Discovering Your Children’s Strengths (Interview with Janet Lansbury)

Anna lines up her grapes on the plate, the shoes on the shoebox, and the rocks in the backyard. She likes things quiet, orderly. It’s a nice balance to her slightly-older sister whose strengths, as far as I can tell, lie in dismantling my house bolt-by-bolt. Or her oldest sister who is neither orderly, nor quiet… but who’s so artistic I recently trusted her to repaint her own room.

Any parent knows each child comes into this world with a unique personality, strengths and gifts. In our own journey to live our strengths as individuals, one of the best parts is mentoring our kids (and sometimes their friends, neighbors, and classmates) in their strengths too.

Today’s post is an interview with Janet Lansbury, former actress turned early childhood advocate and parenting resource. I resonate with her message: Children are unique and capable, and we, as parents can raise and discipline them in respectful ways.

When we see our kids as capable, we parent as mentors who help them discover how to use those natural capabilities – and to grow them so our kids can do all they’re meant to do in life!

Q: What inspired you to advocate for kids as capable, even as babies?

I was an actress and model for most of my adult life with a modicum of success, but never much passion or talent.  I had looked forward to parenting since I was a child and thought it would be my “happily ever after”- believed it would be totally instinctual. Surprise! I had my first baby and felt completely clueless and overwhelmed. I found help through Magda Gerber when my daughter was a few months old.

Magda Gerber, founder of Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE), became my mentor, and through her guidance I began to understand that children are whole people with a distinct point of view long before they walk or talk or even smile. I’ve been inspired to share this message ever since.

Q: What do you feel is a parent’s biggest challenge? How do you help in this area?

Outside of poverty, it’s discipline. I offer general guidelines and specific examples for giving children guidance gently and honestly with respect. It’s important to address the behavior as briefly as possible from a place of confidence, stay calm and not “react”. Children need to perceive their parents as kind leaders who can handle their behavior with ease, not get rattled or make a big deal out of it. Getting upset or angry, punishing, pleading, scolding, lecturing (even briefly like, “We don’t hit our friends”), can give too much attention to the behavior. The child is then inclined to repeat the behavior until it feels “settled”. Techniques like “distraction” only avoid the issue and don’t provide any guidance at all.

I recently posted a video in which I demonstrate setting limits gently and effectively with respect. And I’ve written much more on this subject in No Bad Kids – Toddler Discipline Without Shame, which is the most popular post on my blog by far.

Q: What advice do you offer parents of infants or toddlers?  

I’ll never say it better than Magda Gerber did: “Do less, observe more, enjoy most!”
Trust infant and toddlers to develop in their own way and time. Rather than stimulating and teaching your babies, let them teach you. It’s much easier and more fun that way!

Q: What other resources do you recommend for early parenting?

Magda Gerber’s books Your Self-Confident Baby and Dear Parent, along with all the other materials available at  I also love 1, 2, 3 The Toddler Years, a wonderful little handbook that offers excellent, practical advice, is easy to read and refer to.  For fascinating information about brain development, Jane Healy’s books (Your Child’s Growing Mind). And anything by Alison Gopnik.

Thanks, Janet, for sharing your heart for raising our kids respectfully and effectively – in ways that honor who they are and their strengths! 

For more information, visit Janet’s website, her Facebook page, or find her on Twitter.

What resources have you discovered to help you raise your child effectively and develop their strengths?

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  1. says

    @Amanda – it's so true, isn't it? Sometimes I have to reduce my schedule with other parents of toddlers for a bit, just to enjoy my girl and release myself from the pressure of having her grow certain ways at each age. It's such a mental battle for us as moms!

  2. says

    This was great – my favorite part was about the toddlers – to spend time enjoying them! I have a two year old and I've found that so many mothers want their children at that age to speak better and to learn more and do more. Those moments goes by so quickly, it should be spent loving them and enjoying those fleeting baby stages.