Reframing: 3 Powerful Ways to Change Your Parenting Outlook

shutterstock_9868879The Boston Marathon was a rainy, chilly, hypothermia kind of day this year. Some might have called it miserable, but that wasn’t the common sentiment. Instead, there were loads of fan posters that pointed out the bright side, with messages like this:

‘At least you’re not at work.’

‘At least you won’t have to shower later!’

‘This race is literally 26 miles of people lining the roads thinking you are the greatest person on earth.’

Those posters helped change the way runners experienced the marathon, and the way they will relay their experience to others as well. They witnessed the power of reframing, which can lessen the negative impact of a stressful situation.

What is Reframing?

Reframing is the ability to change your perspective to recognize the positive aspects of a situation. It’s about examining your experience – ideas, thoughts, and emotions – from a more open, curious and flexible point of view. Using simple reframing methods can reduce stress, unleash your creativity, and enhance your life.

Have you ever noticed how two people can experience the same event, but recall it in very different ways? By changing how you look at a situation, you can change your experience of it. Imagine looking at a photo of a trash pile. On first glance, you might just see trash and find it depressing. But if you look again, and even widen the lens, you might see that it’s part of a compost pile and there’s a little vegetable garden thriving next to it.

Research has shown that reframing is associated with lower levels of depression(1) and higher role satisfaction(2) for both mothers and fathers of children who struggle.

Here are 3 ways you can use reframing to shift your parenting experience from stressful to satisfying:

1.Watch Your Words

The words we choose impact our view of the world. They have also been proven to change our brain chemistry. When we say things like ‘I’m such a bad parent,’ or ‘I’m so stressed out,’ or ‘I’m so out of shape,’ we’re putting ourselves in a negative and limiting box. We’re setting off the stress response inside our bodies and training our brains to keep following that path. Making a simple tweak to your own self-talk, such as: ‘I’m still figuring out how to help my child,’ or ‘These are real challenges and I’m doing my best,’ or ‘I’m trying to exercise a little more each day,’ can completely change the way you look at – and process – the exact same thing.

We also need to watch our words when it comes to our kids. The way we describe our children has an impact on how we view them and how we relate to them (not to mention how they define themselves). Instead of using negative labels, try to identify alternative, positive attributes. For example, a ‘distractable child’ might be considered more creative, more perceptive, and more tuned into new information. A child you might have described as ‘stubborn’ or ‘difficult’ could be spirited or persistent. A ‘shy kid’ might be an astute observer, a strong listener, or super intellectual. This subtle shift towards seeing more good won’t just change your mind, it can change your life. I know it has helped me.

2.Reframe a Problem as a Challenge

Reframing a stressful event can help you see it a challenge rather than letting it turn into a major trauma. When you think of a demanding situation as a problem or a threat, your attention turns to all your shortcomings. For example, I know a mom whose children have a long list of serious food allergies. When she first learned about the foods they had to avoid, she was overwhelmed. In addition to being scared that her kids might be exposed to allergens, she didn’t know how she was going to feed them. She decided to think of the situation as a challenge. “Now that I can’t rely on mac & cheese or peanut butter or (many other items that were suddenly off-limits), what kind of meal repertoire can I invent?” Reframing a problem as a challenge reminded her of her potential and unleashed her creativity, instead of activating the stress response. She ended up concocting all kinds of great recipes that worked around her kids’ allergies.

Sometimes, asking a different question can help you find a fresh approach to a challenge. For example, lots of parents worry about what to do with their kids in the summer. Transitioning from the routine of school to all that unstructured time can be tough. You might be asking yourself “Where can we send Janie to camp this summer?” but that question assumes camp is the answer. If you change your question to “What can we do to make Janie’s summer enriching?” or “What can we plan to keep Janie active this summer?” you will search for different sets of solutions. Asking questions in different ways can change your lens, opening up opportunities to brainstorm better.

3.Say “I GET to”

Let’s face it. There are days when the last thing you want to do is trek to one more appointment, accompany your child on a field trip, or deal with a meltdown. But author and parenting expert Amy McCready relays a wonderful story about a parent whose advice changed her perspective completely. That person, a minister, challenged her congregation to shift their internal conversations from saying ‘I HAVE to’ to ‘I GET to.’

Instead of saying ‘I HAVE to’ drive my child to (fill in the blank), think ‘I GET to’ support my child’s development, ambitions, and interests. I get to watch them grow stronger and more capable. I get to encourage their dreams and nurture their gifts. This one simple phrase is a powerful way to reframe your perspective on parenting.

The Quick Wrap on Reframing

Reframing is an easy way to change your whole outlook. The next time you’re thinking about cutting yourself down in your head, find a more constructive way to say it. When you start thinking about how difficult your kid can be, find a positive attribute to substitute. Turn problems you encounter into challenges to overcome. Ask different questions to encourage innovative solutions. And say ‘I get to’. I get to be present, to be part of all those little moments that bring my child from infancy to adulthood and beyond. Reframing can alter our perception of stress and create a more positive experience without actually making any change in our circumstances.

What reframing methods make a difference for you?


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