How To Handle Your Toddler’s Intensity

Hi Janet,

My son is 3 years old and is a very happy child! He is at a RIE accredited Montessori school since he was little. I’m a working mom.

I will never forget that after his first days at the infant room, his teacher told me that it was amazing how much he observed. His eyes did not stop moving one side to the other. She used the term busy but at that point and being a first time mom, it did not mean a lot to me…

During these 3 years I have learned that he has a feisty temperament. His level of energy is amazing! His joy is intense and his mood can also change fast. His level of energy scares me sometimes. It also makes me really tired and frustrated sometimes. He is very sweet but sometimes he hits me and my husband and our dog. He can really exhaust one. Sometimes my husband and I do not know how to handle his power. I do believe in the Montessori method and think it’s the best for him. Although many of our friends and family think he needs something more “conservative”. We disagree.

Please, if you can, can you give me any advice in how to handle & understand a feisty child and keep the harmony in the family?

Any books recommended?

Thanks so much in advance and congratulations on your work!


Hi Ninah,

Thanks so much for your kind words.

I would love to try to help. When I’m figuring out a response to notes like yours and have just a little snapshot of your life to go on, I look for clues… Here’s what I was struck by in your note:

“His level of energy scares me sometimes.”

I understand this, but if you are 3 years old and your mom is scared by your energy, that’s worrisome. No matter how scary he’s being, he needs you not to be frightened or even a little bit nervous. He needs to know that you and your husband are his calm, confident leaders, no matter what he throws at you (literally and figuratively). Be amazed and impressed by his energy, but not scared.

If your boy senses that you are scared or even frustrated, which he undoubtedly does, the anxiety that produces in him may even be cranking him up a notch or two. However, if you can be calm and unfettered in the face of his feistiness and mood changes, you’ll have a better chance of having a calming effect on him. I know that’s challenging, but he needs it. Think about projecting confidence and acceptance. Tap into your inner strength. Be his anchor.

“Sometimes he hits me and my husband and our dog.”

It’s totally in your power to prevent your son from doing those things. When you see him getting angry or frustrated, prepare to gently, but firmly stop him from hitting you. Hold his wrists if you must and let him know, “I won’t let you hit me. That hurts”. Try to stay calm and composed, don’t get angry. If he hits the dog because you couldn’t stop him in time, say, “I don’t want you to hit the dog. That hurts him.” Leave it at that. Don’t lecture. Be definitive, on top of it, almost nonchalant.

Imagine how scary it is for your little guy to not only have these powerful impulses, but to also be able to hurt his parents, hurt his dog, and make everyone frustrated and exhausted? That is a very uncomfortable amount of power for him to have. So, don’t give it to him.

Sometimes my husband and I do not know how to handle his power.”

The key is gaining perspective. Remember that your son is a tiny guy and you are adults. (It’s funny the way our children can seem so HUGE to us…I remember!) He won’t overpower you, so don’t be afraid of his feelings. Feelings are just feelings, they come and go.

Focus on keeping yourself, your dog and your son safe and offer healthy outlets for your son’s volatility. Acknowledge his moods, give him boundaries and options. “You seem angry. I won’t let you hit me, but you can stomp your feet…or would you like some pillows to punch?”

Provide sufficient rest and healthy food.

Accept his feelings, but don’t let them affect you. They’re his, not yours, so don’t absorb them and you won’t end up exhausted. Imagine yourself a strong, but flexible backboard and let your son bounce his feelings off of you without you being bothered by them. Stay present, but be totally unthreatened.

By doing these things, you will provide your boy the safe boundaries and sense of security he needs to flourish. Then he will be able to channel his intense energy into positive accomplishments and leadership. For all the drawbacks to this kind of temperament (especially during the already volatile toddler years), there are loads of positives, too. As you say, he is intensely happy. People like him inspire us.


One book I recommend is 1, 2, 3, The Toddler Years (by Irene Van der Zand and the Santa Cruz Toddler Care Center Staff). It is a simple (yet spot-on) and very user friendly guide to understanding and interacting positively with toddlers. For something more in-depth, I recommend The Emotional Life Of The Toddler by Alicia Leiberman, Ph.D., and the wonderful Raising Your Spirited Child.

Please keep me posted…



 Since this exchange with Ninah, I have released my own guide to respectful discipline:

NO BAD KIDS: Toddler Discipline Without Shame


(Photo by Maurice Sykes on Flickr)


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

  1. Once again Janet you have shared extremely valuable information. Everything you share is so caring and beneficial for families and young children! I always want EVERYONE to read your impressive and loving work!

    Thanks once again for making a positive difference!

    1. Thank you, Deborah! I greatly appreciate all your efforts to educate the world about infant brain development. Such important work you are doing!

  2. Great post, Janet. I agree that as parents it can be difficult to remember that our kids are kids, when their personalities and actions can be SO big! But in my work with families, I’ve also seen that as soon as parents are scared of their child, their child is in a VERY scary place, and that escalates the situation. No matter how difficult, moms and dads have to dig deep and be a gentle leader. Thanks to Ninah for being open to share a struggle that many parents are going through!

    1. Yes, our fear can certainly escalate the situation…and that’s understandable considering how desperately our children need us.

      Thanks, Kim!

  3. Great post, Janet. I agree that it can be difficult to remember our kids are kids when their personalities and actions can be SO big! But when parents are scared of their child, their child is in a VERY scary place, that escalates the situation. Moms and dads need to dig deep and be a calm, confident, and gentle leader keeping everyone safe and guiding the way. Thanks Ninah for having the courage to share a very common struggle.

  4. Great wisdom & perspective in the response – I agree wholeheartedly, and add that getting more support for yourself to be the comfortable with this personality may be helpful.
    At age 3, it’s my strong opinion that most all behaviors exhibited are mirrored, triggered, or in some other way the result of what the child had internalized. The more you can understand wht it’s triggering in you, the better your choices in your response.

    1. Ingrid, great point about looking inward to gain a better understanding of what triggers our discomfort. Thank you!

  5. Janet, I recently discovered your blog and have been finding it very informative and comforting. Sometimes your kind affirmations to other people have brought tears to my eyes, as if you are noticing my own struggles and efforts as well.

    I have a 3.5 year old son who is full of energy and will. I can see so clearly that these qualities will serve him so well in life and I wouldn’t change him one bit — but it often is very tiring to keep up with him. Last week I was feeling very discouraged about my mothering and my husband gave me a great reminder: that it’s not possible to be perfect and the fact that I am constantly trying to improve and do better means that I am on the right track.

    I will take these suggestions to heart and try to implement them. Yesterday I noticed that after a successful day at preschool he burst into tears when we arrived home and was giving us a hard time. It occurred to me to be flattered that in his own home my son can let his guard down and ‘relax’ in that way.

    1. Jaimie, YES, he’s relaxing and also doing something very common that all 3 of my children did…releasing the emotions and stress he’s been carrying inside him while at preschool. No matter how positive and successful his preschool experience is, it’s a big deal to be away from you, dealing with peers, teachers, rules and routines that are not just like home. It’s a lot, and important to remember that he needs to crash with you afterwards… So, feel good about being there for him.

  6. Hi,
    Love your articles. We have an 18 month old daughter who is a joy, and very full of life. She has been hitting us and 2 other kids at an in home daycare for about 3 months now. (It’s more of a fast swipe to the face that usually includes nails.) We have tried a few things, usually using the method you outlined above, with no real improvement yet. How long should this take? I have a husband who is losing patience with this behavior.

    1. Hi Sara! Are you saying that you’ve been unable to keep her from hitting you? Does she seem aggravated when she hits, or does it seem to come out of nowhere? Ideally, you would anticipate the hit and block her from doing it, while simply saying, “I won’t let you hit.” If you know why she is hitting, you might add an acknowledgement, “I know you didn’t want to stop playing and change your diaper and I said it was time. That can make you mad.”

      Sometimes we make the mistake of making a little too much of being hurt, like saying, “Ow, that really hurts mommy!” Then child senses that we don’t feel in control, which unnerves her. Or we might give a mini-lecture like, “Hitting hurts people. We don’t hit.” That is usually a little too abstract and indirect. The child might be thinking, “I know it hurts you. I need to know whether or not you will stop me.” Or, “You might not hit, but I do.” Lectures and emotional responses, however subtle, can also add a element of drama and make too much of what is really a very minor impulsive act. This is one of the reasons punishments don’t work.

      What I have found most beneficial is to totally dis-empower the act. Don’t let it happen if possible, but if it does, be clear and direct, but don’t let it bother you.

      There are a lot of reasons she could be hitting… It’s very common for pre-verbal children to do this because they are unable to express over-excitement, frustration, etc. But she is stuck in this pattern because the issue doesn’t feel resolved for her. Usually this means that she either isn’t being stopped consistently and confidently, or there is some emotion coming from her parents that makes her uncomfortable. It is as if toddlers have to repeat the action until they feel sure that the boundaries are secure and comfortable and only then can they let go of the impulse. Hopefully, her carers at daycare can respond calmly and confidently, too, and maybe even shadow her for a few days to nip this in the bud. But it will probably need to be resolved at home first.

      1. Leslie Garland says:

        Another reason children hit or act out…they are seeking attention! Children seek attention; and they can get it successfully from desirable or non-desirable acts. It often doesn’t matter. They find something that gets attention and when it works, eureka! They learn to do it again!

  7. i love this.
    i love that your reply rings true to EVERY parent, regardless of their exact situation.

    some of the best advice i’ve ever received is from this blog: we need to be calm, confident leaders.

    seriously, whenever the going gets tough, that’s always my number one priority – stay calm and confident.

    so this post was a perfect reminder, perfectly timed (as they usually are!)


    1. Sara, thank you…your words are such a wonderful morale boost for me. xo Janet

  8. Hi Janet,

    Wow, thank you for your post! I know it has been a while since I commented, in short, Kees is doing great! he is almost 2 (can’t believe it!) and mostly, such a joyful energetic and fun boy to be around. This post though really hit the nail on the head with what I am going through right now, he had been hitting alot a few months ago, but that has really decreased, but at the moment it is the shear amount of energy he has that I find really hard to handle. My mum enjoys telling me I was JUST like that when I was a kid, but funnily enough it is no consolation. I have been finding that nearer to the end of the day, or occasionaly within minutes of being up that to use Ninah’s words ‘His joy is intense and his mood can also change fast. His level of energy scares me sometimes. It also makes me really tired and frustrated sometimes.’ So thank you very much for the advice I look forward to trying to put it into place, I think I am letting my fustration mirror back to him and when I think about it from his point of view this must be scary seeing mum feeling so out of control! So watch this space 🙂 Thanks again for your wise and thoughtful words, even though I havn’t been commenting nearly every time I feel at the end of myself with an issue you always seem to blog on it sooner or later and we have been making soo much progress.

    Much Love, Helena & Kees

    1. Hi Helena! Wowee, it’s great to hear from you and Kees. Can’t believe he’s almost two already! Glad this advice resonated…and I would always love hearing about any progress you’ve made…
      Cheers! And Love, Janet

  9. Great post! I just wanted to add to the book recommendations, “Your Three Year Old- Friend or Enemy” by Louise Bates Ames is a bit of an older book, but I found it was good at normalizing/giving perspective to the types of behaviors that 3 year olds can dish out, particularly when they are at the 3 1/2 year old stage! Ames actually has a book for each year so I am going to get the 4 year old one in a few months :-).

  10. This post is so timely for me because I’m currently confronting my own emotional reaction to my son’s intense emotions. As you said about feelings: “They’re his, not yours, so don’t absorb them and you won’t end up exhausted.” These words are so incredibly powerful and true! I think you’ve said something to this effect before and it’s an idea I keep revisiting…and getting better and better at DOING.

    For us, the issue isn’t about aggression, but about conflicting needs (e.g. I want to brush my teeth and my son wants me to play with him). Sometimes I have to put my needs first and the result is a whining or crying toddler. Two minutes is a long time for a two year-old to wait! But I finally told myself, he’s not going to die of waiting. He can survive 2 minutes without me when it’s a want, not a need. And I can live through the whines. If I can remain centered and calm during those times, I think he’ll learn to cope with that waiting better. He’ll learn that the desperate feeling will pass and not kill him. But it’s up to me to model that calm!

    1. Sylvia, this is so articulate and insightful…thank you for sharing your thoughts. I was just talking to a dad in my class about this today. He asked, “What do I do when I let her choose between two PJs and she puts her choice on and then starts crying anyway?” I reminded him that these emotional releases are so GOOD for our children, especially in these toddler years. Children this age store feelings and will be almost looking for an trigger so that the feelings can be released, cleared from their bodies. No, your boy is not going to die of waiting, or from changing his mind about pajamas, or when you leave him to go to the bathroom, etc., etc, etc. Try to see this kind of crying as a very positive thing. You know that it is not about him being in pain. The best thing we can do is hold firm, allow the crying and acknowledge the feelings. Then, rather than feel deflated we should feel like an awesome parent for experiencing something so difficult that is so positive for our child.

  11. Janet – thanks for your reply! We can keep her from hitting repeatedly, but the first swipe is so fast it’s hard to stop. Sometimes she is upset and we can anticipate and stop it, but sometimes it does seem to come out of nowhere. I think I will talk to her daycare-giver again about the issue and make sure we are still on the same page, and talk with my husband about less explanation and less intensity in general in our response. Since she is our first and this is our first real behavior issue we are still finding our way and compromising with how we want to handle things – if it weren’t for me he would be a spanker and a lecturer and I am finding myself more drawn to a mix of RIE/attachment/? principles so we’ve had a lot to discuss. So probably more emotional intensity than we want is coming through in the exchange when she does hit just because we are still developing our parenting voice together. The hitting frequency does seem to be slowing down so I think we are on the right track but maybe with less emotion from us it will stop a little quicker. Thanks again.

    1. Sara, I totally agree about the intensity coming through and exacerbating the issue. Children this age are extremely sensitive to our emotions.

      Remember that she simply cannot be expected to control these impulses just yet, but she has a much better chance of doing so if you and your husband react calmly and briefly, without implying any blame or “bad girl” stuff. She’s just a baby with lots of feelings she can’t express… I can guarantee that if you and your husband stay calm and simply stop her from hitting you, she’ll stop doing this. Remember also that even the best daycare is stressful and when she’s home she needs to let out her frustrations and feel connected to you in positive ways.
      Please let me know how it goes…

  12. I have sometimes felt scared of my daughter’s intensity… lately I’m finding myself falling into scorn more easily than I’d like…

    Anyway, it is interesting to consider how to balance two things — on the one hand, you remind us that the child’s emotions are their own and not ours, and that we should not take them on as our on — on the other hand, their emotions are likely expressing what they’ve internalized from us and looking inward can give us insight — it would be easy to look inward but with the guilt and the intensity of feeling responsible for the child’s feelings.

    1. Marcy, I honestly believe that not taking the feelings on or absorbing them is far more important and productive than trying to analyze them, especially in the moment. Your daughter is not you and her feelings are not your responsibility, but your reactions to them are. She needs total acceptance and indulgence to feel whatever she feels without being judged or scorned. Toddlers cannot manage their feelings, and they shouldn’t, in my opinion. None of us can help the way we feel. As parents we’re responsible for disallowing our children to act in a hurtful manner, but if we want to ensure our child’s emotional health patience is the key, even when the child’s feelings seem irrational and irritate us.

  13. Thanks for this great post, also timely for me.
    I wonder how to balance staying calm and neutral with allowing my son to see the consequences of his actions. It doesn’t feel totally natural for me to me stay neutral when I’ve been hit, and I suppose if the behavior occurs outside our home the recipient of the punch/hit/bite would not remain neutral either.
    Would love your thoughts on this.

    1. Frayda, wonderful pondering… True, it doesn’t feel totally natural and authentic to stay neutral when you’ve been hit and it’s certainly fine to react a little if it takes you by surprise…say “Ow” or whatever. But the anger that might go along with that can easily make matters much worse. Children need to know that there are strong, stable and benevolent leaders watching over them…

      With peers, it’s another story. Our toddlers notice the other child’s reaction… Remember that toddlers are even more sensitive and aware than we are. So, we don’t have to say, “Look how sad you made your friend” and that can be shaming. I still believe we need to remain as neutral as possible, but clearly let our child know that it is not okay to hurt the other child. Parents are sometimes under the mpression that we need to give an intense, shaming response, but again, that usually makes matters worse …our child disconnects and lessons they might learn from the exchange with the peer are lost. Children this age tend to continue these behaviors until they are resolved calmly and confidently by their parents…which might mean taking the child home, not because we are mad, but because we understand…”You are having a hard time not hitting today.”

  14. “Remember that your son is a tiny guy and you are adults. (It’s funny the way our children can seem so HUGE to us…I remember!)”

    Ever since I read this a few days ago I’ve been looking at my child differently. She does seem huge to me and always has. She has a louder-than-life voice that makes my ears clench like I were at a rock concert. But I can pick her up and have total power over her. She can resist and protest, but she can’t stop me. Every time I pick her up now I think about that. What must that feel like? It’s given me perspective.

  15. Thank you, Janet. This post is so well-timed. My 18 month old daughter is having issues with squeezing other children’s bodies and now biting at her daycare. By all accounts, she is not being aggressive. She does it when she is over excited. She does not do this at home, at RIE class or in other groups of kids so I’m not exactly sure what to do to support her. The teachers at her RIE/Reggio based school narrate for her when she squeezes or bites and offer her something to chew on or to squeeze, but it does not seem to be helping her. Do you have any ideas about things I could do at home or recommendations I could share with her daycare to help with the situation there?

    1. Shannon, how long as she attended the daycare? Being cared for away from home and in a group of children can be very stressful for some children… It appears that she might be expressing her stress through the biting. Can you put together a plan with the daycare that might help ease her stress? Perhaps she could be cared for in a smaller group, etc.

  16. Laura Steinhoff says:

    I would suggest reading “Raising Your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.

  17. Thank you again for the reassurance.

    Tonight at dinner, my DS threw his cup at my chest after I told him I would not remove the lid. I said nothing to him because I was flustered. I got up to get his wash cloth to clean him up and get him down because he was acting like he was finished. When I returned to him he was sitting and eating so I waited. He asked me again to remove the lid of his cup and I again said no. He then threw his food on the ground. As I got him cleaned and down from the table I said, “do not throw your food. When youre done eating say, done.” He then proceded to hit me hard. “I will not let you hit me.” Hit again. “Do not hit me that hurts.” I then took him down stairs to let him finish with his feelings and calm down away from my in-laws. While we were down stairs, I over hear my in-laws critiquing my actions and then I didn’t feel confident anymore. My fil lives by “spankings create respect” aspect and mil has little patience and ridicules my ways.
    So again, thank you for your reassurance. And I will continue to teach my son patience, acknowledgement and respect.

    1. Catelin, I have a couple of questions… Why does he want the lid off the cup? And why do you refuse? From your description it sounds like this misbehavior might be continuing because you are not following through enough or in a assured manner… Talking to your boy is not enough (and you are correct that spanking does not help), but I would not return the cup to your boy after he throws it at you. And I would not allow him to hit you a second time…I would physically block him from doing that. It sounds like you might be responding a little too inactively (although, I realize that it is challenging to convey a situation accurately in words, so I could be all wrong).

      1. I hear you loud and clear. I have been working on being clear, calm and assertive. He wanted the lid off to eat the ice. I do allow him to eat ice from time to time but I felt he needed to eat some food first before he snacked on ice(which I did tell him). And its hard to understand from how I wrote but I did not return the cup, I returned to him from wetting the wash cloth. Sorry! I got one hit from the cup, one hit from his hand and one faild attempt at hitting again. I hope this clarifies and makes sense. When he hits, my mil hits him back even after multiple requests not to. The hitting from him hasn’t gotten better and I feel my assertiveness has improved…

        1. Oh, sorry I misunderstood! Yes, that clarifies and sounds like a direction that will be very helpful to him. I’m sorry about the MIL hitting back…Yikes!

  18. Hi Janet – this post really spoke to me, because I, too have a fiesty, strong-willed 3 year old. I was so fortunate to attend the RIE program back in the 90’s when I began my preschool teacher career. It literally changed my life and I realized that the work that I did with young children everyday was so very important. And since then, it has been my mission to advocate for children and try to educate parents about this BETTER way to parent and to educate. So… skip ahead 18 years and I have been blessed with my own little “mini-me” – ready to change the world just like her mama! Her temperament is challenging, but she just melts my heart, and as I was reading your post – I have to say, as a parent – it DOES break my heart when she’s “spinning out”. And it is such a challenge – I try to channel you and repeat in my head – “stay calm and nonchalant, validate her feelings, this will pass, stick to your limit.” But then, I start to question my limits. Our biggest dilemna is bedtime. She is so full of energy and has such a hard time winding down. Yes, we are guilty of not enough sleep and healthy food – I will work on that, but the other real issues are my 6 1/2 year old son – who is such an amazing “RIE kid” if you will – he sleeps through most of it, but he really needs his sleep for school. And then there is my crazy neighbor who I fear might call the police due to my strong-willed 3 year old screaming at the top of her lungs that she “wants to watch a show”. After about 45 minutes, I start to question my limit – my poor little “mini-me” who IS just like me – I can’t wind down at night and always fall asleep with the tv on. If I hold firm to my limit – and sit by while she “works through” the frustration of not getting her way – and remember the strong-willed part – it can take up to 2 hours for her to “work through” it. At this point, I try to just keep my husband out of it – he just doesn’t get it – I’ve been trying to get him to read your blog, but he’s not “buying my methods” with this kid – like he did with son. And like I said, I worry about my son and my neighbor reporting to the police the screaming she hears every night coming from my daughter’s room. HELP! I need your words of wisdom.

    1. Hi Christie! I’ve pondered your issue and one thing I’m particularly struck by is your “mini-me” comment (which you mention twice). I hear this term often and I believe it gets us into trouble. Our children may share many of our characteristics and personality traits, but they are definitely not “mini-me’s” — they are totally unique individuals. Even without this perception we all have a natural tendency to project feelings into our children. And “mini-me” is going to heighten this unproductive impulse. When we are projecting, our hearts are going to “melt” way too easily, we’re not going to see our child clearly, we’re going to overreact (or maybe under-react), we’re not going to get an accurate read on the situation.

      I have the feeling your daughter is completely tuned in to the fact that you are questioning limits and that your heart is breaking and THAT is why it takes her so long to “work through” it. She can’t let go, because you aren’t feeling 100% certain. This can be as torturous for our children as it is for us. They need us to be SURE of what we’re doing, so they can object for a little while and then release their need to resist and test. Otherwise, they’re stuck…especially when they are strong girls like your daughter. She needs a leader who is just as strong (if not stronger) and decisive as she is. The less certain you are, the longer you are leaving her in limbo.

      So, I think she needs much more assurance from you…like just saying “no” to TV. This is what I sense is happening from the information you’ve given me. Hope this helps!

    2. I don’t see anyone mentioning exercise??. My daughter and i walk our dog every morning ( and most afternoons) after breakfast and have done since she was old enough to walk. This is rain, hail or shine and I feel it is essential to a calm and enjoyable day. She is a high energy girl and I view that as I do my high energy dog. If either are kept trapped in the house their behaviour deteriorates. This is obviously not a cure- all but I would be very surprised if parents didn’t see a significant improvement. By the end of every day she is physically tired and ready for bed- no issues.I’d say though that it has to be part of the day to day routine, not just sunny days or when you can be bothered. Try it for 2 weeks and if it hasnt worked then it has cost you nothing, involved no soul searching or involved buying or reading a book!Good luck

    3. Christie – I have a strong willed 4 year old who has always been a screamer, and an unbelievably loud one! So loud that my neighbors actually did call the police on us when my son was 2! It was one of the worst/most humiliating experiences and I’ve lived in fear of that happening again since then. But I’ve just recently realized (thanks to Janet – a million thank yous!!!!) how that fear has really impacted the way I react when my son expresses unpleasant feelings and it may be hindering you as well since you mentioned your neighbors a few times. When my son would even begin to go down that path towards a tantrum, I would physically fill with stress and anxiety and couldn’t remain calm or confident or decisive. I was the opposite of what I need to be. And just a few weeks ago Janet wrote in a post or a comment, can’t remember, that we can stop our children from hitting but we can’t stop them from screaming. Major lightbulb moment for me. Huge. I was crippled when my son needed me all because I was worried about what my neighbors (or friends, or family, etc…) might think or do??? It’s ridiculous that I was giving them any power over my response and my family (for 2 years now!). Anyways, I know that is only one small part of your issue but I felt compelled to share my experience with you because letting that fear go and being completely fine with my son’s screaming has really been a turning point for me. It’s a burden you don’t need. And, if the police happen to come, oh well. Mine were actually really sympathetic and understanding (maybe partly because I was crying, haha).

      And Janet – seriously, I could never thank you enough for sharing your wisdom and insight. I’m newer to your site/RIE…we’ve been doing AP for years but since my strong willed youngest entered the 3’s/4’s I’ve struggled to find concrete and practical ways to parent him through his screaming, hitting, and biting. You have given me the hope and direction I’ve been desperately looking for. So THANK YOU for all you do for children and families!!!! Be warned: if I ever run into you on the street, the biggest unsolicited hug from a stranger is coming your way 🙂

      1. Awww! I love that, Jenny, and will WELCOME the hug!!! Looking forward

  19. This comment is to Ninah, and all other parents whose children are in good programs- your preschool teacher, esp. in such a program (RIE and Montessori) can be of invaluable help to you. Ask how they handle him at school, whether they think that more testing (sensory integration issues come to mind, evaluated by an Occupational Therapist). Good luck to you (and I support everything that Janet said, just think it might be nice to have folks with whom you can check in every week or so….)

  20. Another thought 🙂 He is busy and energetic? Make sure he has LOTS of time outside, or lots of activity. I have several boys right now who are 80% more able to focus after 20 mins of yoga- now part of their “curriculum”…first thing in the morning.

  21. Thanks for this post Janet. I have felt the same way and struggle with my confidence in how to meet my daughter in her feelings or with her behavior. I often feel as if I am using the techniques you describe but they don’t seem to work out quite the way it seems they “should”. I know I feel she is bigger than me at times. I hope some of the stuff in these books will help me exude some more confidence. I just want to be doing the right thing for her and hate that I feel like I am failing her at times. I need to get a hold on this because we have another baby coming in a month. I feel anxious that I won’t be able to give the energy to her that she needs.

  22. Hi, Janet,

    thanks for your post. Hitting and biting is what we are going through these days, it is very new gor us and sometimes I feel helpless. My daughter Lili is 26 months and my baby boy Benjamin is 2 months old. Lili is great girl, very smart, sincere and sensitive. I know that having new baby in the family is a big and uneasy change for her. She is treating her brother nicely and her anger addresses towards me, especially in moments when I cannot respond properly or stop her when hitting or biting me – I nurse Benjamin or he is crying and I hold him in my arms. I ask her if she is angry on me and she would say Yes. I try to verbalize feelings she possibly might have about her brother, I teach her gentle hands, I try to show her other ways how to express her anger, but so far nothing works. If I put in such situations Benjamin down to focus on Lili, he cries which doesn’t really help me to stay calm and concentrated 🙁
    Please give me some advice. Thank you.


  23. Hi Janet, as always your posts are incredibly helpful and insightful. This section was particularly helpful to me:
    “Accept his feelings, but don’t let them affect you. They’re his, not yours, so don’t absorb them and you won’t end up exhausted. Imagine yourself a strong, but flexible backboard and let your son bounce his feelings off of you without you being bothered by them. Stay present, but be totally unthreatened.”
    Our son is just over 3 years old, and can go from 0-60 in seconds. Much of the time he is calm, serious, and very engaged in his play. He will just explode or get intensely upset rapidly, and it is almost surprising to see how fast this can happen. My husband and I have both been using your insights, staying calm, encouraging his feelings, respecting his reactions as his, being his confident leaders as best we can. We’ve seen him begin to handle things better in most situations. I do think the most challenging times for him come with very new and loud environments, where he feels overwhelmed and doesn’t know yet how to cope. Do you have any recommendations on helping young children begin to learn coping strategies? He is getting OT services and there are some sensory and regulatory needs as well.
    Thanks Janet! You are an inspiration in every way, Deb

  24. My three year old is intense also. I have trouble with his temper, his non listening has spiraled so far out of control, he often finds it funny that he doesnt listen. This prevents me from taking him out, Anywhere. As a matterof fact, iI tell him he’s not going with me because he doesnt listen, its a daily struggle. When I do take him outside to the playground in our complex, there are times he runs off from me, im carrying my newborn andcant run fast, so iI scream for him to come back so he doesnt get hit by a car, then ill bring him back inside explaining to him that he couldve gotten hurt or lost and we’ll try going outside again tomarrow and he cant run off. I baught him a book titled “No David” where the boy in the book does similar things like draw on the walls and spill water outside of the tub, I ask him if David is listening, he says no. ?? I asked if he wants to be good and get lots of kisses and hugs, he’ll say yes and go right back to misbehaving. It was so embarassing to have my husbands family tell me about parenting him, their look of disbelief was mortifying at a recent family dinner at a local resteraunt, which I DID Not want to take him to but was kind of forced to. My older son didnt have ONE day like this child, so his behavior is brand new to me. The onlycomfort iI have is that im not alone.

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