5 Ways to Boost Your Parenting Willpower

5 Ways to Improve Parenting Will Power-2


What do you do when your tween or teen is getting snotty and pushing your buttons? Remember when your kids were little, and you could just pick them up and physically move them if they didn’t do what you wanted them?  Yeah, that boat has long since sailed!

In the Solving The Mystery of Parenting Teens workshop, coming up May 15 & 16, Lynn Lott and I will share dozens of practical tools that parents can use to bring their best to parenting, improve communication and invite more buy in from their teens, but one of the most important is for you to pause before you react.  Easy to do when you’re not ticked off, right?  Much harder in the moment.

When I’m under pressure with my kids, I notice that my first instinct may be to:

  • Be more persuasive (soon they’ll recognize my vast stores of wisdom)
  • Start an imaginary conversation in my mind, as in “Really?  You really want to go that route?!”
  • Try to ignore my body as I feel my stress level rising and my throat start to tighten
  • Think I can control these disparate parts of myself and simply will myself to “do it better”

Sound familiar?

First, it’s a mistake to think there are “disparate parts” of ourselves.  Turns out, there is no such thing as mind, body. It’s mind-body. It’s all connected. For us, and for our kids.

So when we’re under pressure, when we need willpower to be at our best, why do we have such a hard time allowing ourselves time out to regroup?

Whatever your reasons for “losing it” with your teen — and I’m sure they’re all good ones—current research is showing us just how important “time out” and other restorative practices are to being able to sustain willpower and accomplish the things we really want, like being the parents our kids need us to be.

I had a chance to hear Dr. Kelly McGonigal speak about the science of willpower recently. Dr. McGonigal is a Stanford psychologist and the author of The Willpower Instinct (on the off chance that you’ve got that whole willpower thing down pat and haven’t heard of her).

Dr. McGonigal shared that our initial instinct when trying to increase willpower, in kids and in ourselves, is to use more discipline, to tighten the parameters. But in fact, that’s exactly the wrong strategy.

Instead, these five things are proven to boost your willpower.  They may not be what you think!

  • Self-compassion
  • Sleep
  • Physiology
  • Mindset
  • Connection


This is the ability to be gentle with yourself, the way you would respond to a good friend. You see your own mistakes or shortcomings and recognize it’s part of the human experience. You don’t beat yourself up (because it doesn’t help anyway).  You may think that if you didn’t kick your own butt, you’d never get anything done. In fact, the opposite is true.  Self-compassion enhances, rather than reduces motivation.  People who rate higher on measures of self-compassion haven’t lowered their standards – they still aim just as high – they just function better than people who do not relate to themselves with self-compassion.  In particular, people who rate higher in self compassion engage in fewer self-handicapping behaviors (love that term!), such as procrastination (Williams, Stark & Foster, 2008).  If you’re prone to being super hard on yourself, and you’d like to make some changes, get in touch – it’s one of my specialties!


Dr. McGonigal explained that the prefrontal cortex is sensitive to sleep deprivation.  In fact, sleep is food for the brain.  You already knew that from your own experience with a newborn, right? The dreaded “Mommy Brain” syndrome. But guess what?  There are parts of your brain that function extra well when you don’t get enough sleep: those parts that produce fear and anxiety, release stress hormones, and that run any automatic behaviors.  (Oh, crap!)

So if you’re sleep deprived, you’re more likely to be anxious, stressed, and to do the things you do automatically when you’re feeling stressed and pressured (think of your own habitual reactions under stress – probably not pretty, right?).  A 2013 Gallup poll found that 40% of Americans get less than the 7 recommended hours of sleep each night.  Almost half (46%) of people with kids under 18 years of age get less than 7 hours of sleep.

Now, consider that the average teen is chronically sleep-deprived.  The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) reports one study that found only 15% of teens get the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep they need on school nights.  NSF’s 2006 Sleep Poll found that 75% of the 1,600 American adolescents surveyed who reported feeling unhappy, sad, or depressed also reported not getting enough sleep at night and being excessively sleepy during the day.

Hmmm…. are you starting to see how the pieces of the puzzle are connected?

Coming up next:  the importance of physiology, mindset and connection in relation to willpower.  Stay tuned!

If you enjoyed this, please show some social love and share with a friend.  Friends don’t let friends parent alone!

About kimberly

Kimberly helps parents learn new ways to connect with their children in order to increase cooperation and mutual respect in families. She is a Certified Positive Discipline Trainer & facilitates parenting classes and workshops. Her two children have been her best teachers. A CTI trained Coach, she helps people find clarity and courage to create new possibilities in their lives.
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