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Episode 110: Mindset Shift: When Parenting Feels Hard with Penny Williams






Brief summary of show:


In this episode, Penny shares her valuable insights on how to shift our mental habits and overcome negative thinking and victim mentality.


A parenting coach for neurodiverse families, Penny Williams is the award-winning author of four books on ADHD, including "Boy Without Instructions," host of the Beautifully Complex Podcast, co-host of the annual Neurodiversity Summits, and co-founder of The Behavior Revolution, an initiative devoted to celebrating and supporting kids with ADHD or autism through neuroscience-backed insights, hard-won strategies, compassion, and guidance. Penny empowers parents to help their neuro-atypical kids — and families — thrive.


We start by discussing Penny's work helping families and how she discovered the power of positive psychology and mindfulness in her own life. Then, we explore why our brains are wired to pay more attention to negative experiences than positive ones, and how this can affect our mood, relationships, and decision-making.


Next, we delve into the topic of victim mentality and how to recognize when we're stuck in a pattern of blaming others or feeling helpless. Penny shares her personal story of learning to make an internal shift that allowed her to take control of her life.


We also talk about how to deal with being in the 'muck' of life, that is, facing challenges and setbacks that can be overwhelming and discouraging. Penny offers practical tips on how to stay focused on our goals, maintain a growth mindset, and seek support when needed.

Whether you're a parent, a professional, or just someone who wants to cultivate a more positive and empowering mindset, this episode has something for you.


Listen in as we talk about:

  • [2:40] Penny's work helping families

  • [4:05] Why we are more wired to pay attention to the negatives

  • [9:05] Going from victim mentality to making an internal shift

  • [13:25] How to deal with being in the 'muck' of life

  • [17:55] Not ignoring the problems in our lives or putting them up on a pedestal

  • [19:25] Tips to shift our mentality as parents


Notes from Natalie:


Connect with Penny


Connect with Me



View Transcript for this Episode

Natalie: Raising children when life throws you curve balls. Join me as we delve into the world of parenting when things don't go as planned.

Natalie: Hi everyone. It's Natalie. I'm so glad you're joining today. It's a big week in my house as I get my college kids home for the summer after another year away at school. I can't believe we're nearing summer, but I am so grateful.

It's been a really particularly hard, long winter. I'm working a lot this summer, but. Also happy to be doing a lot of podcast planning and you know, one topic that continually comes up. A D H D and a D D I even talked about it last week as so many people struggle with some form of this in organization. I see it in my high schoolers.

I see it with my coworkers. My. Friends, there's so much we are still learning about neuro divergence. What does that mean? Neuro divergent is a non-medical term that describes people whose brains develop or work a little bit differently. This means the person has different strengths and struggles from people whose brains develop or work more.

Typically Penny Williams is a leading authority on parenting and coaching parents of neuro divergent kids. In this episode, penny and I are gonna discuss how to shift your mindset and cultivate a mindful approach to parenting. Penny shares her insights, her practical tips on how to manage the challenges of parenting kids with A D H D and autism, and how to create a supportive environment that encourages positive behavior.

She also emphasizes the importance of consistency, practice, intention, all of these things, and achieving long-lasting change. So whether you're a parent of a neurodivergent child, or simply looking to improve your parenting skills, this episode is packed with valuable information and advice.

I encourage you to hit subscribe so you don't miss an episode. And with that, let's dive in. Penny, great to talk to you today. I've enjoyed, uh, sharing resources with you and I wanna talk today your expertise, and you've got quite a story about changing your perspective on parenting. You know, sometimes life just smacks us in the face, right. With what we don't expect.

So tell me, uh, a little bit about your background and how you help people with that.

Penny: Right now I'm a parenting coach for neurodiverse families, so that means families who have kids with adhd, autism, learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, things like that. And of course I got into that work because I have that kid myself. And when he was first diagnosed, it was 2008 and there. Nothing online to help me.

Mm-hmm. There was Attitude Magazine. There were a couple books by Dr. Hallowell, but there was no real guidance for parents to say, this is what you need to know, this is what you need to change, and this is how you go forward. And so I got really obsessed, right, because I really wanted to help my kid. And dove in too deep, honestly.

Um, my son's therapist one day put me on self-help restriction because mm-hmm. I was always walking in with a stack of books and telling her all these new things I've learned over the last week and, and she could see that it was taking over, which was really unhealthy. And I did that for, for quite some time, a couple of years probably.

And then I realized one day that when my husband walked in the house, he would avoid me and the kids like didn't wanna come and sit at the dinner table. And it was, cuz that's all I talk, all I talked about was D h D. Right. All the time.

And we are wired to pay more attention to the negative and to the struggle.

Mm-hmm. Because, We needed to be, mindful and aware to, to protect ourselves, right? It was a protective mechanism mm-hmm. In our biology. But the problem is it makes it so much easier to really get stuck in the muck, to really fall into that pit and really focus only on the negative. And so I finally realized one day, just like.

Was so tired of being so negative and heavy, and I had always thought that people who were happy had something I didn't have. They had something in their character, they had life circumstances. They had all these things that somehow weren't available to me, and it wasn't. It wasn't my sort of fate to be happy, which was bogus.

It was completely ridiculous. Mm-hmm. But that somehow was my belief system for a long time. And so I just honestly sat down and said, I know there's a lot of research on happiness and I'm gonna start looking at some of it. And I started Wow. Listening to podcasts. Like that's when I really started getting into listening.

I wasn't even podcasting myself yet. And. Just searching for conversations about happiness and realized that I had a very victim mentality. Things happened to me. I had no control over them. Why is this my life? Right? Why does my kid have to struggle? And I didn't have to be stuck there? And there's, um, some talk in psychology about, The victim mindset versus the survivor mindset.

Mm-hmm. And so I just started reading a lot about that and, um, listening to more and more podcasts and realizing that I really could affect my own thinking so that I could affect how I felt about the world, about what was going on with me just in general. Right. And so, I ha this epiphany listening to a podcast called the.

Oh, I'm gonna forget the name now. It's about Coaching. Coaching School podcast, I think. Hmm. And it was a conversation about the neutrality of circumstances. And the neutrality of circumstances just says that everything that happens is totally neutral. We attach thoughts and feelings and emotions to it.

So every single thing that happens is completely neutral, starting. We choose what to do with it. We have that power. Sometimes it doesn't feel like we have that control, right? Some things are really hard. We get super flooded with emotion. We get really upset, right? And it just takes us over before, yeah, we have a chance to think about it, but there's so much in our day to day that we sort of are on autopilot and we don't think about.

How we're thinking about it, right? Mm-hmm. We don't think about what's going on behind the scenes. We're just moving through the motions, and so. That one podcast episode was a light bulb for me, and I was actually on a road trip to visit my daughter who had just left for college for the weekend, and I played it three times in a row because I really just wanted that to sink in.

I wanted to really focus on that concept because it felt really pivotal for me. Right. It felt like this was the thing that I needed to hear, and then there was a lot of work. Right. It wasn't just this light switch. Mm-hmm. It was a lot of work. Mm-hmm. It's still a lot of work and I still find myself, I'm, I'm in a period of more stuckness right now, honestly, and I'm working on it.

and I have to be like really mindful and really aware of what's going on and if I feel good about it or not. And that was what kind. Helped me to see that I'm getting sort of stuck again in the more negative was I was just like, I don't feel good like this. Right? I'm not feeling great every day. And then really reflecting on that and realizing that I've started shifting back into that more negative thinking.

And so now you know I'm doing the extra work again. Right. And that's really what it is. It's constantly practicing and being. Of our thoughts and, and what we're doing with what's happening around us. Yeah.

Natalie: Well, especially as a parent. So what you're telling me from 2008, so it's 15 years mm-hmm. Since you got this diagnosis.

Yeah. It changed the course of your life. Completely. And your business completely. Mm-hmm. And you've been able to help thousands of people because of it. So talk about going from victim to actually making something out of it that's good in the world and helping people. Yeah. But if you go back those 15 years, your epiphany of, what am I gonna do with this?

how did your family react to that? How did your family, did they notice, my gosh, that you were doing this?

Penny: Yeah, the whole tone in our household changed, right? It went from being really heavy, always thinking about what was wrong, what was hard to just a lightness. And it's not that we were ignoring the problems, we were just saying, okay, they're here to stay.

I started out by just fighting. It was fighting what was going on, and I couldn't do any good in. Mentality in that space, because I was only focusing on the negative. How was I gonna help my kid have this life where he didn't only focus on the fact that there were things that he struggled with, right?

How was he going to possibly succeed and be happy if all he thought about was the challenges I had to recognize, right? That. The way that I think about it is the way he's gonna think about it, because he is just a little guy, right? He was six years old. Yeah. He was taking on whatever we put out there, right?

And so I had to make that shift for everybody and it made a huge difference. You know, they weren't all avoiding me in the house anymore. And we talked about other things at the dinner table and everybody was just lighter. And that makes a huge difference. And you know, I talk a. In, the behavior revolution about the fact that we have to feel good to do good.

If I don't feel good, I, I can't put good out there. I just can't. It's not biologically possible, actually. And so we have to focus on just. Feeling good about what's going on, and that's how we help our kids who have challenges make something of it, right. To be able to say, okay, I have adhd, I'm on the spectrum.

Um, for my son, he has dysgraphia, so handwriting is abysmal. He's 20 and it's still, you know, looks like nobody taught. Yet, and he's still in preschool. And it's just the way it is. Right? And so how do you live with that? Well, how do you make a life where, yes, I have some challenges, but I figured out how to navigate them and I figured out how to enjoy my life.

Right. And that's, That's what we want. So I'm sitting here focusing only on the negative, but I, what I want is to raise this kid who feels good about himself, right? And the two did not go together. It was just clashed. And I think that's where I was able to really pivot. And then, you know, at some point I reflected and thought, why should every single parent have to start at the beginning and go through this like I have?

Mm-hmm. Why are we all. Doing this. I've done all this research now because I was obsessed for a long time and I had the clarity of knowing what would've been helpful starting out, and so I started by writing books. I started blogging. before my son was diagnosed, when things got really bad in kindergarten, I started blogging because I couldn't figure it out.

And I thought, I'll put it out there in the universe and maybe somebody will find me and tell me what's going on, which didn't happen. But we got that D H D diagnosis and as soon as I started writing about that, oh my gosh, everybody. Was there, right? Yeah. All these parents who felt really alone, like I did, were finding me and we were leaning on each other.

and then it just sort of snowballed. You know, I had a therapist who read one of my books and that I didn't know, um, in another state, and she contacted me and she was like, I need to have you on my podcast. And by the way, you need to make online courses for. I'm like, what? Like I had never even thought about it.

And she planted that seed and I thought, wow, that could be really helpful. Um, and it's just grown and blossomed from there to where I was able to quit what I was actually doing for a living and focus on this full-time now. And I get to be a helper all the time, which is so amazing. Right. To, yeah. To it to be a helper in the.

Natalie: Yeah, I, I wanted hit on a few things you said. Yeah. One being, if you focus on the negative all the time, you're gonna be miserable. You just are. Mm-hmm.

But when life hits you and you're living in the muck and you're, you know, I know there are people who can relate to this, and you're like, but I can't get out of the muck.

Mm-hmm. what is that? It's like, I'm trying to be positive, but I'm still dealing with the, he. And the hurts and the frustration. And what advice do you have for getting past that? Because it's still hard.

Penny: Yeah. And I would say you don't get past it. You come in and out of it as you travel life, right?

It, it's going to, you come up at times and you're gonna have to deal with it. And I think that's the real crux of what we're talking about here. To get over the hurdle, is to actually feel the feeling. Grieve for what's going on. Work through it. Don't try to stuff it down. Don't try to avoid, right, or, or feel guilty about the feelings.

You know, so many times parents will get a diagnosis like this, something, that. Makes their kid neurodivergent and then we feel guilty that we're grieving because other kids are being diagnosed with cancer and some families are losing their children, right? And we compare and then we feel guilt and it's just a different journey and there is a valid feeling there.

Any feeling that you have is valid for you in that moment. Whether or not somebody else has something that you deem harder, however you're feeling is valid for you, it's happening. And so we just have to say, okay, here it is, and I need to work through this. I need to recognize and accept how I'm feeling, and really just keep going with that until I can.

Step beyond that hurdle for that moment in time and things are gonna happen where, you know, that comes up again. My son graduated from high school two years ago, and because of the pandemic he had kind of regressed, right? He had been at home and isolated and a lot of things we're still trying to undo from the pandemic he has become.

Really stuck right in staying home and socializing online and not in person like so many people. Yeah. All of these things, like so many of us, I'm sort of dealing with the same thing because I have social anxiety and so now that's harder again after being isolated and not having to deal with it.

Mm-hmm. Um, and I think that, That has sort of made me a little stuck. Again, a little negative again, is like, okay, time is going by and I don't feel like we're progressing and I have to remind myself that he needed time to heal from his school experience. It was very traumatic. It was very hard. He is a gifted, very intelligent kid who left school thinking he was stupid and worthless.

Despite how hard I tried to get people to understand him. Right? And so he just needs time to be able to put himself out there again, right? To be able to, embrace the world again a little bit and just try things again and, I can, you know, sometimes go, oh my gosh, here we are, like two years now. What are we doing?

Or I can remind myself again, he's not there yet and he's gonna get there, but it's just not yet. Yeah. and part of that is that work, right? And just shifting how I am viewing something, shifting the narrative that I'm telling myself. You know, we choose the stories that we tell ourselves about things.

And I can choose to tell myself that my 20 year old should be doing other things. Mm-hmm. Or I can choose to tell myself that this is what he needs right now, which is the truth. Right? Yeah. I can focus more on the truth instead of the fear. And it's that fear that drags us into that negativity. Right. I isn't that so

Natalie: true?

I love that. Mm-hmm. That we choose to, repeat what you just said. It's choose the

Penny: truth instead of drag. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, we can choose to focus on what's actually real instead of the fear that we have. Oh, that's so

Natalie: good. You, you mentioned something else a couple of minutes ago and it reminded me of a saying that, that I've kind of lived by and our family has of you can admire the problem, but if you're just admiring the problem, You're not doing anything.

You know, it's, it's, yeah. What good does it do? Mm-hmm. It's not what we want. We don't want the problems in our lives, but we can just kind of put them up on a pedestal and continue talking about them or move on and find things, uh, to do, to make a difference.

Penny: And I think it's really important there to remind parents that we're not saying to ignore the problem.

Right. We're saying that the problem, just don't admire it. Right? Right. Don't the problem anything, get stuck in the fact that there's a problem. Mm-hmm. Or a challenge. Think further than that. Think beyond that. Okay. This is a challenge, but it's not our whole life. Like my kid is so much more than ADHD and autism.

Right. There's so much more about him. Mm-hmm. That was the place from which I could really sort of step out of that. And say, okay, let's look at this other stuff. And maybe looking at the other stuff is gonna help us with the challenges, which it does, right? Yeah. The more we focus on the positive, the less we're focused on the negative.

Our brain actually wires that way, and it is really helpful. And the more positive we are, the more our brain is wired for more positive experiences for being able to focus more on that and less on the negative. So, you know, there's a lot of science here. Helps us on that path, right? Our brains are gonna help us down that path.

If we can sort of stop and say, okay, this is the path I'm choosing. Not that path that just automatically happens and that we just go down on autopilot. Yeah. Well,

Natalie: as a parent, if you could just give us a, another piece of advice on, shifting that mentality. Of just shifting when things aren't what you think they're going to be, be it a diagnosis, adhd, we hear so much of that.

We hear so much of anxiety that our kids are dealing with and we don't want them to deal with that. We just wanna erase it, but we can't. We have to deal with it when we need to shift as a parent, our mindset, because we're upset at how life has panned out. What else can we do?

Penny: I remind myself that I can't really problem solve physiologically if I am stuck in the overwhelm and the flooded emotions, and then that helps me to just sort of take a breath and clean the slate. And think more clearly about what's happening. Mm-hmm. Right. And being able to make those choices. Then, like if my kid's having a hard time, especially when he was little, we had lots of meltdowns and stuff.

I would just take a really deep, empathetic breath before I responded or reacted at all, which took time in practice to be able to do that, right? Because we're reactive creatures and that little bit space helped me. To be able to go, okay, he's having a hard time and I wanna help. What can I do that's helpful because my instinct is not helpful.

You know, we're, we're also wired to respond in kind. If somebody comes at you yelling at you, your body says, yell back, your body says, do what is being done to you. Mm-hmm. To protect you. Mm-hmm. Right. And so when things are going wrong around us or somebody is, you know, intense around us, we're wired to mirror that.

But it's so super unhelpful. All it does is escalate the situation and make everybody feel worse. And so being able to just take that little breath that two seconds helps me to be more focused and intentional. With what I'm going to do or say. And that has been kind of the biggest shift. And there are so many times where I was like, okay, he's not giving me a hard time.

He's having a hard time. He's not giving me a hard time. He's having a hard time. Right. So that I could. Stay in that mental space to be helpful. Um, but there were so many years where I couldn't do that. I didn't even know to do that, right? Mm-hmm. And so there was a lot of time where I had to try things. I had to learn what worked and didn't work.

Right? And, and that's really helpful too, because the more I was able to do that, the more success I had, the more success I had with helping him, the more I was. To write, pause and be more intentional and have more clarity in what I was doing. And so it, it's so powerful once you're able to make the shift because again, our bodies are wired to keep that going.

And we're also, of course driven by things going well when I'm able to. Cut the intensity and help my kid calm down instead of actually making him more intense and more, volatile. Now that's imprinted. Now I'm like, okay, well that went well. That went better than it usually does. Yeah, I'm gonna do that again.

Right. And so, It's a lot of like pattern really. Um, Dr. Mark Burton, who was a developmental pediatrician, um, talks a lot about mindfulness, um, in, in helping our kids and helping our families. And helping ourselves, right? Um, he even teaches other physicians mindfulness and he said to me one time, it's like going to the.

And if you go to the gym, you get good results, right? You go frequently, consistently, you get results. But what happens if you stop going to the gym? Your body doesn't stay all toned and muscle, right? It's now deteriorating. It's something that you have to continue to do. You have to continue to practice.

In order to continue to have that result. So you can't say, well, I'm just gonna focus on the positive. And there we go. It's all done forever. Right. It's a practice. It's, it's really mindfulness. It's making yourself aware of what's going on and what's gonna be helpful and unhelpful in situations. It's

Natalie: a really good way to look at it, that it's not an overnight change.

Mm-hmm. It's, what is it, three weeks, 21 days to truly form a habit. Something like that, that science says as well. Like you form the habit. Yeah. Over slow, like slowly saying you're going to do it and consistently doing it.

Penny: Mm-hmm. And for something like this, you know, if you have a lot of challenges in your life, it's gonna take a lot longer than that.

It's gonna take more focus than that, right? Because that negative stuff is still knocking on your door. It's still, you know, looking you in the face and confronting you. And so you really, it takes more, I think, mindfulness and intention, when there's a lot of challenge going on around you. Yeah,

Natalie: well, such good information is so helpful for people who are struggling, be it again, with kids with some of these issues or other things when it comes to parenting and when it just comes to life.

Mm-hmm. Where can people follow you and get more information on everything you're doing?

Penny: Yeah, the easiest thing to do is go parenting ADHD and autism.com and there are links up there to everything, the beautifully complex podcast and the Behavior revolution, which is, um, a different, um, business that I have with a partner on just changing the way we think about behavior and how we help kids through it.

And, all my social media is there and all that good stuff.

Natalie: Great. Well thank you so much. It's

Penny: great to talk to you. Thank you for having,






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