My guest this week is Janet Lansbury, creator, and host of one of the most downloaded parenting podcasts, “Unruffled” and author of two bestselling books, Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting and No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame. Inspired by the pioneering philosophy of her friend and mentor, Magda Gerber, Janet encourages parents and child care professionals to perceive babies as unique, capable human beings with natural abilities to learn. Janet enjoys teaching weekly classes on RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) and spending time with her three children.
In this episode, Janet and I discuss how to calmly and confidently parent children through RIE principles and techniques. By approaching children as natural explorers and self-learners through RIE, parents learn to spend more time in observation of their children versus acting on the impulse to fill their day with constant stimulating activities. The RIE philosophy helps parents confidently take that step back while remaining present, supportive, and engaged in their child’s growth and development. To learn more about RIE and Janet Lansbury click here.
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What is the RIE method?
- Resources for infant educarers
- Through the RIE method, parents learn how to respect their babies as unique human beings and not incapable objects
- Parents will help the child feel safe and competent in their surroundings without providing overstimulation
Importance of Observation
- Observation is a key RIE technique to allow the parent or caretaker to truly understand babies needs by way of their communication
- The more time spent observing allows for more understanding and a better environment for learning
- Remember to give your baby or child uninterrupted time to play and get creative
- Even if they are “bored”!
- Some of the most innovative and creative moments happen for children during these moments
Where to learn more about RIE and Janet Lansbury…
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
What is the RIE method? … 00:08:30
Importance of Observation … 00:17:40
Every Emotion Is Valid … 00:32:00
Emotions are Positive … 00:38:41
Parents Guiding and Setting Limits … 00:39:50
Setting Up For Success … 00:48:00
Episode Wrap Up … 01:01:26
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everybody, welcome to the show, I am Dr. Nicole, and on today’s episode, I’m thrilled to be talking with the one and only Janet Lansbury about how to calmly and confidently parent our children, even in the midst of behavioral challenges. I’ve followed Janet’s work for a while now and I find that the approach that she teaches and the samples that she provides are right on the mark when it comes to young children, as well as children who are developmentally young due to neurodevelopmental issues, emotional or behavioral kinds of disorders. Janet focuses on children under 5, but the processes are applicable to parenting no matter what the age of the child. So the things we’re going to discuss really get in the heart of what it means to help children develop emotional and behavioral regulation as well as helping relationships, communication and thinking skills.
I can’t wait to dive into the conversation but let me first tell you a little bit more about Janet. Her respectful parenting advice at her website janetlansbury.com is quoted and shared by millions of readers worldwide. Inspired by the pioneering philosophy of her friend and mentor, Magda Gerber, Janet encourages parents and child care professionals to perceive babies as unique, capable human beings with natural abilities to learn without being taught; to develop motor and cognitive skills; communicate; face age appropriate struggles; initiate and direct independent play for extended periods; and much more. She’s the author of two best-selling books: Elevating Child Care: A Guide To Respectful Parenting and No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame. Janet is also the creator and host of Janet Lansbury Unruffled, one of the most-downloaded parenting podcasts on the web and recommended listening by the Washington Post. She also enjoys teaching weekly classes at RIE, consulting with parents and professionals and spending time with her three children, ages 26, 22 and 17. Janet, it’s such an honor to have you on the show today. Welcome!
Thank you so much, and thanks for all your kind words. I’m honored to be here.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I have been so looking forward to this conversation because not a day goes by when I don’t see a post on your social media or your podcast and just go “Yes! More people need to hear this!” So I’m really excited to dive in, and I’d love to have you start by talking about what this model of RIE is and how you became interested in it.
Sure. So I became interested because I was a new parent who thought this was going to be the beginning of the best part of my life, and indeed, looking back, it has been. But at the time, this was 27 years ago, my daughter is 27, my oldest. I have three now. At that time, there were two different camps that you could read about or hear about. One was the super baby stimulation camp, did you ever hear about that? Where you stimulate and you’re the one that gets your baby the smartest baby. There was a book that I read on that. It said “At this age, here’s what you do to stimulate and this age, this age”, which was basically an empty vessel kind of approach that we had to do the work to fill in. Then there was another approach that was more what my family would say to me that other camps were saying, “Oh you just know everything. You know how to do this. Just go with your instincts and do it. You’ve got this. You have mothering instincts. Do what you feel.” So I didn’t feel that coming on as I thought. I was waiting. Suddenly, I thought this time that I thought I was so geared towards and really excited about, that I was a failure at it. Then I was trying to do this stimulation thing with my infant where I thought I had to kind of keep her looking at something and busy all her waking hours, and of course anybody that’s had a child knows that you’re going to not make it. You’re busy, busy, busy with your baby because they have so many needs that need to be taken care of by you and you can’t be spending all the time in between expending energy stimulating them.
Then what happened to me, but I didn’t realize it until later was that I was overstimulating her because I was playing things with music and sitting her up and there was a toy that was hung up next to her. She always had something in her face or in her vicinity, or me. So what happens is they’re very sensitive beings that are so aware and geared towards absorbing and learning right from the beginning, they get overdone. She would cry even more, that late afternoon period — the whole afternoon, basically crying. We’re trying to get her to sleep. Overstimulated and overtired. So anyway. That was happening. I was having — I had panic attacks. I was very, very ,very discouraged. I felt like an absolute failure in something that I thought, “People do this all the time and they’re fine, what’s the matter with me?” and yes, my expectations of myself were high, probably, but still, it was devastating.
I happened to be reading. I don’t know when I had time to do this, but I happened to be reading an article in this local parent magazine that mostly talked about events in the neighborhood and everything. It was about creativity. Raising a creative child. And there was a quote from Magda Gerber, this one little quote it said “Take the mobile off their bed. Take care of their needs and leave them alone.” That was completely different from anything I’d ever heard. I had the mobile on the bed. I was not leaving her alone at all. So it intrigued me because it seemed like this person was quite confident and she knew what she was talking about. I wasn’t for sure.
So I had in the back of my mind, there was a number to call for RIE, Resources for Infant Edu-carers, that is that acronym. And I kept it and one day my daughter was about 3 months at that time, a little over 3 months. I called. And they said you can take a class that was about an hour away from me in Los Angeles where Magda was. I thought “I can’t do that, I’m never going to get there,” and they said there was another class that was quite close to me with someone else, so I went to that one. There were a few babies in the room, they were a little older than my baby and some of them were actually scooting across the floor. Maybe just 3 or 4 babies. And my baby was younger and the teacher said, “Just lay her down on her back on this blanket, and you sit near her and just observe.” Then the teacher was quiet. There we were. Well, goodness!
My daughter, 3 and a half months, the classes were two hours at that time. And she, for two hours, was there, awake, on her back, just looking around. Didn’t even move her head that much. Never seemed uncomfortable. Seemed in fact quite relaxed and engaged. I don’t know, she wasn’t doing anything. She sucked her thumb a little at one point and she stopped and was completely content. What happened there was I saw for the first time, my daughter. I thought “Oh. There is a person right there. She has thoughts. She actually doesn’t need me in her face.” I think she never really did it that long again. None of my children did so. I think she knew she needed to teach me a big lesson or she was just so happy that I was out of her face that she was just soaking it up. But whatever. It was quite extraordinary. And I was fascinated by her and this person that I just wanted to know more and more about!
That was the beginning of me falling in love with this way of seeing that children do come into the world as people and that they ideally deserve to be treated that way as people with a point of view who are aware and just because they aren’t talking to us doesn’t mean they aren’t listening and learning and are human and have personhood like we do. That’s really the basis of this approach and just to consider what that looks like, it would be the difference between, “Oh, I want to hold the baby!” Passing the baby around to all the relatives who want to hold the baby and saying, “Hmm. I don’t know. Is it okay if grandma holds you right now?” and waiting that moment to see if my child stiffens up or turns away. And this, you could do with a very young baby. It’s this welcoming of the person and opening the door to their participation in life. Instead, there are a lot of things that we do to babies. This approach says don’t do anything to your baby. You can do it with them. They can be a part of it. If you communicate, you’re helping them to feel involved. That they matter, that their point of view matters. That you’re interested in it and you want them to tell you things or express how they feel. So it’s that. Some people do this naturally, I think, maybe. I did not.
It was so eye-opening and it made being with children so much more interesting when you realize there is stuff going on in there. There are so many tedious aspects of caring for young children, physically tedious. And this just added a whole layer of interest and mind-engagement for me as a parent. That’s why I called my site and my first book ‘Elevating Child Care’, because it just elevated it to something more than changing diapers and just “Look over here so I can do this to you” and “Let me get this over with as fast as we can.” Instead, it was just actually slowing down and waiting and letting my child now I’m going to do this. What happens is you start to see almost immediately, you get the feedback from the baby that “Yup, I was here and I just needed you to be open to that and communicate with me.” And once you do, you see that they are able to respond in their way, to their capabilities. They are very open and ready for a relationship from the beginning.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love that. I love the whole description of that, the unfolding of your story. And it really runs so counter to so much of what we’re told about how you care for kids or engage with them. this idea that you’re sharing about how children come into the world with their own selves and perspective and as their own beings, and yet so much of what we do with kids from babies on up is we do things to them. Not with them, not in relationship with them necessarily, but to them like they’re this blank slate that we have to constantly be writing on and pouring into and us doing all of the directing. And what you’re describing is really this lovely dance of the parent-child relationship of engaging with them and moving their development forward in a together kind of way.
Yes, exactly, we call it a dance actually. And it takes so much pressure off. Oh my gosh! I mean for me? You’re just hearing my little story in the beginning but it was these clouds lifted. Was life easy with the baby? No, there are plenty of challenging things, but the relief of not having to fill my child up with these things that just felt so random. It felt so — Okay, really? I just stimulate her like this in this age? I needed this overall way of seeing that it’s about trust. There’s so much that we think we have to do as parents that we don’t need to do. It’s better that we don’t. It’s still a lot of work being a parent, but we make it harder on ourselves.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I think that that’ sos true and especially, I’m thinking about our listener now who have children who maybe have some additional developmental challenges, maybe have some sensory processing challenges or communication or behavioral regulation challenges, and I want to really have you as listeners really tune into what we’re talking about here with this idea of stepping back and stopping the constant stimulation and observing and being with, as opposed to doing to, because I think so often, especially when kids get identified as having some kind of need, there is this compulsion and this sort of sense of “I have to do more, I have to stimulate more, I have to do more to my child to help compensate for this/help move them forward.” and I find that very often, the better path is to step back and do less to observe, to tune in, to avoid the overstimulating, and then that builds a foundation for forward growth.
Absolutely. Yes, the observation piece. In the classes that we teach that we haven’t been able to teach since the pandemic because they are in person with babies and families together. In those classes, actually, Gerber used to say the three most important things for teaching in our parent-infant classes are observation, observation and observation. So that was a polite way of saying that this is — and it doesn’t come naturally, I don’t think, to parents because we tend to project. I mean here is this person that’s not talking, and they are ripe for our projections, right? so it’s really hard not to. But when you start observing, you can start even becoming interested in your projections as seeing yourself. You’re seeing, “Oh wait, maybe she’s not cold. I’m cold.” Or “Oh, she didn’t go to use that object in that way, but I guess that’s what I would do with it or what I thought she should do with it. She’s doing something actually much more interesting. She’s staring at the inside of the box top and checking out that there’s a pattern in this that I never would have noticed!” Things like that, especially in nature.
Children can help us see the world in this wonderful, innocent way and relive all these things that we just — “Oh no, let’s just do this or do that!” Well, actually, look at this thing. Through our child, we can have these amazing experiences. But as you were saying, observation is the way to understand how to help our children if they’re having difficulties, to understand what they’re actually interested in, as opposed to what we’re interested in. And therefore, we can appreciate them more. Appreciate what they’re doing instead of this being in fear or discomfort for what we feel they should be doing. We can appreciate, and that’s a big part of Magda’s teachings, is let’s see what our child is actually interested in or where they’re at.
A lot of times with motor skills, let’s say, when parents tell me that they’re worried about — especially if they’re in my class and I can see, “Oh, my child’s not crawling on their knees yet/my child isn’t pulling up to stand!” Well, look at how your child is moving. You child has found a way to get to those toys that he wants, on his belly! With one arm mobilizing him forward! Look what he’s doing! So the things that we look for, the things like fluidity and comfort in their skin with what they’re doing, that confidence that comes when they’re trusted. So this isn’t to say — of course children need interventions sometimes. If they have issues, they need interventions. But even then, with this approach, we do the least thing. So we do the smallest things so they can always do more and gain all the emotional, psychological benefits of achieving and being accepted also for where they are. I know those are the kinds of things that you do. It’s an interesting challenge as parents. I would do this with typical children too, whether it’s two children having a conflict or one child that’s climbing and is on something or feels stuck in some way. What’s the least thing I can do? Start with that first. Sometimes that’s verbalizing something like “Hmm, maybe if you put your — sounds like you’re stuck.” You know, acknowledging where they are, or “You feel like you’re stuck/you seem like you’re having difficulty. Maybe if you move your foot down a little, you’ll feel that bar below.”
That would be the first level. Then if now they’re starting to get upset and they’re not able to do that, then I would say, “I’m actually going to take your foot and help you find this.” So we’re doing the smallest thing for them physically. The last thing we want to do, which we sometimes have to do is pick them up because maybe they’re too tired and they can’t do it. Generally if they can get up on something, they probably physically could get down, but they may not be ready cognitively or emotionally to do it yet. And then, if they’re tired —
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Then all bets are off. I love that idea, that concept of us inserting ourselves into challenging moments for our kids in the least intrusive way possible. I think so often parents rush in, and as you noted there, when we do that, and we’re doing the bulk of the work to repair or fix or problem-solve, kids don’t see themselves as able to manage those things, as capable of problem solving, they don’t get that sense of confidence that comes from “Oh, I figured it out.” So letting kids be in a little bit of the struggle and us being able to keep our own emotions in check and not over-insert ourselves into those situations is really important.
Yeah. And spotting helps us do that too. So we know that we’re there, we’re not going to let them hurt, and that’s something that I would say to a child too, “I won’t let you get hurt.” Some might be reaching for me, like let me jump to you, or let me take you down, because maybe a parent has been doing that or whatever, but that’s actually going to make the child less safe. So I say “I see you reaching, I’m right here, I’m not going to let you fall, but I can’t let you use me. That’s not safe. I have to let you do this yourself and I’m here to keep you safe. So we aim for that so that they can get those benefits. The confidence that children build when they’re trusted to achieve these skills is priceless.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, absolutely. And they need to be given the opportunity for that at whatever age. And then thinking of what you said about the parent being in the role of “I’m not going to let you fall. I’m going to be here to guide, but I’m also not going to let you use me to fix this.” Boy, does that apply to every element of parenting until our kids are grown and independent, right? I’m here, I’m a resource, I’m not going to jump in and fix this for you, but I’m also not going to let you get in over your head.
Right! And it takes restraint. I think one of the misconceptions is — I mean with the RIE approach, is you’re just sitting back and everything happens. Actually, no. We’re more attuned maybe than we would be otherwise, but we are working hard to hold space for our child. As adults, we’re so magical to children. We’re so powerful. We have all the power. We can fix it in a second. We can do anything. This approach definitely thinks we want to help give children as much power as possible, to feel empowered to be themselves in the world and achieve the things that they want to achieve.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
That being in the role of guiding kids, which really is how I think about parenting, we’re in this role of guiding, it’s a tough role. And being more attuned means managing our own emotions and keeping ourselves out of things that we’re really doing more for our needs, as opposed to our kids. Nowhere does that come up more, I think, than when kids are struggling with emotions, with behaviors, whether it’s meltdowns and tantrums or what we might consider disrespectful behavior, or whatever it is, it can be tough for us as parents to not make our emotions, our feelings, ourselves the center of that. Right?
Yeah. And I think what helps us to unwind. Why we do make it about ourselves, it usually comes down to fear of some kind, fear that my child is going to be — maybe it’s just some primal fear of
“I was yelled at for this/I was punished for this, so my child is tapping into those feelings that I had with them doing this” or “I’m a terrible parent and my child is going to be a terrible person if I don’t make this stop right now and teach them a lesson somehow”, instead of understanding that there’s always a reason and the basis is for, I know your approach and mine is that children are doing the best they can in any given moment, young children. I mean isn’t that interesting? We’re going to probably figure out why our child is doing this later and there’s usually a good reason that has nothing to do with us as parents or we’re doing something wrong or our child is defective in some way. There are reasons. One of them is children just put everything out there. I’ve had children in my classes that were infants and they were already making a lot of sounds of displeasure but not crying so much as “Mmm, mmm”. I would try to help the parents realize, you observe it and you see they’re communicating every single thing that’s bugging them or not even bugging them. They’re communicating what’s happening. “Oh, I want that toy/baby came a little close to me/there’s a new person that came into the room, mmm, mmmm….” Parents are like, “Oh my child is so unhappy!” No, they’re just telling us that they’re noticing things. They have feelings about things but it’s not a crisis.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I think one of the things that you talked about quite a lot in your writings and speaking is about the importance of allowing children to feel how they feel, to recognize they have their own feelings, they’re entitled to those. It’s not our job or responsibility to try to change what it is they’re feeling or to bring our emotions into it. Can you talk a little bit about that? That if a child is upset about something, it’s not our job to try to make them happy about it or to tell them not to be upset or distressed, right? They’re allowed to feel how they feel, and that’s a hard thing for some parents.
It is hard to trust because so many of us were not raised that feelings are — any other feelings besides happiness are okay to have. But we really want this message for a child because that’s what resilience is, that’s what a happy life is. There are a lot of people talking about this right now. I’m so excited about that. Susan David, even Brené Brown with all her vulnerability talks. So this is the key to be able to feel all the things in life. I don’t know, I’m just thinking of an example that I did a live recently and I didn’t get to answer this question because it wasn’t really on topic, but it stuck in my mind because it was sort of sitting there on the screen the whole time. It was “How can I explain to my child that it’s okay to lose?” That there are positives in losing, or whatever. I understand that so much, this parent’s point of view. But what we want to do is allow that child to feel how sad he feels about losing because oftentimes, even if it wasn’t, even if we don’t think they should feel sad about losing a game, we have to realize that these experiences with emotions, what happens is children get tapped into.
So the outside thing that’s tapping in can be just almost symbolic of other things. It’s not that my child is such a mess about losing and that in their whole life they’re going to be this person that nobody wants to do anything with because they can’t handle losing. that’s what we see as parents maybe, like “Uh-oh, this is a problem, we’ve got to fix this!” But when we look closer, we realize this child maybe has a new younger sibling that was born or they’ve had to move to a different house or they had to leave the classroom of children that they loved and now they have to start new. There are so many losses in life. Growing up is about losing, right? We’re always losing that stage to get to the next stage. So if we can tell ourselves as parents that there’s a reason children feel the way they do, that if we can trust it will pass, it won’t keep simmering and popping up and being there, it will pass!
There’s a very valid reason our child feels that. It might not seem valid to us, but there is — every emotion has validity for a child, and it’s really okay and it’s safe for them to feel all the feelings in life, and that’s how they heal them. Feeling is healing, that’s what I think I would say. The feeling is the healing. And they can’t heal it another way. The other thing that would happen is “Don’t be a bad loser. It’s fine to lose all those things that we maybe want to do”, and now what happens is the child still feels what they feel. We don’t have the power to change anyone’s feelings, including our own. We can’t change feelings, they’re just there, they have a life of their own. So we’re not going to change feelings, but we’re going to teach that child not to trust their feelings, teach that child that they’ve got some wrong things going on, things that they feel they shouldn’t feel. So it’s less trust in themselves, and that we don’t think it’s safe to feel bad about anything, which means they can’t feel safe when they have to feel sad about things or a loss.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Which is so much what life is, right? I mean that’s part of preparing, like life is not all unicorns and rainbows and happiness. And when we don’t have children who learn how to feel and how to tolerate those sort of uncomfortable feelings, they grow up to be adults who don’t know how to tolerate that very well either.
Right, and that’s probably like 85% of us, I don’t know, as parents or adults. That’s so many of us. Yeah, I think it’s been going on for generations like this. But we can change this, but it is a lot of work. Yeah. It’s so tough, and I actually do talks. I’ve done keynotes that are all about this topic because it’s such an interesting topic to me, the challenge to let feelings be. It never gets easy. I tell parents, it’s still hard for me. If my kids are down, I want to say, “Oh come on, oh I’ll make it better, don’t feel like that!” Of course I do. It’s never going to be a pure instinct for us to let somebody that we love feel not good.
It’s a challenge that does get a little easier when you have experience with the beauty of it and the magic of it and seeing your child get to the other side of that because you didn’t put anything in his way when he was losing you, like “Oh my goodness, it’s so sad to you/you seem angry about it.” “I’m not going to let you throw these game pieces” or whatever. “Now I’m holding on to those, I’ve got to put these away, but yeah, you could be mad about that, you could be sad about that.” And not just saying words, but really having our whole manner be accepting and welcoming of it, which I know, it is the opposite of how most of us naturally feel, I agree, but if we can do that, we see that it may never happen again. Or we see our child in that moment get to the end of it and then he’s fine. I love young children because they turn around, it’s like one minute “Ahhh! The world is terrible!” And then then next minute they’re like “Do do dooo, what are we going to do?” They really do that. It’s healthy.
But we as adults, oh gosh, I had a great example of that — my middle daughter who was in college at the time, she was home for the summer and during that summer, this dog that she’s been especially close with, one of our family dogs, the only one we had at that time, suddenly was terribly disabled. Something happened to her body. Nothing happened on the outside to her. Then we had to euthanize her. In a way, it was great that my daughter was home for that, on one level that it didn’t just happen when she was away. But oh my goodness, she curled up in a ball. She was on the floor in the hall of our house and it seemed endless to me. She was just so sad. We buried the dog. She was devastated. I thought, “Oh my goodness. I want to do something, but I’ve got to let her have this.” It seemed endless. It was probably 24 hours, and she was just in deep pain. All I could really do is come by her sometimes and just touch her shoulder and say “I know, I know.” And just let her feel it.
And then boom! She was laughing about the dog, all the good times we had. She was done. She got it. She went through it in 24 hours. Maybe it was even less than that, but it seemed like 12 days. And then I, with my less healthy fluid emotions, I was going through something about that dog for about a year. And it was so remarkable, the difference that we can give our children where we trust there’s a reason, and you know what? Bring it on, because I want you to be able to share this. Get this out of your body, get this out of your psyche, share it with me. Know that I’m a safe person for you to do this with. So many brilliant messages we can make, we can get into that headspace. Emotions are the most positive thing that could happen when they come.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Such a great way to look at it. Some really excellent examples there. I want to circle back to something that you said. In the example of, let’s say a child who is getting really sad and distressed and frustrated about losing the game. You said something in that, parents just say, “Ugh, you’re so mad and so frustrated about this.” And then you said, “I’m not going to let you throw these pieces. I’m going to take them and put them over here right now.” I think that’s a really important piece and I want to hone in on that as we sort of shift to thinking about the importance of parents being in charge or having an overarching sense of control over a situation, because so often when we talk about respectful parenting or we talk about these sorts of approaches, the argument that’s given is “You just let kids do whatever they want, there are no limits, there are no boundaries, the parent just gets walked all over!” And nothing could be further from the truth! So I’d love to have you talk about that role that we as parents play in guiding and setting limits and being in charge.
You’re right, there’s nothing further than the truth. But unfortunately, yeah, parents do not just criticize that, but actually believe it and then they go out into the world or whatever, they have terrible difficulties, but they feel that they are doing a respectful approach. Well, it all starts with boundaries. There isn’t real true freedom without the boundaries in place. So those are pretty much the most important things, they have to come first. I’ve talked a lot about trust, but even in terms of what we’re talking about with observing a baby. It’s not going to work for me to observe this baby if there are things in their environment that I’ve got to say “No, no, stop, stop.” Constantly going to be interrupting, going to be intervening. I’m not going to be able to observe this baby unless I have the boundaries of a safe environment, they’re not going to be able to crawl off into the street or onto something unsafe or inappropriate. And it’s not just unsafe, it’s like inappropriate. We don’t want them in our drawer, our makeup drawer or whatever it is. We don’t want them in — it’s important that we don’t let children do things like that that we don’t want them to do, it’s important that we stop it right away and not get to the point where we’re saying, “Oh, can you stop, can you stop, can you stop, can you stop!” And now I’m getting mad because I keep saying it and they’re not doing it.
Oftentimes children will get kind of stuck in what they’re doing. Even a 6 year old can do this or a 7 year old or an 8 year old. They just need us to say, “I’m going to take that away. Or let’s say it’s the TV remote or something. It’s like “We’ve got to put this away now, it’s really time to be done.” Doing it early, that’s a thing I try to help parents with, and also being ready for the fact that if we see our child getting upset, that we know that this child usually throws things, so we’re going to be right there. Maybe I have my arm on either side of her or him, and I am going to make sure that those hands don’t foil out, I am just going to contain this behavior as best I can. Maybe I have to hold wrists. We want to do the least things because we don’t want to overdo things, but doing it early. Right away, when you see your kid — let’s say you have to leave somewhere or you have to go somewhere, get in the car seat or something.
So we want to be respectful. The respectful part comes with communication and us not getting mad, us doing it early so that we’re still respectful and we’re not so aggravated. We can’t be respectful when we’re aggravated. The other part that makes it respectful is they can feel however they want about it. They get to yell it in my face as I’m picking them up and placing them in the car seat, but what I saw was okay, it’s time to go and I saw my child stop, I saw them go over to the side, or they want to keep playing, or maybe it seems like they’re not listening. So then I go over, “Okay, I’m going to give you a helping hand, here we go.” Right away. We don’t repeat ourselves. I have a podcast about not repeating ourselves. We don’t repeat ourselves, we don’t wait for our child to do it. We want to wait that moment, but we want to also learn, a lot of this comes from observation too that you’re going to read. So you read stalling, you read uh-oh, I think we were at this party too long, we don’t get to go to parties anymore, but we’re at the park too long, we’re at the beach a little too long and now they’re getting tired. Transitions, especially, we’ve got to be on it. Then we can do it with that hero mode of “I’m being the great parent here. I’m being the papa bear or mama bear and I’m helping my child get over this and this.
I get it can happen with older children, especially if there are other transitions going on in their life. Every little transition can be hard. I still feel like this. I can relate to toddlers, I’m still a toddler, I think. So I can feel that. We get invited somewhere. You know what? I don’t have any clothes, I can’t get out the door but I really wanted to be there. I know that feeling and other children have that, so with other limits where they’re hurting someone, one thing that we do is we are, if we know our child seems to be going through something where they’re hitting, then we’re right next to them. It’s sort of the same thing as where we’re spotting, we can be so comfortable at the climbing structure because we know we’re there, we’re not going to let them fall. So therefore, we can be relaxed, we can be confident, and be okay with it.
It’s the same thing with our child with other children, we may have to be hanging out next to them if we know that, you know, “My child is going through something” where they go up and hit kids as soon as they see them, and there are a lot of reasons kids do that. There is somebody in their space, they’re uncomfortable. It’s always about discomfort of some kind. When children do any behavior that we don’t like, they are uncomfortable on some level. It can be very dysregulated, deeply uncomfortable, it can be just this little discomfort of “My parent has a surprising response to this. They haven’t quite let me know that they’re comfortable stopping me, so I’m still doing it again.” So it’s this kind of minor level discomfort. So my child comes in as, I wanted to bring them into this group thing or with these relatives. I’m just going to be hanging out next to them. They go up, and I’m going to be able to stop if that hand comes up, I’m right next to them. But I’m not next to them tense. I’m next to them ideally confident. Then very matter of factly, I’m able to say, “Oh, I can’t let you do that,” I’m putting my hand there.
Then maybe I can say something to help with the feelings because there are always feelings, these uncomfortable feelings behind behavior. So maybe there’s something I can say that I noticed too about my child. “What’s that? He feels a little close, right? Like you were saying ‘Hi’”, I can say to the other child. “It seems like that was too close for you.” For that child to feel understood, that we have their back, that we’re safe, we’re not against them and already mad at them going into this, because they’re going to do it again. If we can be that person then we help children through these patches that they go through and we see less of this. We see so much less of this. Being a safe person is number one, but doing the things that we need to do to be that safe person. So if I’m sitting across the room and I see my child, I can’t be that safe person because they’re already hitting and I’ll be running in. So I am not the safe person. So we want to set ourselves up, and that’s with our home environment, keeping it as safe as possible. If we see our child’s in a mood we don’t let them go into those rooms they can act out in or whatever, have a different behavior in. So we want to set ourselves up for success.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
That proactive stance is so important. It strikes me as I’m listening to it, you’re talking through some of those examples, how valuable that is from the standpoint of giving kids practice and experience with stopping themselves, with being aware of how they’re feeling, with recognizing, “Oh, I was going to do this.” And that’s positive practice. So often what happens with these kinds of behaviors is we’re practicing the negative after the fact. So we’re trying to change the behavior by swooping in and reacting to something well after it’s happened and that’s far less effective in giving kids the experience of practicing stopping themselves and giving them guidance and support to regulate themselves in the moment.
Right. It actually can tend to make behavior worse because it’s really hard to give that after-look with a manner that isn’t lecturing, blaming, a little bit annoyed inside. It’s really, really hard for us to do that. If we realize that these behaviors do come from discomfort and therefore they’re impulsive, they tend to be impulsive. It’s just like, sometimes I use the example: Let’s say I told you to help me because I eat too much chocolate and I don’t want to eat chocolate anymore and I asked you to see if you could help me. So now you weren’t looking or whatever and I found some and I took some and I got the chocolate. The last thing that’s going to help me is for you to say, “Janet, you ate chocolate! You told me you didn’t want to eat chocolate! Why did you do that!” Let’s say I’m even saying it nicer like, “Janet, look what you did! What made you feel like doing that?” “I don’t know, I just did it. You’re going to bag on me now?”
That’s even with an adult. Imagine a child who is even more in the moment, even more impulsive, less able to exert self-control and regulate their emotions, we’re asking a lot. Then it just doesn’t help. If we’re just looking at it from our end as parents, like trying to conserve our precious energy, which I totally believe in, then let’s not waste our energy doing something that’s not going to help and maybe make it worse. Now my child feels more uncomfortable, “Oh my mom really hates me when I do this/my dad. I did it again and I disappointed them. I could see, they talked about it.” Just let it go and be there the next time, learn from it ourselves. “Uh-oh, I just realized that I can’t have chocolate in the same room as Janet because she might go for it. I’m going to help her by putting it in a different room, or I’m going to be next to her when she’s in that candy store.”
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Well, it’s the setting up for success. It’s saying “You can trust me that I’m going to be here to help you learn from this and be more successful with it” as opposed to coming in after the fact and saying “Why didn’t you get it right?” I think that so often, as ridiculous as it sounds, we do this all the time with kids. We assume that they are able to think about and process things like we do as adults, or for young kids like older kids do, and that’s not the case. They’re not able to do that and they need us to be there. And setting those limits and proactively supporting them in the moment so that they can figure that out.
Right. And then I know parents worry, “Well my child’s already this age/that age. At what age can they self-regulate?” Of course the answer is sometimes they can, even in the first year. Sometimes a child can do it, sometimes. But sometimes even as adults, we can’t. So of course children, no matter how old they are, depending on the levels of stress they’re feeling or discomfort, they won’t be able to. So there’s no time that we can say, “Okay, it’s done. We’re done, they’re never going to need our help again.” We can make it more likely that they can help and control themselves by practicing being that safe person, setting ourselves up and them up for success that way, so we’re not adding to the discomfort.”
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
That’s a great way to think about it, so we’re not adding to what is already uncomfortable for them, yeah. Just one more thing I want to touch on because I know we’re going to have to wrap up here, but I want to ask you about this because it’s something that you talk about often, and I think in the midst of this whole COVID pandemic situation, more than ever before, parents and kids are home together, many parents are trying to work from home. Their kids are doing school, even young kids are doing things or they’re home with their little ones. What I’m seeing is that many parents are feeling very stressed over this expectation they set for themselves that they have to be with and doing things with and entertaining their children constantly in the midst of this or they’re not doing a good job as a parent, and I’m wondering what you would say to parents who are feeling that way.
Oh well, I would say that I can relate and my example of being a new parent, that’s where it starts and then it can continue, that we believe this is our job, that we believe this is our role, when actually, as children get older, even, it’s like when we’re keeping them entertained, we’re in a way misdirecting them because they have an inner direction that we want to actually encourage and trust. Whenever we’re directing them, we’re shifting that. We again are so powerful to them that even if we say, “Hey, do you want to take ballet class or something?”, our child, a little bit, maybe they have no interest at all in ballet class, but they kind of want to want to do it now because we brought it up like that, you know? So this is just to say how powerful we are and how we can make it harder for children to be inner-directed. But this inner direction is this precious thing that will lead our children to their passion in life and in their careers and where they fit in the world and all these important things that so many of us grow up and lose touch with. We can help children stay in touch with that.
So there are so many good reasons not to use our precious energy to entertain. What that sometimes means if we’ve been caught up doing it and taking that on as our role, is our child has learned, like children learn by everything we do, that they’re supposed to be entertained by us and that they can’t entertain themselves. And it’s not true but in the transition to getting back in touch with their own ideas — you know, play is such a natural thing that we all have. It’s not a natural tendency. It’s not something that children can really unlearn, but they can get used to that. It’s easier just to let somebody else think of things. So in the interim, what I was going to say is there are going to be feelings. There are going to be tempers. If the child is older, there are going to be major guilt trips put on you, “I can’t, I have no one to play with! I’m alone!” Children just know all the things that will break our hearts. It’s their job. That’s how aware they are and how smart they are. So they’re going to throw everything in the book at us, and we ideally will welcome it, “Ah, I know it’s so hard when you can’t think of anything to do, ugh, I know that feeling, it’s really, really, really hard. But I believe in you, I think you will think of something.”
So we’re doing both, we’re not just saying “Yes, you can do it, you can think of something”. That’s the “Don’t feel what you’re feeling approach.” So we can have that belief, but I would still — it’s going to help them much more, if we just let them go to the depths of deep boredom. The depths of the depths of the deep boredom. And from the depths of deep boredom come ideas, come exploring self, creativity and joy, really from within. So value that. It’s going to be better for you, much more fun for you to be open to “Oh my goodness, look what they did with those sheets that I was okay with them playing with! Look what they did with that! Oh my gosh, that guy has wrapped that around himself in every different way. It’s like an improv class.” I don’t know if anyone has taken an improv class where they say “Take this brick and do all the things you can do with this brick.”, but children will do that! They will show you some new way that you never, ever thought of. So there’s so much more joy in store if we can take on our role as more of an observer and a facilitator of play. So we see if they really need some big cardboard blocks or whatever, I’m going to go get those next time I can. We can if we are able to do that. They don’t really need most of the stuff they think they need.
We can facilitate, we can observe, we can be surprised, we can enjoy. And this isn’t even sitting there watching them the whole time. With older children, we go away, they yell at us, “You’re just a terrible parent abandoning me!” We’re going to really have to see that for what it is, this positive venting that’s going on. Then we see, oh my gosh! They come out of it! Just like my daughter with the dog, they pop right out of it. And it’s brilliant and they’re so happy they did.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, and for them to learn that those feelings don’t last forever, you can come through them and come out on the other side, that is a lesson that they take with them into adulthood where it is very much needed.
Yes. I remember this as a child, we had so many games we invented, my sister and I, we’d make lists of all the different things we could do, games that we had invented basically. One was with my mother’s shoes, that she really didn’t appreciate, where we hid them all and you have to find a pair somehow in the dark. Everything: Drawings, games, we had so many different games. But I still remember, “We’re bored!” And it just felt like the deepest pain in my soul!” I remember saying that to my mother. In those days, parents just said, “Okay!” And they went off and kept doing what they were doing. They didn’t see that as a problem, but I remember the pain of it. Ugh! It’s a stabbing pain! And then we’d make up more wonderful games, you know? So it happens. It’s just part of the creative process of playing, really.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And giving kids the opportunity to be self-directed and have those opportunities. There are so many more things that I want to ask and that we can talk about, but I know that we’re at the end of our time and we need to wrap up, so I want to make sure that you have a chance to tell people where they can find more of your work online. I know you’ve got janetlansbury.com, we’ll have all these links in the show notes. What do you want to direct people to as far as resources where they can connect with you?
I think janetlansbury.com has got everything there. My podcasts are there with transcripts for people that prefer reading. Just please know they’re not articles! Sometimes people say, “Oh, that article!” I wouldn’t have written that as an article! It’s a transcript. So everything’s there. You can find the links to my books there, you can find my other recommendations. I have all kinds of books I recommend in my recommendations and some of the play objects, what else? My articles, I have like 400 articles that I wrote before I started podcasting, especially that’s what I started doing online, it was blogging or whatever. So I’ve got pretty much every — I’ve been realizing that if I hadn’t written or podcasted about it, it’s probably not something I feel I can advise on. I have more than 600 things there.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So many resources on your website, and also, I want to point people to your social media because you’re very active on Facebook and Instagram also, right?
Yes, I’m on Instagram and Twitter. Yup.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And you just provide such a wealth of information and things there, so I really want to encourage all of you listening to check Janet out on those resources. Again, we’ll make sure those are all in the show notes. Janet, it was such a pleasure to spend time with you today to have this wonderful conversation. I really appreciate you taking the time to be with us.
I loved every minute, thank you, Nicole!
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And thanks to all of you for listening, we will see you back here next week for our next episode of The Better Behavior Show.