It’s All About YOU. Not THEM.

It's all about YOU

I was at a training a while back where we did an exercise that left an indelible mark on my parenting. We had a sheet of paper divided in 3 columns labelled like this:

Things I can control Things I can influence Things I CANNOT control


Go ahead. Grab a piece of paper. Fold it in thirds. Label accordingly. Fill it out.

No, really. Go.

What did you come up with?

Here are some of the things that made it to my paper.

Things I can control Things I can influence Things I CANNOT control
My attitude My child’s environment so it promotes healing and felt safety My child’s behavior
My wellbeing Others’ attitudes…sometimes My child’s perception of the world and me
My education My child’s education My child’s past
Others’ perception of my child, my family, and me
My child’s healing


Honestly, I struggle with the line between columns 2 and 3. The reality is that depending on your situation and your child, the items in those columns may move. In the end, it’s about mindset. I probably need to just have 2 columns, merging the middle one into the last one. Telling myself I have influence often results in me thinking I have control and it was realizing where my power really fell (and didn’t) that made this exercise so life-changing.

The reality is that I can only control ME. Everything else is just bonus.

The reality is that I can only control ME. Everything else is just bonus. Click To Tweet

I find with my kids from hard places (and otherwise), I often start obsessing about ways to change them. What tool will stop them from hitting every time I say, “No?” How can I get my socially awkward tween more friends? When will my 9 year old just stay seated at the dinner table? What will motivate my daughter to say, “Please,” without being reminded?

I’m not saying that any of these ambitions are wrong. I just find that while I’m focusing on solving these problems, my anxiety is up and my search for answers and tools goes from objective to frantic fairly quickly. This in turn triggers all those around me which exacerbates the above behaviors which makes me more frantic to fix the problem…well, you see the cycle.

When I focus on me and my attitude about certain behaviors and identify what is often the underlying fear that these behaviors triggers in ME, I can get to the place where I accept where my child is NOW. I make my action plan about NOW. I’m hopeful that NOW doesn’t mean F.O.R.E.V.E.R., but when I start projecting into the future, I get crazy again.

A practical example

I have a child whose picture is next to impulsive in the dictionary. Inevitably when he’s in a social situation, he does something like ride his bike into a small child, destroy a prized sand castle, or take a toy someone else was playing with. None of these things happens maliciously. He’s kind of like a golden retriever puppy on the loose—everyone loves him but if he doesn’t have boundaries, he drives you insane. The hardest part is that he’s chronologically almost 10. In theory, old enough to know (or control) better. The old-fashioned parent in me spent years sending him out to play and then yelling and punishing and shaming when it didn’t work out. Then the newly trained trust-based parent me would send him out and have him do re-dos when disaster struck but that didn’t bring back the sand castle or prevent him from riding his bike into a little kid 3 more times that day…and my frustration level at him was still too high and not helping our relationship at all. After completing the above exercise, I came to terms with where he is developmentally and what realistic expectations for him were. Now, he’s allowed out to play when no one else is. If there are other kids outside and I can’t go be his external impulse control, he has 5 minutes to play, then I call him in before he does something impulsive. We end on a high note. After coming in and getting unstimulated for 30 to 40 minutes, he may get another 5 minutes outside with other kids. Sometimes he’s sad about this deal, but also realizes how much less he’s “in trouble” with the new plan. He was often frustrated with how his impulsive brain had him doing things he instantly regretted, so in many ways, what might seem harsh or unfair is actually making him feel safer. Additionally, I am able to remain upbeat (or at least emotionally neutral) about it because MY attitude about where he is NOW has changed. When he pushes back about the plan, I am able to stay calm.

I can think of many other scenarios where this new game plan of starting with ME instead of THEM has worked out way better.

I’d love for you to share how filling out the chart above has challenged you.

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