Chapter 1: Touring the Parent’s Toolshop                                                          13



Before we begin our full tour of The Parent’s Toolshop, a few suggestions will help you know what to expect and what not to expect from your tour. These tips will help you get the maximum benefit from your tour and remember all you learn.

1.  The first time you read the book, read each chapter in orderEach chapter builds on information and skills from earlier chapters and follows the Universal Blueprint step by step. You need to understand the tools from the Prevention Toolbox to use the more difficult tools, later in the book, to their full potential. If you are dealing with a tough problem, you might be tempted to jump ahead to whatever chapter you think will solve it best, such as the Discipline Toolset. This approach skips over skills that could prevent the problem or resolve it without a last resort response. The only exceptions are Chapter 9, “Keep Your Cool Toolset,” Chapter 11, “PU  Toolset,” and the consistency and criticism sections of Chapter 15, “Three C’s.” You can read these chapters anytime. 

Don’t worry if you don’t remember everything you learn the first time you read the book. There is so much information it can realistically take us a lifetime to master all the skills in all our relationships. Each time you read The Parent’s Toolshop, you will get what you need at that time.

A Graduate’s Comment. I can’t wait to read the book again—and again. There’s so much in it, I want to digest it all. Every time I read it, new things jump out at me that I didn’t notice the first time. There were some sentences and sections that were so profound that I just had to think about what was said for a while. That’s how awesome some of the concepts are. This book and class have changed my life, every area of it, for the better. — Rita James

It is best to read no more than two toolsets (chapters) at a time and reflect on the ideas. After practicing those skills for a week, you are ready to build on that knowledge. Schedule a time each week to read, so you can keep moving forward through the book. Many parents read the book several times or every few years, as their children reach new developmental stages. Use the detailed house diagram (a summary of the entire book that is on the last page of this book and on the color poster you can order), summary sheets and index as quick refreshers or to deal with a particular problem.

2.  Use all the tools and steps in the Universal Blueprint. They are interrelated and reach their full potential only when we use them together. Discarding tools or foundational beliefs weakens the effectiveness of all the tools, because each toolset is dependent on the others.

3.  Do the practice exercises in the book. Simply thinking about a behavioral technique is not as effective as actually doing it. People learn by hearing or discussing the information, seeing the information, and using the information. Reading this book or attending a class led by a certified Parent’s Toolshop Tour Guide are ways to hear the ideas explained. The house diagram and examples are ways to see the information. The practice exercises help you use the tools you are learning. The more ways you learn and process the information, the better you will remember it 

Since you are learning a new parenting language, it is important to practice forming effective responses. Written practice lets you think about and plan the most effective response. This helps you later when you need to respond quickly to real-life situations. After giving your answers, read the answer key; it offers additional insights and suggestions for common problems. Remember that the answer key usually lists possible answers, not the only correct answers.

A Graduate’s Comment. I’m so glad you gave us practice exercises. The first time I skipped the practice exercises I had a harder time using the tools that week. When I used the practice exercises, I realized how helpful it was to actually think of the words on my own. I especially like the detailed answers you give. Your answers helped me realize where I was on track and where I still needed to improve. — Kathy Bellar


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The most common real-life parenting problems are posed in the practice exercises. In the answer key, there are specific suggestions about exactly what to say and do. If you see a problem in the practice exercises you are dealing with at home, think about your answers first, then read the answer key.

4.  Use the tools in an individualized way. At each step of the Universal Blueprint and its effective-response formula, we can choose many options. We use the guidelines and our knowledge of the person and situation to choose the most appropriate response. There is no one right way to respond to a situation. If one response doesn’t  seem to work, don’t abandon the blueprint. Instead, select a different tool from the toolsets available at that step or reexamine the situation to make sure you have correctly identified the type of problem. 

The Parent’s Toolshop describes the tools in general ways, the way we apply them to most children most of the time. Sometimes, certain tools need to be applied in special ways if children are very young or much older. The chapters explain these exceptions in a special Tips for Tots and Teens section or in separate paragraphs with the age range in bold type. If you don’t have a child of that age, feel free to skip over these sections. You can benefit, however, from doing all the exercises, even if they don’t apply to your child’s age.

5.  Practice the skills in all your relationships. The tools in The Parent’s Toolshop work to the extent we practice them. Since the tools are human relationship skills, they are useful in any setting—at work, with friends, relatives, strangers, a spouse or other partner. Instead of shifting from one approach in one setting, to another in other settings, choose particular tools based on the individual circumstances of the relationship or situation. You will be more consistent and effective in all your relationships and will see just how effective the tools are. The Parent’s Toolshop uses terms that fit parenting relationships, but you can change the words parent and child to make the Universal Blueprint fit any relationship. 

Two Graduates’ Comments. I learned some of these communication and listening skills in training programs at work. I can’t believe it didn’t occur to me to modify them for use at home with my kids! — Bill Stanley

I  started using the F-A-X Listening process with my employees and was amazed how well it works! I kept the ball in their court and asked questions that helped them solve their own problems. My employees are showing increased self-confidence, motivation, and self-reliance. These skills are G–R–E–A–T! — Bryan Belden

6.  Be willing to change first. This course stresses your self-improvement, but you must be willing to change. Don’t say, “When my child (or someone else) does ____, then I will change.” The only person you can really control or change is you. Take responsibility for your own growth and start using the skills. This will set the wheels of change in motion. If you control your emotions, actions, perceptions, and words, others often respond in more positive ways. This is called the ripple effect. When you drop a pebble into a pond, ripples start at the middle, expanding outward. Any time one person in a family changes, it is like dropping a pebble in the family pond. There is always some change; it’s the natural law of cause and effect.

Graduate’s Story. The first night of a parenting class, a mother was upset that she had to come to a class, because it was her son who was misbehaving. She stayed for the class and tried to have an open-minded attitude. The following week, she arrived for class with a personal letter for me:

Dear Jody,

When I left class last week, I felt rather discouraged. Andrew and I had been having communication problems for the last couple of years and they seemed to be escalating. I wanted him to take the class so he could see that I was not the “bad” person and that my point-of-view was for his own best interests. What a surprise! I was the one who had to adjust!


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After I arrived home, Andrew started asking me about the class, which somehow got on to a discussion of curfew and other rules. Rather than get angry and tell him what he had to do (my normal response), I listened to him and asked a few pertinent questions. All week long I did this, rather than argue with him and try to win. Amazing! He not only started opening up to me, but also did chores around the house that I never told him to do! My son is a good kid and is very capable. I just needed to trust him more and give him the chance to show me just how capable he is. Thanks.

Two weeks later she gave me another letter:

 For the past three weeks, my son and I have had the most peaceful times in years! I was the one that needed changing! But it hasn’t been as great an adjustment or as hard as I thought it would be. I know that I basically am teaching myself the concepts, but if you hadn’t had the forethought or the ideas to begin with, I wouldn’t be this much further ahead. Thanks for all your efforts, from the bottom of my heart. — Mary K.

7.  Have realistic expectations. To prevent discouragement, there are several things you can expect and not expect:

    1. Expect temporary setbacks. Human growth and development involves testing and mistakes. Whether children learn from their mistakes and correct their behavior often depends on the reaction they get. The tools in The Parent’s Toolshop help us prevent or quickly redirect these normal problem behaviors. Don’t be surprised, however, if you think you’ve stopped a particular behavior, only to have it reappear later. Children often forget what they’ve learned, especially when they are busy learning other skills at a new developmental stage. These regressions are normal and usually temporary if handled appropriately.
    2. Expect to develop more patience. Patience is not something we can buy off a shelf, nor is it a skill that can be taught. However, after learning the tools in The Parent’s Toolshop, most parents feel they have more patience. Why? When we understand why a problem exists and we have more tools to use, it takes longer to run out of patience.
    3. Expect to develop “healthy paranoia.” I often joke that I have a contagious virus that people catch once they start learning the language of effective parenting. They become infected with a condition I call healthy paranoia. They are more aware of their words, attitudes, thoughts, and actions. They start catching their mistakes when they make them, or even before the words get out of their mouths! This awareness is a positive sign that we are becoming conscious parents. Healthy paranoia not only reveals negative habits; it also shows us the many positive habits we already have. This, too, is important to know because it provides us with a foundation on which we can build.
    4. Expect to develop response-ability. Being a conscious parent also means responding in a planned or thought-out way. Reactions allow children to control situations and the parent’s emotions. Then, parents feel justified in blaming children for causing their emotions. Response-ability means we consider our options and choose a response.
    5. Don’t expect perfection. Once healthy paranoia sets in, you become aware of mistakes you made in the past and in the present. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Remind yourself that you did the best you could at the time, with the knowledge and skills you had. Use your past mistakes to increase your present effectiveness. Ask yourself, “What did I learn from this?” and “What would I do if it happened again today?” At whatever point you catch yourself, put the Universal Blueprint to work. Eliminate the discouraging words rightwronggood, and bad from your vocabulary. Instead, view choices as more effective and less effective. Remember, mistakes are a natural part of any learning process, and everyone makes them when learning new skills, including you and your children.


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Accept the fact that you are not a perfect parent, will never be a perfect parent, and don’t want to be a perfect parent. Perfect parents believe they have nothing new to learn. Children don’t want perfect parents. They want human parents who are honest about their mistakes and can model what to do to correct them. What we do after a mistake often makes a greater impression on others than the mistake itself. If you tend to expect perfection of yourself, read the following affirmation. If you are alone, read it out loud. The spoken word is far more powerful than a thought.

Declaration of Imperfection 

I, now, allow myself to be an imperfect parent; one who makes mistakes and is sometimes wrong. I know I have made mistakes in the past and am sure to make more in the future. That’s okay. While I am not happy about my mistakes, I am not afraid of them. Instead, I strive to learn what I can from the experience to improve myself in the future. When I catch a mistake, I correct myself respectfully. I pick myself up and don’t put myself down. As I become a better and better parent, I won’t make the same mistakes too often—but, I still won’t be a perfect parent. That’s okay, because my goal is continual improvement, not perfection.

 8. If at first you don’t succeed, figure out why and try again. Parents often see immediate results when they use the Universal Blueprint and its tools, but there are never any guarantees when human behavior is involved. Most of the tools in The Parent’s Toolshop have been used by parents, recommended by professionals, and have proven their long-term effectiveness for several decades. If you don’t see results, consider the six reasons a tool might not work immediately. Apply the following suggestions and try again.

a.  Choose the best tool for the job.  

It’s important to have more than one tool at our disposal. A hammer and screwdriver are both effective, useful tools. If we want to put a nail in a wall, a hammer is the best tool to use. If we use a screwdriver, we are choosing an ineffective tool for the job.*

Some parents only have one tool and use it for every problem. Parents of toddlers tend to use spanking or timeout for every misbehavior. When a child spills milk, the parents says, “Go into timeout” instead of handing the child a towel to clean up the mess. Parents of teens tend to use restrictions or grounding for every misbehavior. Whatever happens, the parent declares, “That’s it! You’re grounded for a week!” This may not resolve the problems the misbehavior caused and having a teen stuck in the house for a week may be punishment for the parent!

Each tool in The Parent’s Toolshop accomplishes a certain goal. To achieve the best results, we use the tool in situations where we are trying to accomplish that goal. The Universal Blueprint is a decision-making process for identifying the type of problem we are facing so we can choose the most appropriate tool. If a tool doesn’t work, we refer to the Universal Blueprint to make sure we have properly identified the type of problem and chosen the best tool for the situation.

b.  Use the tools in the proper order.

If we choose a hammer for this job but don’t put the nail on the wall first, we will only hit the wall, since the nail isn’t even there! The proper order of the steps is to put the nail on the wall, then hit it with the hammer.


  • This analogy refers to hitting a nail with a hammer to illustrate similar mistakes parents may make. It in no way implies that we hit children.


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While this tool analogy seems ridiculous (who would ever forget to put the nail against the wall first?), this is a common mistake in parenting responses. Some tools work best if parents use them after other tools. For example, if we express our concerns without acknowledging the other person’s perspective first, we often get defensive reactions. Before we discipline, we must break any power or revenge cycles, or the discipline will escalate the cycle.

c.  Use the tool properly. 

If we try to use the claw side of the hammer, it will be harder to get the nail in quickly and straight. The proper way to use the hammer is to use the flat head.

Many parenting tools are easy to misuse, so every tool has instructions for its most effective use. If we select the most appropriate tool for a situation but it doesn’t seem to work, we consider how we used it. Our attitude, body language, and tone of voice all influence the effectiveness of a tool. Look at your behavior and listen to your words the way the other person would.

d.  Use the tools consistently, long enough for change to occur.

To hammer a nail into a wall, we must hit it several times before it is completely in the wall. If the nail doesn’t go in after the first strike, it doesn’t mean the hammer doesn’t work or the nail is defective. Our first attempts made progress, but it takes time to reach our final goal.

While people often see results from using these tools, change is not always quick. Usually, small changes come before more obvious changes, just as the small ripples in a pond occur before the larger ones. Change can take place on the inside, without any obvious change on the outside. If it has taken some time for a problem to develop, it is realistic to expect it to take some time to resolve. Be patient and consistent. The other person may need time to rebuild trust, break old habits, and learn proper behavior. If this approach makes sense to you and you believe in the value of the skills, give the tools a chance to work. Look for small changes to reassure yourself that you’re on the right track.

e.  Examine your beliefs; they can change the effectiveness of the tool.

It is harder to hammer a nail into wood than plasterboard. If we believe the nail is being stubborn, we might feel angry or frustrated and pound the hammer more wildly. In reality, wood is more difficult to penetrate. Knowing this, we make more firm, controlled impacts.

Many of us have commonly accepted, but inaccurate, beliefs. Here are three examples:

  • If parents believe discipline has to make children feel bad, their tone of voice and behavior will be hurtful. This will turn the discipline into punishment, which is ineffective and causes resentment.
  • If parents believe all toddlers’ misbehavior is intentional, they may angrily punish children who display age-appropriate misbehavior. Since the parents didn’t teach the children better skills, the children don’t improve their behavior as quickly and the parents get more frustrated and angry—a negative behavior cycle continues.
  • If parents believe all teens are rebellious, they may be impatient and critical of the teens’ efforts to become their own persons. Teens sense this distrust and feel more discouraged and resentful, which can lead to rebellion—a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Expect to have some of your current beliefs about parenting challenged. Once we are more
conscious of our beliefs, it’s easier to tell if they are interfering with our effectiveness.


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            f.  Look for a deeper problem.                       

If we are trying to hammer a nail into a surface that is hiding a brick wall, we might not understand, at first, why the nail won’t go in. Until we look for the reason the nail won’t go in, we won’t know the brick wall even exists! Once we know the brick wall is there, we can change the type of nail we are using. 

Immediate change is unlikely when a problem behavior is severe, has lasted a long time, or is the result of a medical condition or deep emotional hurt. (My brother’s problems are a good example.) Ineffective parenting methods only make matters worse. Effective parenting skills can prevent the problem from getting worse and help the child slowly work through the real issues causing the problem. This process takes time, but it is the only way any true, final healing can take place. In these cases, you may want to seek professional help. Therapy is helpful for issues such as deep emotional hurts, violent or self-destructive behavior, or problems that seem to persist despite your efforts to use these skills consistently for a significant period of time.

Keeping these suggestions in mind, we are ready to begin our detailed tour of The Parent’s Toolshop. Take things one step at a time and enjoy the tour! 



Myth/Truth quiz: Each statement is a common myth about parenting, so each is either totally or partially false. By the end of the book you will know why each statement is false and how to change it into a true statement. You will have a chance to rewrite each statement in the last chapter.



If you are ready to begin the full tour, turn the page to “Step A: Prevention Toolbox” and begin reading Chapter 2, “Foundation-Building Toolset.” There, we discuss our parenting goals, different parenting styles, and which parenting approach will best meet our long-term goals. Here we can make an attitude adjustment: from negative to positive, from controlling children to teaching children self-control, from doing too much for children to fostering children’s independence. We consider our own upbringing and the advice we get from others. Once we have accurate definitions, clear goals, and consciously choose our parenting style, we have a stable, positive, balanced foundation on which we can build a healthy family using the effective parenting tools throughout the rest of the book.