Ep. 31 – Janet Lansbury – Testing Testing: The Beauty Of Boundaries
- ‘Boundaries’ are the highest form of love.
- True happiness comes when children feel adults are safely leading and guiding them.
- Testing our limits is impulsive behavior for children and a way to seek answers to important questions.
In this episode, author and parenting specialist Janet Lansbury explains why boundaries are one of the highest forms of love.
Many parents are uncomfortable being large and in charge, even though their children desperately need and want them to be so. Janet says, “It’s next to impossible for children to accept our limits if we are anything but sure of ourselves.” Recognizing boundaries as evidence of our love and respect for our children gives confidence for that needed parental surety.
Janet LansburyJanet Lansbury is a trusted expert in parenting and child care throughout North America. Her books, blogs and podcast are a resource for millions of parents. Rooted in the teachings of Early Childhood Educator and Author Magda Gerber, Janet’s work empowers parents to calmly address the behaviors of their children, while, at the same time, honoring their child’s emotions and experiences in a manner that helps their developing brains thrive .
Janet’s podcast Unruffled and her books No Bad Kids and Elevating Child Care, offer practical and specific advice for common parenting situations and support for the dilemmas of raising infants, toddlers and preschoolers.
Her practical wisdom applies to how we raise our children, our teenagers and even ourselves. It applies to all relationships as we seek to respectfully connect and care for one another.
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Podcast: Janet Lansbury
Transcript: Janet Lansbury – Testing Testing: The Beauty Of Boundaries
Rachel Cram – Janet is such a pleasure to talk with you. In preparation for this interview, as well as for my own learning, I’ve been listening to your Respectful Parenting Podcast and you often read letters from your listeners and then respond. And you are so articulate and wise and well researched. So it’s exciting to talk with you today.
Janet Lansbury – Thank you so much for wanting to speak with me. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I love the work that you and Roy are doing and it resonates with me and I’m very very happy to be here.
Rachel Cram – Oh that’s so great. Well you know, as I listen to you I’m usually running in the morning and I’ve got this little game going with you, that when you read the question from your listener I think to myself, “What is she going to say? How is she going to answer this?” And you do so well explaining your answers. So I highly recommend your podcast.
Janet Lansbury – Thank you. Some people have told me that they try to figure out what the answer’s going to be, like sleuthing, like a mystery. What could really help this person? And I realized from people giving me that feedback, that’s actually something I love; sleuthing and kind of figuring out the story and what’s going on and what the child is thinking and unwrapping all of that. I actually love that process.
Rachel Cram – Oh, yeah, sleuthing. As you say that, you’ve also been an actor and you played a sleuth. What did you play?
Janet Lansbury – Nancy Drew. I really didn’t mean to bring that up.
Rachel Cram – Well you know what? Just as I was starting to talk to you I was thinking, “You have an acting background.”
So yeah, it all comes together. All these things come together. Right? But you landed in early childhood. How did you move from acting to early childhood? Because it kind of fits together.
Janet Lansbury – I guess it does. Acting, I sort of fell into, but it never felt like, ‘This is my life’s work.’ It was not something that particularly fed me in any way. I’d always look forward to having children and then I had my daughter and she was a wonderful beautiful baby. And I was completely overwhelmed. I felt like I didn’t really have a plan and it was very very disappointing to me because I thought that this was going to be when I flourished in life.
Rachel Cram – You were waiting for the natural to land? Life coming naturally?
Janet Lansbury – Yeah exactly. And there was a lot of that belief that you should know how to do this. Go with your instincts. And people would look at you strangely if you said, “I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do and I need a plan.”
“Well just take care of her and love her and follow your instincts,” and for me that wasn’t enough. And then I happened to find out about Magda Gerber’s work and ended up taking a class and that turned everything around for me.
I fell in love with the philosophy. I wanted to learn everything I could possibly learn about it. And so I did, with Magda Gerber herself, and that was an amazing experience. She is an incredible mentor and my instincts were telling me, “Oh my gosh, this is so right! Letting children have their feelings. They’re not these blank slates that we have to fill up. Tuning in to who they are and wanting to support their journey and callings and their passions and their interests. All this gets proven to you when you’re observing your child in this approach.
Rachel Cram – I think that mentorship, whether it comes from our own parents, or a teacher like you found in Magda, it’s such a gift. Maybe we think that because we’ve been kids ourselves, surely raising our own will not be complicated. But then it so is. Right?
Janet Lansbury – Exactly. I think it is, especially if you’re what I was at that time which was somewhat I guess perfectionist, I didn’t want to do anything wrong. But I think there is this feeling that we’re just supposed to know. And Magda used to say, “Well any other job that you’re doing you would prepare for, you would train for. And here’s this job that most of us consider really really important. Maybe the most important job that we have and we are expected to just know what to do.”
Rachel Cram – Well in your writing and on your podcast you write and speak with a compassion and sensitivity for parents, I think in recognizing that we do need help. We do need clear explanations. And you provide very articulate wisdom.
Janet Lansbury – Thank you.
Rachel Cram – As parents, consciously or unconsciously, we parent as we’ve been parented ourselves. It’s what we know. We also know that childhood is such a formative period of life and psychology holds childhood as a time when we develop values and attitudes and beliefs that will last our lifetime. So Janet, I’m wondering is there a story or experience from your childhood that you recognize as formative in who you are today?
Janet Lansbury – Wow. Well this is kind of crazy but interestingly, and I think a lot of people maybe have gone through their interesting journeys during this pandemic time, I have just come to some new realizations this last summer about my childhood through a few different ways. One is this woman that does body work with me sometimes. For years I’ve been going to her and she tapped into some things for the first time that brought up some emotional memories and whooo, it’s so hard because these early years, right?
This is such a formative time as you said and yet this is the time we don’t remember and
Rachel Cram – What, what do you mean by body work? This is very interesting.
Janet Lansbury – Well, this is when someone working on you is touching off emotions that are actually stored in our body. And now there’s a lot of science behind the holistic elements of emotions and how our bodies and our minds and our souls are all,
Rachel Cram – Connected?
Janet Lansbury – Yeah, so
Rachel Cram – Body work helps release that.
Janet Lasbury – Yeah, so the body work helps release that.
Rachel Cram – It is such a new kind of science. Anyways, I don’t want to interrupt you. Keep going.
Janet Lansbury – No. No. I’m glad that you know that as well that I mean this was all surprising to me.
Rachel Cram – So what did you discover? Can you say?
Janet Lansbury – Well, it was kind of things I knew but never really put together. What I found out was that my mother, who I loved dearly, she was a wonderful person. A giver. But there were things that happened to me, with her, that I just took on myself as children do as, “I’m shameful. I’m bad. I’m going to be rejected if I make waves or show certain emotions.”
And every child has different sensitivities to certain things and this we know right. So for me, I was very sensitive to some things that happened. So I knew all of that but I hadn’t really put all the pieces together for me.
Rachel Cram – So how did you interpret that?
Janet Lansbury – I just thought that, “I’ve all these bad parts of me. I have shameful things about me,” but now that I have children that are all three adults, I can see it was extreme in a lot of ways and so it’s interesting. Like I’m still learning more all the time. We never stop learning.
Musical interlude #1
Rachel Cram – Yeah. Well, I think parenting has shifted so much from the generation of our parents. We are now learning through science and understanding of neuroplasticity the significance of unconditional love and connection, and the attachment that flows from that kind of care. And I think people that listen to your podcast, people that listen to ours, they tune in because they don’t want to be in a situation like your mom was in. Right? And that’s a fear of us as parents. That one day our child will be sitting in front of a mic saying. “Things my mom did screwed me up.”
And there’s a reality to that isn’t there? A tension with that, that we live with.
Janet Lansbury – Yes, absolutely. I mean I feel like the people that are listening to your podcast, listening to my podcast, reading articles, reading books, these seekers that so many parents are right now, I see it as a beautiful thing. And I feel like the fact that parents are seeking means that they’re not going to do those things because even if they do behave out of their own childhood, as many of us do, they will notice it. amiThere were things that happened with one of my daughters when she was very young and then I had another baby, my youngest, and I feel like it took me years to connect with that and say to her, “I wish I would have had more emotional energy for your transition at this time. I wish I would have done differently.”
And like we can always go back, even years later, and be open about these things and realize them and then share them with our child. We could still repair with our adult children. So, I know what you mean about being afraid but it’s not as delicate.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. And I think one of our previous guests has said that, “Parenting is not a snapshot. It’s a movie.”
You have the time to go back and revisit moments with your kids or revisit moments with your parents and heal. It doesn’t all have to be perfect in the moment. As much as we’d want it to be.
Janet Lansbury – Yes absolutely.
Rachel Cram – You speak really eloquently on setting boundaries with our kids. And you have a language that encompasses everything you’ve just been talking about; letting our children be separate from ourselves, letting them grow as nature intends them to grow and to flourish. But at the same time, knowing the importance of having those boundaries, being large and in charge so that they can feel safe. I just want to read something from your wonderful book, No Bad Kids; Toddler Discipline Without Shame. So good!
Janet Lansbury – Thank you.
Rachel Cram – I highly recommend it. And you say, “Toddler discipline without shame,” but as I’ve read it, my kids right now range in ages from 10 years old to 28 years old and I feel like it’s not just for toddlers. It’s for children, it’s for teens. It’s for us as adults as well. Does that come to you as you talked about this?
Janet Lansbury – Yes. And that is because children are people. They’re born whole people. So our job isn’t molding a person, it’s developing a relationship. And the ideas I share in No Bad Kids and everywhere else, are all about a relationship. The way you want to treat another person. And that’s why it translates into definitely all ages of children, but even with us as adults, it’s a respectful way of understanding where the person’s coming from and giving them what they need that will help them. So it’s relationship based.
Rachel Cram – So I’m going to read. You say, “Toddlers are experienced at ruffling our feathers but these tiny people mean no disrespect. Testing our limits and patience is impulsive behavior on their part and a developmentally appropriate way to seek answers to important questions like, Am I safe and cared for? Do I have confident leaders? Are they with me or against me? Is it OK to want what I want? To feel what I feel?”
And I think this rationale for pushing boundaries is probably true for most of us, not just for toddlers.We push boundaries for those kinds of reasons. Can you describe what it might look like when a child is testing our limits?
Janet Lansbury – Yes. So testing, to make it simple, it is asking a question. You know, if something is repetitively being tested they still haven’t gotten the answer they need on this. So it can be with an infant creeping on the floor, “I’m going over to this dog food and I’m touching this.”
So the first time they did that it was pure exploration but then they noticed that the parent reacted nervously or scolded them or did something that now they’re seeing that my leader is a little undone by this. This has got so much power with this person. And so now I have to test it again to see, is this person together? Is this a big deal? Or am I rocking their world through this simple thing that I’m doing that I’m exploring? And so then it becomes a test and that’s when ideally the answer we want to give is clear. “Opps, yeah, that’s the dog’s food. I can’t let you do that.” And then ideally, we’ll have a way to get it out of their environment or maybe we’re just sitting there and we’ve got our hand there but we’re very calmly, not giving this power, we’re very calmly saying, “Yeah, that is interesting isn’t it?”
We’re seeing their point of view but, “Yeah, those aren’t safe for you.” or, “Those are the dogs,” or “Can’t let you put those in there in your mouth.”
So children are just needing an answer, they’re not trying to wind us up. They just haven’t gotten the clarity that they need on this. And sometimes it’s because we reacted emotionally when children are actually doing their job, which is to learn and explore, this is what children do more brilliantly than anyone else of any other age. They are amazing learners.
And this is a very interesting thing for them to learn about. What do the leaders do? What gets them upset? What has power that I’m doing?” So they’re just wanting answers. Maybe a toddler’s going to pick up our cell phone which I’m sure they’ve already learned is something we don’t want them to touch. So they’re not being bratty or mean to us here. They’re just saying, “OK like you haven’t been clear with me on this.
You get really mad at me and you tell me no and you shout at me but that’s strange because I really need you to just have a calm reaction and understand of course I’m going to touch this, of course I’m going to explore these things that are adult things that are so interesting to me or anything in my environment. I’m just doing my job.”
How do the leaders react to this? Is this a big deal to them?
Are they going to get mad at me?” So these are questions that children are asking.
Musical interlude #2
Rachel Cram – The word “test”, in a way, it sounds so intentional on the part of the child. And it can feel intentional too. But this is all unconscious for kids, coming from insecurities or inquiry in their surrounding or in our relationship? What’s going through the child’s head with regard to the parents?
Janet Lansbury – So, one way to generalize it is to understand that there is some level of discomfort that is causing the child to push a limit. It can be as minor as, “My parents, they have different responses to this. They haven’t been clear on this. And I’m not sure, what is the rule here? Am I allowed to do this or not? They’re kind of giving me a mixed message.”
So these are again not things children are consciously working through in their brains. But it’s this impulse that they have to get comfort from us really, to get that leadership that they need so that they can not have to worry about it and do all the things that children need to do. Play and learn and so they have to learn about us first. They have to learn about who’s in charge. I guess we could say that about us as adults too. You know, if we’re in a situation where the people in charge are not being clear and we don’t know what’s going on, it’s really hard to to focus on our work.
So in a way it’s similar with children. So it can be that level of discomfort. And they want the answer to be easy for us. They don’t want it to feel like they’re so powerful that they’re rocking these adults that are just huge giant figures to them. That they’re rocking our world, that they’re making us mad, that they’re making us nervous by their 2 year old behavior because then it’s like, ‘Whoa! Yikes! I have as much power as these people and I don’t know what I’m doing. I need them to help.’
Again this is all like unconscious feelings that cause children to to push limits. So there’s that level. And then it can get bigger in the discomfort to the level of, “I’m just exhausted and people get so angry at me and it’s really scary and I can’t help myself. I just keep getting stuck in this. And my stress level is constantly getting aroused and now I’m just flailing.”
So there’s that intense discomfort and then everything in between that causes the child to test.
Rachel Cram – And some kids seem to test limits more than other kids do. What makes that happen? Like what would be the difference with a child? Does it come down to will or?
Janet Lansbury – Yes it can be stronger will. Or, it’s actually a stronger need often for the parent to stay on their side. It’s actually, “I know that I have all this power as a person because I’m this strong willed child.” Which of course that makes into a great adult if we can help them channel it into positive things and not just be testing all their lives.
So there’s that kind of person and they know that they need a really capable leader. And a really capable leader is the opposite of the one that yells the loudest or is the most stern or harsh. A really capable leader is the one that’s,
“Oh yes, of course you want that my dear. No, the answer is no. I am not intimidated by you. I’m not upset by you. I can be stronger than you.”
That’s why my podcast is called Unruffled. ‘Stronger’ looks more comfortable, not louder and bigger and more intense. That’s not what’s stronger is in a leader and the kind that a child needs. So oftentimes, those stronger willed children know that they need the strongest leader of all and unconsciously I believe that’s what they’re testing for. That’s what they’re trying to get so desperately in this behavior that looks maybe really bad to us. It’s a deep need that they’re expressing.
I had an oldest child like this, and that was part of my journey. Children are constantly, unconsciously, working on us to make us into the best people we can be for them. And that’s one of the gifts of being a parent. We get to find the best version of ourselves, the strongest, the most confident. And we all have this leader inside of us.
I know I did not think I had this at all. I’m a people pleaser. I want everyone to like me. I don’t want to make people mad. This is all from my childhood. They’re not going to love me anymore if I lay down the law, or say ‘no’ to something they want to do. All of that fear inside of me. And what I had to realize is that, doing what I was doing, was not loving. So I had to totally understand and reframe this as, ‘Limits are helping children to feel more comfortable and therefore be able to let go of testing and flourish in the comfort and safety of our limits’.
So it’s not a mean thing, it’s not a bad thing even though children will react as if it is and they won’t tell you, “Thank you for giving me the limit,” They won’t tell us this. So we have to know this. We have to see it proven to us, even when they cry,we realize I’ve given them the gift of honesty and directness and clarity and that’s what love is.
So I had to totally reframe love for myself to be able to do this. And I believe every parent can probably more easily than I did.
Rachel Cram – Well, reframing love, as your saying, is tricky for all of us, but you’ve said that studies are showing that parents are having more trouble, especially in more recent generations, setting boundaries with their children. Why do you think that is?
Janet Lansbury – I think it’s for a very positive reason. I think it’s because parents are rejecting some of the more authoritarian ways that they were raised. But to embrace this, what I call the respectful way, is difficult because we don’t have a lot of models of this.
We don’t have models of it in the media. We haven’t seen it, what it looks like, feels like so that people can visualize. But it’s difficult. So what people tend to do is, “I know I don’t want to do it that way but I don’t really know what this other way is. So now I’m kind of frozen. I don’t know what to do.”
So that’s why so much of my work has been focused on this topic; to give a lot of examples of different scenarios; what it feels like, what it looks like and how it’s very consistent. You are always treating your child like a person, you are always respecting them, you are always trying to encourage their feelings, whatever kind of feelings they are and not try to squelch it or avoid it or even try to make it better, not try to change it but really trust that oh OK this needs to be expressed so my child is enough to behave that way anymore.
So it’s actually very simple but it’s not easy. It’s not easy because it’s different.
Rachel Cram – Yeah it’s hard to parent in a way that we perhaps haven’t been parented ourselves.
Janet Lansbury – Exactly.
Musical interlude #3
Rachel Cram – Janet, you have said, “Without boundaries children have too much responsibility, that life becomes scary for them.” How do you see that playing out in a child? That scariness that tension starting to build?
Janet Lansbury – You can see that in that they get stuck in a controlling pattern; where they’re getting more controlling of the parent.
Rachel Cram – What would that look like?
Janet Lansbury – It can look different ways but it can be, “I won’t let you leave my side.” Or, “I need this certain color cup when I’m drinking.” Sometimes you’ll hear children actually say to parents, “You need to do this or you need to do that.”
It can be expressed that way very strongly and where it just may seem, “Oh, they’re bossy,” or this or that, it’s actually a very uncomfortable place for a child to be because they really are stuck there. They need someone else to take the mantle so that they don’t have to try to control the adults, so that they can be free and be the kids.
Rachel Cram – And yet when we step in to take that leadership they’re not always happy because “Happiness,” as you say, “does not mean getting what you want all of the time.”
Janet Lansbury – Yeah, so when you do start to take charge in that loving way, then the letting go of that tension of controlling everybody, can look like this big gnarly release of emotions. And so it’s not that we’ve made the child unhappy, it’s that the child is kind of, “Ahhh,
now I can scream out all this fear that I’ve had and all this anger that I’ve had to be doing this job that you’re supposed to be doing.”
It’s a positive thing and actually all feelings that children express are a positive thing.Yeah, they are unhappy in that moment but true happiness comes when children feel that people are safely leading them and guiding them. Taking care of them.
Rachel Cram – And in those moments, if you’re a parent who’s sensitive or maybe isn’t super confident in your role yet, you can take your child’s limit pushing personally. You can feel that is about you.
Janet Lansbury – Yeah. I understand that.
Rachel Cram – And that’s tough.
Janet Lansbury – It is tough. It is tough. And that’s why really understanding our children’s point of view is going to help us so much. They’re showing you they need help. That’s really all it is. We’re not seeing how young our child is and how difficult it is for them to self regulate emotions.
Rachel Cram – When we’re taking that offense, we’re not seeing those things.
Janet Lansbury – Right. We’re not seeing how much power we have. And maybe we’re projecting our own issues we’ve had with parents into our child, but children can’t be in that role. They can’t have that responsibility to be nice to us just because they love us. They love us. We could do unkind things and they’ll still love and adore us in these early years. We have all the power really.
Rachel Cram – Well, talking about power, you talk about how you in your mind think about putting on your superhero suit when these moments come up. Do you want to describe that analogy? I think that’s a really good one.
Janet Lansbury – Thank you. Yes so, I think it helps to find some imagery that shows us that we are the ones in power. Our child needs help. It’s always about help. And so if we see that, then we can be the heroes, rescuing them, even in these little situations where they’re stuck, telling us, “I need this cup and I need that cup.”
We’re rescuing them from being stuck in that control state. Or, we’re rescuing them because they’re hitting other children and we’ve got to get them out of the situation. Usually, later, we realize, “Oh gosh, they’re exhausted,” or, “This was the wrong time of day to do this,” or, “We stayed too long.”
But literally, like carrying them out. Sometimes they’re kicking and screaming and we’re rescuing them.
Rachel Cram – Well, you’re doing what needs to be done, whether they appreciate it in the moment or not.
Janet Lansbury – Yeah, you’ve given them exactly what they need and done something that’s felt really hard to you. And so sometimes I think of it as like, you’re in a burning building and you have to help that child to jump out of the window into the net. And they’re saying, “No, no, no, I don’t want to do this.”
And what do you do? You’re not going to say, like, “Oh, ok, well let’s try it this way that way.”
You’re going to say, “I know you don’t want to do this. You can scream at me all the way out but I’ve got to do this.”
So that can be taken into almost any boundary situation. That sense of our role.
Rachel Cram – In your book you say this, “When an infant approaches the end of his first year, parents begin to struggle with boundaries. The sooner a caregiver or parent can establish those limits the easier it will be for the child to relinquish testing and returning to play.”
And as you’re talking about that superhero, and helping the child jumping out of the building, that’s really what we’re wanting. We’re wanting our child to jump fully into play and being a kid. Feeling secure and knowing that we’ve got them. And you have these four guide posts for setting boundaries with our kids, that
I’ve categorized in my mind as all beginning with a C. And I’m just wondering if I can get you to build on them because I think they give a framework for how we move in that superhero mode.
Janet Lansbury – Alright,
Rachel Cram – Ok, so my first ‘c’ word from your work, is ‘connecting points’ and the importance of using connecting points during the day to really engage with our child and really protecting those times. Do you know what I’m talking about there?
Janet Lansbury – Yes absolutely. So parents will sometimes feel like they don’t know how much attention they’re supposed to give their children. And caregiving times are the most important time to connect because this is a time where we’re usually doing intimate things with our child, and starts with infants. We’re changing their diaper, we’re dressing them, we’re bathing them, we’re feeding them. And that translates into mealtimes as children get older and these times are the most sacred to be fully present, even if you’re not talking with your child, just to be there, to be available, not have your phone, not be interrupted. If you do that, and prioritize these times for connection, then your child isn’t always trying to get your attention because they’ve had full attention.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, they’re not vying for it all the time, right?
Janet Lansbury – Yeah. So other people we’ll talk about special time and that can be wonderful too But these are the most important times because this is when we’re actually teaching, guiding. Children are learning about self care, they’re learning language, they’re learning to be participatory, even with an infant, which means we’re going to talk them through it and pause so that they can respond and be part of the experience and that’s important. So they’re learning all these incredible things and they’re filling up with our attention.
If we just do those then we’ve done enough. If we want to also be there watching them play, we’re going to learn a lot about our child. Or playing with them, that is great too. But that’s sort of icing on the cake if we can use these naturally intimate times to be fully present.
Rachel Cram – Well I’m thinking with older kids, moments where you’re driving them in the car to a sporting activity or picking them up from school or bedtime routines. I think what I’m hearing you say is, there’s these moments when you are going to have to be with your child, so fully use them into all the potential that is there. And don’t be half there. Because you have to be there, so be there.
Janet Lansbury – Exactly. And these moments are golden. There’s actually some research behind this that Sherry Turkle did. I don’t know if you’re aware of her work? She interviewed 300 teenagers and asked them about their parents cell phone use. And the teenagers were actually quite bothered but they didn’t feel comfortable expressing this to their parents. Which is, for one thing, interesting.
Rachel Cram – So sad!
Janet Lansbury – I know. And they said that the times that bothered them most, this goes along with the caregiving times, was mealtime. So at dinner or whatever.
And then transitions, when they were like you said, getting picked up from school or getting dropped off. Those times their parent would be texting and they’re coming in the car and they just want a few moments here and there, these aren’t long periods of time.
And then the other one was when they’re actually performing, watching them play. They’re doing sports or they’re doing something that’s stretching them. They would want their parent’s full attention at that time. So I thought that was so interesting because it definitely aligned with everything we know. And just this idea that their parent could be interrupted at any moment. Any moment something was going to take precedence over being with them.
This isn’t to guilt anybody. But just to be aware that this can be a priority that will actually help your child’s behavior, help them to play independently away from you. Help everything.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, well when you’re talking about guilting people, I think that we can become overwhelmed to think, “Do I have to be fully engaged 100 percent the time?” Of course that’s not possible.
But it’s saying here’s times when you are going to be engaged. So be engaged. And then, the other times give yourself the break and know that you will only be there 50 percent or 20 because other things are going on.
Musical interlude #4
Rachel Cram – OK, so ‘connecting points’. Then you talk about ‘conviction’. You say, “Parents need to decide on a plan so that there is clarity for their kids.” How do we get that conviction, even with our partner? How do we show up with conviction?
Janet Lansbury – Well, it stems from again, understanding what love is for a child and even for a partner. Love is me telling you the truth about, you know, this is what I’m going to do now. You can disagree but I’m doing this, or I’m saying ‘no’ to this.
That is much more loving than, “Okay. All right. I’ll play with you. I don’t want to but I will.”
Rachel Cram – You come at it half hearted.
Janet Lansbury – Yeah. And how does a child feel about that? Or like, “OK you can have another popsicle. Now I’m pissed off at you,” and I’m going to be really grumpy later and now some little thing that you do later is going to set me off because I’m grumpy. I mean, I’m say this from my own feelings.
This isn’t putting it on anyone else. But it’s not as loving as being direct. Making a decision that we can change our mind later but with conviction. Because children really need that. Again, that’s the leadership model that they want. If we’re wishy washy they’ve got to keep trying. “Well if I say this one more thing, if I ask her one more time.”
And again, that’s them getting stuck in that controlling pattern that we don’t want.
Rachel Cram – Well, and you’re saying, “If you’re going to change your mind, change your mind with conviction.” Because there are the times when you’ve said, “No. I’ve said no. And that’s where it’s going to be.”
And then they say, “Yeah, but you promised yesterday,”
And you’re like, “Oh shoot. I did promise that yesterday.”
So there is the opportunity I guess you’re saying, to change your mind with conviction. Which I like. That’s good.
Janet Lansbury – Yeah yeah. Or you could even say, “Let me think about this.”
You know, it’s this inner core of assurance that gives our child what they need. You know, it really really does. And so, we can change our mind with conviction. It’s not like, set in stone. Oh gosh I’d have to decide forever. But, the part of the conviction that makes it so respectful, besides that we understand that this what our children are really asking for, is that,“I’m so convicted, that you can be as angry with me as you want, or you can scream at me. You can whine about it 50 times and I’m still here making this decision. I’m not repeating myself and trying to convince you. I’m allowing you to have your right to feel however you feel about it.”
So that’s the part that’s maybe different from how a lot of us were raised as well, where it was like, “My way or the highway, and now you’d better be happy about it too. Don’t cry about it.”
That’s the part that’s respectful. And that’s where I would put on my hero suit. I wasn’t going to get sucked in and feel bad that they had feelings. And again often later I would realize, “Oh my gosh, of course my child seemed to overreact to that little limit because all this is going on in their life. You know, I’m expecting a new baby, and this or that. You know, there’s always reasons why children do these things. It’s often just emotionally driven. They need to express that emotion.
Rachel Cram – And I think part of where you’re going now leads to another ‘c’ that you use, and that’s clarity. That children deserve clarity. And that really ties in with conviction, doesn’t it?
Janet Lansbury – Yes, yes it does. So clarity, it could be even saying, you know if something’s inconsistent, but it’s clarity of saying, “Yeah, I said that but I changed my mind and this is what I’m doing.”
I work with this beautiful parent and we did an online consultation and her toddler was there. And she was trying to take something away from her that she realized that she was letting her play with but she didn’t want her to completely unravel it.
It was like dental floss or something. For some reason she was letting her play with this stuff while she’s talking to me. But it wasn’t really a ‘yes’ thing, it was a ‘maybe’, and she went to take it away from her and she was in this like gentle tug of war with her daughter because she wasn’t sure, she wasn’t clear.
And that just leaves the child stuck in the zone of discomfort where instead of saying, “I got to take this away,” you know and doing it clearly and firmly but with love. Instead of like,“I’m not sure of myself and so I’m going to give you this really unclear message.”
Rachel Cram – Well and that leads to the last ‘c’, and actually you have many more, like calm and caring, but the last we will have time for today, and that is ‘confidence’. And I think that just comes with practice. Time.
Janet Lansbury – I agree. Yeah, it does take practice. I always feel like if I could do this anyone could do it. No one would ever ever have described me as a confident person but my children have given me this. I’ve seen how it works. I’ve seen how it’s the most loving thing to do. It’s the most brave thing to do. It’s heroic.
So this is what I try to give parents as well. I want to give them what I got. So for that I thank Magda Gerber and it almost makes me cry thinking of how grateful I am to her for changing my life and giving me my life.
Rachel Cram – Wow. I love the vulnerability that you shared and you’re just sharing right now. Regardless of the degrees that we have behind us, loving and caring and raising a child and children requires a superhero effort. And we do it because the love is so great.
Janet Lansbury – Yes.
Rachel Cram – And I thank you so much for what you do through your books and your counselling. Your passion for this is so evident and your millions, literally, of followers are testimony to your dedication.
Janet Lansbury – Thank you.
Rachel Cram – Janet, as we start to wrap up this interview, I’m wondering, is there a last piece of advice you want to give about stepping into that superhero role?
Janet Lansbury – Be good to yourselves and be easy on yourself. Know that this is a huge journey, especially if we’re changing generational cycles. It is often one step forward two steps back. And that’s OK. So please give yourself grace. It’s not that easy to do serious damage, especially if you’re already listening if you’re all already on these paths of trying to be the best parent you can be. You’ve got this. Be nice to yourself.
Rachel Cram – You end your podcast saying, “We can do this.”
Janet Lansbury – We can!
Rachel Cram – And I love that message.
Janet Lansbury – We can. We really can.
Rachel Cram – Day by day.
Janet Lansbury – Day by day, and I’m still learning.
Rachel Cram – Janet, I thank you so much for this conversation. It’s such a privilege and a joy to talk with you and I’d love to pick your brain again.
Janet Lansbury – Oh I would love that too. Thank you. This was really fun. Thank you.
Janet Lansbury is unique among parenting experts. As a RIE teacher and student of pioneering child specialist Magda Gerber, her advice is not based solely on formal studies and the research of others, but also on her twenty years of hands-on experience guiding hundreds of parents and their toddlers. “No Bad Kids” is a collection of Janet's most popular and widely read articles pertaining to common toddler behaviors and how respectful parenting practices can be applied to benefit both parents and children. It covers such common topics as punishment, cooperation, boundaries, testing, tantrums, hitting, and more. “No Bad Kids” provides a practical, indispensable tool for parents who are anticipating or experiencing those critical years when toddlers are developmentally obliged to test the limits of our patience and love. Armed with knowledge and a clearer sense of the world through our children’s eyes, this period of uncertainty can afford a myriad of opportunities to forge unbreakable bonds of trust and respect.
Janet Lansbury’s advice on respectful parenting is quoted and shared by millions of readers worldwide. Inspired by the pioneering parenting philosophy of her friend and mentor, Magda Gerber, Janet’s influential voice 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. Once we are able to view our children in this light, even the most common daily parenting experiences become stimulating opportunities to learn, discover, and to connect with our child. “Elevating Child Care” is a collection of 30 popular and widely read articles from Janet’s website that focus on some of the most common infant/toddler issues: eating, sleeping, diaper changes, communication, separation, focus and attention span, creativity, boundaries, and more. Eschewing the quick-fix ‘tips and tricks’ of popular parenting culture, Janet’s insightful philosophy lays the foundation for a closer, more fulfilling parent/child relationship, and children who grow up to be authentic, confident, successful adults.