Inspired by a listener’s request, Janet offers a list of daily reminders that she hopes will help parents meet the challenges of their day with more clarity, calmness, and confidence.
Transcript of “7 Daily Reminders for Parents”
Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled. I recently received an email from a parent who I thought had a great suggestion for me and I’m going to follow that suggestion now, or do my best to at least. She asked if I could do an episode on general reminders as you start your parenting day. She said she wishes she could cut snippets out of episodes to listen to on repeat. So she thought it would be great for me to do a daily snippet. That’s what I’m going to do. I actually have seven, so that’s one for each day of the week, but they’re all for all days of the week, of course. I’m going to explain why these are recommendations of mine, and I’ll probably make a list up in the transcript or somewhere where you can easily copy/paste or put it on your refrigerator.
Again, thank you to this parent for your brilliant idea for these daily reminders. You’ll notice as we go that these seven reminders overlap, compliment, and support each other.
I’m going to start with:
1) Let the feelings be.
If you listen here, you hear me say this all the time because it’s really a lifelong challenge for a lot of us. The reason we do this is that feelings come and go. We don’t control them. What we want our children to learn is that it’s okay to feel whatever they feel. We’re not going to let them act on a lot of those feelings, of course, that’s our job. But we want our child to share. We want to know what’s going on with them.
Even if it’s something painful for us to hear, it’s better that they share it than not share it. Better not only for the quality of our relationship and our child’s sense of self and acceptance of self but even in a practical sense, it helps us. Because when children can’t express the feeling they’re more likely to do so through concerning behavior: hitting, lashing out, throwing things, saying things in really unkind ways, escalating. Or on the other hand, they might start to suppress these feelings that they have because they feel that these are unacceptable and that there’s something wrong with them. And that creates a lot of issues that we want to avoid.
So “let the feelings be” applies to the most minor feelings a child expresses all the way to a full-on meltdown. In all these cases, we want to remember that it’s safe, it’s positive, and that we can trust our child to share whatever it is. Without us pushing back on it, without trying to fix it, talk them out of it or scold them for expressing it. Instead being curious and open, so that we can learn more and understand our child and help them to feel better just by listening, just by allowing them to feel heard.
So let’s say our child says, “I don’t like this shirt today” and we know that’s our child’s favorite shirt usually, and everything in us wants to say “What do you mean? That’s your favorite shirt” or “Okay, well, here’s another shirt. How about this shirt?” Instead, we could let the feelings be by saying “Oh, you’re not liking that today. I wonder what’s going on with that? What about it don’t you like?” Just giving it that openness, having that attitude of Huh. Well, that’s interesting. I want to know more.
That’s how we connect and help our child to feel close to us, safe with us, and to be able to share what’s in their heart, or in their mind, rather than holding it in.
Okay. Number two:
When our child is expressing something, even if it’s something that’s scary to us, “I hate my sister” or “I hate my mom,” instead of pushing back, we’re going to trust that sharing it is much more positive than not sharing it. We can’t do anything to make that feeling disappear — that’s not in our child’s power, it’s not in our power. So we want is to acknowledge, “Your sister’s really upsetting you. What’s going on with that” or “You really didn’t like what mom did, it sounds like.”
We’re not going to try to say too much. We’re just going to let our child know that we are open to them. That we hear them, that we want to know.
The misconception that people sometimes have is that if they just say this acknowledgment, then they’re saying something that’s going to make it better. Now, sometimes that’s true, but other times it can upset our child because we might be saying the words, but not really being genuine, not really empathizing with them.
So I could say “I know you’re upset with your sister” Or “I understand you’re upset with your sister.” So I’m acknowledging, but I’m not open and accepting of my child. There’s a big difference. This is why sometimes parents will say that it doesn’t work for them. It doesn’t work when they acknowledge feelings. Their child says “stop talking. I don’t want to hear that.” That is often because if we tune into our intention there, while we’re acknowledging, it might be: Okay, I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. Now just stop. Or: You shouldn’t feel that way or that’s not okay that you have that feeling. When in fact, what we want to do with acknowledging is the opposite.
That can only happen if we are in the mode of trusting, letting the feelings be. So that has to come first. That has to be what’s inside of us and what we’re intending when we’re acknowledging. Or else, to children, who see right through our words into what we’re feeling, they will get: I’m really uncomfortable as your parent and I don’t like this and I really want you to stop. So then that’s what they react to with, “Stop talking! Stop saying that!” You’re not letting me share.
So “acknowledge” has to be genuine. We don’t have to actually empathize. Sometimes we won’t empathize because it’ll seem too unreasonable and wrong, but at least accept and be open to it. Don’t try to say too much. Trust, accept, and acknowledge from that place.
Okay. Number three, this was what Magda Gerber called her magic word:
The reason to wait is that we have basic trust in our baby or child of any age as competent and able. And a struggle that they’re engaging in that they seem to want to be engaging in because they’ve chosen it, is a worthy struggle that we don’t want to interrupt, if possible.
So our child’s play and their experimentation, what they’re doing when they’re learning through play, learning how to use an object. This belongs to them. With the approach I teach, we value that. We value our child’s inner-directed learning and the power of them being able to guide their learning and achieve what they’re interested in achieving. Not what we’re interested in them achieving. Or what we want them to get a little faster or what we worry that they’re going to feel discouraged about if they don’t get to it.
So when a baby, let’s say, is in the supine position and they’re twisting and they’re working on rolling to their tummy, we see that happening. Maybe they’re making sounds that are effortful. Well, we want to notice, observe if they’re in a manageable struggle or not. If it doesn’t seem manageable, if it seems like distress, exhaustion, or an overwhelmed baby, then we’re obviously going to offer to pick them up.
This is another time to acknowledge, “It seems like you’re working on something there, you’re working on rolling over?” It’s so easy for us to fix children, turn them over, pick them up, put the blocks together for them, do the puzzle piece. We can do those things, but whenever we do, we’re erasing the possibility that our child can have an “I did it” moment — to feel that incredible gift of agency in their life, of ability. We’re going to take that away sometimes because we’re human beings and we don’t want to see our child uncomfortable. It will happen, but we want to be aware… if we do value this idea of our child’s feelings of competence and agency in the world that will encourage them to be lifelong learners, to embrace lifelong learning, joyfully.
I’ve worked for years with children in parent, infant, and toddler classes and I’ve feel it too. I want to show them this thing over there that fits with what they’re doing. Here are these balls that are similar and they can roll them all together. I have so many ideas. I have so many great, I think they’re great, fun things to add to what a child’s doing or to make it what I think could be better for them. What I’ve come to do is observe and wait, observe goes along with wait, and invariably, they do something completely different. They do it their way. They climb down the steps on their tummies facing downward — the opposite of what we think they’re supposed to do. They’re supposed to turn around, right? to go down steps. Well, children usually don’t. They find their own way to go down.
I remember this one child, the first time she walked to the top of this step of what we use in these classes. A lot of the time it’s this rocking boat on one side, but it’s like a little bridge-looking type step thing on the other. And usually, they’re crawling up first when they’re younger. And then one day they start to step up. This child, the first time she did that, not only did she step up, but she had a toy in each hand, a heavy toy, like a wooden car. That’s how she chose to achieve this.
So they surprise you in these wonderful ways. It really makes parenting so much more exciting and enjoyable and surprising and helps us to see how capable our children are, how interesting they are, how creative their ideas are, how much better their ideas for them are than ours for them. So we can really enjoy that.
Then I know parents ask “well, what if my child asks me for help?” Oftentimes, that’s because we have done it for them in the past, but either way, let’s say our child asks us for help. I’m referring specifically to help during play. I believe in always saying “yes” to help. I would never say “no, I’m not going to help you.” I say “yes”, but the way I define help is different than “I will fix it for you.” To me, that’s not helping, it’s not helping my child to feel confident, to be able to do things, to want to do things themselves.
So I’ll say “yes, okay.” Oftentimes, all the child wanted was to know I was there supporting them and they actually do it right there, but if I have been helping in the past, then they might hand me the jar to open for them. I’m talking about a kind of plastic jar that they have in their play area, a jar that they could open. If it’s too tight, then I might loosen it just a little bit, but that’s the most I would do. I would hold it for them. If they want me to do it. I would say “oh, I know I did that for you before. I’m not going to do it now because that’s not really helpful for you.”
I’m there and I trust, maybe my child gets upset, but that’s okay. That’s a healthy expression of frustration of: I’m maybe not able to do this yet myself or you did it for me and now I’m uncomfortable because I’m used to that you do these things for me.
We can give them a false sense of dependency when we rush in and we don’t practice “wait.” So we say “yes” to help, we come over, we come close. We make sure we’re giving our full attention there because it’s not helpful if we’re also distracted on our phones or doing something else. I’m going to help you by giving you my full attention and support for what you’re doing. We don’t have to say “you can do it, try it, try it.” In fact, I wouldn’t do those things because that can create more pressure. Oh, my parent wants me to do it they think I should be able to do it. It makes it harder for them. So I’m just there. I’m breathing to keep myself comfortable. I’m trusting.
Then we do the smallest thing.
So if it’s a physical skill where they’re climbing or something, we would be spotting to keep them safe. And so maybe we would say “I’m here to keep you safe. I won’t let you get hurt.” That’s it. That’s the first level because we want to do it in stages so that our child gains more out of this experience — more agency, more confidence, more belief in themselves as capable.
The second level is that we give a verbal direction, maybe. “It seems like you’re stuck there. Does that feel like you’re stuck?” So we’re acknowledging the feelings or what our child is expressing to us. We wait for a moment and then maybe we say “try putting your foot down to this next bar below the one that you’re on. Can you get that foot out of there?”
Now let’s say our child is starting to get more frustrated and they seem unable to do that.
So then the next thing I would do, always waiting in between a little bit so that this is really in stages and I’m not just rushing from zero to 10 here… and all along I’m acknowledging and empathizing with what they’re feeling… The next stage is: maybe I help you move your foot, which is stuck next to your other leg. Maybe I help you move that foot out and I say “okay, now I think it’s free to go down. Do you want to try that?” Let’s say they can’t, they’re feeling a little stuck. Then I might put their foot down. So I’m not taking them all the way down. I’m not putting them all the way up onto something. I’m doing the most minimal thing because that’s truly helping, rather than taking the experience away from them and fixing it, which is again, so easy for us as adults to do.
Maybe if we’re impatient, we do it, but whenever possible, let children reap all the benefits of the experience. They also learn: something can be hard, I can feel a little frustrated, I can feel that struggle and the discomfort of that, and then I push through it to the other side.
So we could say those words to them till we’re blue in the face, and it’s not going to help them. Experiencing it is what teaches them, experiential learning. That’s the way children learn best. They learn through all their senses, experientially.
Okay, so that was number three, “wait.”
4) Set limits early
So, wait in terms of development and play and problem-solving. Set limits early when it’s about behavior that we don’t think is helpful to our child, that is uncomfortable because our child’s doing something with our stuff that we don’t want them to do or bothering our bodies. Set limits early, and I would do this with a confident light attitude.
When we see our child rushing towards us with that kind of manic energy, and they’re going to crash into us, we put our hand out and we stop them. “I see you rushing towards me. When your body’s calm, I’d love to have you sit with me.” Not waiting until they’re already jumping on us and then we might be saying “get down, I don’t like this.” So at that point, we’re already probably feeling annoyed with our child, victimized, and we’re not helping them with this impulsive behavior.
Setting limits early is understanding that children, much of their behavior is very impulsive. They don’t know why they’re doing it half the time. If we wait too long, we have much more of a chance of getting frustrated, not being able to have a confident, light attitude, the kind that eases behavior, that calms children, that helps them feel: oh, my parents have this. They’re the leaders and they’re not intimidated by me and I’m not a problem for them. They can handle me.
So if I see my child running towards the baby, part of us might feel: oh, I don’t want to discourage their relationship with the baby. Don’t worry about that. It’s much more encouraging to your child to let them know that you are there for them. You’re there to stop them.
So I would put my hand out or put my hands on my child lovingly say “oh, looks like you’re running very quickly to that baby. I don’t know if that’s going to be safe, so I’m going to stop you right here. If you slow down, you can come closer.” And then I’m ready to help my child through all the stages of that. They can come closer now I see that their body is calm, so I can allow them to come close into the baby’s face, maybe, but then I might still have my hand nearby because I don’t want them to headbutt or abruptly move into that rougher behavior, which is very, very common with toddlers who have a baby. They’re feeling out of control with this new situation and they’re just vibrating with this impulsive energy.
Anticipate, be the one to say, “I’m going to leave you in your safe place while I go to the bathroom.” Instead of waiting until our child is already there with us and now they’re doing things in the bathroom that we don’t want them to do and we can’t relax. Anticipate and help your child right at the get-go, or before the get-go because that when we can be the calm leaders or children need.
This goes along with the next one, which is number five:
5) Concerning behavior is a request for help
It can be all levels of help. It can be this more minor: help me feel safe with you as a leader because when I grab your glasses off your face, you get really stern and angry and it’s disconcerting to me and there’s something in me that just keeps doing that, even though I don’t want to be doing it. I know it makes you mad, but just feeling the power of that is so weird and I need to keep testing it.
That might be what our child is feeling, not having conscious thoughts about this, of course, but that can be what’s going on for them. Or it can be: I’m really out of control here, hitting kids and pushing people in the park.
So we want to help them there, right? And ideally set limits early, be in there early: Oh, I see my child’s kind of having a day here or seems really tired. For some reason, they’re having this behavior. I’m going to come in and stop them. I’m going to be right next to them. Be what I call a buddy-guard and hang out and make sure that nothing happens here. And maybe I’ll make the choice to take them home before this gets worse, because usually these types of behaviors don’t suddenly resolve and get better. They usually get worse in those moments.
So being that advocate for our child, helping them when they can’t help themselves, and being that safe person, the hero our child needs in those moments.
I’m saying this like it’s easy. I know it’s not. It’s all about the way we perceive. If we perceive the behavior as a request for help: my child needs my help here. I’m going to be more clear with the boundary (if that’s what they’re asking). I’m going to be more confident and light with the boundary because they seem to be repeating it for that reason. I’m going to answer the question that their behaviors asking me as best I can as a confident leader and I know that behavior reflects my child’s comfort level.
They’re doing the best they can in any given moment. So we can put all concerning behavior into this one category: a request for help. It will make our lives so much easier.
Because when we see behavior as children are out to get us or they’re bad children, or they’re going to be doing this when they’re 20 years old still, and I better give them a lesson right now… The lesson children need is that we’re in their corner, we’re going to help them when they can’t help themselves, and that we understand that they are immature humans reacting out of stress, out of tiredness, getting dysregulated very, very easily with emotions overwhelming them.
They’re people, but they’re at a different stage of life than we are, a much different stage of life where they don’t have the self control that we have, even if they sometimes are so articulate and seem so wise beyond their years, they’re still little ones. They still need our help.
Okay. Number six:
6) I won’t let you
This is the only reminder I’m sharing that is actually words for us to say. I know we all like scripts and I do give them as examples, but I don’t believe in “if you just say these words, this is going to do the trick” because I know that it’s not about words. It’s about our intention, which comes from what we’re feeling and our perceptions of the situation, and our perceptions of our child, and our role as a parent.
What I won’t let you reminds us of is that we want to be in connection with our children in a genuine way when they need our help. We hear a lot about “connect before you correct,” but then we also hear suggestions to say “hitting hurts, we don’t hit.” It’s common to suggest talking in third person: “Mommy doesn’t want you to… Mommy doesn’t like it when you…” All of these things were the norm when I was first sharing online 12 years ago. “I won’t let you” is actually Magda Gerber’s suggestion that now is becoming more common, which is great.
Here’s why it matters: the connection. “I and you.” I’m in first person and I am connecting with you. That may seem like a small difference from saying “mommy or daddy doesn’t want you to”, but it will really make a difference to us in the way it feels. It will feel more clear and confident. It will remind ius that we are talking to a human being and that we are comfortable being their leader. We’re not trying to put it off into this mommy person over here on the left that isn’t quite me.
It’s me and you and I’m here for you. “I won’t let you.”
And we’re suggesting with “won’t let you,” that I’m here to help, and I’m going to stop you, not get mad at you because you’re not following my verbal direction. I’m going to help you stop the behavior. I won’t let you go in this drawer and I’m stopping you before you open it, setting limits early, again because I know that I’m not in the mood for you to go in this drawer and take all my stuff out. Maybe in another moment, I would be, but right now I’m not and I’m tuning into that with myself. So I’m going to stop you right here.
And now you want to do it again.
“I won’t let you. Let’s go to the other room. I’m not going to let you do that.” And we take our child away from the object of that impulsive behavior.
This is also why a Yes Space can be really, really helpful, a place where we don’t have to say “don’t do this, don’t do that” all the time and our child can feel free to be the explorer they’re born to be.
Okay. One more. Number seven:
7) Confident momentum in transitions
Because transitions are hard, very hard for young children who are in so many transitions internally and feeling everything intensely that’s changing around them. These mini transitions that happen throughout the day are often when they fall apart and need our help. Confident momentum is when we understand that going in, or we at least try to remind ourselves: Oh yeah, I’m going to need confident momentum. We’re going to get into the car or I’m going to help my child get dressed for school, even though they can do it themselves, they may need my help and confident momentum.
It’s not about being fast or disrespectful. It’s about closing the gaps, so our child starts to put their socks on, and then they say “no, I don’t want this.” Or: now I’m going to go look over here at something in the corner that’s interesting. Maybe we would let them do that during a play period. That’s a great thing to do, explore and experiment with everything that’s safe for you.
But right now we can’t, right, because we’ve got to get from point a to point B and we don’t want our child to get stuck in the transition. So in that case, we say, “You can look at that when you get back, but for now, we’re going to get going.” It means, “Okay, I’m going to help you put your shoe on.” And maybe we have to pick our child up and get them to the car and get them in the car seat. We invite them to participate, but we try to notice right away when they’re not going to be able to. We try to catch that early. We notice early: oh, they’re stalling or they’re getting stuck, so I’m here to be the hero. “I’m here to help you. Here we go.”
Confident momentum in transitions usually requires a lot less physicality than we might have believed, because when we’re confident, when we’re coming in ready to go, ready to move forward, knowing we might get push-back and it might be hard, but we’re still going to go forward. Not going to let it stop me and throw me off. I’m in confident momentum mode. Then I can be ready to just put my hand behind your back and guide you, take your hand. I do it with confidence.
And confidence makes all the difference with children. Our comfort, our confidence just eases their mind. They feel so safe. They feel: oh yeah, I’m the little child and I do have parents here that can do this stuff for me. They’re not waiting for me to decide these things. I get to decide my play. That’s the area where I’m in charge.
So that’s my list:
Let the feelings be
Set limits early
Concerning or inappropriate behavior is a call for help
I won’t let you
Confident momentum in transitions
Then there’s one more and it’s the most important one of all:
BE GOOD TO YOURSELF
Be patient with yourself. Remind yourself every day that this is a process. It’s a journey. We’re never going to be perfect. We just keep going, keep showing up, and learning along with our children.
Please feel free to download this illustration by Anne Kenny from Caring Ink! Thank you so much, Anne!
I really hope some of this helps. And please check some of my other podcasts on my website janetlansbury.com. There are 200-and-something of them at this point and they’re all indexed by subject and category so you should be able to find whatever topic you might be interested in. And I have two books, they’re available at Amazon: No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting. You can get them in eBook at Amazon, Apple, Google Play, or barnesandnoble.com, and in audio at Audible.com. Actually, you can get a free audio copy of either book at Audible by following the link in the liner notes of this podcast.
Thanks so much for listening. We can do this.