Podcast Episode 42:
Emotional Regulation: Interview with Keira Merkovsky

I’m sure that you are already well-aware on some level that when your child is having a hard time emotionally, they are not able to learn.

 

This week we have a special interview with Keira Merkovsky.  She’s a licensed social worker, and owner of Relationship Cubed.  And most importantly, she’s a mother of two, including a child with ADHD.

 

In this interview, she shares her own personal journey as well as providing a lot of valuable guidance on how we can support the emotional regulation of ourselves and our children.



Audio version: www.DecodingLearningDifferences.com

Transcript:
This is Decoding Learning Differences with Kimberlynn Lavelle. This episode is emotional regulation, an interview with Keira Merkovsky. Now Keira is a friend of mine who is she's amazing and does so much great work in the world. And she'll introduce herself in the actual interview and give you a little insight into what she does and her website and her business: Relationship Cubed. And at the end,

she tells us why it's called that. So listen for all of that, there's so much wisdom in this interview. So much just personal experience that she's sharing about what's working, what, what we can all do to be more well-regulated ourselves. And that it is a, you know, step-by-step process. It's nothing that you can just immediately, okay. I'm cool all the time.

It's, it's working on things, right? And she definitely gets into that. It gives some really good, valuable tips and ways to help, help your family feel more well-regulated because it starts with us. And what we are able to do really helps regulate our children and teach them as well. And there's some tips on how to teach it as well.

So there's so much wisdom here. Keira also has she's she's found that she has ADHD. Her son has ADHD, and she talks about that struggle too. So, so much listen for, I know you're really going to enjoy this interview with Kira and at the end of it, I want to know what were your takeaways. So let me know what you learned from this,

what you're going to put into place, how it helped you email me. Kimberlynn at Decoding Learning Differences dot com and I can't wait to hear from you. Hello, Kira, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. I'm so excited for people to get to know you and find out about you. And I'm going to have you just start by introducing yourself.

Okay. Thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here. My name is Keira Merkovsky and I am a licensed clinical social worker, which is just one type of therapist, mental health therapist. And I have a private practice in orange county, California, and I am also most importantly, the mom of two kiddos, my husband, Mike, and I have Marley who just turned 11 and Jack who's about to turn 10 and both of them are two,

each exceptional and Jack is more noticeably. So with a pretty severe exciting case of ADHD, which brings us a lot of entertainment and joy from his uniqueness, but also a lot of challenges that we're learning to work with and turns out we're learning that I too have a solid case of ADHD. So that's been interesting and we're learning a lot about our family history.

So that's been kind of fun. Maybe we'll get into that today in terms of my mental health practice, I specialize in working with parents and particularly moms kind of in reparenting themselves and working on their own emotional regulation because there's, that's a term that gets thrown around a lot. These days, it's kind of a trendy term, but it's also a really important one and all of us want to help our kids be emotionally regulated,

but that has to start with us. And so many of us haven't learned the skills to do that. So my, my gift, my specialty is helping moms do that for themselves. So then they can more naturally and easily passed those skills onto their kids. That is amazing. Can you start by just telling us a little bit about what, how would you define emotional regulation and,

and its importance? Yeah. Yes, Absolutely. Emotional regulation is the ability to be aware of what's going on within you so that you can respond in a way that you feel good about in essence. So we get triggered by situations, by comments that people make by thoughts that come into our heads by things that we don't even realize, things can trigger us.

And what that means is an event or something that someone says or a thought creates an intense emotional reaction within us. And then we can either react, which is to, you know, react without awareness. Maybe we yell, maybe we get angry, maybe we become depressed. Maybe we withdraw, or we can respond by noticing what's happening within us and taking some time taking a beat.

I like to say creating some space so that we can think about, wow, I'm having all of this go on within me. And I want to be able to respond to that in an intentional way so that I don't have like a big mess to cleanup afterwards, hurt feelings and apologies to make, which is okay, it's okay to make those apologies,

but we want to try to avoid hurting feelings as much as we can. So emotional regulation is that ability be aware of what's going on within us and respond in a way that we feel good about in a way that's in line with our values. And actually you also added, you had a second part to that question, the importance of it. And I kind of touched on that already,

but it is important because it has a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves. And it has a huge impact on our relationships. And when we can be like, notice the upset that we feel by something that someone says, and just sit with that for a minute and think, okay, how do I want to respond to this in a way that's not driven by my emotions?

Then we can either, you know, clarify what they meant and check in with what they were saying, or maybe we got it wrong, right. So we can clarify, or we can set a boundary and say, you know what? I didn't really appreciate that comment. And that didn't feel very good for me. I appreciate it that, you know,

if you didn't say that again, so it's important because it allows us to mainly because it allows us to respond in a way we feel good about. And also because it helps us to create healthier relationships with ourselves and with others. What, So it all sounds lovely. And it's, I think what everyone aspires to, but in the moment we find it very difficult.

Yeah. What is making it so difficult? That's a great question and really important one. And what makes it difficult is our biology, right? Like the programming of our brain. We have so much that is stored in the emotional centers of our brain, from our past experiences, our childhood, our, you know, just our personality in general, the things that we've been exposed to throughout our lives.

And there's so much of that, that is stored in there that we don't even have conscious awareness of. And so when something triggers that stored information, it kind of floods us in that moment, floods us with all of these difficult, hard to have uncomfortable emotions, anxiety, fear, anger, you know, disappointment. We get flooded by all these uncomfortable emotions.

And none of us liked to have those uncomfortable emotions. And so we try really hard to get rid of them as quickly as possible. And so if our child is having a tantrum and we in our emotional centers, we had learned from our childhood that, you know, it's not okay to express big emotion and here, our child's having this big emotion,

this tantrum in a store, then that part of our brain gets triggered. And then we get flooded with all of this uncomfortable emotion. And I don't want this uncomfortable emotion, so I want to stop the thing that's triggering it. And so I am very likely to say to my child, knock it off. Right. Or that's it, we're leaving we're out of here because I want them to stop so that I don't have to be uncomfortable.

Does that make sense? Yeah. So there's so much of our biology and so much that goes on in our brain that that is outside of our awareness and feels, feels not that it is, but it feels very outside our control. And that's the action piece when we're not aware of that stuff that comes up, or we're not aware of the things that,

that trigger us. That's what makes it more likely that we're going to react and like emotionally react, not going to stop it instead of responding, which would be like, wow, I'm totally noticing all of these emotions in my body right now. This feels really uncomfortable. Okay. Like, let me just ground myself in the minute. In this moment,

ground myself in the present. I really feel like screaming at my child right now because I'm so uncomfortable, but I'm not a person who likes to scream at my child. I don't want to scream at my child. So let me just take a minute and comfort myself and give myself just a second to breathe so that I can think about how I'm going to handle this situation without screaming at them in the middle of the store.

And that's the responding. And obviously when I say it and I'm sitting here and I'm all calm and it's like, oh wow. Yeah, that'd be great to be able to say that that's never going to happen. And that process with practice actually does happen very quickly. But it, when you are new to this idea of responding, instead of reacting,

it takes a lot of practice and it takes a lot more time and it's baby steps, right? We, we get there by just starting with noticing the signals that our body gives us to let us know that we're triggered some people, a lot of people feel it in their chest. Like if you can just think about a time when you do this,

think about the last time that you got really triggered. Do you have it in your head? Okay. You imagining the situation you imagining w assuming it was with a child, one of your children. Yes. Okay. Think about where you felt that in your body, did you feel that in your chest, did you feel that in your neck and your shoulders,

some people feel it in their throat. Some people feel it in their stomach. Where was that for you? Mine is like at the top of my chest. Yeah. Like almost up here. Okay. Yeah, yeah. Yes. Okay. Mine is a little bit lower than that and I can even feel it right now. Just talking about it.

My body's like, oh yeah, I know this feeling. This is what it is. So if we can start to notice that sensation, that clue that our body gives us to let us know that we're triggered. That is the very first step and our bodies are so amazing that way they actually give us the clues long before, well, long enough before the explosion,

so that if we learn to recognize those clues, we can catch ourselves. Right. And when we master that process of catching ourselves and then responding from a place of, you know, calm, then we have a greater ability to help guide our children through that as well. So then when they are starting to get worked up, we can recognize the signals that they give us.

We're probably better at recognizing our kids signals that they're about to lose it than we are at recognizing, oh right. You can hear the change in their voice, or you see the tension. And you're like, oh, oh, here it comes. Right. But the explosion is coming. So we swoop in, we try to give them a snack.

We try to comfort them. We try to, you know, do all these things to help them manage their emotions. And we can do that same thing for ourselves, but it starts with noticing those clues that our body gives us. So it's very important to help with relationships and help us respond in a way we feel good about, but it's so difficult because it's not something that we've been trained to do.

Yeah. And can I say one more thing on that? Absolutely. Okay. One Of the other reasons other than our biology, one of the other reasons that it's so difficult is that it's kind of a generational thing. We know more now than our parents knew and more and more than their grandma. You know what I'm saying? More than our parents knew.

And more than our grandparents knew in terms of the role of emotions, the importance of emotions, the value of them. And so for many of us in our generation who are raising kids right now, we were raised by parents that didn't have emotional awareness. And so we, they just did shut down our emotions. They didn't know what else to do.

Right. And so it would, we would get upset about something and there would be a lot of dismissing or what's that other word? I can't think of it right now, but dismissing of the emotions like, oh, you're fine. It's not that big of a deal. Or just completely shutting them down and saying, knock it off. There's no reason to cry,

go to your room. If you're going to cry, come back. You can stop. And when, when that happens, a child doesn't have the opportunity to practice working through those emotions in a healthy way. So they get trapped in us, right. And instead of shutting those emotions down and trapping them within us, that way we want to help our kids.

We want to do differently for our kids. We want to help them notice that those are emotions. Those emotions are happening, identify them right. Name them with using a feelings faces chart or something like that. And then help them understand that feelings fade, right? It's not going to feel this way forever. Right now. It's really uncomfortable,

but I'll sit with you as we, as you work through this, as it passes through you, and then they don't have that pent up within them. But a lot of us didn't learn that. And so, as we're helping our kids learn these skills, we're first having to learn them ourselves. We're having to teach ourselves how to do this. So that's why it's so difficult.

Those are the two big reasons. Yes. And I, I can definitely see both of those in play. And I know a lot of, a lot of people, if not, everyone can relate to all of that. So when you kind of got into it, some, and, and that was sort of my next question is what are some like concrete tips or strategies that we,

that parents can just start doing right now to help them tell themselves, be more emotionally regulated and maybe even get into helping their child be more emotionally regulated? Yes, That's a great question. The first one, like I mentioned is starting by noticing the signals in your body and the way that you can do that, the easiest way to do that is right after an explosion or a conflict,

or right after a situation that, you know, you didn't handle in a way that you are feeling good about take some time to reflect on that uninterrupted time as much. I mean, even if it's two minutes in the bathroom, right, with the door closed or stepping outside or journaling, or using your phone and recording a voice memo to just, you know,

process and let it come out, take a couple of minutes and reflect on that situation and say, okay, what happened there? And what signals did my body give me? Because the, the benefit of that is that after the situation's done, you are in a more balanced mindset. You have access to both your emotional thinking and your logical thinking. But when we're triggered,

we are fully flooded by our emotional brain. And we do not have access to our logical thinking, which is why it makes it so hard in the moment. We are just reacting from a place of emotion. But if we can reflect on those situations when we're balanced and we can say logically, okay, what was it that happened? We were trying to get out of the house,

but my child kept going back to the Legos and wasn't, wasn't putting their shoes on. Like I asked them to do, they didn't have their, their backpack put together and I just lost it. Okay. Then you can do a little bit of exploration around that. Why was that such a big deal to me? Do I really want to hold on to that expectation that doesn't seem to work.

We're doing this thing the same battle every day. So you have that ability to think logically, but also think back and ask yourself the very important question of where did I feel the tension in my body? What was the signal? My body was giving me to let me know that I was about to be flooded by a, my emotional brain and lose all access to my logical thinking.

So that is the most important step. Learn your body's clues so that you have time to catch yourself and create space so that you don't go into that flooded emotional brain. That's the biggest one. And then in, in, like I said earlier, we already do that with our kids a lot of time. And if you don't do that, right,

start paying attention to the clues that they give you. Are you aware of them, even if you're not consciously aware of them, if you really are intention about watching them, when they start to get agitated or in conflict, you probably have some awareness about the clues. Your kids are giving you to let you know they're going into that place of being flooded with their emotions,

and they're going to have a meltdown. And so catch those and reflect to them and say, oh, I can see that it's looking like you're frustrated right now. Or it's looking like you're having a hard time, or it's looking like you, you might need some help. Is that true? Do you need my help? And if they say no,

that's okay. But the goal is to help them make the connection between what they're experiencing within their body and the words that you're giving them so that eventually they can identify, oh, this feeling means that I'm frustrated and I need help. So those, I think that's the number one thing. And I always in my mind think that this next one is something everybody already knows,

but I realizing that's, that's not the case. I need to let go of that assumption, but have a feeling spaces, chart in your house, make that like a normal part of life. I don't care if you print up a free one, there are so many free ones online. If you buy some fancy poster, if you, whatever you want to do,

but have feelings and you know, some sort of chart, or there's even little squishies, you can get, have something in your house where your kids can access that. And then you can help them identify, oh, it's looking like you were frustrated. Is that true? Look and find where frustrated is. Or if that's not the one that you're feeling,

show me on this chart. What is it that you're feeling? They are, they're really good at doing that when we give them the opportunity and they really like it. So we need to be able to name our feelings beyond just mad, sad, glad, and afraid, which are the four main ones people use, but there's a lot wrapped up in mad,

right? It could be disappointed, frustrated. It could actually be sad that they're calling mad. It could be hurt. It could be irritated. And those are very different things. And we don't want to jumble them all up into one word that doesn't differentiate. So those were my two big things for now. I was re kind of reflecting a little myself about some of what I've experienced and my kids are young,

but I've noticed that I know that I can feel myself start to like get anxious because my child I know is about to had an issue. And sometimes it's not that they're at that point, but I know that there's like an event that always triggers them. That is about to happen. And then, so do you have any tips on like how to work through how to have like success in those moments of like,

I know I'm going to say something that's going to make them feel triggered and I'd like to avoid an explosion or help them work through it before they even get to that point. Yes. So front-loading is a really good strategy for that. And if you have that awareness that they are often triggered in that situation, give them a heads up. So if you are at the park and you know,

every time you have to leave, they have a complete meltdown. Then before you even go to the park, make a plan with them. Even if they're very young, they can still participate in making a plan and say something like, you know what? It's so fun to play at the park. And I know it's really hard to leave when you're having a really good,

you know, having a fun time and really, really good time at the park. But at some point we have to leave because we have to come home and have lunch and do all of those things. So do you have any ideas of what we can do when it's time to leave, that would make it easier for you to leave? And they might come up with amazing ideas.

Like we could go around to the park and say goodbye to all the things, goodbye, swing, goodbye slide, or, you know, maybe they want to do like a little, a little goodbye dance. All right. They come up with the most amazing things when you give them the opportunities. And sometimes they are not creative like that, and they are more logical and they want to see a timer.

So you can say, how about I turn on a timer or even more concrete? You can, you can give them a song and say, when you hear this song starting, that means that it's almost time to go and pick one. That's like five minutes. You know, there are long enough songs that it's about time to go. And when the song ends,

then we are going to leave the park. And that just gives them that space to transition so that they're prepared because a lot of times we're dictating everything about their lives. Do this, do that. It's time to go here. It's time to go there. So if they're having meltdowns in the same situation every time, then giving them some more power and more control in that situation can be really helpful.

Thank you. Yes. That'll that, those are some great tips I wanted to get into a little more about you personally. How, how has having an ADHD child and even having ADHD, yourself been impacting your ability to emotionally regulate? Yeah. So that's, it's A significant question. Well, it's interesting because I'm sure I've had ADHD my whole life,

but I've always managed to cope, right? I'm really good at lists and, and agendas and organizing and labeling things. So I've been able to get through. But the big challenge for me in this really showed up in motherhood when I had my first child is the overwhelm. Like I get so easily overwhelmed when there are too many things coming at me or too many things on my to-do list.

And I didn't realize until recently that that's a really big indication of ADHD or a big part of ADHD. So that's my biggest struggle. And in parenting, there was always overwhelmed, right? There's always so much to do. There's always so much going on. So that's really been a challenge for me to notice that that's a struggle and then figure out,

okay, how am I going to cope with this? Because I, the overwhelm is not going to go away to a degree. I can minimize the things we're involved in, or I can hand off tasks to other people. And those are some coping skills to use, but I also need to adjust my mindset around it. Right. So that it have so much power over me.

So I'm just realizing, and having awareness that overwhelm is, is hard for me, helps me when I get into overwhelm because I can name it. Right. I can identify, oh, you know what? I'm feeling overwhelmed. This makes sense why this is so hard right now. So that is a big one for me. And in terms of my son,

he, I think that the biggest thing with him is to accept him for who he is. And I know that sounds really cliche, but his sister who's a year older has always reached milestones long before he has. And I've never been one to compare. That's really not my jam. That's not how I do things, but it's really noticeable, like years difference.

She could master something at the age of four and then he didn't master it until seven or something like that. Right. And accepting that he is who he is and meeting him where he's at. Instead of having this idea in my head that he should be able to do this, that, or another thing instead, stepping back from that expectation and saying,

where is he at? What can he do? With you know, with who he is, as opposed to all these expectations of milestones and where other kids are. So that's really been helpful to give myself permission to not put those expectations on him and not be disappointed when he doesn't meet the expectations of teachers or schools, or, and you know what,

this is where he's at. And, and we're okay with that. And one thing that, another concept that helps me a lot kind of along that same line idea of working toward, right. So what do I mean is he is real, he really struggles with accepting change, or if things don't go the way that they're supposed to go, he struggles with that.

And he has meltdowns and he gets really angry, right? And so we accept that, okay, this is where he is. And we are working toward helping him just to change more effectively. So I'm not going to be up that with him when he does have a meltdown, when there's something unexpected that comes up, because I know that's a struggle and I'm going to help him work toward handling it more effectively.

So it takes a lot of empathy, a lot of sitting with him and giving him permission to have his upset feelings and struggle with the change and just support him and say, I'm here anything. And I'm going to hold your hand and we're going to get through this. We're going to get through the day it's going to be okay. And just giving him space to work toward that.

And maybe talking later about, is there something we could have done differently that would have helped you? And he's really actually been able, even at the he's nine now, almost 10. But I remember even when he was six or seven, he could clarify his, what he needed. One thing he had said was, can you please not like reprimand me?

He didn't use that word, but not correct me or not tell me to do things differently in front of other people. Like, can you not talk about that stuff in front of other people? Can you just pull me aside and talk about it privately? And I was amazed when he shared that with me, just to have that awareness that he didn't like that,

and be able to verbalize that was a really, it was a really cool thing. Yeah. That's amazing. And it's, it's so nice that he's, that he also feels comfortable enough, right. That you've created that space, that he feels comfortable enough to ask you to do something differently. Yeah. Yes, absolutely. And I think a big part of that is because of our willingness to own our mistakes as parents,

I, I am, I am the champion at owning my mistakes and I will apologize every time. And I do make a lot of mistakes and we do a lot of repair and I asked for forgiveness and I, you know, I don't ever let my kids say, like, ask them not to say it's okay. When I make a mistake, instead of saying,

it's okay. They say, I forgive you. Are I say, will you forgive me for that? Because it's not okay for me to yell at them. Right. It's not okay for them, for me to mistreat them. And I can own that when I do and then ask for their forgiveness. And I, yes, even yesterday, I,

I was feeling so pressured. We were going to be late for something. And I don't know when I went to pick them up at school, they weren't where they were supposed to be and things weren't working out. And so the story in my head was what are they doing? They're not doing what they're supposed to be doing now. We're going to be late.

And I didn't catch myself in time. And when they finally came out and came to me, I was like throwing my hands up. And I was all irritated. And, and he said, I was doing what you asked me to do. I thought I was doing the right thing. And it doesn't feel good to be yelled at when I'm trying to do the right thing.

And I just said, you are absolutely right. I can imagine how difficult that would be or how hard that would be to be yelled at when you're trying to be helpful. And I am so sorry. And I explained to him, I had this story in my head and it wasn't even a true story, but I didn't catch it before it, you know,

before I got hooked by that story and got flooded with my emotions. And so I ended up yelling at you and I apologize, and will you, me? And he's so gracious. They're so gracious when you, when you approach them that way, who wouldn't be right, because that's, it's a very loving thing to do. And so they offered forgiveness and we went on about our day.

So having those discussions, being willing to own our mistakes makes it easier for them to acknowledge when they either make a mistake or acknowledge what's going on with them when that's indicating they have a need. Right. So That is such so much wisdom, such a beautiful story, too. I love that while I think we'll wrap up there, although I feel like we could keep talking for a long time.

Maybe we'll come back and have another session at some point. Yes, we should do that for sure. Okay. But until then, where can people get ahold of you find out more about all of the amazing things that you were doing in the world? Yes. They can go to my website, which is relationship cubed.com. And it's, I picked that name because community,

family, and you as the focus. So the relationships within all three of those, starting with ourselves, so relationship cubed.com. And there is actually a webinar that I had done. I posted that on there about regulating emotions and managing feelings. And so they can go there and, and enter their email and get access to that right away and see the other things that I'm working on.

Excellent. I love that. Okay. We will definitely link to that in the show notes or wherever people are, you know, it's audio and also video. So wherever people are with us, we'll definitely have a link below. So look for that. And I'm so excited for people to chat with you more. Excellent. Thank you so much for having me.



 

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