The Power of the Poker Face: Staying Neutral with Kids

Sep 04, 2020

I just finished a session with a client who is really concerned that her son doesn't like school. Every morning he throws a fit about going to school and they both roll into the parking lot with tears in their eyes. And every day at pickup she greets him with a mixture of hope and dread.

She asks him the million-dollar question, "How was school today?" and listens while he tells her how stupid and boring it is, that he hates it, and wants to quit.

I asked her what was going through her mind during those after-school chats, and this is what she said: "Is there something wrong? Why doesn't he like school? He's only in kindergarten; this is way too young to start this business. Is he going to be depressed in high school? Are we going to have problems with school forever? Maybe he's more advanced and is bored? But what if I test him and it comes back that he's not advanced, and then I'm like all those moms who think their kids are super smart. But then, what if he is gifted and I miss it? I need to fix this so he doesn't feel depressed at school."


Because of this mom's emotions, she has an agenda during those after school conversations with her son.

She's dealing with a lot of unpleasant scary feelings and it would really be great if he would say something to make those feelings go away. Her whole line of questioning and angle in the conversation is about making herself feel better, no matter how much she tries to push that motivation aside.

We've all been there - some kid nonsense sets us off spiraling and jumping to conclusions, and it sabotages our parenting. Why? Because powerful, effective parenting comes from neutrality ALWAYS, and mind drama creates anything BUT neutrality.

We get three amazing things from neutrality with kids:

  • Information. When kids don't have to worry about us, they let it all hang out and give us a lot more info. They free-flow share without trying to mitigate fallout and that's when we get a big information dump.

  • Truth. Humans thrive on connection and intensity. Because this mom is laser-focused on her son liking school, there is an emotional charge to their talks. When he dislikes school, he gets to do this satisfying dance with his mom every day, where she puts all her energy into having a really connected, intense conversation with him. He might totally, truly, hate school, but we have no way of knowing for sure until his mom's emotions aren't accidentally creating an incentive for him to hate school. When the emotional charge is gone, the unadulterated truth remains.

  • Results. When you are truly neutral about your kid's choices and hardships, you can see clearly what they need from you and give it to them. You can implement killer discipline tools and support them as they learn to do hard things and believe in themselves. This gets you and your child to a whole new energy, behavior, and organization instead of staying stuck in your drama dance.


In every skill I teach, from discipline tools to communication techniques, the goal is always a neutral safe space for our kids. I used to say, "Your poker face is your superpower." But, the problem with the poker face is that it's a lie and kids know when we're faking it.

What if it were possible to not be faking that poker face? What if you actually felt neutral toward your child's choices and experiences? What if you could have true empathy and love for your child, without panic or fear, so your child never felt the need to take care of your feelings when they were talking with you? That's possible when you take care of your feelings on your own, separate from your kids.

This is hard to do alone because it's hard to see from the inside. That's why the work I do with moms makes the seemingly impossible, totally doable. Objective observation, accountability, skill-building, and healing all come from getting help outside yourself.

It starts with a free discovery call that will be a game-changer for you immediately before we even start working together. Book it here and start your journey to neutrality with your kiddo!