How To Be The Gentle Leader Your Child Needs

A frustrated, exhausted mom wants to treat her 3-year-old more gently and less punitively. Ironically, the way to do that may be to become a stronger leader.

The freedom we all feel deep within ourselves comes once we understand where we stand in the scheme of thingsMagda Gerber


On a day when I felt like I have failed as a parent, I found your blog. I have read and read and read — article and entry after entry after article — on gentle parenting, and I just don’t know if it is going to work.

I have a three year old daughter who on most days is difficult, to say the least. She screams, yells, hits, constantly interrupts, tantrums, tells us ‘no’, throws toys, refuses to listen….. There are shining moments when she is well behaved, listens and is wonderful, but it seems like they are few and far between.

I get frustrated. Very frustrated.

We also have an 8mo old son who demands my attention, and my daughter hates it. She is always saying that I HAVE to take care of her first then him. She loves her little brother until I need to give him attention.

We have done time out, toy taking, early bed time, spanking…. Everything that is “normal” to me having come from an authoritarian home . . . but it doesn’t work. Nothing works. The only thing that it does is make everyone involved feel like poo.

My house is chaos. My beautiful girl is not only miserable, but acts like she is scared of us because she hates punishment… our son senses the tension and it causes issues with him. And I feel like a failure as a parent.

I know you are probably swamped with e-mails, but I hope that you get a chance to read this and possibly help enlighten an exhausted momma, because I just don’t know what to do anymore.



Hi Kelly,

I’m sorry for all you are going through, that you are doubting yourself and getting discouraged.

It’s admittedly challenging for me to dive in and understand a family’s dynamics from the information in an email. So when I read I look for clues, and then I try to figure out why those things stand out. In your letter it was this: “she is always saying that I HAVE to take care of her first then him.” That statement, along with her being “miserable” and the fact that she “screams, yells, hits, and so on,” indicates to me that the balance of power between you and your daughter might not be as healthy as it could be. She seems to be under the impression that she can exert control in areas that aren’t hers to lead. She sounds unsettled and uncomfortable, and your responses, interventions, and disciplinary measures seem to be unsettling her even more, rather than easing her mind, addressing her need to test her power, and helping her to feel safe, nested, more comfortable and free.

So, how can we help?

Be a gentle leader
Children need to know without a doubt that their parents are their leaders. This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to get a little confused in this area, especially with a strong, bright and verbal child (I’ve been there).

Sometimes a reticence to set clear boundaries stems from being raised in an overly strict home. Perhaps there is a fear of being too authoritarian and repeating patterns of response that our parents modeled — responses that felt unloving, disconnecting or even abusive. Or, sometimes the parent is simply inexperienced at establishing healthy boundaries.

But when we don’t make it clear that we are the loving leaders of the house by setting reasonable, consistent limits and taking control, our child has no choice but to feel out of control.

Believe it or not, your daughter isn’t comfortable being in the position of saying, “you HAVE to take care of me first” (which is very different from saying, “I want you to take care of me first!”) She doesn’t want the power that implies. It makes her feel unsafe and uneasy to be 3 years old and making those kinds of statements, but this isn’t something she’s consciously aware of, so it’s difficult for us to see, too.

This out of control feeling leads to more out of control behavior, hence the screams, yells, hits, etc., which then make parents feel out of control. Rather than leading confidently, we might react out of anger, frustration and desperation. We might resort to trying to regain control through punishments like spankings and disciplinary tactics like time-out that result in even more rebellion and disconnectedness. This makes us feel like failures.

Family life is easier and less chaotic for everyone when we are all clear about our roles. So, how do we do that?

1) Set limits calmly, firmly, gently, early
By setting limits early, I mean making situations as clear as possible for your daughter before she even begins to act out. This clarity helps parents, too, because those well-defined boundaries keep us feeling on top of the situation and prevent us from reaching our wit’s end — getting frustrated and angry and resorting to punishments. Here’s an example:

You say to your daughter, “I’m getting ready to feed the baby and put him to bed. I’ll be busy with him for the next half hour. If you need something, I can get it now.”

Then after getting her what she needs (a book from the shelf, a snack, whatever), give her a choice. “You can sit in the room with us very quietly or go to your room and play.” You might even ask, “What will you do in your room while I’m busy?”

Let’s say she chooses staying with you quietly, but doesn’t end up being able to manage it and she’s whiny. “I know it’s hard to wait while I’m busy with the baby, but I need your help. I want you to go to your room and play or look at books until we’re finished. Then I’ll have time to be with you.”

Then let’s say she tries to hit you. You hold her hand. “I won’t let you hurt me. I see you’re upset. You can go to your room and hit your pillows, but I won’t let you hit me.”

As strong as your daughter sounds, I imagine she has (and will continue to have) intense negative reactions when you set limits. Don’t be uncomfortable with that. View the yelling, screaming and crying as healthy and positive releases for her. It’s hard being a toddler and really hard also being a big sister and having to share your parents with someone small, adorable and needy. Acknowledge her feelings whenever possible. “I know it’s hard for you when I’m busy with the baby. It’s so hard and upsetting to have to wait, but I know you can do it.”

Try to relax – or, at least, seem relaxed — and maintain composure even if she’s exploding. Eventually, when she knows you mean what you say and she’s unable to rattle you, she’ll settle into a routine of occupying herself when you are busy with the baby.

I went through something similar with my intense and assertive eldest daughter after my second baby was born. She was 4 years old and would complain, cry, scream and howl when I needed time to feed her sister and put her to bed, which used to take me a whole hour. It was a scene for several days. Finally, she discovered on her own that she could spend that time playing in her room with her dollhouse, and that became her self-chosen routine while I was focusing on her sister. I’ve no doubt that a lot of wild things happened in that dollhouse!

2) Acknowledge her point-of-view, but don’t argue it.
When your daughter expresses her disagreement with the situation, especially if her statement begins with “you have to”, acknowledge it calmly, look beyond it to what she’s feeling when there’s time, but don’t argue (‘no, I don’t have to’), negotiate or otherwise give it power. Your short answer might be something along the lines of a sincere, “Thank you for your opinion, but here’s the plan…” A longer response might delve deeper into acknowledging her feelings, which with a new sibling can include anger and grief over the loss of the one-on-one relationship with the parent. Still, make it clear that you hear her feelings, but that you are making the plan. She needs empathy, but not the kind of “poor baby” sympathy that makes us go soft on behavior limits. In fact, for a child in transition, consistent, firm boundaries are even more vital.

3) Ask her to help.
Help fulfill her healthy needs for autonomy, competence and participation by asking for her assistance with the baby (and anything else) whenever possible.

4) Give reassurance, one-on-one attention and gratitude.
Assure her that her needs will always be met, even though it won’t always be in her perfect time. And don’t forget to provide periods of undivided attention that she can look forward to regularly. Most importantly, don’t forget to thank her for the “shining moments when she is well behaved, listens and is wonderful.”

Hopefully these suggestions will help your daughter understand that her opinions and feelings are always welcome and understood, but family decisions (like whose needs are being met when), will always be made by you, no matter how much she objects. This should help ease her mind (and at least some of the chaos you’re dealing with!).

Please keep me posted!



At last! I’ve created the No Bad Kids Master Course to give you all the tools and perspective you need to not only understand  and respond effectively to your children’s behavior but also build positive, respectful, relationships with them for life! Check out all the details at ♥



Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Janet, if you didn’t already know this, I LOVE YOU! Thank you for this post because I could have written that mother’s letter. I think all of the frustration I have had with my daughter over the last 6 months may be due to this same imbalance.

    My husband says she needs more discipline, time outs etc. I am so uncomfortable with that approach, but I know she needs boundaries. Because our daughter is so smart, she actually confuses me sometimes. When I try to set limits, she re-negotiates & I stumble & sometimes give in – creating confusion for her!

    Arrrgh. You advice is so well-times & so needed. Thank you, thank you. I am going to try a new approach today.
    With gratitude,

    1. Gina, you are so lovely… Thanks for such kind words and it makes me feel wonderful to be able to be of some help. The smartness definitely makes things trickier. Girls like her need even more assurance that the adults are in control. I was afraid that I would discourage my daughter in some way by rising above her demands, but it really does turn out to be the opposite. The child feels completely relieved to to know that she is not the one in charge, relieved of self-imposed responsibility. Don’t let your daughter negotiate with you about your job. Engage in disagreements with her about what colors look better together or something like that….not about the rules you impose!
      All my best,

      1. Hi Gina and Janet,

        I think you both are wonderful and thoughtful. But I don’t agree with this approach and I’m very curious to know when you change from having “rules that you impose” on a three year old to working with your children to figure out how to make things work for everyone? Or don’t you? I mean this can only go on for so long as they get older, is the idea that they just know to follow your rules? I really want, ideally, kids who do speak up. kids who do notice discrepencies kids who do want to problem solve. kids who do feel heard and not just in a “thank you for telling me but…” way. it sounds dismissive to me. and when to we take a step back and look at what we’re doing and reevaluate it? i had to make a bunch of changes to figure out how things flowed best. my son, two years younger than my daughter goes to bed after her every night. by at least a half or to an hour. trying to do it otherwise and being a leader who has rules that have to be followed didn’t work for anyone. we had to see what everyone’s needs were (each child’s and my own) and come up with a plan. often i have to step back and be creative and reevaluate. i don’t see it as being permissive as i do see it as being considerate. and of course i’m not letting anyone hit me or anyone else. This post makes a lot of sense to me:

        1. I see your point, but I think the information in the link your provided is more suitable for older children. When you make that change from rules that you impose to working with your child to find a suitable compromise for all will depend on the child. It would also be interesting to know what would happen if your child just decided to not care what you think, and to continue doing a behaviour that is clearly against your values. What then? Just my opinion.

        2. Hi Jennifer,

          I’ve had to ponder your question, “when does it change?” because I have not made any conscious changes in my approach…and my children are now 21, 16 and 12. Since they were babies, we had flexible issues we’d reevaluate…and non negotiables. But it’s tough to even remember the last time I’ve needed to consider these things with my children, because they are secure and confident and have only very rarely had the need to test our leadership. I think the last time looked like a daughter treating us somewhat rudely, which made sense, because she was gearing up to leave the nest for college. Our response was to understand and rise above this behavior, let it roll off our backs, let it go (but also not jump to her commands).

          Our children have learned that we are hugely accepting and also adore them enough to say no to some things. They learned long ago that they have the loving leaders they need.

          As you know, Jennifer, I work with parents and toddlers. I’ve observed parents and toddlers interacting for 19 years now and learned a great deal. Some parents have great difficulty seeing beyond their child’s resistance. But when we take behavior at face value we miss its true meaning… and when children aren’t getting the leadership they need, tests will continue to crop up well past the toddler years.

          Jennifer, it sounds like you agree with “no hitting” as a rule. Do you not impose this rule? Are there any other rules that are non negotiable in your home?

          1. Chana Leah says:

            Jennifer, I definitely agree that we need to take our children’s wants and needs into consideration, and we need to let them speak up respectfully when they feel the need to.
            I think that what Janet is saying here is a bit different. A 3-year old should not have the power to boss us around. She should not say (at least in an ideal world), “Mommy, you MUST let go of the baby and take care of me first”. Obviously the toddler still needs to be taken care of, as Janet suggests, preempting it by saying “I will feed the baby soon, what can I do for you before that?” But they should not run the show.
            Of course we all need to step back and reevaluate, but in a way that teaches a child that they must respect us and that we respect them, not in a way that gives them full control.

        3. Jennifer – after reading your link, one of the many flaws I see in Gordon’s approach is that children are asked to behave in order to please their parents. But children (particular toddlers and preschoolers) cannot be expected to want to please us all the time…and it’s dangerous for parents to believe they should, because that can create enormous frustration and anger. Children need us to look out for them far more carefully than that, in my opinion. I also find Gordon’s repeated comparison of his relationship with his wife to that of a parent and child way off-base and even a bit laughable. Children need different things from us than Gordon needs from his wife. They need leaders. Leadership doesn’t mean speaking to children in a disrespectful, robotic manner, as Gordon suggests.

          But I don’t mean to knock something that is working for you, Jennifer.

  2. Janet –
    Thank you for a wonderful answer, and for including me in your links. I think this really is a situation almost every parent can relate to at some point and you (as usual) gave a fantastic response. I think it is a common misperception that “gentle parenting” or “positive parenting” is the same as “permissive parenting”. Once people grasp the difference, it makes gentle, positive parenting much more effective. Thanks again for being an inspiring “Mommy Mentor” for so many of us!

    1. Thanks, Amanda. Hmmm…”Mommy Mentor”…I like that!

  3. Wow – I love this advice. My son uses the same expression: ”Mummy, you HAVE to take care of me”, ”Mummy, you HAVE to come and play with me”. I thought he might have just been copying me as I say to him: ”You HAVE to put your shoes on.” etc. Whatever the reason he uses that expression, it irks me no end, and now I feel I have some strategies to help me deal with it and the chaotic situations our family sometimes finds itself in. Thanks very much for taking the time to respond to the mother who wrote as I feel I now have my own personal advice too!

  4. THank you for posting this, Janet. And Kelly, I can relate to you. I have similar issues with my first daughter now that I’ve got a 4 month old baby. THe difference is my daughter is 17 year old and the things that your 3 year old daughter says to you, my 17 year old says to me. At the moment she is studying out of town, but when she comes home for a break, things don’t always go according to plans. My teenager still refuses to call her sister by her name, she refers to her as “your baby”. It hurts and it’s difficult to deal with, but we’re not giving up.

  5. Janet,

    Thank you for the response, I am so grateful that I found this site and some insight into ideas that I have not tried yet. I have been working very hard to have a calmer approach with my daughter in the time since I sent that message. It seems to be helping a bit, at least for me, but Kat is still having some adjustment issues. I will be trying all of these ideas and passing them on to my in-laws who care for Kat during the day while I am at work. We want to start doing mommy and me time when my husband gets home from work, but we need to work around my work schedule, which consists of two jobs.

    It feels good to see the responses on here and know that I am not alone and that we can get past this and move on to being a happier healthier family.

    Thank you again.


    1. Hi Kelly! Wow, you do have a lot on your plate right now. Be good to yourself. Adjustment issues are normal and to be expected.

      Thanks again for allowing me to post your note and please keep in touch!

    2. Oh wow! That is definitely a lot going on, no wonder she is up in arms!

      Good luck mama and I wish you all the best.

  6. Thanks for this wonderful post. I always look forward to reading your advice and this post is very helpful because I’ve been dealing with similar issues with my three year old and 13 month old.

    I am curious what you recommend doing when the older sibling intentionally hurts the younger child. My older daughter often finds ways to push or hit her baby sister even though I tell her I won’t let her. I tried short time-outs, telling her that if she couldn’t be safe then I’d have to put her somewhere where she couldn’t hurt her sister. They haven’t been very effective, however. I think my older child is still developing impulse control and she still feels a lot of resentment toward her baby sister for taking away my “mattention” (as she calls it.) Lately I’ve just been giving attention to her baby sister when she is crying because she’s been pushed. That usually causes my older daughter to yell and cry for my attention. I tell her that she’s feeling jealous and her feelings are okay, but it’s never okay to hit. She usually answers by saying she likes to hit her sister. Do you have any recommendations for this kind of situation?

    I guess I should also note that I do give her 30 minutes of “special time” every day, where she directs the play. She’s also in the process of giving up her nap so she’s sometimes tired and cranky.


    1. Thanks, Caitlin!

      First, I would do all I could to maintain the nap routine, even if it’s just “quiet time” (but positive quiet time, not a punishment!)

      Second, I would give the hitting a lot less attention, because it sound’s like it has become (or is becoming) a source of negative attention. I am not a believer in time out for a lot of reasons, and one is that it gives too much attention to the misbehavior. The behavior goes from being a small infraction (and hitting and pushing is a common one between siblings) to a major event. Even spending half a minute dealing with the aftermath of the behavior can give it too much power.

      If the hitting and pushing is habitual, I would just try to be there to block it whenever possible and say a very brief, matter-of-fact and confident sounding “I won’t let you hit.” If you don’t get there in time, you could say, “I don’t want you to hit”, or “please don’t hit” (but not with a pleading tone!) Then if the baby is upset, acknowledge her feelings, “Your sister hit you and it hurt” and give comfort, but don’t make a drama out of it. Project confidence and the sense that you are in control (even if you don’t feel that way…act as if). Then, after the moment has passed ask your daughter calmly, “Were you needing my attention? We’ll have our together time in an hour (or whatever) and I’m really looking forward to it.”

      When you do have time together, you might talk to her about her feelings and even about the hitting. “It’s hard for you to have a baby sister because she takes so much of my time. I know you don’t like her sometimes and that’s perfectly understandable, but I don’t want you to hit or hurt her. Please let me know that you are upset or unhappy another way.” You might even ask her to help you figure out a secret signal she could give you, a hand signal or word she could say to let you know that she’s upset about sharing you with the baby. When she does it you can wink or nod or have some other signal back to her to show that you understand.

      I also recommend giving the baby a gated in safe play space. Big sister can join her if she follows the rules about no hitting or hurting. That also allows your older girl to keep her own play things separate when she wants to, choose what she wants to share with the baby, etc.

      1. Thanks, Janet. I think you are right and I’ve been giving too much attention to the misbehavior. I really appreciate that you took the time to answer my question and gave me specific language that I can use with my children. I find it helps if I practice saying things when the kids aren’t around so I don’t have the same knee-jerk reactions when they do sometime I don’t want them to.

  7. Thank you for so many things Janet. Thank you for the reminder that a mother can be both gentle and authoritative, we do not have to use an abrasive tone and harsh words to get our point across. When I am exhausted from 8 months of waking every 2 hours with my son, I will remember to be more gentle and kind to my 2.5 year old daughter, she is after all the other light in my life.

    Thank you for sharing your honest experience, it is so important to know that we all have hurdles to overcome, and that even great leaders are a work in progress.

    Thank you for reminding me to show gratitude, It is so easy to overlook ‘good’ behavior and be frustrated when our children do not conform to our idea of how things should go.

    Thanks for so much more.

  8. I´m much better at giving limits and being the one in charge with my 4-year old. I learned a lot reading your blog Janet and sometimes, in the middle of a crisis, I ask myself ¨What would Janet say about this?¨ It always reminds me of being firm and gentle, and setting the limits I didn´t use to.

  9. Hello Janet. It has been a long time since I have had the opportunity to participate. As I have mentioned before, my son is fully grown now and on his own. When he was young I did employ that gentle leadership and am very happy to have done so.

    Over the years I caught a lot of flack from family and friends who found me strict and authoritative. I may have had my moments, I certainly was not a perfect parent then, nor am I today, but I always believed that a child needs disipline and leadership. Being a spritual man, I also rely heavily on my faith system to guide me in both my convictions and my actions.

    I am the same today. Only last week I spent some time with my twenty-five year sharing some foresight he has yet to understand. He always listens with interest and consideration. He doesn’t always agree, but he does understand that I will never let him walk off a cliff if I see the edge. He and I agree that we enjoy a healthy father-son relationship that has only evolved over the years, but never really changed.

    I can frequently relate to the concerns of the young parent just starting out even though mine is out and making his own way. I am lucky to have the son I have and I could not ask for a better relationship with him. The one we we enjoy in adult life is the same one we fostered and nurtured from the the earliest years. Most importantly to me, it was one he and I developed together from the very beginning.

    I always enjoy the colloquy between you and your followers and I thank you for the opportunity to participate.

    Warm regards,

  10. I needed this post today. Thank you. My 5 year old son is strong and spirited to say the least, and I struggle daily to parent him gently while still letting him know our boundaries. Everything about time outs and spanking and authoritarian discipline feels wrong to me, but it’s advice I get frequently when it comes to parenting Aiden. His brother is equally strong, but in different ways and I find it infinitely easier to be patient with him and not let myself get frustrated. We are expecting our third child in a few weeks, and I know this time of transition is going to be extra difficult for Aiden even though he is excited for a baby sister. I am bookmarking this post so my husband and I can come back to it often!

  11. Janet you are amazing! I’m a recently passed Montessori teacher and your articles link the gap for me between 0-2.5 year olds!! I love it… And taken all on board as u make sense .. It’s always about the child and respecting them. They are just little people … Love it!!! ESP article on clinging babies. It’s really settled me x

    1. Congratulations, Sam! And thank you so much for the shout-out!

  12. Dear Janet,
    This is a great post and just what I needed! I stumbled upon your blog recently and have been reading your articles whenever I have free time from my 3yo son & 2 mo baby daughter. And this describes our ongoing situation with my son and his transition into being a big brother.. he’s a sensitive and tender little fellow, and I’ve been trying to implement your parenting strategies ever since! Thank God it’s starting to work and his tantrums are reducing in strength & slowly turning into more manageable sessions, look forward to reading all your articles!
    Thank you from around the world!

  13. Janet, I realize this post has been up for a while, but I want to ask a follow up question, as we have a very similar situation in our house. In the scenario you outline, if the older sibling hits and throws a tantrum while I am putting the younger sibling to bed, then what? Remove older sibling from the baby’s room? I very much want my older son to play by himself in his room when I am putting his sister to bed, but he does distracting things, hits me or his sister, is generally loud and disruptive, and then I end up letting him watch a television show while I put her down. I can’t have him having a tantrum while I try to put her to bed; she won’t go to sleep and they will both be in tears (or all three of us!) Any thoughts? I should also mention he is in a fearful stage (he is almost 4 and this has gone on for over a year) and doesn’t like to be by himself. I just discovered your blog and am very intrigued- I hope calmer, gentle parenting will be something I can work towards.

    1. Abby, do not react to the tantrum, just allow it, and try to ignore the “distracting things”. Firmly prevent him hitting by blocking him or holding his hands. Accept this behavior as normal and do all you can to stay calm. Try not to break down… Your little guy’s fears are probably the result of him not sensing your confidence surrounding giving him boundaries (possibly exacerbated by things he’s exposed to on TV). Your calm, benevolent leadership (which also means trying not to break down and cry when his behavior is difficult) will give your boy the feeling of safety he’s missing.
      Does this make sense?

  14. It sounds to me what that three year old needs, is asking for, is more attention, not to be told to go play quietly in her room while mummy looks after the baby! She had all mum’s attention, then along came this baby, who suddenly (to her eyes) seems more important than her. She’s feeling displaced and unloved, and no amount of setting limits is going to help that.

    If mum is unavailable for a large portion of the day, working two jobs, that is only going to make it worse. Put baby in a sling and go do things with the toddler. Don’t get upset at her for making noise around the baby, encourage her to be as close to mum and baby as you can. Try to accomodate her needs and requests (even if she phrases them in ways that you aren’t comfortable with, she’s three, no matter how literate she seems, she’s still learning the subtlties of language). The more her own needs are met (first if possible), the more patience she will have for the times when they can’t be. If she knows mum is giving her needs as much importance as those of the baby, then she will be better able to pass that consideration on to her sibling.

    I have a daughter who is very like this. She has BIG needs, and quite often, she needs them NOW. I’ve tried everything over the years, time out (made her afraid to ever be alone, I wouldn’t recomend it to anyone), setting firm limits, consequences, you name it, we tried it. Nothing worked, because my daughters needs weren’t being met. Once I started making that a priority, the rest fell into place. She’s 8 now, and a beautiful girl, who is great at considering other’s needs.

    1. Rinelle, I’m glad this worked out for you. I agree with your first paragraph about the intense feelings children usually have surrounding a new sibling, but splitting attention between the two children all the time doesn’t serve either child’s needs, in my opinion. Is the baby always expected to sleep in the sling rather than in a comfortable bed? Don’t both the baby and the toddler deserve some one-on-one attention?

      Your way of thinking also assumes that the toddler cannot accept a very reasonable limit…and suggests that the expression of her feelings surrounding the baby are to be placated or avoided rather than encouraged. What I have found with 3 children is that when the new baby is treated with respect, the older children learn on a deep level that they are respected, too.

  15. Janet, Your advice is flawless–in a very flawed business–is that possible.
    Outstanding advice. On my post two days ago one of the commenters was almost shocked at my use of the word authority, and wanted my definition and had questions about all those those bossy words: power, accountability, etc.
    “Authoritative” was supposed to replace authoritarian, but the distinction is lost on most people–just more jargon.
    You nail it with “Leadership.” It transcends ambivilence about authority. Kids needs gentle leaders–perfect.
    Thank you.

  16. Janet,
    thank you for this discussion on leadership. I’ve been trying to be unruffled and respectful with my one year old with the help of your posts. I NEED your posts! I originally struggled with setting limits and restricting what I felt was my baby’s right to freedom. I wanted to be gentle, but didn’t understand the importance of limits. This post shined light on some things I need to look out for-I think I may fall into the “poor baby” syndrome sometimes when I change my mind and let my daughter do something that I originally said no to.
    One question, while we are allowing our children to have their feelings and voice them, when/how do we teach them to use words respectfully and kindly? I’m asking because in my family, children (actually anyone but especially children) aren’t allowed to say, “I hate you!” Or anything along those lines (what we would call bratty behavior). How do we go from respecting our toddlers’ voice to teaching them to use words kindly?

  17. So after reading, “When Respect Becomes Indulgence”, I see that we should not prevent children from sharing their emotions. But I’m having trouble differentiating between a child expressing feelings and being rude or mean with words…fearing I will create a teen who is disrespectful to others.

  18. Thanks for this post, and your others on boundaries. Most articles on gentle parenting are about how to be gentle. That’s the part that comes easy for me! The hard part is setting firm limits.

    Lately my toddler has been ordering me around and I’ve been wondering how to teach him that while I respect his feelings, he’s not the boss! Thanks for your clear advice!

  19. Kelly’s letter really resonated with me. While reading “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee” I have recently discovered my “yetzer hara” which is to think, rethink, and think again about something before making a decision. It drives my mother crazy. In many facets of my life this has been wonderful but in parenting, in the moments of frustration and desperation, it is paralyzing. I cannot think, “what would Janet say?” without becoming “paralyzed.” Instead, I have adopted a phrase from one of my friends – “Be Unflappable.”

  20. I love this! What if, during the putting the baby to sleep scenario, the child refuses to leave to go play in the bed room quietly? My boy wouldn’t hit or loudly whine but he would just sit in utter defiance while I’m stuck on the bed nursing my 1/2 asleep baby (who will wake up entirely should I move). I feel like lately I’ve been trapped with my boy straight up refusing things like that. And there’s nothing I can do. We don’t allow throwing toys in the living room (outside and in the bedroom, only) and he is constantly doing so. That is the only example I can think of off the top of my head! But it happens daily. I find myself lost and tempted to use punishment to “teach him to obey” (I rarely actually do that, though). I end up caving or loosing my temper! I hope this makes sense.

  21. This is my favorite part….
    “Thank you for your opinion, but here’s the plan…”
    Love it!

  22. Amazing advice… My daughter is so strong willed and has moments of angel but a lot of devil moments…. Such hard work.

    How would you advise dealing with her when we are at a restaurant and she starts acting like a really manic child…almost resembles a severely ADHD child sometimes. I struggle with keeping her calm when I need her to be when in public!

  23. I feel like I could have written the letter above. My daughter has many of the same behavioral traits as the daughter mentioned above.I feel the same way as the mother does and I have taken many of the same routes in disciplinary action as she and nothing changed either. Thank you for your response to her letter it helps me feel I am not alone in my feelings. I will take the advice and put it to work. Our situations may differ in the fact that I don’t have a second child but my daughter has two older sisters from her dad’s previous relationship.Thanks again for your words of encouragement.

  24. Hi Janet,

    Do you have advise for how to remain firm/calm while getting your child (my son is 4 1/2, so not a toddler) to cooperate and do things he must do like getting dressed for school, getting ready for bed, etc. He CAN do all of these things for himself, and sometimes he will do them without a battle, but when he doesn’t want to– how do we get him to cooperate without it causing a battle or power struggle? He seems to give my husband a particularly difficult time with these activities. I think he really likes to test my husband to see if “drama” will ensue.
    Thank you!

  25. Getting 2-4 year olds to cooperate can be so tricky, my 2 1/2 year old has been really challenging lately and I’ve lost my cool at times. But Spanking???
    I believe hitting a child is NEVER OK. It’s not ok for me to hit another adult, why would it be ok to hit a tiny, vulnerable and impressionable child? Violence against children is damaging and sets a really bad example.
    If we demonstrate to our kids how we can control ourselves, they can learn to do the same.
    When I’ve lost my temper, my daughter kept testing me more than ever to see if it would happen again.
    By keeping calm and in control we can reassure them we are capable leaders.

  26. Long time lurker, first time commenter here.

    Thank you SO much for your wonderful posts Janet. You don’t spout off fluffy advice and leave us scratching our heads on how to implement things…you walk us through it and give specific words and examples of what we can say. Thank you for this.

    Pam…the last poster plucked my question out of my brain and was so kind as to type it up without me having to do anything…so I second her question. What can we to in those cases?

    Thank you so much for everything you do. Your quality articles are fresh air in a niche that has SO many opinions and approaches.

    Thank you again!

  27. I just wanted to send some words of support to Kelly! I have a 1.5 year old and a 2.5 year old. My eldest is EXTREMELY verbal, bright, and strong willed. I am trying my best to parent respectfully, but fail miserably some days. Good luck and wishing you much patience 🙂

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