My Child Is Not Okay

Encouraging kids to express their feelings would seem to be one of the simpler aspects of parenting, yes? Far from it.  Our children’s tears and tantrums are messy, embarrassing and extremely challenging to listen to without being reactive.

Discomfort with displays of emotion is embedded in our psyches, perhaps stemming from primitive times when crying children attracted wild animals that might devour the family. Mankind may have evolved, but our instinct to suppress emotion hasn’t, and the urge to put an end to these outbursts can be overpowering.

As a result, most of us find that the commitment we’ve made to our kids’ emotional health — allowing them to express feelings — is not often appreciated (or supported) by those around us. Even fellow parents and beloved grandparents might invalidate our children with their well-intentioned responses: “Shhh. Don’t cry. That’s enough. Here, here. Now, now.  You’re fine.” (And those are the kinder, gentler examples).

It’s tough enough being patient and accepting of our child’s feelings. It doesn’t help when we must deal with the well-meaning strangers, friends and family who seem to be undermining the work we’re trying to do.

Laura asked about that on my Facebook page:

“I am curious how to appropriately deal with comments that invalidate my daughter’s feelings. I’m having a hard enough time on my own allowing them. What do I say when others want her to stop having them? I get that I have a greater influence, but it seems that not standing up for her would also send a message. I’d prefer not to turn everyone against us, though!”

The way we might choose to respond depends on the situation and our relationship with these ‘others’.

My 10-year old son is an all-around athlete and an especially talented soccer player. He gets knocked, kicked, tripped – he goes down a lot. He usually gets right back up again, but not because we’ve ever told him he should. On the rare occasion that our son cries, his dad and I trust that he needs to. Even then, he usually gets his feelings out and is right back in the game.

So when another parent gave my son the “shake it off, be tough” treatment recently, I had no problem ordering the parent to leave him alone. How dare he interfere! I was angry, and although this dad is thick-headed, I think he realized that he was out of line (thankfully, he’s thick-skinned, too, because we’re still on good terms). Most situations, however, require gentler handling. Here are a few suggestions…

When you have “say”, say it

Give clear directions to teachers, caregivers and family members whom you know are willing or open-minded. Assure them that it is totally okay with you if your child cries when you leave and that you hope they’ll support your child to fully express his or her feelings (about your departure and anything else that comes up during their time together). Sometimes people just need our permission. And when these teachers and caregivers allow your child to feel, your child’s trust in them grows and closer bonds are formed, which is good for everyone.

Acknowledge, empathize, model

When a friend or family member makes an invalidating comment, our most thoughtful response is usually to empathize with the adult and our child. “Oh, it’s so hard to hear those sad feelings, isn’t it? It is for me, too… Joey, I hear you crying about the water spilling on you. That’s upsetting for you, I know.”  While you empathize and acknowledge everyone’s feelings, you are also modeling respectful, sensitive parenting. Try to stay calm. This is primetime. You should feel proud of this accomplishment.


If you don’t have the opportunity to validate your child’s feelings in the moment, do it later. Again, the key is an honest acknowledgement of the situation. “I know Aunt Lou said you were “fake crying” and that you shouldn’t be afraid of the dog. That wasn’t right. Not everyone understands you like I do. If that hurt your feelings, I’m sorry. I’m sure she didn’t mean it to. You are always safe to show your feelings with me.”

Now, I certainly don’t have all the answers, so I’m really hoping you’ll share what’s worked for you…

I share more about nurturing emotional health in

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting

(Photo by MJ/TR on Flickr)


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

  1. For some reason this post reminded me of the parent of one of the infants I cared for in a childcare center years ago. Her daughter had bonded well with all the caretakers in the room and was usually quite content and happy at drop off. She rarely cried when her mom left. The mom shared this with a co-worker and that person asked if it made her sad that her daughter was so happy when she left and that the infant didn’t cry for her. The mom promptly responded: “No, I am so happy that she is content and well cared for”. So I guess this is an example of someone (the co-worker) wanting and/or encouraging a child to express these so-called negative feelings, even if they aren’t authentic and perhaps quite opposite of what the child is feeling. Interesting. I say, let those feelings out, express yourself and don’t be afraid. Easier said then done, but hopefully healthier in the long run.

  2. So what does one suggest when a child really is having a tantrum for the purpose of getting attention, or screaming because they don’t want to do something (and maybe they really are genuinely upset that they have been asked to do it)? Is there ever a proper time to ask a child to cut it out? How is a parent to recognize the difference between crying out of sadness vs. crying to get attention or get out of doing a chore?

    1. Catherine says:

      Crying to get attention and crying to get out of a chore are both still a child getting out his feelings. He doesn’t want to make his bed. He is upset you would expect him to make his bed rather than let him play with his toys like he wants to. This is a perfect example of parents having to step back a minute to let your child have his feelings. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to make his bed. But you can allow him a few minutes to to be upset. I hate filling out spreadsheets for my boss. Whenever he makes me do one, I spend a few mins complaining about it while I get more coffee and chat with co-workers. Then I get back to work. I also allow my son to be upset and to express himself. Then he usually makes his bed on his own.
      If he’s crying to get attention, I would give him some attention. Children need your attention as much as they need food and water.

      1. Great advice, Catherine: “step back a minute to let your child have his feelings”.

        Andrea, I believe that feelings are just feelings and judging them valid or invalid is really none of our business. And that’s a relief, isn’t it? We can have one policy about crying…allowing it always, while still holding the line on the boundary. It sounds like you are allowing the feelings to impact you, rather than letting them belong wholly to your child. Crying to manipulate only happens when this has “worked”.

        1. I totally agree to let children express their feelings. Especially crying, BUT – when the tantrum gets out of hand enough that he/she puts themselves, someone else, or property in danger of being hurt, what is the best thing to do then? If I allow him to kick the walls and slam the doors and throw his toys one time, he will think its ok every time. Where do we draw the line, and how are some of the ways that you all deal with the out of control tantrums of toddlers?

          1. In the case of tantrums that become potentially unsafe, I think you move closer and gently restrain the child or move them to a better location, calmly explaining that you’re going to keep him/her safe, all the while continuing to listen with empathy and warmth. When they’ve had their say and are feeling more grounded and connected, then you teach alternatives, like, “When you are feeling angry, you can stomp your feet, punch or scream into a pillow, say, “I’m angry!” or dance or draw in an angry way,” etc.

            1. Teresa, I could not have answered that better. Thank you!

            2. If this goes on for a long time what do I do with my 12 month old in the meantime? Do I put him in a safe room and close the door while this is going on? If he is free to roam he often comes up to see what’s going on and I’m worried about him getting hurt. It’s very difficult to hold a flailing 3 yr old while bub tries to climb on us. I often have to put miss 3 in her room and close the door (after I’ve given her other options to release her emotions). I say that I see she has some big feelings and I’m putting her in her room until she calms down. She knows to knock when she is ready to come out and she has a good cry while I hold her. But while she’s in there alone she throws things and kicks the door and screams the house down. I don’t really know how else to handle this so I don’t get mad too.

              1. Here is a dissertation I found interesting. Tantrums at baby and toddler age are all about learning self regulation. Not reacting but just keeping the child safe while they tantrum, if you, the parent remain consistent with your responses you WILL see that they get less and less freaky. Now. When my babes were little throwing a fit in the store around three or so but contained in the cart? I ignored it and kept shopping. When they were older and were ambulatory and out of the cart and they acted out I simply picked them up and we left. Yes. It was inconvenient. Yes. I have gone in rooms and stuffed the dishtowel in my mouth and freaked out. And I felt better and realized..oh..hey. So. That is what that is about. They feel better after tantrums sometimes, (who doesn’t?) and a few lunches of goldfish crumbs, a few tablespoons of cottage cheese and whatever bits of whatever left in the fridge for lunch because of an incomplete shopping trip was a lesson in itself. A pain in my ass but a lesson in itself. Also. Paying attention to transitions that you know may be difficult for your child and just NOT shopping when they may be sleepy or just paying attention to the language, cues your babes(uniquely their/your own) is the key to getting to the point where your child knows. Sure. You can freak out at the end of your half hour of video games for today because there’s always “one more level” (8 year old boy) but, the truth is, you are in your room freaking out and it is ultimately your own time you are wasting. So. Tantrum, chores, not getting what you want when you want it…welcome to life. Enjoy or choose to be miserable. LOL. Just wait until they get you with the “invisible mom syndrome” i.e. you speak and they don’t hear, do, know anything about anything you just said…makes me WISH for toddlers who could be laid out on the rug and stepped over carefully to go get some dishes done. Consistency. Boundaries. And paying attention to cues and transitions, your baby then trusts you and learns to trust themselves. Yeah! Good luck with that.

                1. Kari you sound wicked. As in, really freaking _great_ 🙂

              2. I have the same challenge, a very very small home, a new 7 month old, who is very ready to crawl, and a toddler who is so joyfully strong. He has taken to screaming when he is tired, hungry, or does not want to do something. It is great when baby is with Papa on a walk, I can be present with our son, he always calms and then hugs me or asks for a snuggle and then we go about our days. However, when I am home alone with the two little ones, it is so very very hard. He creates such loud, ear piercing sounds that I genuinely believe it hurts our daughters ears. It brings me to tears knowing that I can’t help support both of them all the time.

            3. i have noticed that as i have using janets suggestions and parenting more respectfully the tantrums have almost disapeared. and my son was 7 and quite aggressive still with his tantrums. her approach works! i don’t ever think of my child trying to manipulate me anymore. i always see negative behaviour as him trying to tell me he is upset and doesn’t know how to tell me. if i take the time to listen we solve it and then he goes on to do what was expected of him. but since i am more respectful he feels calmer and safer with me and can be a happier kid

          2. I always that there are no wrong feelings, but there are *actions* that are not ok and kicking the wall would certainly qualify. “I understand that you’re angry/upset/frustrated etc but we don’t kick the wall” isn’t that hard to say. If your young child is frequently acting out aggressively I recommend the books “Hands are not for hitting” and “Feet are not for kicking”.

      2. Red Patrick says:

        That’s bull-larky. If you allow your child to throw a fit because they do not want to make their bed your teaching your child inappropriate responses to stress and dis-pleasure. Wouldn’t it be a better service to the child to stop the tantrum and explain in term s they will understand that they can be mad all they want and complain but the tantrum is not appropriate and they’re still going to make their bed?

        1. If YOU stop the tantrum, you are not giving your child the chance to learn internal self sufficient means of stopping the tantrum and dealing with emotions. You could give your child support and if desired by them, touch such as a hug. You could try to give your child tools for coping ahead of time for the next tantrum, as well as, prepare them for what’s to come and what is expected of them…five more minutes before we leave the playground…what are the rules at the indoor bouncy house place? Etc.

        2. I am glad granddaughter has never thrown such a tantrum that there is kicking, screaming and hitting involved. I usually just hold her and let her cry it out. We’ve never gotten to extreme behavior, and she is almost 4. My son never did when he was little either. A little bit of whining and crying is about all I’ve had. Of course I have always stayed fully present in the situation and never banished them to be alone. Yes, there are times I have stopped everything to help deal with them. My son was an only child, and my granddaughter is as well. Maybe only having to focus on one is what helped.

          1. Following. I understand trying validate feelings, etc, but I cannot allow my children to be screaming at the top of their lungs in a prolonged tantrum. I stay there with them and it doesn’t matter or help calm them. I’m sorry they are feeling so strongly, but the last thing I need is for the neighbors to call the police thinking something very wrong is happening to them! There are almost no social situation at any age where it is considered acceptable to give completely unrestrained expression of emotions without consequence, so we need to find a more healthful way for them to get that energy and emotion out. Screaming like that is not an option, so I need other ideas / recommendations to which to direct them.

      3. Loved your response! The work example was totally perfect and something that I never even put together! I may not be crying or screaming but I’m still venting my feelings about something! O have a hard time remembering to validate how my daughter is feeling sometimes (i.e. “It’s okay” “don’t cry” “you’re okay”) and will definitely mentally remind myself with this example when I’m frustrated that she’s crying over something seemingly trivial!

  3. Oh this is such a tough one for me, I don’t live close to family so I often find myself wondering if I should let things slip or not. The last time my mother was visiting and my 3 1/2 yo was upset and my husband and I were allowing his feelings, he asked Daddy for hugs, he was comforting him, we were calm, my Mom kept trying to show him his toys to distract him and even looked at me like it was funny thinking he could be faking or something, i felt so upset and since it was the only time it happened during the week she was here I did not say anything but I know is something I will have to address, is just so tough when is your own parents but I think she is open and she knows we are doing a lot of things differently, I just have to explain ahead of time. My Dad… that is another story, he truly is someone who gets VERY upset when he sees him crying he wants it to stop, I think I just have to reassure him that we are ok with him crying, same goes for my young brother.

    1. It can get tricky with our parents, because our different style of parenting can feel like a criticism of their parenting. And I guess it is. (It’s also interesting to witness the source of our discomfort with crying.) I like your idea about reassuring them. Reassurance, empathy, acknowledgement, modeling and LOTS of letting go are probably our best tools.

      1. Janet, parenting differently than my mom with my mom around has been such a source of stress for me. I really try to get in the right frame of before visits. But whoo-hoo, it is difficult for me. Do you have any other articles about that specifically? The part in your book when you describe your loving mothers’ inability to accept your emotions made me have to pull over in the car and have a good cry (audio book). It was so familiar yet I didn’t yet have a name for my experience growing up. Thank you!

  4. It does seem kinda obvious now, after seeing it in print… 🙂

    Thanks, Janet, for pointing out that people try to stop children’s feelings because of their own feelings. And the reminder that it’s ok for adults to have feelings, too. I’ve fallen into the habit of wanting to control behavior instead of validating feelings, but adults are people and deserve the same respect as children. 🙂

    1. Yes, we certainly do… And trying to control others (including our children) will only lead to more frustration. Acknowledging can be magical. It not only helps the other person understand themselves and feel validated, it also reminds us where others are coming from.

      Thanks again for the great question that inspired this post!

  5. As someone who grew up in a home where I was told to “toughen up” all the time, I quickly learned that emotions were not to be shown. So instead, they were stuffed, and we all know that they have significant effects on our physical health when we do that. As a result, I have always allowed my daughter the space to express her emotions, good or bad, and be that soft place for her to fall. Because here I am, in mid life, still afraid of showing my emotions (even though I’ve made progress over the years, it’s still super hard for me) and then they all come out at once (and it’s not pretty when it happens). I try to parent the way I wish I had been parented….

  6. Lisa Vamvas says:

    In my preschool classroom we have a method of helping children self regulate called F.L.I.P. which stands for
    Feelings-acknowledge the feeling “I can see you are upset about…” “You are angry about…”
    Limits-set the limits “You can be angry but you may not….”
    Inquiry-what can you do? or
    Prompt-you can do ….
    If the child is still having those big feelings, start the process over again.

    This is very effective because you acknowledge the feelings, set your limits and help the child regulate their own emotions.

    1. Terrific, thank you for sharing this!

  7. I really love this post. I’ve read it several times and I am sure I will read it a few more. This is ” my thing”, my biggest parenting challenge so far. This has been the hardest thing for me to do with my daughter (13months) and also, as I get better and better at it, something that is setting me free. When she was younger it was tied to her sleep and my inability to allow her to soothe herself, often putting her to my breast without allowing her expression long enough to observe whether or not she was actually hungry, or give her the opportunity to find her own rhythm. I am so glad I woke up fairly early on to how disrespectful it is to deny her the freedom to express herself. And learned to see her crying from the perspective of communication rather than suffering. I am proud to be attempting to do it different from my own upbringing and I love practicing with her everyday. I love that you wrote: “Try to stay calm. This is primetime.” It truly feels that way way to me–remembering in the moment to “breathe, wait, just be here, this is important”. It’s wonderful to feel the sort of suspension in those moments. Interestingly, my husband really parallels my father (oops! not again!) 🙂 in this department, so I am having the opportunity to observe with some clarity how it all fits together for me. And, best of all, I’m getting the chance to fight from time to time for ALL of us to be free to express ourselves, more and more.

    1. Julie, I can’t thank you enough for sharing so eloquently honestly about your experience.

      “…as I get better and better at it, something is setting me free.” This is the self-therapy aspect of Magda Gerber’s approach that I’ve felt throughout my parenting journey. Yes, it’s “prime time” when we are using thoughtful restraint rather than reacting on impulse. This is the real work of parenting and the rewards are rich for everyone.

    2. I am grateful for this comment. As a first time mom, I am always so unsure, and usually offer the breast as comfort right away. After 14 months, I’m getting pretty tired. Today after waking up 4 times after bed time, I had enough nursing and told babe that I was tired of nursing him back to sleep, but I would hold him while he cried. I told him he was safe and that I was there, and that I heard him and knew it was hard to go back to sleep after a fun day. It almost seemed like a relief to him that I didn’t nurse him. He went to sleep right away and hasn’t woken since!

    3. First, thank you for your comment and sharing your insight into yourself. I am not disagreeing or challenging your comment at all however I want to add something for the breastfeeding part. More just to validate mums who offer boob when their babies cry who might read this thread.
      Breastfeeding is such an important way for babies to comfort themselves and isn’t just hunger. My 14 month old knows when she needs it and comes to seek that connection with me when she hurts herself etc… what a skill that is… knowing what she needs and asking for it by crying or a million other signs she gives me. Her brain isn’t developed enough to understand all her emotions and has no logic. I don’t boob her to “stop the crying” I boob her because that is her language to ask me to help her comfort herself. Her brain is still developing and using me for comfort is actually building her independence and skill. Also for me breastfeeding is a 2 person thing… you need participation from both people. I can offer boob but my baby/child decides whether they want it. Teaching her that, connection is one way to calm and heal. Just like hugging a child when they are upset isn’t bad, neither is breastfeeding. It’s a way of providing a child with connection, love and support.

  8. Hi Janet,
    I just commented on your “The Happiest Kids Don’t Have To Smile” post, but got totally carried away and forgot the original question I had!
    I am just starting on this journey of RIE, although I am constantly amazed at how much it reasonates with me. Amazed because I had been one of those “before-parenting” people that had ideals about how children should and shouldn’t behave, and how parents should and shouldn’t behave. Oh how that changes when you have your own child! I really enjoy your take on the RIE approach, how to tap into your, and your child’s, authenticity (not just for parents!), and the “no bad kids” philosphy.

    Anyway, my question! And I do apologise if I have missed this in one of your posts, I haven’t quite read everything yet!
    Could you suggest some other examples to truly empathise with my 19 mo son when I don’t actually know what is wrong (aside from “I know, I know” – which I say a LOT)? I love your example above “Joey, I hear you crying about the water spilling on you. That’s upsetting for you, I know.”, and I can’t wait for the insight to validate my son’s feelings so wonderfully, but sometimes I don’t know why he is upset. So we end up sitting on the floor together, holding each other and both crying! Most of the time it seems to be what he needs, and he will get up happily and of his own accord.
    Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
    Many thanks,

    1. Hi again, Kristie! Always lovely to hear from you.

      I think what you are doing sounds wonderful…sitting on the floor, holding each other… I certainly understand your crying sometimes, too, but if that happens every time he’s upset it might not be helping him feel safe about crying. In other words, toddlers need their parents to weather their storms. They don’t want to worry that their parents are going to fall apart if they get upset. Holding back your feelings in these cases isn’t being inauthentic, it is prioritizing your boy’s authenticity over yours for the time being. Does that make sense? You definitely need a spouse, family member or friend to share those feelings with, though!

      Regarding the words to say, I’d probe a little if you don’t understand why he cries. Just be honest. “I hear how upset you are. Are you feeling way too tired? Are you grumpy about something? Was it hard for you when I was gone and you were with Grandma?” Don’t go crazy with the questions, but let him know that you want to understand him, if possible. He might nod his head. But if you don’t get a response, let it go and just hold him. He may have no idea why he’s crying either!

      1. Hi Janet,
        Oh wow, thank you so much for both of your replies! I really appreciate you taking the time to consider my question and respond.
        I realise now that I missed a few words in my comment (as a freelance editor that is VERY naughty of me). I don’t cry with him every time, or even most of the time, but I do appreciate what you are saying about how I respond. I think showing emotion is important (another thing I was told not to do as a child), but appropriate emotions are even more so. Wow, who would have thought parenting meant learning about yourself as well as your child? :>
        What I meant to say is that sometimes we have cried together, but most times just sitting on the floor cuddling each other is all that he needs. It’s funny, reading it back, and writing it again, I realise a cuddle may just be the answer on those occasions!
        I also really liked your other suggestions. I realise that just because I may not have seen something happen that there may not be other reasons. Even though he is young, he is still an intelligent being and I shouldn’t automatically assume he doesn’t know what is wrong.
        He is teething at the moment and has had a stomach upset, so we’ve had plenty of practice communicating our emotions. So thank you from both of us!

  9. I think your over-arching point is quite well-taken, and perhaps not addressed frequently enough. Thus it is important that you post about it–and you see the responsiveness of people. I’ve been researching and writing on adult children–and I believe some of the same rules apply, except that their acting out has such potentially dangerous results, that it is important that parents know how to handle young adult acting out behavior. I see a number of parents of young adults in my practice, with a variety of actions that seem less than bright, and are perhaps the equivalent of a younger child’s tears. (I even created a post on “Stupid Young-Adult Tricks” at to share some of the ones parents found most humiliating, but that are really quite common.) Perhaps as practice parents should think through how they would respond to these ‘temper tantrums’, as all too soon our little ones become big, with problems growing apace.

    1. Hi Candida. I think there is a very important difference here between feelings and behavior. Expressing feelings is one thing, “acting out” is quite another. For example, allowing a child to have a tantrum and staying present is helpful, but allowing the child to hit us isn’t. So, we tell the child clearly that we won’t allow him to hit us and we physically prevent him from doing so, but while we hold his hands we allow him to express his anger, frustration, etc., by yelling, screaming, crying.

  10. I think this is a very importatnt message and one that I easily forget. This past fall I took my 4 year old to get a flu shot and she started crying when she saw the needle. The nurse said to her, “It’s OK to cry if you feel scared.” I could have kissed her. That made it so much easier for my daughter and for me.

  11. Hi Janet, I love your blog. I bookmarked it as soon as I found it. This post is really useful. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for how to tactfully handle it when a well-meaning relative starts shaking toys in my baby’s face when he’s happily engrossed in something else…. Or when a relative he has just met immediately wants to play “this little piggy”….

    Thank you so much for generously dispensing such great childcare advice. I be there are a lot of babies out there (mine included) who would thank you if they could too!

    1. How about offering a cup of tea and a biscuit? Seriously, I don’t know how to be tactful in those situations. But if you have a safe play area for the baby, you can welcome visitors to come, watch and enjoy your baby playing…and say hello with a bit of space between them. In my experience, people are usually surprised and impressed by an infant’s abilities to invent play (sometimes for long periods) when offered the opportunity to observe.

      Lainey, you are so welcome! And I love the thought of the babies thanking me! Thanks for the great visual. 🙂

  12. Hi Janet,
    I have recently discovered your blog and have become a big fan. I am trying to incorporate a lot of your ideas in my daily life with my 17 month old baby boy. Last night, I put my Iphone on the charger and my son wanted to snatch and play with it. I told him patiently that he cannot touch the phone. He started crying immediately. I kept talking to him that I understand that it is hard to hear a no but it is Mommy’s phone and he can’t get it right now because it needs to be charged. His crying kept increasing. I finally picked him up and held him close while letting him cry. However this continued for more than 15 minutes and I realized that it is so so uncomfortable to hear a child cry when it is so tempting to distract him with another toy or food. But I held on (thinking of you!) and kept soothing him. He finally did quieten down but was still quite upset. I hugged him tight and came out of the room. My helper lives with us (I live in Singapore where live in helpers are abundant and they usually care for babies) and was quite agitated by this whole process. She even went on to accuse me that I made my son cry so much for no reason. And let me tell you she loves my son very dearly. In fact that is the reason she could not see him cry. Now it is pointless trying to explain this philosophy to her. Forget my helper, I don’t think even my mother in law will understand this. And my helper even went on to say that my son is very happy with her and doesn’t throw any tantrums and doesn’t make a fuss over anything and seems to act more difficult around me. That is because she usually agrees to everything my son says. Now what I am wondering is how much will my using this philosophy help with my son when my helper is the primary care giver during the day (I am working full time).
    I also felt really angry at my helper for judging my parenting skill and the fact that she can be a cause in giving wrong messages to my son. And this happens with most other people that my son is surrounded with. Most people do not understand/appreciate this philosophy and cannot see a child cry and would try to quieten him down at any cost. I’d love to hear your response to this. Cheers!

    1. Meeta, I just had to pop my head in here and say how hard that must be for you! Wow! You are in a very unsupportive environment.

      Is it possible for you to sit your helper down and explain to her that you understand that what you are doing is different from what she is used to, but that a helper is supposed to help you, not hinder you? Honestly, you are the one paying and you are the parent, and it simply isn’t supportive for this ‘helper’ to be judging your parenting like this. It’s important that your child has consistency if you are working full-time. Can explain to her the reasons for the way you are bringing up your child and state firmly that this is non-negotiable? Can you be that strong with her? I feel that somehow she has the upper hand here. You need to adjust the balance of power.

      If she doesn’t respond or you feel you can’t have that conversation, I would look for a new helper. I would consider her making those sorts of comments to you a sackable offence, but you might feel more forgiving! I really don’t like her attitude and I think it is VERY unhelpful for you. Try to find someone who is more flexible.

      1. Thank you for your thoughtful response, Aunt Annie. I totally agree with your advice.

        @Meeta, hearing feelings is such a challenge! I do understand where your caregiver is coming from, but I agree with Annie that it would be wonderful if you could find someone who really does support you! The job of caring for children is difficult enough without being undermined by the people we are paying to help us.

        Take good care!

  13. Amber Brewer says:

    So I could use some advice helping my 2 yr old. She is very strong willed. I will admit to letting her crying affect me, something I hadn’t thought about. It just feels like I, and my husband, have no pull with her. It can be something as simple as she wants a drink of juice, but I offer water instead-she will have a complete meltdown. I try my best to not change my mind because she is upset, but the crying can last up to 20 minutes! We feel like we are at our wits end trying to have a happy relationship. If she doesn’t want to do something-its a fight. When she wants something she can’t have-its a fight. I try to pick our our battles as not everything is worth a fight. We are potty training and have been for 6 months. She still has accidents, and seems to not care. One motivation will work, and then it seems like she doesn’t care anymore. Help! I want to have a happy family, and the tantrums are really affecting my husbands relationship with our daughter.

    1. Hi Amber… Just discovered your comment, so I’m sorry to be so late with this reply.

      I would definitely give up your battle about toilet training. Urinating and moving her bowels is something your daughter will always have physical and emotional control over…and she needs to. Toilet readiness is a developmental stage, not a behavioral issue. There can be negative ramifications if you push this, even physical ones, because the child “holds” in resistance to the parents agenda… Dr. Steven Hodges (a pediatric urologist) has written about this recently in the Huffington Post… (I’ll try to get the link, but you can Google him.)

      If you can stop battling, there will be no battles. And that is true in these other areas, too. The more you try to battle FEELINGS, the more feelings there will be. Don’t battle feelings… Don’t take them personally. Be the calm, gentle, empathetic leader who acknowledges, “You really wanted juice, I said no. That’s upsetting, I know.” Let go of trying to have a happy relationship and just let your child be her whole self, while you protect and guide her. Accept her where she is…and you won’t have an opponent anymore.

  14. the “fake crying” bit is something i hear a lot. my mom and dad are always saying my daughter must be faking it because as soon as she sees me she stops crying.

    1. Toddlers are often dramatic, but is it up to others to decide if their feelings are “real” or “fake”? And to what end? All this criticism does is make the child feel less trusted and loved.

      1. And then there’s the “I’ll give you something to cry about” threat. I got that a lot when I was a child. Like what I was upset about wasn’t legit..? Makes me feel sorry for my dad, thinking about how he must have been raised.. I knew I never wanted to be like my parents. Finding you, Janet, was a blessing. I’m doing my best.

        1. I try to empathize with the way my parents were raised, too. It helps with forgiveness. You are so wise!

  15. My trouble with trying to practice this is that when my daughter cries (she’s 2.5), I do want to provide comfort. Not to get her to stop, but to demonstrate concern and caring. Sometimes I try to do this even when she’s made it clear that she does NOT want a hug. But when she’s crying (for whatever reason), I have a very hard time just offering the hug and then leaving her alone if that’s what she wants. I can pull back a little, but if it goes on, I feel such a strong compulsion to comfort her. I don’t want her to think I don’t care or am not concerned about her distress! Nor do I want her to feel that I just want her to stop crying. I’m not sure I have a specific question here– I know it’s got to be very child-specific. But any thoughts would be appreciated!

    1. Hi Joanna! I appreciate your self-awareness about this. I would look more closely at your “strong compulsion” to comfort her…and also think about trusting your daughter a bit more. She is fully capable of communicating her needs. This might be more about your discomfort.

      1. Thank you, Janet. I needed to hear that! (Gotta note for the record that in comparison with the grandparents, I’m positively restrained about the comforting. So part of my desire to comfort may be about who else is around to observe (and judge!) me…)

        1. You’re welcome, Joanna, and that’s an interesting self-observation about wanting to avoid the judgment of others.

    2. Joanna, another way of looking at your child’s refusal to have a hug could be that although she is outwardly refusing she may be inwardly screaming “Break down my wall! Can’t you see my ‘no’ doesn’t mean no?”
      I say this because I spent my whole childhood refusing hugs from my parents whilst inwardly wanting them to break down my wall. Of course they couldn’t read my mind and so accepted my stiffness at face value. I wanted them to care enough to overcome my resistance.

      Only you can ascertain if your child really doesn’t want a hug.

      I think if my parents had validated my feelings, or even validated me as a worthy human in their words and actions then my wall would have been dissolved.

    3. When I taught preschool and a child was having strong emotions or even tantruming I would ask them if they needed comfort or just some time to be angry, sad, frustrated, …for a bit. If they just needed to be upset for a bit we would find a safe place and I would let them know that I would come back in a few minutes to see how they were doing. I would also remind them that they weren’t in trouble and could rejoin us whenever they were ready. Often this simple acceptance would diffuse the intensity of their feelings but if not I would simply check on them, remind them that I was here for them and give them some space. My boundaries were always strong about safety but within that loving structure they were given as much space as needed. Adults spend fortunes trying to learn how to sit with feelings of discomfort. It is such a gift to model true equanimity and compassion for children (and grown ups too!). Thank you Janet for all your wonderful work; you have me seriously considering RIE training.

      1. I so hope you do it, Orna! Would love for you to be teaching this approach

    4. When my 16 month old is like this – when she is upset but doesn’t want to be hugged (and sometimes not even touched) I find that just sitting quietly and attentively nearby helps.

      And what helps me cope, is knowing that sitting quietly and attentively *is* a form of comforting – that comfort can be offered in different forms, not just hugs and physical contact.

    5. I so get this. Yesterday my 2.5 yo had a major 45 minute melt down, and all I wanted to do was hug & cuddle him. He wanted to thrash and hit and kick. I realized, while not letting him hit & kick but staying while he it it ALL out, that my bearing witness was an act of comfort. That staying and watching and loving him despite the foam an froth and angst that I would not leave him but would continue loving him. It was challenging on my part, but I felt very proud of my ability to be with him and his big emotions till the end. I think in some ways he appreciated it too–and I did get that cuddle post tantrum.

  16. I am so glad this came up today. I have been thinking a lot about an incident that happened at a family barbecue on the weekend when my son cried because I left him with my husband to get my lunch. My mother-in-law and others were kind of mimicking his cries and I have become sensitive to that response lately as it sounds to me like they are making fun of him being upset. I spoke up and said he was just tired and asked them not to make fun of him. My sister-in-law said they weren’t making fun of him, so I said that I didn’t like them copying his cries and that’s how it came across to me. I have said similar things to my husband when he does it and he doesn’t think he is making fun of him either. He sees it as empathising and he said that to them after I left, so he is not really on the same page as me as far as that goes and seems to think it is okay.

    Am I over-reacting or is it okay for me to feel the way I do and defend my son when this happens? I am particularly anxious for my MIL to get the message that it is okay for him to be upset, as I have seen and heard how bad she is at responding to upset feelings. I don’t want my son to suffer because of that. What can I do to make sure that doesn’t happen?

    1. Heather, I think your instincts are right on…unfortunately. People that mimic a young child’s cries do not consider children worthy of respect. I would gently ask your husband to imagine being imitated when he expresses emotions (anger, joy, etc.). Would that make him feel empathized with or made fun of? I would work on helping your husband understand this (although, like all of us he has been powerfully influenced by his parents), but I wouldn’t worry about your in-laws. It would be quite miraculous for you to be able to change their perspective…and they will not have a great influence on your boy. Mostly, they will only affect his feelings about them.

      1. Thanks Janet. I’m glad to hear that my instincts about this were right. I was thinking just along those lines myself – how would he like someone to mimic him when he gets upset? I will ask him and see what he says and keep working on helping him understand where I am coming from.
        When you say not to worry about my in-laws, does that mean I should not defend my son the way I did on the weekend? I feel the need to set that boundary with them when it comes to taking care of my son when I am not there. What do you think?

        1. I spoke to my husband about this last night and he told me that he had actually asked my in-laws not to do the mimicking again because he knows I don’t like it and why. He said he mostly does the mimicking when he is tired and finding it hard to listen to our son whining. That’s something for him to work on.
          Thanks again for this article and your reply to my question. It has been really helpful.

          1. Heather, this sounds like great progress. If you feel the need to set a boundary, you should, of course. But, it will probably be better for these discussions to come from your husband. Please keep me posted!

      2. This comment about in-laws I am taking to my grave!!!

        1. I am too. I am having a very hard time about this. MIL esp. jumping in and saying “no crying”. Thanks Janet for reminding me about empathising with adults whilst also with children. Additionally, high five – “mostly it will affect the child’s feeling about *them*! That bit – I am going to memorise and recite when something inside me gets triggered.

  17. Mostly, I’m with you.
    but this particular suggestion…
    In the situation where a mom or dad is debriefing with a child after the fact of someone responding to their expression of feelings in a way the parent would not– “Not everyone understands you the way that I do.”

    That is a highly charged statement!

    My experience as a parent has been that I do NOT in fact feel like the “expert” all the time.

    My experience as an early childhood educator has been that my imperfect insights have sometimes been very helpful to a parent who felt adrift.

    I guess this particular construction of the dynamic (Oh, she was wrong, she doesn’t know you like I do!) could be helpful in certain, very limited instances– but doesn’t speak to my general experience.

    1. Yes, that particular phrasing jumped out at me, too.

      I would be concerned if I was only one of a few people who understood my child, as if my child was too challenging to understand.

      1. I would love to hear what you suggest as an alternative. To my mind, it is best not to bash the “aunt”…

        1. How about “Not all people/families express emotions in the same way we do and s/he misunderstood.”
          I’d have to side with the people leery of saying you understand your child in a special way, just because my mother is so fond of doing it!

  18. Hi Janet,
    I just wanted to check back in and let you know my now 2 year old (!!) and I are doing, especially what I noticed this morning.
    I think we are doing much better, though I don’t think I can do without my pantry door reminders just yet! I wanted to share my son’s reaction to his own tears this morning after knocking his head on the kitchen bench again (he is at that unfortunate height at the moment). He said, to himself, “I know, I know, that really hurt”. And with his gorgeous blue eyes full of compassion looking back at me, I knew we were continuing down the right path!
    Thanks again,
    Kirstie 🙂

    1. Oh, that’s lovely, Kirstie. What a wonderful guy you have. Thank you for sharing!

  19. Interesting topic I had to deal with a lot over the summer and it made me think too. Especially when we visited my parents and my stepfather kept saying things like “so what is all that fuzz about now?” when little L cried in the bathtub (which he does but that’s another story) I thought in the moment it would be most important to stick with L instead of getting into an argument with my stepdad on top of all the crying. But it felt incomplete. I guess I could have gone for the “later-talk”. Never thought of that.

    Similar situation on the playground when L hit his lip, screamed and was bleeding all over the place. A lady seriously said something like “ah just blow a little and it’ll be fine again.” I thought “What the…???” but was too fuzzed about L. Or was I ? Am I maybe too quiet and shy to stand up and say something? Never know what is best for him in that moment.
    Thanks for making me think here !!!

    1. Hi Nadine,

      I think you have great instincts. When I was a preschool teacher, I used to deal with this all the time, and would be so frustrated with the way other adults would minimize a child’s feelings about an injury. I’m a mom now, and it’s even harder with your own child! That instinct to protect their little bubble to have all of their feelings is a strong one and a good one, but I know you want to avoid alienating the other adults around you. Something I used to do when that happened was following a comment like the one you mentioned from the lady on the playground is say to the child: “Yes, so-and-so is right, you will be just fine, but it certainly doesn’t feel like that right now does it? You can tell me just how bad it feels and I’ll listen.” I find that it helps communicate your support of your child without getting into it with another adult (because really, you want to focus on your child in that moment anyway). I know it can be especially tough with parents and in-laws! Hang in there 🙂

  20. Thank you for this article Janet. My 5 year old daughter started Kindergarten last month and during drop off each morning she would cry. I never got mad and kept telling her it was ok to cry and to take as long as she needed. I reminded her that when she started preschool she cried at drop off as well for a few weeks and until one day sh had stopped and would smile and say good bye. One night before school my daughter said crying “I told my teacher I wouldn’t cry but I don’t know if I can do it mommy”. I felt bad to learn she was already feeling pressured and I told her mommy says you can cry for as long as you need. You are doing great and I’m proud of you. The next day we ran into her teacher at the park and the teacher said “Fabiola so tomorrow no tears right?”. It then clicked so I told her teacher “actually I told Fabiola it is ok for her to cry if she needs to and she will stop when she is ready”. Of course I said it in a very sweet tone but i couldn’t believe a Kindergarten teacher would be putting so much pressure on the kids. Even the yard duties at drop off would say “no crying in Kindergarten” or “Don’t be sad, Kindergarten is fun”. I’m glad I didn’t stay quiet and it is unlike me to speak up in disagreement but how not to stand up for my baby. From that moment on a special connection with my daughter took place. I validated her feelings and she knew she could trust me. A week later she made some new friends and now no longer cries at drop off :). I love your facebook page by the way. Keep up the good work!

    1. Dear Natalia, this is such a beautiful story! Disconcerting about the atmosphere in Kindergarten, but what a wonderful outcome for your girl and your relationship with her. Blessings to you and thank you for your kind words. I will try to keep it up!

  21. Hi! I am having trouble with my reactions and responses to my oldest child. She is a beautiful, tenacious, and highly emotional five year old. I have a serious problem responding to her emotions. I have two other younger children, and I feel like I’m not getting enough time with her. I find myself almost MOCKING her emotions. I feel terrible about how I feel about her displays. “OH MY GOD, Olivia. Is it REALLY that bad!?” She will break down at THE worst times, and its hard for me to properly deal with how she is feeling and be able to care for two other small children’s needs at the same time.
    Olivia is intensely strong willed. I allow her to feel how she will most of the time, but its those times when she is losing it over what seems to me like NOTHING. She won’t tell me how, why, or what I can do to help, because I’m sure she doesn’t really know. So we both end up frustrated and mad at each other.
    I can feel a wall going up between us that I desperately don’t want. I love her so much.

    1. Laura, does sharing this give you some clarity? “She is a beautiful, tenacious and highly emotional…” Accept her. Accept the fact that she’s going to go off at difficult times and to an extent that will seem unreasonable to you. Let her be upset when you are dealing with her siblings. Shoot her a quick, non-judgmental acknowledgement and don’t let her feelings wind you up. See her “breaking down at the worst times” as a test of your love. Remember, it’s NOT your job to make it better! Your job is only to accept, acknowledge and not judge.

  22. This is a huge struggle for me. I am undermined constantly and consistently by my inlaws and its really hard. They show very little respect for my children.

    Three in a few months, my twin daughters have been laughed at while hurt and crying, allowed to hurt and pick on each other while an adult watches, told they are “ok” when they clearly aren’t, pestered and overly praised for anything they do to the point that they stop the activity, had toys snatched away from them to be shown the “right way” to play with them, had cupboard doors closed in their face when they tried to look and other items snatched away from them and put out of reach but in sight, had their desires and requests refused, ignored, shamed, lied to, and had their clothing items physically held on when trying to take them off for comfort. Upon hearing me tell my then 2 year old daughters that they had had enough cookies one day, my MIL turned to them and said, “I would let you have as many as you want, but mommy says no.” This is just a snapshot…

    On top if this, she is a controlling, emotional blackmailer. My marriage has almost ended several times because of my husbands inability to deal with it effectively (which I understand to a point; having been raised like that). At times I have wanted to simply cut them out if my children’s lives entirely, however I don’t really think that is the answer. My response to these things has ranged from stating calmly and firmly what needs to happen, to getting quite angry, to letting things happen and then feeling guilty later. My breastfeeding relationship was shunned, shamed, and ridiculed from the beginning…because there are so many issues, I have a very hard time knowing where to draw the line, I feel cloudy about what to allow and how to deal with the constant barrage of “wrongness.” I have left books lying around and sent literature and a video that they refused to watch. What the heck do I do?

    1. E.M. I”m so mad on your behalf that your thoughtful and considered approach to parenting is being undermined. I wish you continued resilience.

    2. Ugh, that sounds incredibly stressful and exhausting. About the only thing I can offer is that you’re probably going to have to accept that they will not change – they don’t want to, they see no need to – so you’re going to have to be the one who changes how you (and your children) interact with them.

      There’s an advice blog called Captain Awkward that has a lot of good insight (and scripts) about dealing with “toxic” relatives like these; if nothing else, reading the comments there can feel quite validating, as the commenters there are supportive, and they really understand what experiences like yours are like… because they’ve been through similar things.

      Good luck – and strength.

  23. “I’m sure she didn’t mean it that way.” Uh, yes, Aunt Lou DID mean it that way, and the kid knows it. That statement is hugely invalidating and teaches the child not to trust his or her perceptions if what others are communicating. A better, more accurate statement would be, “She was trying to help you calm down but didn’t know how to do it and it came out wrong.”

  24. I love hearing “don’t battle feelings”. I’m gonna remember that. My daughter reacts to something I did that she didn’t like by quietly ignoring me, humming to herself, and disregarding my requests after that. having her ignore me is infuriating and the battle ensues. she is trying to “get my goat”. to the point that she begins hitting me and throwing things. she’s 3 1/2 and very strong. I’ve been kicked in the face! it is very hard to hold her while she’s like this. she doesn’t calm down when I tell her that I’m holding her so she doesn’t hurt me or herself or anything else. she hates being held and reacts even stronger to this. but I can’t let her go because she bangs and throws. I’ve had to run out of the room and let another mother calm her down because I’m at my whit’s end. I want to let her have her reactions and let them be hers. we talk about proper expressions of anger when she is calm. it’s the tuning me out thing that drives me crazy! she’ll even be really sweet in another way so she doesn’t have to talk about what just happened. she is super smart. I think that because I’ve been trying so many different methods, she’s using my inconsistency against me. I just want to stick with something until it works. we do have breakthroughs, thankfully. we live in a house with another family that has slightly different allowances than we do. I don’t let her eat as much sugar or watch as many movies and she is testing me on this every chance she gets. I want to be firm without being a Nazi about it. I feel like one a lot, but every time I give in she does the “give an inch. take a mile” thing. I guess I just have to stick to my guns. I just wish I could have a weak moment without being attacked for it.

  25. I really loved this post, and it came at a very appropriate time for my family. We have an almost two year old who has a lot of strong feelings and expresses them frequently. Allowing space for these feelings is our biggest struggle right now as parents, especially for my husband. My problem is that in those moments when I know I need to be that stable and safe place for both my toddler and husband (who is more than likely having a hard time with the loud feelings- its like two toddlers having melt downs), I often find myself at a loss for words- feeling totally inarticulate. I know what the words are there, but in those high stress times I struggle so much with finding them. And then because I am having a hard time with that, when the words do come out they dont resonate as confidently as I would like. Does anyone else have that problem?

  26. I understand the theory and I think you are right. I just get so angry when I hear my children crying on the top of their lungs. I fear if I let them scream their heads of, I will hurt them. After empathizing (if I can get through with that volume) and they keep it up, I tell them to go to their room or outside, until they are done crying. I wish I could go with him or her, but the other two need to be taken care of too.

  27. My wife and I have been struggling recently with our daughter (3 years old) and her screaming when she is frustrated or doesn’t like the limits we have set. For us, it wasn’t about stopping her expression of feelings but finding a way to allow her to express herself in a different way.

    I made some papers that have some different facial expression (they are circle “happy” faces with different emotions represented). It has the word for the feeling and a box to put an ‘X’ by each face. It also has a blank face for her to draw her emotion. It has the sentence at the top “I am feeling ____” so she can copy the word if she chooses to. It also has 4 shapes that she can color when she is done (2 hearts, a sun, and a star). We explained it to her and put the papers in a special spot with pencils and some crayons. We told her when she was done to bring it to us and we would talk about her feelings.
    She told us she didn’t want to use them.
    However, the first time she was upset, she stopped after just of moment of screaming, filled out the paper, colored a shape and then brought the paper to us to talk about it. She was able to articulate what the problem was, we got to validate it, and explain our feelings about it.
    This has happened 3 times in the last 2 days. It has been calming for her and it gives her the audience she needs after channeling her emotional energy in a way that is more constructive.

  28. My problem is that I have sensitive ears, and my 6 year old is very loud and high pitched when she cries or screams. It makes my ears hurt, and I have a hard time staying in the same place when she is that loud. I have worked to acknowledge her feelings, but don’t know how to get past the pain piece of the problem. I also have other chronic pain, and the pain often results in me being short-tempered. Unfortunately I am often unaware when my pain emerges, so am unaware that my fuse has gotten so short. Suggestions?

    1. Carry earplugs. As soon as she starts crying, plug your ears but keep up the empathetic responses.

  29. Hannah Majski says:

    We are approaching toddler hood and potential tantrums… far we have been following your approach janet, and all seems to be going well. Sometimes little miss gets upset over something, but mostly late in the day when she is tired. I came across this article recently and thought it might be of relevance to this thead….sorry can’t seem to paste link as I want to

  30. Hi Janet, my son is 12 months old and he’s started falling on purpose and whimpering and looking around tonmake sure we saw him. I usually say something like, “You fell. Are you okay?” But my husband wants us to say, “you’re okay.” I know he’s not really hurt and he’s not really crying either but obviously is wanting our attention. What is the best response here? Thank you. I learn so much from you!

    1. I think what you are saying is perfect. Why does your husband want to say, “you’re okay”? Perhaps ask him, “wouldn’t you like to raise a boy who thinks for himself?”

  31. Regarding some of the comments about the child not wanting to be hugged, I read a suggestion somewhere that the parent can turn it around and say, “I really need a hug.” I have found this to work! Now when my 4-year-old son and I get upset with each other (unfortunately, I sometimes do lose my cool with him), all of a sudden, he will come hug me. I never reject his hug, of course, and it brings me back to a loving state of mind with him very quickly.

  32. How do you react when your child (13 months) cannot tell you what is wrong and use words? My daughter since about 4 months will cry when around anyone other than daddy or myself (even with us there). A sort of social anxiety. Around other family members (she doesn’t see anyone often enough due to living far away to have them be “regulars” in her life like daddy and I). Nobody can hold her but us without her crying and having a meltdown. My dad can if he walks away with her and I’m out of sight. But it still doesn’t last long before she starts crying again. Another example, she and I go in our pool frequently, she is normally in a floating raft or floating on pool noodles with me. Recently we took her to her first official swim lesson and she screamed the entire time. I assumed it was because we were in a different pool, new environment with strangers around and doing things she wasn’t used to. But my husband and I can’t help but get a little frustrated with the amount of crying/tantrums we’ve had to go through with her for the last year. People have told us it’s just a phase but a year seems a little long to be so socially anxiety ridden. I don’t know what I did wrong, how to fix it and how to deal properly with it. I grew up very differently, mentally, verbally and sometimes physically abused so my first reaction is to do the “you’re okay, you’re not even crying tears, you’re just screaming to scream”….after reading this I feel terrible. I hope you can give me some tips and advice because I don’t want to continue doing the wrong thing for my baby. Thanks

  33. Babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers have no filters for their emotions. For toddlers, pre-schoolers and older children it is a parent’s job to show empathy, listen and work through the emotions (when too young – to solve the problems causing the emotion that they can’t handle or solve on their own), I suppose that it is the same at every age level but also to define the emotion and teach them how to process them, give them filters, in the end to teach them how to react in a similar situation next time and to explain consequences of displaying different reactions – their choice for choosing a good behaviour or bad. They wont get it right the next time or the time after that, or the next 15 times, but consistently showing them how to appropriately deal with the emotion to a situation over time will give them the tools they need to appropriately handle the situation. Of course they have to have had time to calm down in order to talk about it and teach them, as nothing can be done at the time when they are caught up in the emotion. Unchecked emotions if left to perpetuate blow up and keep leveling up if allowed to be indulged for older children and as child’s self talk turns negative about a situation it spirals up upon itself and grows worse, not better.. here is the example the native american story of the two wolves:

    An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

    “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

    The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

    The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

    This says to me that perspective on how to view events has to be taught and a choice made on how to react. There are consequences if you make a bad decision and let your emotions blow out of control. There are good consequences if you can have a positive reaction to a situation. At school or as children grow older, tolerance for negative behaviour to express emotions is non-existent.

  34. Hi Janet,

    I have just recently found your website and I am so glad I have. These are the approaches I’ve been considering for 7 years with my oldest without knowing exactly how to implement. My two year old is reaping the benefits already. My almost 7 year old is sad/ angry a lot. He worries about what will happen next, won’t eat lunch at school because he is worried about spilling / making a mess, etc… He is quiet and well-behaved all day at school, and when he comes home he is explosive. He sobs/ screams for up to an hour if we stop him from playing video games/ doing something he wants to do, he calls his father and I names (usually very PG, potty talk names), and when he’s really aggravated he will “play” (tease/ hurt/ wrestle) my 2 year old. This can go on for hours between the crying/ comforting, him getting up picking on his brother, Me separating them, etc… It’s exhausting and my husband tries so hard to be patient but will end up yelling at him to knock it off. I’ve spoken with his wonderful school counselor about the lunchtime/ anxiety issues and she meets with him regularly to practice mindfulness and talk about his worries, but I’m at a loss at home.

    1. Hi Libby – I would work harder on simply accepting all these feelings he’s discharging at the end of his day. In fact, I would encourage them. I would encourage him to share his sadness, anger, worries, etc. Keep the boundaries in place regarding TV and physically hurting his brother, but let the rest flow. Do you listen to podcasts? I think you might find mine helpful:

  35. Thank you so much for this helpful post! My two year old stays with his grandparents a lot and they will not listen to our suggestionsand we have a slightly different problem- they (while keeping him safe of course) will do anything he wants (turn the light on and off 100 times, etc) to keep him from bejng upset. This was me until I read your book and things are going great at home. Do you think it’s just one of those things kids will learn- different rules at grandma’s house?

  36. Is it normal for children to naturally move to trying to hide or stop themselves from crying? My 4 year old has done this twice recently. Once it was after she gave myself and her sister a strong hug that led us to bump heads. She understood that her actions caused us to bump heads and immediately ran to her bed and cried into her pillow. It broke my heart. I did say “Ow, Soph” in a pained voice when it happened. I invited her back over to me right away and she sat with her sister on my lapped and cried openly, telling me that it wasn’t her fault. It was our heads that bumped – it was our fault. I told her I understood what she was saying. This one made sense. Tonight she got scared by a picture in a story book we were reading. When she cried (she was sitting in my lap) she turned away from me and seemed to be trying not to cry. I was gentle and didn’t say much. I held her, stroked her and told her it was ok to be scared and to cry. When she had calmed some I reiterated that it is always ok to cry, be sad or be scared. It doesn’t feel good at the time but it’s good to let the feels out. I’ve never heard my husband ask her to stop expressing herself before but she does spend some time at a day home with a lady that is very gentle. Maybe it’s worth mentioning to her that I’m ok with the girls letting their feelings out but in the past she’s told me at the end of the day when my youngest has had a tough day. The sense I get is that she is compassionate with my girls and their emotions, but I’ve never asked her directly. I’m mainly wondering if this is just normal developmentally speaking. Thank you for your thoughts.

  37. Hi Janet,
    This article couldn’t have come at a better time as my mom is currently spending a few days with us to help us out after the birth of our 2nd child 2 months ago. As is to be expected, our 2 year old is more emotional and also more self-affirming. My mom is having a hard time staying patient with him and instead of letting me deal with him, is shushing him, saying that he is throwing tantrums…. yesterday I stopped her and told her to allow my son to have his feelings (a bit abruptly unfortunately…). I will try what you suggest but am wondering what you think about talking openly to her about this in a loving way since we have a very good relationship and talk about many things together ?

    I know that she is merely reproducing how she raised us but having always been the “sensitive one”, I grew up getting told to stop over-reacting etc. which I don’t want her to do to my son. She doesn’t live close by but has a lot of holidays as a teacher so we see each other often.
    Thanks a lot for your kind advice.

  38. For this reason I find it very difficult to leave my son in other people’s care. Right now I only have to do that part time but soon I will be working full time (unfortunately have to-don’t want to). I know parents have more influence, but that doesn’t reassure me. Is anyone here a full time working parent – what is your opinion on the affects of child care either outside the home or from a nanny?

    We have a young babysitter now who is open to RIE. She even read your book as per our request, Janet. That is great but she may not be available when I go to work.

    Just looking for reassurance and also – this topic stressed me out so much. I’ve had some bad experiences with my parents and did a poor job removing my son from their tactics of distraction – I was triggered and frozen! My son is only 20 months so we haven’t had too many situations yet where we have to stand up for him, but I know it will happen the most with family. A lot of times I can’t stop them (for example stealing kisses from him without asking)m first).

    They will be supremely offended if I ask them to change things…working on getting there…weighing pros and cons and coming up with alternative ways to protect my son (remove him from the room regardless of how big the meltdown is).

  39. This really resonates with me. I had been wondering if my little one was as effected by others talking about his emotions as I was or if it was just me taking things personally but recently during a similar situation my little one (he’s about 2.5) told me he was sad because his dad and another adult were talking about him. It both confirmed my feelings about all of it (and gave me some extra umph for correcting them in the future) and made me feel proud that he was able to recognize and voice his discomfort with the situation. Thank you so much for these articles!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More From Janet

Books & Recommendations