Be A Thermostat


By Anna Trietley MA, LPC

Yes, I know it sounds strange and maybe you’ve heard something similar in a yoga class. Well, maybe not – be a tree, or something? When you think of a thermostat, what does it bring to mind? I know for a fact that you have never been asked that question! A thermostat, by definition (per wikipedia), “is a component which senses the temperature of a system so that the systems temperature is maintained near a desired setpoint”. When we apply this definition to our parenting it goes something like this – an adult/parent which senses the temperature of a situation so no matter what, the temperature of the situation is maintained at a desired setpoint.

I can’t completely take credit for this idea, but as a mom and a child therapist I’ve used Dr. Landreth’s statement “Be a thermostat, not a thermometer”. Dr. Garry Landreth is THE expert in Child Centered Play Therapy and Child Parent Relationship Therapy. In his book (2006) and workbook of the same name, he discusses the importance of modeling self-control for our children.

screen (1)“In-control parents are like thermostats in their child’s life. Out-of-control parents are like thermometers. They only react to what is there.” Garry Landreth, Child Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT).


I’m sure everyone has had a similar situation to this: Little child has a meltdown because they can’t get the tiny lego in the exact spot they want it.

Let’s think for a moment how we can be a thermostat and create a calm and pleasant environment in this situation.

First, respond to the child’s feelings. I know we have had those parenting fails where we react in a harsh manner. As your reading this, you’re probably recalling that moment. *Facepalm*. “You are very frustrated that you can’t get that where you want it”. You are giving your child words to explain how they feel and you are letting them know that you hear them.

Second, be with your child. Sit and play with them. They will likely ask you for help if you are engaged with them in their play. You can remind them that they will get better at something the more they do it.

This all takes time and practice on our part. Just like the child, don’t expect things to change in an instant but implementing these rules each time the opportunity presents itself, will allow for much practice! When we change our perspective, it allows us to have a less stressful parenting experience.

Anna is a therapist and co-owner of Art of Therapy Center.

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