’s at school or in the community, with therapy, with a sports or another organization, just to be able to have connection and community of finding others who might be feeling something similar. 

[00:06:59] Dannelle: And it makes sense that this is a learning process for parents as well, cuz nobody told us how to do it either. You know? I mean, we went through the same thing. It’s just that the intensity has ramped up to a whole ‘nother level. 

[00:07:15] So, how do we know when things are beyond our ability to help and what kind of options for therapy are there for a family? 

[00:07:32] Jamie: Often we see that when there’s an identified, we call an identified patient, or if there’s a particular person who’s experiencing the most distress, that’s often the person calling out that there’s an issue in the system. 

[00:07:44] So, it’s not necessarily this kid is having a problem or struggling, but they’re calling out that the family is struggling. And so, we have to bring in the parents and we often bring in the siblings because the whole structure has to change. I can’t just teach coping skills to this one child. The whole family has to shift how they’re coping with things. 

[00:08:04] And so, [Music] I think that’s super important too, to know that we have to do the change along with our kids. If I can’t change some of my behaviors as an adult, I can’t expect my child to change their behaviors. We’re gonna do this as a team simultaneously.  

[00:08:19] And then how do we know when it’s beyond and we need to seek professional support. I think that’s taking into account when basic life skills, or that person’s typical way of functioning has now been thrown off track. So, when the distress of what they’re feeling is no longer tolerable and it’s harder to manage their daily functions that typically were manageable are now no longer.  

[00:08:45] And so, that can be if your kid typically is able to get out of bed and get dressed and get ready for school, and now it’s slowing down, or they’re forgetting things or now there’s resistance. Paying attention to those moments, the things that usually flowed, now are of getting clunky and more difficult to manage on a day-to-day basis. 

[00:09:04] I’d also pay attention to if there has been a major life event that you are aware of or a trauma or a change in the family system or somebody’s health has decreased, being proactive in getting additional support before it becomes a trauma response. When it’s still in the, let me prepare, let me anticipate, maybe be proactive to make sure that the child is having help to cope with it as it’s coming up. 

[00:09:28] [Music Ends] 

[00:09:29] Dannelle: Okay. This is really good. So, Jamie, can you share an example of what it looks like for a family system to respond to a trauma, or some kind of life change or transition within the family, with a healthy response? What does that look like?  

[00:09:54] Jamie: So, a general statement for how a family system might function in a more healthy way would be acknowledging what’s going on, being transparent with what’s happening in the family, and not hiding things, because whether we say it or not, the kids can sense it. So, if somebody’s health is declining or if support needs are higher, kids can sense that something is off. And if we deny that and say, “Nope, everything’s fine, don’t worry about it”, we’re teaching them to deny what their natural instinct is. 

[00:10:28] So, a positive way would be like, “Yeah, things are a little bit different. We’re not quite sure. I don’t have an answer for you. We’re gonna have to wait and see, but I’ll keep you up to date with what’s going on”. And that answer’s gonna depend on the kids’ age and developmental ability to understand what that situation is. So, at, at each age that answer’s gonna be different about what the change is. 

[00:10:48] But I think also, modeling how you manage your emotions, modeling that it’s okay to cry, that it’s okay to be overwhelmed, that it’s okay to take a break, because if I, as an adult, can say, “Oof, mommy’s really overwhelmed today. There’s a lot going on. I’m gonna take a step back and take a breather so that I can come back and show up for you”. 

[00:11:08] That’s not saying “you’re overwhelming me” or “you’re too much”. It’s saying, “I’m experiencing a lot right now. I’m gonna handle it for a second”. And so, I think that’s a way to model it too, to not put that emotion onto the child or not blame the child, but also having some patience and grace that a kid’s gonna be acting out too. 

[00:11:29] And they may not act out in the way that we as an adult expect of like showing grief or crying or anger. It might be spilling things they don’t usually spill because their nervous system is frazzled. And so, having a little bit of that, which can be hard when there’s a lot going on in the family or there is a trauma, to be able to show support for how everyone’s gonna be processing this differently. 

[00:11:51] So, in a short answer, in a healthy system, there’ll be clear communication, there will be transparency about what is going on in the steps that the family is taking. The whole family is participating in self-care and in communication, and prioritizing the family’s needs. And in an unhealthy system, dismissal of emotion would be neglecting what is actually going on, would be lashing out at each other. 

[00:12:23] And of course, there’s not a black and white, all is right, all is wrong. Like, there may be times we can’t control that we might lash out, but are we apologizing? Are we taking accountability too? I think that’s a big thing for kids too, to hear, is a parent take accountability and apologize when they also have an emotional outburst. 

[00:12:42] Dannelle: That is so true. I found that apologizing to my kids when I did or said something outside of my best self was probably one of the best things I did as a parent. 

[00:12:59] Jamie: Absolutely. It shows that you’re human too. It shows that you are – 

[00:13:03] Dannelle: Right. 

[00:13:03] Jamie: – learning also and that they can stumble and mess up and apologize and you can stumble and mess up and apologize, and we’re in this together.  

[00:13:11] Dannelle: Absolutely, honoring their person, their autonomy. I also want to highlight your point about the importance of letting kids know when we’re uncertain, when we don’t know the answer or don’t have the answer.  

[00:13:28] Jamie: And that can look different ways. It can be, “I’m finding the answer. I’ll let you know when I find it”. Or it can be like, “You know what, that’s a great question. Let’s figure it out together”. Or, “I have to ask so-and-so because they’re gonna give another answer. But, and I have to wait to hear that”. 

[00:13:41] It doesn’t have to be a, “I don’t know the answer”. It could be a delay or a deflection versus a don’t ask me that or I’m gonna lie to you and say it’s nothing, because we wanna validate that they can sense what’s going on. 

[00:13:56] And we don’t have to overshare. They don’t need to know every detail. They don’t have to have all of it, because that’s also not appropriate, right? We don’t wanna burden our kids with all of our struggles as adults and the things that we’re trying to do, but we can acknowledge the truth of it. We can be simplistic with it. 

[00:14:11] Dannelle: So, what are some of the primary skills that we can learn when we attend therapy as a family? 

[00:14:20] Jamie: I think the primary things we’re working on when a family, a system, comes in is clear communication, that we’re hearing what each other are saying and we’re able to say it in a way that others can hear it. Also, being able to identify emotion. What am I feeling? What are you feeling, and do we have a safe way that we’re allowed to bring it up? 

[00:14:41] And I think third would be is for the whole family to understand how they regulate their emotions. So, our nervous system naturally responds to a threat, and it naturally responds different for all of us. And so, part of being able to regulate or control your emotions is to be able to identify when your emotions are triggered. 

[00:14:59] And so, we work on the “Name It, to Tame It” again. Can I identify when I’m triggered? Can I identify what the emotion is? And can I communicate to you what it is? And so, if the whole family is working on that, communication is so much more clear and concise and isn’t blaming or reactive. 

[00:15:16] Dannelle: Okay. And that is a skill we all need. So, what does it mean to say it in a way that others can hear? 

[00:15:25] Jamie: Mhmm. 

[00:15:25] Dannelle: What does that mean, Jamie? 

[00:15:28] Jamie: No [Music] shame, no blame, and no threats. If I’m telling you how I feel, but I’m shaming you in the way, “You always make me feel this way”. The same with blaming it or if I make a threat, “If you say that again, I’m gonna leave the room”. All three of those take the conversation hostage and it’s no longer collaborative. 

[00:15:50] So, if we can set those aside and say the, the I feel statements, “I feel this when you do this action, because it brings up this feeling, I would appreciate it if you could do it this way”. Creates a more collaborative conversation of what I’m feeling, what I think is causing it, and how we can work together to help me feel a different way. 

[00:16:11] And I think a lot of times when we are in a reactive state, we’re gonna either be on the attack or on the defense. And if I’m on the defense, I’m not gonna hear what you’re saying cuz I’m getting ready to defend myself. And if you’re in attack mode, you’re not hearing what I say because you’re ready to prove me wrong. 

[00:16:27] And so, a big piece of that too is when we know we’re in an activated state, not having important conversations, waiting for everybody to regulate back down and then speaking cuz now my ears are open and I can hear you and I’m not reacting from my animal nervous system brain. 

[00:16:44] [Music Ends] 

[00:16:44] Dannelle: Yes. That makes so much sense. And I would think that also, I imagine you also kind of set the goal of the conversation ahead of time so that as the conversation moves forward, you kind of have, okay, this is what we’re trying to achieve here together – 

[00:17:04] Jamie: Mhmm. 

[00:17:05] Dannelle: – because that helps to regulate how we speak to one another. 

[00:17:09] Jamie: Exactly. The first couple times we do this script, it’s gonna be awkward, it’s gonna be clunky, it’s gonna be kind of robotic, but it gets us to start getting into motion to do this on a more regular basis. So, I also recommend that people do this throughout the day, every day, not just when tensions are high or emotions are low. But if we’re running late for school and I can say, “Hey, it makes me feel frustrated when I have to remind you four times. I’d really like it if we could come up with a solution to help get your backpack ready”. Right? 

[00:17:42] That’s not super activated, but I’d say, “Hey, this is how we’re talking about emotion. This is how we’re talking about this situation”. And the more we can practice it, the more fluid it becomes and the easier it is to integrate in harder conversations. 

[00:17:56] Most of the clients that I work with are ADHD, autistic, learning disorders, processing delays. We do a lot in that realm. And a lot of that can be executive function, which is our primary tools of planning, organizing, prioritizing, and so I think those are a lot of the conflicts parents and teens get into about, “Why haven’t you turned in your assignments? How’d you forget your backpack again?” 

[00:18:19] And I think a big part of these conversations too is to understand where the missteps are coming from. Is it a processing piece? Is it an executive function piece, is it something your kid even has control over?  

[00:18:33] And a lot of that comes from being able to identify what those steps are, what supports could be in place, and how we can work together so that the kid isn’t always feeling like they’re falling short and the parent isn’t feeling like they’re always having to prompt everything, but that there is a middle ground. Prompts are gonna be necessary, but also how can we make it easier for your kid to access those steps to be successful. 

[00:19:01] Dannelle: Yes. Okay. Let’s say that, I feel like, you know what, we really need to get some professional skills and help. It can be really overwhelming to, as a parent, look for the right kind of help for our family or for our child. What are some of the things to look for? What do we need to know when researching, interviewing therapists to make sure that it’s a good fit? 

[00:19:35] Jamie: Well, I love that you used the question “interviewing therapists”, because I think that is key, is not every therapist is going to be the right fit for your family dynamics or your family situation. So, as much as we are looking for a time that fits, and a price that fits, and an insurance that fits, we also wanna make sure the therapist fits. 

[00:19:55] And I, I believe that the strongest tool in therapy is the relationship between the therapist and the client. And if we don’t feel comfortable or you don’t feel connected to the therapist, it’s gonna make all of the work harder. And so, when you’re making that first call, have some questions prepared too. 

[00:20:13] If you know some of the things you’re looking for, if you know that you have a child with a disability and you wanna make sure that this therapist has some knowledge about different abilities and what that’ll look like in your family system so you’re not teaching the therapist. All of that is important to see that your therapist has knowledge in that area, and it is absolutely appropriate to ask that in the very first phone call. “Hey, my family, this is a big aspect of it. I’m curious, like, what your perspective on it or what your experience here is.”  

[00:20:42] I think that’s important, and I hear a lot of people being hesitant to ask that. And I think if a therapist evades that question or isn’t direct with you about it, that would be like a little like caution flag to me. Um, I think a therapist, especially if you have a marginalized aspect of your life going on, you want a therapist who’s able to speak to that or at least acknowledge it in some way. 

[00:21:04] I think there’s also some things about asking how long do they foresee it looking like? What is the frequency? Can they tell you what a session is gonna look like? How involved the parents or the family will be versus it being one-on-one. Ask as many questions as you want to the therapist cuz it is a mutual interview. 

[00:21:21] Dannelle: Yes, absolutely, and preparing those questions ahead of time from a space of calm and focus, versus trying to do it on the fly. Let’s say that we’re not in a place, for whatever reason, to pursue therapy. It’s just not doable at the time. What resources and tips would you recommend to help support a child or teen’s mental health? 

[00:21:54] Jamie: I think podcasts are great to be able to talk about these things. Books, YouTube, YouTube’s got everything. And finding different creators that have similar experiences, whether that’s you as a parent watching that creator on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, to understand what’s going on, or your kid is feeling connected to them and can kind of gain some resources there. 

[00:22:18] There are also community resources. I know in my city, our public library has a great teen program that is just this, like a support system, to be able to connect with people there and other teens in that space. Often, if therapy is inaccessible, whether it’s location or finances, group therapy can be a less expensive way in to at least get some resources and community, that isn’t the same intensity of commitment as individual therapy.  

[00:22:46] Dannelle: That is excellent. How would you define mental wellness?  

[00:22:52] Jamie: I think mental wellness really is like the ability to recover and the ability to acknowledge I was struggling, and these are the things I can do to take care of myself, and this is how I can get to a good place again. And I think that is the true, like, piece of wellness. Do I know how to take care of myself? Can I access that? What are the skills I need to be okay? So, if I’m getting really angry, do I know how to calm myself down? 

[00:23:20] That is wellness because we can’t stop having emotions. We’re not gonna stop getting angry or sad or frustrated or anxious. Those are natural things that our body does, but can we decrease how frequently they happen and how intense they happen? I think that’s the wellness part. Not stopping it, but managing it. 

[00:23:39] Dannelle: Yes, absolutely, how we regulate it. Thank you so much for the work that you do, and thank you so much for joining us today on The Caregiving Soul! 

[00:23:49] Jamie: Absolutely! This has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.  

[00:23:54] [Music] 

[00:23:56] Dannelle: Thank you for joining our conversation with Jamie.  

[00:24:01] We’ve talked about the importance of naming the thing, the problem, the role, emotion or situation here on The Caregiving Soul before, and here we have Jamie reinforcing that idea. She calls it, “Name It, to Tame It”, a phrase coined by psychologist, Dr. Dan Siegel. 

[00:24:23] It’s simple, but a powerful technique that helps us to address and work through hard things, whether as a child caregiver or anything in between. When we can name and communicate how we feel, it’s easier to act and respond in clarity.  

[00:24:48] Try naming how you feel out loud or write it down without judgment. What this does is help us to be more transparent with ourselves and others, and then to communicate in a more healthy and constructive way. 

[00:25:07] Check out our show notes to connect with and follow Jamie as well as to check out her book, mindfulness for Teen Anxiety, A Practical Guide to Manage Stress, ease, worry, and Find Calm. 

 [00:25:22] Every episode of The Caregiving Soul has a page on where you can find the extended show notes, including tips and takeaways, transcripts, and relevant resource links.  

[00:25:35] For additional bonus content from this episode, and to connect with us, be sure to follow the Empowered Us social channels on Instagram @empoweredusnetwork and Twitter @empowereduspod. 

[00:25:51] The Caregiving Soul is an Empowered Us original, presented by Good Days, hosted by me, Dannelle LeBlanc. If you liked this episode, be sure to rate and subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts.  

[00:26:09] And remember, the right care includes care for you. 

[00:26:20] [Music Ends] 

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