Episode 98: Megan Barella
By Cameron Suorsa
March 15, 2022
0:00 / 23:19
Mothers of Misfits00:01

Welcome to the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Join me for conversations about how to advocate for our kids in a one size fits all world. Be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Emily Melious00:18

Welcome back everyone to another episode of Mothers of Misfits. I've been chatting with Megan before we even hit record. And I can just tell you, we're going to have an awesome conversation. She and I align on a lot of things, but let me tell you a little bit more about Megan.

Megan Barella helps conscious parents stop the power struggles and explosions and heal their family relationships. Amen to that.

She works primarily with parents of strong-willed and highly sensitive children. She has inspired thousands of parents to raise a generation of children who thrive.

And that is where my heart is as well. And you can learn more about her at MeganBarella.com. Megan, thank you for coming on.

Megan Barella01:01

Emily. Thank you so much. I love being here and love everything you're up to, so thank you.

Emily Melious01:09

Thank you. Okay, well let's just get right to it. And you say something interesting. And I think maybe unexpected, um, when we're on the topic of spirited children.

Spirited children have the empathy and empowerment our world needs

So I'm going to, I'm going to share your quote and then I'd like you to kind of tease it out for us. So you say that spirited children are often more challenging to parent.

We, we know that part, um, and they are prone to power struggles and emotional explosions. Yet they have the exact skillset of empathy and empowerment, that our world needs. So tell us more, why do you say that?

Megan Barella01:47

Well, if we think of our children who are strong-willed and highly sensitive, it really is just an energy. And some of it, may be inborn temperament traits. You know your child has been strong-willed and sensitive, almost since the day we were born. And yet, so much of who we are is shaped by care giving. And so what I hope parents do is really work with those natural strengths in your child and in the parent child team.

Because if we think of it like energy and like a spectrum... on one end we can go into those power struggles or emotional explosions with our strong-willed and highly sensitive children. Or it can become these gifts of empathy and empowerment and leadership. People who lead with big hearts. And that is exactly what our world really needs today.

So I hope parents make that bridge.

Emily Melious02:55

Mhm, I love that. And in the work that I do, and I don't get to talk about it as much here, but I work with families to help them identify part of that puzzle. How their children naturally and instinctually operate and move through the world and contribute. And the big takeaway from that, and this is true of adults too, is that negative behavior is often the result of mental energy that hasn't had a positive outlet. And I love the work that you're doing because you're helping instead of, punishing the child and their sense of self and who they are. We're thinking creatively about how can we channel this energy in more positive ways and giving that child and that family unit, the strategies to do that and do that productively as a family unit.

And I've seen too, a lot of times when there's tension and conflict and frustration in the family. It can sometimes be just because there's different operating styles. We as parents, or as a parent, might do things differently than our child does. And if we don't understand that it's not necessarily emotionally charged, it's not them doing it to us. Or, um, having a motivation of wanting to disobey.

It's more, again, their energy is coming out in different ways. They're, um, you know, facing and operating with the world a different way than we do. But that's where I think some of that strong-willed spiritedness starts to appear. And that's why I've found, and I know you're going to talk about this... if we just double down, um, and, and go into a negative, more punishing mode. It can have the, we can just worsen the situation. Right?

Megan Barella04:40

Yes. One of the hardest things that parents with spirited, children will tell me is, Megan it's just so lonely. other parents get it. Family members don't get it. They just say, you just need to be stricter with your kids. They're, your letting you're letting them get away with everything. And there can be this feeling like why can't my child just be more mellow and just go with the flow.

And so I just want to, you know, send my support, um, and know that you're not alone. There's a whole community and generation of families who really identify and understand what you're going through. And then yeah, with the punishments... what we're finding like the trends: so I love working with spirited children because they are our changemakers. Again with that empathy and empowerment that the world really needs.

And they're also here to transform the old fear-based discipline model. That behavior equals character, and my goal is to help families transition into a brain-based model. That's rooted in positive relationships and solutions and spirited kids, just generally speaking, do not respond well to consequences, punishments, or rewards.

They have a sense of justice and fairness within them. What a wonderful thing. One of the dads, Emily, in my coaching practice. He said, Megan, it's like kids today are born knowing they have human rights. And we laughed so hard. That's exactly what we want. And what it means is, the ways that we were raised, just do as you're told the parents, I have to have this heavy hand. Fear of adults, of school.

Spirited kids, they don't, they don't follow those rules that we followed. Most of us were raised with. And that's a great thing. So in addition to that temperament dynamic, there's also this transition out of using punishments and rewards. That comes, is at play as well in families.

Emily Melious06:42

I love your thoughts of this change maker. And I see a lot of times it's a matter of perspective that if we allow ourselves to view those behaviors in that child through a different lens. And again, not attribute it to negative motives,

Megan Barella07:00


Emily Melious07:01

But see how could these qualities actually be a positive thing. And, and I'm not saying, you know, don't have boundaries or don't have rules. That that's not the case at all. But how can we teach them?

Especially if a lot of these strengths that they have are innate and they're not going to change. So, you know, this is something the child needs to learn to harness. Needs to learn to utilize, but in positive ways to make the world around them better. Rather than have more of a destructive outcome or a counterproductive outcome.

So, you know, that, that shift in our mindset as parents says, I've had to go through. I mean, I got a spirited child. There's a, there's a big reason why Mothers of Misfits happened. And, um, you know, and I'm, I'm a spirited person. I've given a lot of people, a run for their money and you know, I, I lived this, I know how hard this is, but it's so worth the effort,

How to know if you have a spirited child?

but I want to ask you Megan, how do we know if we have a spirited child?

I think a lot of parents probably know, but just, just for the gut check, like, what does that mean?

Megan Barella08:13

Yeah. Well, really, if you notice that the child's will, you know that your child is here to lead, that they do best when they're leading. And you may know that right now, because you are experiencing power struggles with your child. Um, and that's, that's one of the, the characteristics. And I actually sometimes call spirited kids, CEO kids. Like Emily, like you were sharing just about your life.

Like look at the amazing things you're here to do in the world, you know? And those same traits were probably with you as a child. I know me, I'm an entrepreneur. Like I can't work for poor management. Like that's just doesn't work for me.

Emily Melious08:58


Megan Barella08:59

A lot of us have these traits. Um, and so you may notice that that strong will.

Um, and then the other piece of that is the highly sensitive. A lot of kids just have really big hearts. They are the ones like the day, the things that like they care so deeply, they can be really thoughtful, empathetic, intuitive. And then usually when they have unmet, basic needs, they're under stress or out of balance.

They may be prone to those emotional explosions. And that's when a lot of, that's mostly power struggles. Yes. But it's the emotional explosions that usually. And rightly so, worry parents the most. And that's, that's when they'll find me, um, when there's a lot of an anger or aggression or just really based feelings and the home and, you know, it's serious. It's a lot.

Emily Melious09:55

It can be very exhausting to ride that roller coaster. It was just exactly what it feels like. Um, and it, it changes very quickly and you don't always see it coming. Uh, and so it's like, whoa, okay, we're going downhill. Oh, okay. We're going uphill. It's it's, it's an intensity. Um, everything feels more intense, more exaggerated.

Um, so it's yeah, it's, it's a lot. So Megan,

How do we avoid living in a constant argument

how do we avoid living in all out fighting and yelling matches.

Megan Barella10:26

Yeah, well, just really having so much love and respect for your child and the healing. They're here to bring your family. And your community, our planet. Really seeing, you know, loving them, looking at them. And when they are in that positive place, just like looking at their smile, their interests, like just loving who they are, making sure that you're getting that one-on-one quality time is really important.

Um, And then there are, there's a specific framework and process that I take parents of spirited children through. And so we really want to stabilize basic needs and your family and stress levels because often, this is one thing you can look out right now. You can kind of track when do the power struggles happen?

That's what we want to know first. What are the patterns in your family? Is it a hungry? Is it, you know, over tired? Is it when maybe you're not giving your child enough transition warning? Is it getting out the door every morning to school? We really want to understand what the patterns and trends are in your family.

So that place we really want to build that strong emotional foundation. Have you looking at what's working and not working in your family then helping you step into your leadership role. Because sadly, most of us didn't. That, that's one of our most important things, aside of supporting healthy emotional development.

Our family is supporting leadership development in our family. And so what does a great leader do? Stand in their strengths and bring out the leadership in other people. And you are here, to help your spirited child learn how to lead. And that starts with the way that you're leading yourself, really understanding your strengths.

And so a lot of what we're told from that punishment and reward model is that parents have to dictate everything and the kids are just supposed to obey. That, it doesn't work today. And honestly, I work with so many parents who are emotionally exhausted because they're trying to do it that old way. And I teach parents how to actually lean back and hold a really clear and loving container for the children to become problem solvers and actually develop solutions to their own behavior challenges.

That punishment and reward model, the hardest thing about it is it pits parents against kids. There has to be a winner and a loser, the parent wins and the child listens or the child wins and wears the parent down.

What we're doing is we're switching the rotation. Where now you're, instead of that tug of war. You're standing behind your child and the problems on the other side. And you're teaching your child how to solve problems and generate solutions. And this is when the spiritual they fly. They actually become easier to parents and other children because they have so much wisdom within them that, that old kind of reward model isn't, it's not accessible in that model.

Understanding how your child solves problems
Emily Melious13:38

If anybody out there is interested in fast tracking their understanding of how their child actually problem solves again, that's my area of expertise. And, uh, you're welcome to go to MothersOfMisfits.com and check out work with Emily. And you can see what it is that, um, we can offer kiddos as young as three, um, and really empower parents because the faster you can figure out.

Um, you know, how they lead, then the faster that you can avoid some of those conflict intention that happens often unnecessarily and empower them to operate inside of that container and we can guide them more intelligently. So I really encourage people to go ahead, check that out and see what we've got available.

It's not like personality based assessments. It's not like intelligence based assessments. And you learn something about your child that you can. Um, rely on come back to for life because of something about them that they'll always have and is ingrained. I've gone through that process and assessment when I was in sixth grade, I've done that with my kiddos that gave me tremendous amounts of insight.

And I know that also plays really well into your program. Megan, I know you appreciate having these objective pieces of insight so we can become more self aware, both about ourselves as parents and about our kids. So

Managing strong-willed children at school

I want to transition the conversation into thinking about school because it's one thing to manage our strong-willed kiddos at home. But how do we get our kids to advocate for themselves while at school, particularly when they're younger and they might not just realize this concept of like I'm a spirited strong will child, how do you advise families to talk to teachers about this and, and really get everybody on the same team like you talk about?

Megan Barella15:28

Well, first of all, I'm so excited to connect with you around the problem solving work that you do and to connect families with you. And also to connect more together. As far as the schools, we have to understand that our schools. Uh, research comes out and then 20 to 30 years later, our schools pick up.

Emily Melious15:49

Yes, Yes.

Megan Barella15:50

So a lot of times, you know, and working, know, with someone like me or Emily, you're really on the cutting edge of the field.

So it's a very stressful time to be a teacher right now. So really coming from that place of you know, gratitude for all the teacher is doing and just recognize that a lot of teachers don't know what to do with your child. so really stepping into that advocating role, they're not taught to, you know, understand the importance of positive relationship and really how to work with kids to generate solutions in the classroom.

A lot of them aren't. Um, and the other thing is the teachers. The mindset is after the fact, dealing with behavior reactively. So when we can help the teachers understand that, for example, you can send that child to the principal's office. You can look at, with an older kid, I was just working and they were in in-house suspension and the child did great because they have that one-on-one connection with the administration.

Emily Melious17:03


Megan Barella17:03

They continue on that track of dealing with behavior negatively, or they can just meet that child's need for connection. And in positive discipline, we call it belonging. Belonging significe, is what the motivating factor for all human behavior is. So working with the teachers to help them.

Okay. How can we have these proactive preventative touchpoints for children's throughout the day. Um, and sometimes that's around self-regulation as well, taking breaks from the classroom environment and just recognize that it's, it can be hard for teachers and administrators to get on board. They think they don't have the resources to do this, but in reality, they do because they're having to deal with it in a negative way.

It's just switching from a negative to a positive. Yeah. And really how understanding working with your teacher, how to develop plans together with you and the child. But that's the main thing that I'm seeing with kids is they just feel really disconnected. And so they're going into class clown behaviors and additionally, some children with the focus, they just need things broken down into smaller steps for them.

Not every child can just sit down and complete the assignment. For some children, they need things broken down into smaller steps. Those are the two main areas that I've been working with, with parents. Just keep in mind some parents aren't comfortable advocating for their children.

Just keep in mind, about your child today, but it's about best practices in education. Because the best practices for spirited kids are truly the best practices for all children. It's just our spirited kids are the squeaky wheel.

Emily Melious18:47

Yeah, such a good point. Yeah. And then how do we give them opportunities to be leaders in the classroom?

Megan Barella18:54

Well, and that can a little challenging because, um, sometimes you know, it really is at an individual basis. I think the first place to start is always making individual plans for their behavior and leading themselves. But giving kids a leadership role in the classroom is also huge for little kids if there's a bell to ring, I know some kids have really well sitting next to the teacher, saying, you know, conversely some kids do really well sitting in the back of the classroom.

Um, but any way that they can, you know, this one family is working with, the child as a punishment, had to wash the dishes in the cafeteria. Well why is that a punishment? Why can't that child just be involved in helping in the cafeteria in a productive way? Because the child liked it.

So a lot of the things that are seen as punishments. Why cant we just involve children in the school community proactively?

Emily Melious19:51

Well, I think that sense of responsibility. So when, um, you know, you got the class clown and then, um, which might be unwelcome behavior, but when you say, Hey, you're a leader in this classroom. Others are looking to you as an example and not putting, you know, obligation on them. But more like you, you've got a really important role to play and you are a natural leader and here's what leaders do.

Let's talk about, what do we admire about leaders and how can you be like that? And how can you guide your peers to be better, um, in who they are. And, you know, having those really uplifting, powerful, Conversations all along the while, giving our kids positive labels, to think about themselves, to talk about themselves, but really stepping into, again, channeling that energy, those emotions in positive ways, and really taking up the mantle if you will.

Of you we're born to play this role and that's a big deal. And that means you are set up for great things. So how can we do that now? And fostering those kinds of conversations and when you speak respectfully and when you speak clearly and when you know when to listen, that makes you a more respected leader.

That makes you more, a more effective leader, you know, and really kind of, I think playing up that leader part, that's one of my biggest takeaways from this conversation. Um, cause they are, they're going to be, they're going to be our leaders, why not teach them to start operating like that now and seeing the wonderful blessing of that now, so we could talk forever and ever, and ever,

Access Megan's Guide to Parenting Spirited Children

but I want to make sure I mentioned Megan, that you're offering to our listeners a guide to parenting spirited children. So we're going to make sure that we make that available. Um, you'll, uh, grab that through our Episode Insider newsletters, if you don't know what those are, just sign up at MothersOfMisfits.com.

Every time we have a new episode, we send out all kinds of goodies and more information about our guests. So don't miss out. Make sure you sign up for that. But Megan, this has been such a joy. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today in helping us help our, um, I was going to say my friend calls them spicy kids.

So thanks for helping us help our spicy kids.

Megan Barella22:15

When you were saying that about leadership, I felt it. I was like it felt so good to hear it. So just remember that power of leadership and kids are really motivated by helping today. So, Emily thank you.

Access Megan's Facebook Group

I would like to invite people to, I have a Facebook group community, Parenting For The Next Generation within that community, we also offer, um, a Happy Home Week, which is a five day live master class complimentary experience.

and we'll be offering one this spring. So it's been such a joy to be here today Emily.

Emily Melious22:47

Yes. Well, we will all be sure to take you up on that. That's amazing. Um, and definitely check out that Facebook group and we'll make sure to highlight, um, those opportunities in the Episode Insider newsletters. So don't miss out on that, but, uh, Megan, thanks again.

Megan Barella23:02

Thank you so much, Emily.

Mothers of Misfits23:05

Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast Make sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode We also invite you to visit us at MothersOfMisfits.com