7 Tools to Empower Your Parenting

We all experience difficult moments with our kids, and it’s not uncommon for us to lose confidence in ourselves or feel stuck. Need a parenting boost? In this special episode, Janet shares 7 of her go-to parenting power tools, mindsets, and mantras geared to help you focus your energies most effectively and (if needed) make positive, lasting changes in your approach.

Transcript of “7 Tools to Empower Your Parenting”

Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled.

Today I have a gift for you. Well, I hope it feels like a gift to you. It’s in honor of belated Mother’s Day, early Father’s Day, parents’ day, spring, getting ready for summer. These are some ideas I’ve collected. They’re tools and mindsets, and could all be considered mantras. Ideas and practices that have helped me in every way as a parent, and I really hope they’re helpful to you. I was going to call these power tools, but that sounds a little bit too much like I’m talking about drills or a chainsaw. These are ways to empower ourselves and therefore make our job easier and make us feel better about it.

Make us realize the first one, which is: You’ve got the job, you are it. So take ownership of your role. Trust in yourself. There’s nobody else that your child wants to do this job, they want you. They want the parent that they have. Not somebody that likes to play games more or likes to play games less, or wants to be home all day, if you’re the kind of person that likes to get out and about more. They want you. Know that you’re basically inventing the job description for this role, it is you. If you were an actor, you’d say you’re “playing yourself.” That’s what’s going on here.

I hope you’ll let go of these ideas that you aren’t good enough or you’re too this or too that. Or maybe the parents you had had a lot of issues and you feel like you’re damaged goods in the parenting department. Absolutely not. Whatever being your child’s parent is, you’re already it. That’s just a freeing mindset that I believe in starting from. Actually starting from, ending from, and navigating from the whole way through.

This thought sort of dovetails with my last podcast. You might want to listen to it if you’re feeling uncomfortable about how you are managing being a parent and you feel like you’re not good enough and you’re failing, or your child doesn’t love you as much as they love the other parent. You might want to check out my last podcast, which is Feeling Unloved, Rejected, Worried About Your Relationship with Your Child? Try This . . . That’s what it’s called. It’s a parent’s success story about how she went from being so dejected and heartbroken that her child strongly preferred her partner, and the way she overcame this and turned everything around for herself, was just a mindset. She called it “a mental shift.” So start with the mindset that there’s nobody better for this job than you, nobody more desired for this job than you. That your child wants to love you and does love you, and therefore you can do this.

Two: be an improvenist. This idea actually comes from my darling friend, brilliant educator Mr. Chazz. Many of you know who he is. He’s big on TikTok and everywhere, really, Instagram, and he’s got a podcast. He’s been working with children for a very long time in a childcare setting and a preschool setting, and he really gets them. He realizes through his own experience that they engage in not just looking towards a goal—in fact, they seldom are looking towards a goal—they’re into the process. They’re into the process of learning.

Unfortunately, as parents a lot of times, and maybe social media helps encourage that we’re supposed to be perfect, that we’re supposed to have all of this down. And what that does is discourage us, cripple us. So much of this job is how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about being able to do this. That’s really at least half the job, if not more: believing in ourselves.

But all of us, every single one of us—and my children are adults now—I still feel like I’m learning. I’m still making mistakes, but I’m growing from them. Sometimes I first have to go through, I’m terrible. How could I miss that? I do still have to go there sometimes, but I don’t recommend that, it doesn’t help me. And what I come to is, Okay, I am still in this. I’m in a process. And Mr. Chazz calls this being an improvenist. We’re just trying to improve. That’s all, that’s our goal. We don’t have this idea that we’re supposed to be the best. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. We’re not supposed to be. We’re supposed to be human parents, not perfect parents. It’s always a day-to-day, moment-to-moment achievement, if we even want to call it that.

And the more that we can get into this as a process—just as children do, they’re beautiful examples of this—the better we’ll do, actually, in terms of results, the easier our life will be. Like, let’s say we yelled again and we’ve been trying not to. But instead of berating ourselves and just saying, okay, we can’t do this, throwing in the towel—believe me, I want to do that sometimes, it’s unfortunately my m.o. Instead of doing that, maybe we consider, Well actually look at how I’ve been able to set these boundaries early at times. And yes, I probably want to start doing that more and feel more assured listening to myself. Hey, I don’t want my child to do that. I’m going to stop them right in the beginning rather than waiting and maybe asking them to stop, but it seems like they’re not listening and now I’m getting more and more angry at them and I’m going to yell. But if I just said, No, and I’m sorry, and you get to be mad at me to my child, or thinking that way, at least. They’re going to get mad at us, that’s not something to avoid. If we can do that, then we won’t get to the point of being angry with them as much. But we still will sometimes because we’re human and it’s life and we’re tired and we’re doing a lot of things and we’re trying really hard.

But all of these work together. Knowing that this is our job, for better and worse, and that we’re just trying to improve. And sometimes improving is, as we all know, one step forward, two steps back, two steps forward, one step back. It’s not a straight-line process. So two, be an improvenist. That’s a mindset, too. Just like you got the job. You got the job. Be an improvenist.

Three: be an improvisationist. We want to get to the point where we can throw away scripts. I know there’s a lot of script offerings happening these days, and I’ve offered them too, as examples. But I know that mine at least aren’t intended to be repeated word for word to a child. The point of them is to offer a perspective, so as parents we can imagine ourselves saying something like that and learning from that. Maybe it’s, Oh, so I wouldn’t just tell my child to stop doing this. I would let them know I’m going to help them stop, but I see that they want to do that. That’s what I’m getting from this script. So that’s what we want to practice: not the words, but what we take from hearing those words. Because the words are not an answer in themselves. It’s the intention behind the words, and that’s what we want.

We want to know, just like when we’re improvising as actors, we want to know who we are, our role. And as I said in number one, our role is us being able to do this, us building a relationship with our children. That’s our role. And then our intention in a specific situation, stemming from that role, is maybe I want to help my child stop doing that. And part of that is to figure out why. So my intention is maybe to help them stop doing that behavior, but also wanting to let them know that I see that they’re doing it. And I’m curious, not mad at them, because I know that they have a reason for doing that that could very likely be out of their conscious control. There’s a feeling, there’s a need that they haven’t been able to express or they don’t even understand to know how to express any other way, so they’re doing it this way. I want to understand that so I can help fill that need, and then they won’t need to do the behavior.

Alternatively, if my intention is, I just want you to stop doing that, that’s not going to give us what we want, which is for them to stop doing that. Because we’re not understanding why they’re doing that, so we’re not healing the behavior at the cause.

Being an improvisationist is so freeing, as is being an improvenist, as is knowing we’ve got the job. It’s freeing to know it doesn’t matter what we say. What matters is how we’re perceiving, our intention, and the feelings that we’re going to have around that, which we can’t always decide. Children can’t decide their feelings moment to moment, and we can’t decide ours, but we can work on considering our intention.

One of the problems with scripts is that kids sense when we’re using them, partly because we know we’re using them, and kids tend to sense what we know and what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling. But it doesn’t feel comfortable to have a parent talking to us with a script or anybody we love talking to us with a script. Why can’t they just talk to us? What’s the problem here? What is this script that’s come between us? I just want them to see me and talk to me, not repeating words that someone else has said. It feels disconnecting, right? It feels like, what are we afraid of here that my parent can’t really see me and talk to me?

If a script resonates with you that you hear someone say or suggest, think about why. Think about the perspective, so you can throw away the script. That’s an actual tool to practice.

And so is this one, number four: play movies in your head. Practice that intention by seeing a movie that you’re in, but it’s your point of view, and you’re seeing your child doing this behavior that they seem to be doing these days that doesn’t make you happy. Or you’re worried about, Oh no, why are they doing this? How can I make them stop? Most of us do have that feeling, but the way to make it stop is to understand it and help children express it another way. I mean, that’s a very simplistic description of how that works.

But we need practice. And although our child will give us a lot of practice, we can help ourselves to get even more practice in a less charged situation, much less charged situation, when it’s just between us and our imagination and our memory of what that child’s behavior looks like and maybe even how we usually feel about it. But now we’re looking and we’re seeing beyond, with this understanding that there’s a reason. And usually it’s a vulnerability in our child. Even if it looks like this mean, angry villain, that’s when it’s even more of a vulnerability, right? That they have to put such a mask on, that they have to counteract so much, that they have to hide and defend.

Know that that’s the truth and see that vulnerability as you’re practicing this movie. You’re coming into the room, there’s your child doing this thing, or they’re right next to you, they come up to you, and they start hitting you. It’s so mean, right? What is this hurt inside my child that they’re doing this? Seeing through that, practicing it when it’s not in our face. Seeing that child, Gosh, they don’t want to be this meanie attacking me. That must feel so scary to them when they’re four years old, to be acting like that with a grown-up that they adore. What’s hurting them so much that they’re doing that? Practice seeing that.

And just as what they’re usually expressing is a vulnerability, the best intention that we can have is almost always help. That’s why you hear me say that a lot. Children don’t need punishing or scolding, they need help. So feel yourself entering this scene with a helpful perspective. What can I do to help this hurt child? I want to make sure they’re safe and not doing that anymore, blocking that, but what will bring up that empathy in me, or at least that acceptance and wanting to know more, being curious, being open.

When we practice this perspective through visualizing, what happens is that our perspective, therefore our expectations, will decide how we feel in a particular situation when it comes up again. We won’t have to try to be unruffled or cool, or maybe we’re coming off as distant because we’re trying to not be upset at our child. We won’t have to do that because we will feel differently. We’ve practiced seeing that vulnerability and the help that’s needed there so many times, that’s what we see. The true side, I believe this is the true side, which is the vulnerable child who doesn’t have a better way of getting what they need right there or expressing something to us.

On that note, here’s five: practice imagining situations through your child’s eyes. Reminding ourselves that we’re seeing from the perspective of a relative innocent, new to the world, a neophyte to all these understandings that we have as adults. All these ways of controlling themselves and ways of self-regulating and being able to express themselves, they don’t have those. So everything’s a lot more overwhelming, everything’s scarier, and they’re very open and sensitive, so they’re soaking everything up. They’re soaking up that angry expression we had on our face, maybe we didn’t even get to yelling. And if we yell, they’re soaking all that energy up. So this isn’t to feel bad about, it’s just to see from their point of view so we can better understand and connect with them as vulnerable, as needing our help.

Practicing being in their shoes and seeing through their eyes will help to give us some clarity if we’re feeling stuck or if we’re feeling like it’s way too hard to empathize. Just like with other people in our lives that we are so mad at or frustrated by, What does it feel like to be them, hmm? I guess it also takes being humble, it takes practicing our imagination, letting go of our side of it—and this is very hard for me to do with adults—so that we can really see their side. Otherwise, our side is overpowering everything, kind of blinding us from connecting, really. Preventing us from connecting.

So number five: practice imagining situations through your child’s eyes, another tool.

Okay, six, this is a mindset: Redefine boundaries as love and freedom, because that’s what they really mean to kids. This has been exemplified for me hundreds of times, if not a thousand times. And as I’ve said here, this is what got me over the hump from being a permissive-leaning, people-pleasing type to being able to be the leader that my kids needed. I had to see it that way. There was no way I was going to be setting boundaries that upset my kids or not giving them what they wanted when sometimes it would be so easy just to give in. And then now they’re asking me again and again, and now I’m starting to get mad, and now I am going to blow up because Come on, I gave you a break here and I gave you a break there, and now you’re still beating up on me! I mean, that’s how I would feel. Like, I gave you all this, now you shouldn’t complain. But children do the opposite, they keep trying unconsciously to get the boundary. So we gave, we gave, we gave, and now they’re like, Okay, I need you to show me where the line is. Or it can be just that they’re exhausted or they’re hungry and they’re not going to please us in those situations, no matter how kind and generous and permissive we’ve been. It works the opposite.

To help ensure that our relationship isn’t cluttered with resentment and me wanting to yell at you and you feeling like you need to keep trying to get boundaries—if not from me, you’re going to try to get them from other people or in school, and then you’re going to have behavior that’s maybe not even safe out there—I can do this for you. I can step up to this plate and be that person. No matter how hard it feels for me sometimes, I’m going to try. And again, that’s an improvenist situation, like everything else. I want my children to feel loved, not just in the gushy, laughy, kissy, huggy way. I’m totally into that, but that’s not all of what love is for children. A great part of it is doing the hard things because we care so much.

We care about how we feel about our child and that we want to hang out with them and be with them. I love this quote of Magda Gerber’s where she said that a goal for discipline is to raise a child we not only love, but in whose company we love being. That is a gift that we can give them. That’s real love, right? Not just that I’m putting up with you because I’m too afraid to take a stand, but I really want to be with you. And I love you enough to help you have the best social skills ever. It all stems from boundaries, modeling positive social skills, and helping them stop things that we don’t want them to do with us. That’s how we help them develop positive social skills.

So if it’s too hard for you to have boundaries for yourself, do this for your child. Sacrifice your comfort in being a yes person like me for the sake of your child and how that will help them thrive in the future. Kids will want to be with them, other adults will want to be with them. They’re a pleasure because we did those hard things. But I know it’s hard, I’m with you on that, and that’s why I’m going to keep talking about this forever. Okay, so that is a mindset.

Here’s one more. It’s a tool, but many of you have heard it. It’s one of my favorite mantras that I created: Let the feelings be. Let the feelings be, out there in the open. Talk about them, yours, your child’s. There’s nothing to hide. The more we hide things, the more we ask children to hide things, the stronger those things get. We know that, Susan David talks about that, other people talk about that. Bravely put it out there and bravely talk about those hard things with your child, about what they’re going through.

I remember when I first used to share online about the sibling thing and how hard it is for that child to accept there being a sibling, to accept this new baby and how their life changes because of it, how the whole dynamic of the family changes. And people used to comment to me, “Oh, you’re being so negative. Why paint it in such a negative light? You’re asking for trouble. And my kids love each other.” What I tried to get across is yes, but there’s still going to be something. There’s going to be something going on there. And if we try to whitewash it or ignore it, it’s going to fester. That is why there are siblings that don’t get along. Even as adults, they still have resentments toward each other, or the older one continually beats up on the younger one.

Yes, it’s our job to have boundaries around those kinds of conflicts as much as possible, but we can’t decide how our child is going to feel about anything. And unless we are willing to accept all the negativity, all the scary stuff that our child feels that makes us feel bad, right? We’ve broken their heart, all the feelings of guilt that we wanted this other child, and we thought it would all be wonderful, and now look what we’ve done. If we can rise above that and allow our child to put it out there and encourage them to, maybe they say scary things. A parent just commented recently, their child said something like, “I want you to run over the baby in a car.” Horrible things children say that reflect how hurt they feel.

Talking about that, there’s nothing to lose. We’re not going to make a child feel something that they’re not already feeling by opening up the possibility of it with them, but we can, by making a child feel unwelcome to share. And when they’re showing unattractive behavior with that sibling or with us because of this, if we could stay on their side while stopping them. Letting them know that we know they know it’s unacceptable, but, Yeah, it’s a feeling big sisters have, that you want to do that. That’s really normal, a lot of kids feel that way. Most kids feel something. This is a hard thing for them. It’s not just, You get to be a big sister! Now you’re a big brother! Isn’t that exciting? No, it’s everything. It’s some happy moments and a lot of pain for kids.

The more that we can allow all those feelings, especially those dark, ugly, gnarly ones, the more children can exhale and move beyond them. And maybe their sibling still gets on their nerves sometimes, but they’re not threatened like they are when the sibling has the power to destroy their relationship with us. I know maybe that sounds dramatic, and maybe it is in some situations, but think about it. And siblings are just an example. This is true with everything.

Letting feelings be is the biggest superpower of all. It’s the key to ending negative behaviors, to really ending them, because we’re healing them. It’s the key to setting boundaries, because there will almost always be a healthy emotional backlash. And that’s part of maybe why your child needed that boundary, was pushing for it, because they needed to share that emotion with us. It’s the key to raising kids who flourish, learn resilience, live life deeply, bravely, and richly, with humility and compassion for others. Because vulnerability is treasured, not something to hide.

To review, the 7 tools to empower your parenting are:

  • You got the job! You’re IT. So take ownership of your role. There’s no one who can do a better job of being your child’s parent than you, and your child doesn’t want anyone but you. So trust yourself to do this job! 
  • Be an improvenist says acclaimed educator Mr. Chazz, and I couldn’t agree more. Remember we are all in a process of learning, always, so make improvement, not perfection, your goal. the power is in the process 
  1. Be an improvisationist. Scripts might help inform your perspective, but the true key to connecting with your inner parenting superhero, and with your child, is through a mental shift that embraces these other tools. With that shift, you don’t need scripts. Kids sense when we are engaging with them from a script because WE know too. 
  2. Play movies in your head of the tough, sticky moments with your child. Use those dress-rehearsal scenarios, where there is no pressure, to practice your perspective so it will be easier to use in real life.
  3. Practice seeing through your child’s eyes. To help build your compassion for their more difficult moments, remember how very new they are to this world and how they need our help in their most vulnerable moments.
  4. Redefine boundaries as love and freedom. Love your child enough to do the hard things like setting boundaries, and know that doing so gives them the freedom to be a child and to grow into a lovely adult.
  5. Let the feelings be. Out there in the open. Especially the ugly ones. Let your child express whatever they are feeling and learn they can come out the other side, intact and loved. Feelings are healing when we let them be. This is our biggest superpower of all.

Those are some mindsets, some tools. And all of these we could make our mantras, especially the ones that we find most challenged by or that seem the hardest to remember. Maybe we want to have those as mantras.

Again, I really hope some of these thoughts are helpful to you. And unquestionably, please know, we can do this.

(For more comprehensive support and a deeper dive, please check out my No Bad Kids Course: http://nobadkidscourse.com )

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