In this year-end episode, Janet shares what she describes as her most valuable advice for parents — a mindset that brings clarity to our role in our children’s lives, makes our job more enjoyable and successful, and may even offer us personal growth. Janet explains why and how this perspective works, offers practical examples, and touches on some of the common issues that can get in our way. As parents, we tend to question ourselves: are we doing this parenting thing right, or are we failing? Janet’s message is to afford ourselves the same trust and grace we hope to give to our children, to fully believe that we can do this!
Transcript of “Embracing Our Power to Be Confident Leaders (a Pep-Talk for Parents)”
Hi. This is Janet Lansbury, welcome to Unruffled. Today I’m going to do something a little bit different. I am going to talk about an important mindset that we need as parents, ideally, that will help us a lot. And I’m also going to offer at least one specific example, because I know that helps to explain what I’m talking about. When I’m asked about one important thing that I could share with parents, one important recommendation, this is one that comes to mind. Another one that comes to mind is let feelings be, which I talk about a lot, because that is such a challenge for us, but this one is more of an overall perspective.
The mindset is for us to rise tall into our power as parents. To believe in and embody our power. The power differential between us and our children is enormous and for our children, it actually needs to be, because if we can imagine being a tiny new person in the world — for them to feel that they are overwhelming for us, that their behavior has the power to regularly upset us, this message that they’re a little more than we can handle, is disquieting. What we can do by understanding and stepping into our power is give our children this whole layer of safety and comfort.
That doesn’t mean life is going to be perfect and easy all the time with young children. It just isn’t. There are a lot of challenges, but this is a foundational comfort level that we’re giving our children. And if it’s not there, life is going to be a lot tougher for us because it’s less comfortable for our children.
And so this is helpful on a practical level for us, because our children’s behavior goes hand in hand with their level of comfort. When they display challenging behaviors, it’s a sign of some level of discomfort. And if they have this basic sense of security that we’ve got this job, we can do this job, we can handle them whatever happens, we’re not intimidated, we’re not threatened by them and their behavior, that helps lessen a lot of the issues that they have.
Other reasons it’s important for us to come into communion with our power: it helps us to be less reactive to all the things that happen with our children, to their behavior and all their little experiments and emotionally fueled unreasonable behavior that they have. And it helps us to avoid a lot of the pitfalls around giving power to behavior.
A lot of times, behavior will start as a one time thing or an experiment, whether this is a child using certain words or throwing, hitting, being resistant to things that we want to help them do, like get into the car seat. Oftentimes this is a one time thing that we unwittingly magnify and can turn into a more frequent issue because we’ve given it power. We’ve shown our children that this is something that gets our attention in a negative way, that upsets us, that we don’t have a handle on.
Therefore, the tendency can be for them to keep going there to, on some level, explore why we don’t have a handle on this. And they’re kind of saying: To make me feel comfortable that you’ve got your job, I need you to have a calmer response to this. I need you to help me, to show me that you can handle all these sides of me that are coming out so that I can feel safe.
This is a journey to self-confidence as parents that I know intimately, because for most of my life, I was not a confident person and even kind of wore that like a badge and then it would be validated by my parents or even teachers. So then you believe it more and more.
And then I had my oldest daughter, who is a strong, wonderful personality and I’ve shared a lot about my journey with her, how I had to find the confident parent in myself out of love for her and the intense desire to give her what she needed. What I started to realize, this took a long time for me to figure this out, but she needed me to be that for her. That inspired me to find it in myself. I was able to realize:
Wow, yes, she is tiny. She is not threatening. I can handle her. I can fulfill this job that I was given to be her parent. And this is what love really is for a child. It’s not being their peer and having the good times and snuggling with them. The snuggling and the affection and the laughter, that’s all a part of this, but real love is me working on myself so that I can give her this overall sense of safety and comfort.
I think I’ve talked a little about why this is important. I’m going to talk now about what gets in our way and makes this challenging for us and then what we can do to gain this perspective — the how.
What gets in our way are some very positive things, actually. We love our children so much that we can be almost a needy around them as we would with a person that was more on our level that we were in a relationship with. But children can’t do that for us. Sometimes they do, but we can’t expect that, because they are on a different level in terms of their ability to regulate their emotions, to control their behavior certainly, their ability to empathize with us, to see beyond all the overwhelming feelings and developments that they deal with as such sensitive, immature people. This is clouding over things like empathy, that I’m being nice to you, my parent, that I’m giving you the love, the affection that you need or you want from me.
That can’t be considered part of their job in these early years. Again, we might get that sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we can expect it as we would appear, maybe. That can make it harder for us to realize they actually love us deeply all the time. No matter what we do almost, they love us. And that’s true, even though they may be telling us, “I don’t like you,” they may be pushing us away. They don’t hug us when we want them to hug us. They prefer the other parent. They hit us when they’re upset.
If we’re not tuned-in to our power, that can get in our way. They can make us feel like they don’t love us.
And respect can get in our way — this wonderful thing that I recommend and others recommend that we respect our child, that we’re polite with them, we give them that courtesy that we would a peer or an adult. That respect can kind of confuse us about their place in our lives. Our relationship with children is not a relationship of two people on the same level in terms of power. They deserve just as much respect, but we cannot have the same expectations of them. They’re not up to it. They can’t be that for us. Respecting children can confuse us about their abilities, especially if we follow the approach that I teach, Magda Gerber’s approach. We see from birth how capable children are.
A baby is capable of a few things. They’re capable of communicating with us. If we start to first communicate with them, we see that they understand and can communicate back. We see that they can direct their own play — that they have ideas about what they want to do play-wise. We see how they can even start to participate in things like diaper changes with us, by lifting up their bottoms when we ask them to and when we’ve made this part of the routine. We see right away how capable they are. But still, emotionally, they are immature and they do not want to be our equals, but they can’t tell us any of these things. These are all things that we have to come to.
But yes, seeing our child as a capable person, that was one thing that really got in my way, because I could see my daughter as a toddler was so capable. She was just, I don’t know, she just could do all these things that I really had never imagined that young children could do. And she was quite commanding in her presence and it was easy for me to slip into letting her be the boss. She seemed to want that role more than I did. So it was easy to fall into perceiving her as more mature and powerful than she wanted to be or was.
What else can get in our way? It can make it harder for us to own our power when we see everything that our child does as a problem, rather than normalizing it. That’s going to help me shift into what we can do to achieve this benevolent power mindset. Normalize…
Almost everything children do is normal. Whatever normal means. I like that expression: “normal is a setting on the washing machine.” So, to understand that we may not know the reason right away for behavior, but there’s always a reason.
I can tell you having worked with thousands of parents now, very rarely does something come up that is out of the ordinary. Every challenge that children have and that we have as parents is par for the course. It is normal. Even if our child seems like they’re a little too old to be doing this, whatever it is, to be not controlling their emotions or handling situations better. When we really explore, we see that yes, for this child in this circumstance, at this time of their life, with these individual sensitivities… Children can be atypical in their development and maybe the range of normal is wider for those children, but it’s still normal behavior. And normal means that we’re not going to get anything that we can’t handle. We may not feel we can handle it in the moment, but we can, because we are these huge, powerful people compared to children.
So if we see things as normal. We see their behavior, all their quirks and their behavior and their challenging behavior and their in-your-face behaviors as normal for this time in my child’s life, and usually if we look deeper, we’ll uncover, yes, there’s a lot of stress going on here. Of course they’re acting like this, of course, they can’t hold it together or they’re lashing out or whatever it is.
So we may not get the reason right away, but we will get it. And the reason is never that, in the people I’ve worked with, at least, it’s never that I’m a terrible parent, my child doesn’t love me, my child is going to grow up to be a this or that kind of person, because they’re doing this now as a toddler. It’s not the case.
Knowing this, we can handle it. We can get in touch with that we are capable of this job.
It’s kind of like the way that when we have that second baby, it seems so much easier. We’re not as stressed out. And maybe we do actually have a baby with an easier temperament, that happens too sometimes. But oftentimes it’s just easier for us because all these things that were so scary to us the first time around, we’ve normalized. Oh yeah, that happens and then they stopped doing that. They go through this and it gets better. This too shall pass.
And when children are dealing with big transitions, like: my parents are expecting a baby, they have a baby or I’m the oldest and the fourth baby is coming, that will, in some way, usually show up in their behavior. And that’s why at least 85 to 90% of the parents that reach out to me, it’s like, they’ve been going along fine and now their toddler or their four-year-old or their six-year-old, all of a sudden this behavior is happening. “What do I do? I need help.” And more often than not, there’s a new baby or there’s a new baby coming — this first huge change happening in their life where the rug’s pulled out from under them. They fall apart. And that shows up in their behavior.
Expect this. Normalize it and it will be easier for you to feel your strength and your power and then be able to, on a practical level, have less difficult behavior to deal with because you’re giving your child that overall sense of, I’ve got this. Don’t worry. You got capable adults taking care of you. It’s not much you can do to throw us completely off. Yeah, when I’m having a bad day and I’m tired, yep I lost my temper. Totally normal for parents to do. But generally, I’m not going to be taken aback and scared by all the random challenging things that you do.
But having said all that about normalizing, please do trust your instinct if you do feel something is beyond normal or extreme, whether it’s in yourself or your child. Please do consult with a professional and get an assessment.
I was consulting with parents recently and they had been in my class for a while, when we used to have in-person classes. And we were talking about this subject of owning and embodying our power as parents and how important it is and how it helps with so many pitfalls. And this dad said, “Yes, when we were in your class, I noticed that you were very, very comfortable and confident with the toddlers’ behavior in the class, but you were also very warm.”
Yeah. Those two go together. Because when we’re trying to reach for our power, when we don’t own that power, when we haven’t come into communion with it in ourselves, then we can be more strident. We can be more stern. We tend to push it with children. But once we get there, then we can be empathetic to children, even when they’re doing the thing we told them not to do. We can be warm. We’re not intimidated. We’re not scared. We can be our warm self.
I’ve always been a warm person, but I was never a confident person as a leader. And it’s a very comfortable place to find in yourself — to not be thrown and afraid of everything that goes on. And children kind of melt into that. They feel so comfortable. They flourish when they know that they don’t have to worry about us.
And everybody’s got this in themselves. I totally believe that now.
For an example of when they’re doing something I didn’t want them to do, and how you can still be empathetic and warm… We have this rule about… and we do this in our classes where we do a snack time and the children have to sit while they’re eating snack, which is just some banana and some water. And if they get up, then their snack is done. It’s done for them. We make this rule very clear in the beginning and then we trust them to understand it and they do, pretty much right away if we’re unafraid of holding the limit.
Then a child will get up and sometimes they will come back. And these are maybe one-and-a-half-year-olds and they’re looking at me with these innocent eyes. And so I don’t say, “Oh, I told you, you left the table. And if you leave the table, you can’t come back.” I don’t have that tone in my voice. I don’t feel like that about them. I’m so tall in my power, so comfortable my place with them as a leader that I’m able to say, “Oh, darn you changed your mind and you want more! Not this time, but yeah. Ah, it’s so hard when you change your mind.” And invariably, they turn around and smirk as they’re going back off to play. It’s very interesting. I’ve never had a child actually fall apart around this, unless they were already exhausted or ready to leave or we’re having a rough time that day. And then it’s almost an opportunity for them to let go of some feelings.
We can still be loving and empathetic and not get that kind of tit-for-tat tone in our voice that we might if we’re less tall in our power, if we’re more seeing our child as a peer, who’s maybe out to get us, making life hard for us — all of these pitfalls we can fall into by not owning our role. We can have so much more grace for them.
Again, not all the time. This isn’t about being perfect, but it’s just an overall attitude that makes us feel so much better about everything we’re doing, because we’re coming from such a tall place of strength. We’re realizing that we can do this. That’s what I say at the end of my podcast: “we can do this.” And it’s not just a tagline. This is something I really, really mean as an important reminder.
This is everything… to believe in ourselves, to believe that we’ve got this. We were given this role and we’re totally up to it. Not every minute maybe but, overall, we can do this.
And owning our power also means recognizing where we don’t have power and where our children need to be the ones in control. This is true with children eating food, where our power is to offer the options that we’re comfortable with. From there, we will have difficulty if we try to control how much they eat or what they choose to eat from what we’ve offered them. That is up to our child. They need that power. They need that trust.
I also believe this is true… and I know this is controversial for many, but toilet learning, going on the toilet… So often parents say to me, “My child refuses.” Well, that can only happen if we are asking, if we are trying to make that happen. That’s the only way a child can refuse. If we believe in our child as capable of doing this when they’re ready and we just leave that space for them and back them up when they need help, then they never have to refuse us and they get to own this accomplishment. It’s in their power.
Another area is our child’s talents and interests. We don’t have the power, nor should we, in my opinion, to get our child to like sports or drawing, dance or the wonderful toy that grandmother gave them. We can’t make those things happen. And when we let go of trying to have power in those areas and control that, we find that our children’s interests and talents and desires and all these aspects of their personality are like a gift that we get to keep opening and being surprised by, enjoying.
There are many, many positives in letting go of the power that we don’t have. All those areas work much better when we allow the power to be with our child. Because we don’t, of course, have power to make children who we want them to be. But we do have a lot of power to help them feel secure, confident and in tune with who they are — to thrive as themselves.
One other specific I wanted to go into is a note that I got, I think it was on Instagram. This parent asked about her child throwing. Her toddler, when things didn’t go his way, he was throwing. And she said, “I don’t know what else to do. I have told him that he could hurt me if he does this.”
Here are some of the things I’ve been talking about and how they relate to this situation:
First of all, it’s very, very normal for a child to throw. And sometimes they throw just for cause and effect, throwing something down. But sometimes they throw it out of emotion. And how normal is it for us to throw things when we’re upset? I don’t throw the things that will break, but I want to throw something down. It’s a feeling when you’re upset. That is also normal.
And then I’m not sure how this looked the way this parent described it, but it’s common for parents to try to use empathy for themselves to get their child to stop the behavior: “This is making me sad. This is upsetting me. You’re going to hurt me.”
I don’t know if the parents said it that way, but the feeling our child can get that their parent is vulnerable to them that way, that we would let them really hurt us, that we would let them upset us, that is an example of us not being tall in our power, but being smaller and more on our child’s level. And it’s disquieting for our child.
This doesn’t mean it’s wrong to say like, “Oh, that hurts when you throw, I can’t let you throw.” But if we’re saying it as: this is why you have to stop throwing, because you could hurt me. That’s a subtle difference, right? But it’s saying: I am vulnerable to you, to what you choose to do. And mostly children are not choosing to do that. It is an impulse that is taking over them. They’re upset or they’re kind of testing. This gets a reaction out of my parents that’s uncomfortable for me so I have this impulse to keep doing it.
Instead, as a leader with so much benevolent power, I would stop the behavior. “I can’t let you throw those. I’m going to pick that up. I’m going to stop you.” And maybe it hits me first or something and I would have a reaction, but then as soon as possible, I would be in leader mode and stop it from happening. Maybe I need to remove that.
I would notice the feeling. Because if our child can express the feeling to us, they don’t have to do it through behavior. I would say like, “That was frustrating for you that I said that.” Or, “It seems like you’re mad.” One short acknowledging, kind of welcoming you to share this feeling with me.
We might say, “I can’t let you do that. That hurts.” But realizing that our child isn’t in a reasonable place when they’re doing this so we can’t try to reason them out of it.
And if we use ourselves as vulnerable as a way to stop behavior, then we might have a situation where a child, and this is common, will be now distracted with some worry about us and so everything they do… “Are you happy, Mom? Are you sad?” I often hear that happening and that’s what it comes from — that we haven’t been in our power and seeing how this tiny little person lost control of his impulse there, the feelings made him do it. In that case, he just needs our help and we have all the power to do that.
We don’t want to make a big deal out of it, a big lesson out of it. Just help. Be present in that moment as a leader, not intimidated, not angry, ideally not scared that we’ve got a big problem on our hands that we can’t handle. And not giving power to these behaviors in a way that causes them to continue.
This is a way to enjoy parenting more and have it be easier because of that foundation of safety that our power and our leadership provides.
I hope some of that helps.
Please check out some of the other podcasts on my website, JanetLansbury.com. They’re all indexed by subject and category, so you should be able to find whatever topic you might be interested in.
And both of my books are available on audio, please check them out. Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting and No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame. You can even get them for free from Audible by following the link in the liner notes of this podcast, or you can go to the books section of my website and find them there. You can also get them in paperback at Amazon, and in ebook at Amazon, Barnes And Noble, and apple.com.
Thanks so much for listening. We can do this!