When Respect Becomes Indulgence

Dear Janet,

As a developmental psychologist and professor, I love your website and blog. You do a great job explaining an approach to child development that is accepted by many in the academic community (at least in my area of research).

One issue that has been on my mind lately is how to determine what appropriate expectations are for a child of a given age. My son is approaching toddlerhood, and I want to try to prepare myself for what is to come. So how do you decide what is an appropriate expectation for a child of a given age?

For instance, recently we had some friends over with their 3-year-old. On their way out, she decided that she wanted to wear her mom’s shoes to walk out to the car, which meant that it would take a lot longer and she might trip. What would be an appropriate response in that situation?

In another recent outing, a friend’s toddler started banging his head against the floor, throwing a tantrum. What should she have done in response?

Thank you,


Hi Michelle,

Thank you for your note and questions. You definitely got me thinking. At first, the only commonality I could see between the two examples you gave me was the need for a calm parent. “Appropriate expectations” threw me off a bit until I realized you were asking about appropriate behavior, which is a little different.

How do we know what to allow and where to draw the line? What are our children’s true needs? Here are some general guidelines I put together using your examples:

Say YES to:


Always. Children need freedom to express their deepest, darkest, oddest, most outrageous or inappropriate-seeming feelings.

Emotions are deeply connected to “self”, so from infancy onwards our children need to know we will patiently hear and accept all their feelings and try our best to understand them. The challenge is not to squelch the feelings (with distractions, punishments or other invalidating responses), and also not to let the emotional outbursts impact us too much — to hear and support our child without absorbing her moods.

I’ve found it helpful to remind myself that we can’t control another person’s feelings. We can only control the freedom our child feels to express them. Encouraging the expression of feelings and acknowledging them is the key to our child’s emotional health and also to self-worth.

Toddlers have tantrums because they reach a tipping point and need to release intense emotions that are way beyond their control. The child who falls to floor and bangs his head in anger, rage or frustration needs a calm, understanding parent to allow him to express these feelings fully — not punish him or even “comfort” him to make this outburst stop.

The tantrum has to run its course to be an effective release for the child. Then we acknowledge the situation and offer hugs. “Wow, you were so upset that I said you couldn’t have another piece of that yummy cake. You really wanted more.”

If head-banging becomes a frequent habit, definitely consult a professional, but the typical child will not deliberately hurt himself. A calm, accepting attitude, while perhaps slipping a pillow under the child’s head (“I’m putting this here to keep you safe”), is our best response.

If we become frantic, punitive or agitated (in other words, we let the behavior push our buttons), the child might consciously repeat it.

Safe exploration, self-directed play

For young children play, exploration and experimentation should be predominantly self-chosen. Our children’s choices will surprise us and not always look like “play” as we might perceive it. Facilitating and observing self-directed play is one of the biggest joys of caring for babies and toddlers. And for our children this freedom is an essential need (and it helps them accept our boundaries more readily). Ideally, we provide the opportunities and materials and let children take it from there.

I see no problem at all with allowing children to play in mom’s shoes, if mom doesn’t mind. But, as I’ll explain below, our child’s need to explore doesn’t mean she needs to do this anywhere besides the places we deem safe or appropriate.

Give boundaries:

For safety 

This means keeping an eye on the head banging, which is probably an involuntary, temporary phase (and if we can stay calm, will probably stay that way).

Wearing mom’s shoes to the car is a risk that is not necessary for healthy experimentation. The true wish or “need” this child is expressing, in my opinion, is the comfort of a parent’s leadership and limits.

When the child is testing

I see the request to go to the car in mom’s shoes as a test of wills and if she wins, she loses. Secretly, I think she’s hoping mom will care enough to say no. She sounds like a strong, bright girl, probably very capable of making it to the car in high heels if she was allowed to. But then there would probably be another test.

Rather than engage in battles, I advise rising above them by calmly and lovingly setting a limit: “I know you like to walk in my shoes and that’s safe to do in our house, but not now. Would you like to wear your shoes, or go barefoot?” She’ll either accept this gracefully or object and release some of the feelings that have been simmering inside her.

During transitions

Young children tend to have difficulty with transitions, which means they usually need the comfort of more direction and less choice than they do at play time. They still need opportunities for autonomy, like choosing whether or not to wear their shoes to the car (if that’s an option) or the choice, “Would you like to walk or be carried?” But the freedom to make everyone wait while they explore walking “as mommy does” is indulging them with an uncomfortable amount of power.

The Annoyance Factor

Parenting is the development of an extremely vital relationship, the model for every future relationship our child will engage in. Since a relationship takes two, our needs and feelings are just as important as our child’s. Yes, we make many sacrifices as parents, but ultimately, the relationship has to work for both of us.

Since we are the adults in charge, we are the only ones capable of protecting our relationship from being one of resentment, dishonesty, distrust, dislike. This is why I believe in giving boundaries to prevent the “annoyance factor” — meaning whenever possible, we don’t give children the freedom to irritate us through their behavior. (Yes, expressions of emotion can be very annoying, but those don’t count, because we cannot and should not control them.)

If we don’t want our daughter playing with our shoes, I don’t believe we should allow it, and instead of feeling guilty we should feel good about taking care of ourselves and prioritizing our relationship.

We make it even easier for our child not to irritate us by making off-limit items unavailable to her while she plays. This is one of the many reasons safe, enclosed play spaces are invaluable. They give children the freedom to fulfill their healthy, instinctual need to explore without being a nuisance to us, and hearing a no (that they are inclined not to obey) every few minutes. It’s a baby’s job to “get into” everything, and when we constantly have to say “stop that” and “stay out of there”, we start to feel resentful.

Also, when we placate children by allowing them to do what we don’t really want them to do, we end up being the ones who want to explode, and that can be dangerous.

Do we want our children to grow up believing they are annoying, unpleasant people…and very possibly fulfilling that prophecy?

“It helps to be strongly attuned to our own inner-rhythm – to know what your needs are, and to convey this to your family so they learn to respect your needs, too. Ongoingly sacrificing your own needs for the child’s can create inward anger within both of you.” Magda Gerber, Dear Parent: Caring For Infants With Respect

I hope this sheds some light. I’d love to hear your thoughts.




  I offer a complete guide to respectful boundaries in my new book:

NO BAD KIDS: Toddler Discipline Without Shame


(Photo by gilcreque on Flickr)


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

  1. Love it! Everyone’s idea of where to draw the line is going to be different, but we all have to draw a line somewhere!

  2. I agree. Our children crave boundaries and limits. I support their freedom to their own feelings and emotions, but there are times I say “no” to specific activities because they are unsafe, or frankly that particular activity drives me nuts, so I insist they find something else to play.

  3. Hi Janet
    I love your ideas and am a regular visitor here.
    Reading these general guidelines raised a question for me. Putting together the two principals of allowing children to express themselves and also acknowledging our own needs, what do we do in the situation where the child is expressing themselves in an upsetting way? My five year old daughter sometimes yells and tells me she hates me when she’s upset about something (usually when I’ve set a limit) and I feel torn between validating her feelings, and wanting her to speak to me with respect.
    I’d love to hear your thoughts.
    Kind regards.

    1. Hi Penny! Great question. Yelling and “I hate you” are an older child’s tantrum, so try to see this for what it is and not take it at all personally! I know that can be challenging, but it’s really important not to let this behavior push your buttons. Instead, take a deep breath, stay calm, rise above it and let it go and you will dis-empower the behavior. I would say something like, “You hate me right now. I know. Sometimes we all feel that way.” I’ve also said, “I know you hate me right now. I still love you.”

      I read once (wish I could remember where) that children are aware early on of parents’ unspoken feelings of hatred for them sometimes. So, allowing children to express this feeling is healthy. Don’t we all sometimes hate the people we love?

      1. Hi Janet,

        I was really interested in your response to Penny as my neighbour also struggles with her little boy shouting “I don’t like you I only like Dadfy”. A friend advised her to say “that makes me very sad as I always love you” but I wasn’t sure about that as it brings the mum’s emotional needs in. What do you think?

        1. Hi Lucy! This mum is empowering her child’s words and creating unnecessary guilt, in my opinion. I strongly believe we need to rise above these behaviors and understand that children try them out to see it they push our buttons. If they do, the child usually repeats them. Whenever possible, I think we need to be models of forgiveness and understanding.

          1. What about something along the lines of: ‘I love you a lot but I don’t like you very much right now’- would this create unnecessary guilt? My mother used to say this to me when I overstepped the mark as a teenager, and it always made me stop and question my behaviour. Interested in thoughts, thanks.

            1. Marta, maybe this is okay to say to a teenager… I wouldn’t. I think it’s unnecessary and risky to say something that could easily be interpreted as “I don’t like you”, period. Why not just say, “I don’t want you to do that.” Or “I don’t like it when you do that”, or “that’s not okay with me.”

              Did your mom saying that to you hurt your feelings at all?

            2. As someone who had this said to her multiple times growing up, and a masters student in child psychology, I can honestly say that this is one of the worst things a parent can say to a child or teenager.
              It may have “worked”, but it also is likely to create a deep-seated insecurity. The parent is claiming to love, but is stating that their “liking” their child is based on behaviour — showing a child that your affection for them is conditional and can be removed easily. Further, many children and teenagers don’t grasp the difference between “love” and “like” and would not be able to distinguish the parent’s withdrawl of “liking” from a withdrawl or loss of “love”. (We forget that children and teenagers have shallow understandings of emotions.)
              It may be an honest comment, but it is callous, manipulative, and the negative effects are more far-reaching that any benefits that could possibly arise from its usage.

              1. avatar darlene farhadikia says:

                you could state “i don’t like what you’re doing/ saying/ choosing right now”

              2. avatar darlene farhadikia says:

                it is about not liking the behavior.

              3. I also grew up with the idea of “I love you but I don’t like you right now”, and it ended very badly for me. It taught me that someone could love you, without having any sort of affection – a huge insecurity. It also opened me up to an abusive relationship – “loving” me wasn’t enough to make him “like” me, and “liking” was apparently where kind behavior came from.

                Honestly, as a grown adult, in a happy marriage with a child of my own, I STILL haven’t overcome the damage this statement did to me.

            3. My mum told me that she didn’t like me when i was a teenager, it was so hurtful. In retrospect i know that what she meant was that she didn’t like my behavior, but at the time (and for years and years later) I really felt that she didn’t like me.

      2. When I’ve babysat a kid who has a tantrum and says “I hate you”, it really hasn’t bothered me at all. I don’t hear “I hate you.” I hear “I’m very angry with you right now”, sort of the kid equivalent of “Rrrrr”. So I usually respond with “That’s ok. You can hate me. We’re still going to do X (the thing they don’t want to do and that has inspired “hate”)”. And then I shoot them an empathetic smile and move on with the doing. I try to follow it with a distraction, like “Hey, check this out, look at this…”. Distraction can be a good way to diffuse anger.

        Mostly I don’t want the kid to feel bad afterwards for having said “I hate you.” I remember saying it as a kid and some adults acting so mortified and then I felt so bad afterwards. It’s sort of ridiculous. Adults should be above getting caught up in kiddy emotions.

        Later, when the kid says, “I don’t really hate you,” I say, “I know. You were just angry. That’s ok. Feel better now?” And the kid says yes and we hug. And then I usually reinforce why we had to do X, like, “I know you didn’t really want to do X but we needed to do it for this reason. I’m glad that even though you were frustrated, you helped me get it done. Good job.”

        1. Part of what I do with this is not to even mention “I love you” in response to the kid’s “I hate you” unless it’s necessary (like unless the kid is saying it specifically because they need the love reinforced…you have to read the kid to know this).

          The reason “I love you” shouldn’t be a response to “I hate you” unless the kid is fishing for reassurance is that their “hate” is not opposition to love, it’s an entirely different word.

          Their “hate” is really “annoyed”, “frustrated”, “feeling overwhelmed with anger at”, etc. So why juxtapose that with love? It can rather be juxtaposed with calm, with distraction, with moving through and past, with unflappability, and if you want to show the kid love, don’t passive aggressively say, “But I love you”. Instead just show the love with an empathetic smile, a nod of understanding, and some help to move through the emotions.

          It’s not about you, adult. It is, as with most kid outbursts, a plea for help to problem solve.

          1. I think it’s really good that you’re able to stay unruffled when a child is expressing hate. I think though that respecting the child’s feelings, however uncomfortable we feel with them – in this instance, hate – is also important.

            Love and hate go hand in hand. They’re our primary emotions, the first that a baby experiences, and one of the baby’s primary tasks is to resolve the fact that they both love and hate their primary caregivers. Because of this, I think enabling children to express all feelings – including hate, which is just as valid as anything else – is crucial for healthy emotional development. It teaches them not to fear their feelings of hate, but to accept them as part of bring human, and to let them come and then go.

            It’s a hard thing to do though, as so many of us are taught that hate is an unacceptable feeling. Society is not open to feelings of hate and anger – certainly not within my culture. For me, the feelings are always valid, always acceptable – it’s what you DO, how you act on those feelings – that is either acceptable or unacceptable within a given society.

      3. I so appreciate this blog! A true lifeline and consistent support for us parents and teachers alike!
        Here is what my daughter’s Montessori teacher told me what “I hate you” means. She said: “it is the child actually saying “I don’t like the way that makes me feel.” ”
        That interpretation helped me be able to take those words less personal. It also gave me something more accurate to say when I experienced that strong welling up feeling what I would call hate, which usually only happens with people in very close relationships with me (family).
        I think it’s also helpful for the child to hear it. When they say: “I hate you”, you can respond with: “I set a limit, and you don’t like the way it’s making you feel. I understand that.” It is usually feelings of helplessness (not knowing how to solve the current situation) that make us feel big emotion in that direction.
        We hate it when we someone prevents us from doing what we have a strong desire to do, we hate it when we can’t have what we think we ought to have. At the end of our emotional expression we find we still exist, intact, and we’re alright in spite of not having those must haves. It’s actually empowering in the end that when we don’t get what we want, and we have gone to the exhaustion of our emotion, emptied out, we find that we still exist.

        1. Thank you for this. “I don’t like how this makes me feel”. This is the language I never had access to. Just even reading this post, (and I’ve been a reader for 15 years!) helped me to understand that my own feelings weren’t allowed or welcomed growing up. This phrase has illuminated a few corners for me. Thank you

    2. Hi Penny and Janet,
      I find this very interesting and get quite confused about this topic of expressing emotion. I am newish to this site and have a 6 year old and a toddler. We have been practicing respectful parenting with our toddler for most of her life and with our 6 year old for the past 2 years.
      If I say no to something, my 6 year old will not accept this well, and will argue or yell. I try to validate his feelings but I’m not sure what to do when it is directed at me? Do I do the same as above in the I hate you example? How would you suggest responding in everyday situations too? So for example, I might serve dinner and he will yell very rudely, I don’t want cheese and can even end in tears! Another example is if I don’t do something in the time he wants me to, he says why aren’t you doing that for me right now but again in a very rude tone. I say please don’t speak like that but if his rudeness accelerates to tears, that’s when I am confused. Do I validate feeings, or do I ensure he speaks with respect? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Kind regards, Anna

      1. I wonder if “how to talk so kids will listen and how to listen so kids will talk” would be a good book for you to read. Worth a shot; sounds like a hard time for you!

      2. We parents often try to respond to our children’s requests for help immediately. It is hard to think and realize for a moment that you may be in the middle of something. You might say, I’m reading right now, I want/need to finish this page and then I’ll come. We are often not in the habit of making our children aware of our own work cycle. Just like we try not to interrupt children when they’re finding focus, we can teach them over time that adults also can be busy and not available at every convenient moment. Especially if the child is already six. I recommend practicing defer and delay of helping when you are busy, unless you are available and joyfully can and want to. This is also a good model for your child to learn when to respond to another persons demand for help say in a school setting. I also believe it’s important to say something like: I’m available but I need you to ask me in a different way. If he doesn’t have a clue give an example. Over time immediate demands will shift in asking and the child will know that immediate response will depend on what’s going on in your life at the moment.
        Janet, the biggest gains I have understood from your blog, is for parents to set better and clearer limits for the eventually smoother, more respectful experiences between parent and child. Yes?

  4. Do you have any suggestions for parenting in non-safe areas? Our play room is as kid-proof as I can make it, I hardly ever need to say “no” to my 13 month old when we’re home. But we recently spent a long weekend visiting family. There was breakable stuff everywhere, scattered hazards, an excitable puppy twice the size of my son and a very vocal relative I don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with on any topic, much less parenting. I’m not sure if my son was especially tantrum-y, but I felt like kicking and screaming most of the time. I spent as much time as possible exploring the local parks, but I’ve noticed that in general being away from home (and the automatically defined boundaries of our play room) makes parenting a hundred times more stressful. We’ll be visiting my parents in the fall for a little over a week, and I’d love to have some strategies to actually enjoy ourselves…

    1. Meagan, every parent in my classes feels that way about traveling vs. home. And even though toddlers will usually rise to the occasion, they come home and feel like, “Ahhhhh, I’m back”. They might be a little testy for a while and they settle in and can focus again. I’m going to think some more today about what might help, but GETTING OUTDOORS where you all can breathe is my best advice. Sounds like you did that at the park, but do these family members have a yard area? I would spend as much time there as possible, even if it’s cement. 🙂

      1. Hi Janet,

        I’ve been also wanting to ask you about traveling/outdoors vs. home.

        I also find myself getting very stressed being at other family homes. (They are not enclosed, or baby proofed) I’m constantly having to pick her up and bring her where it’s safer.

        Also, my daughter (10months) puts everything in her mouth and I’m constantly having to pull her hand back or take things out of the mouth. This is especially stressful when we are out in the park. I allow her to explore, but everything she finds goes in the mouth. Small rocks, pebbles, small pieces of garbage hidden in the grass, etc. So being out doors becomes more stressful and I can’t relax because I’m constantly having to watch her to make sure she doesn’t put anything in her mouth that is a safety hazard.

        Do you have any suggestions as to what I can do to make outings less stressful?? Thanks!

        1. Hi Sunny,
          I suggest moving her as minimally as possible and calmly and patiently intervening as I suggest here to Meagan… When you do too much, especially if you are abrupt and tense, you will encourage this to go beyond natural exploration and become more of a test.

      2. Not exactly a yard (lots of dense, pretty trees on an extreme slope) but there is a nice patio, and we spent a fair amount of time out there, on the days that weren’t disgustingly hot. My parents have a small courtyard, mostly paved, and walking trails all over. It will be October, so I’m hoping for nice weather.

        1. Meagan, I would also try to see yourself as a model of respectful practices… Acknowledge your boy’s feelings, find respectful ways to say no, and allow him to explore as much as he safely can with your assistance (rather than scooping him up or taking things away). “Wow, there are so many interesting things you want to touch here. Some are safe, but others aren’t. Oh, this object you’ve found isn’t safe for you to hold on your own, but you can see and touch it while I hold it.”

          1. avatar darlene farhadikia says:

            for my DS, who started walking at 10 months and put absolutely EVERYthing in his mouth, i would tell him what everything is for, i.e. that’s an acorn for the squirrels, those berries are for birds and raccoons, that’s trash will you help me bring it to the trash can? and by 13/14 months he would put most stuff in the trash can.if he picked up nature stuff i would just observe and then remind who it is for if needed. he is now 2 and very rarely puts things in his mouth.

            1. We do something similar. I don’t want to discourage our 13 month old from exploring and playing with things like leaves and sticks and rocks, but I also don’t want her eating them!

              So many of the other parents at the playlot react by rushing at their child saying “No! No! Yucky!” and I didn’t want to do that. So I started saying things like “Sticks are not food” when I saw her raising one towards her mouth.

              I said it a LOT for a while, but now she rarely puts outside stuff in her mouth – when she does I know she’s either tired (her discipline flags when she’s tired) or she’s testing to see if the rule still holds. At that point, I usually take her home, which further reinforces the message.

      3. Hi Janet,

        I would love to read any more thoughts you’ve come up with 🙂

        Going outside is a good solution to a lot of problems, but my son is usually adamant he doesn’t want to go to the park or sometimes even the beach! If I manage to get him there, he usually enjoys it, but it just takes so much of my time and energy!


  5. Great thinking points here.

    I wouldn’t rate walking in mum’s shoes as risky, honestly (yes she might fall out of them and graze her knee, but that would be a valuable learning experience!), but I might rate it as ‘not a choice’- mum probably needs or wants her own shoes to walk to the car, and that is a perfectly reasonable boundary even if the child is just trying to extend her play rather than actually testing a fence. I would probably say something like ‘These are my shoes and I need to wear them now. Here are your shoes,’ and then offer one of the choices you suggest. Choices are like magic with toddlers, truly- you just have to make sure that the choices are realistic ones.

    1. Annie, you’re right about this not being super high on the risk scale…although, I was envisioning high heels, since Michelle mentioned safety.

      I also agree about choices and the feelings of autonomy they provide, being magical for toddlers. The need to “save face” in these situations is a biggy.

      1. Choices never seemed to work for my toddler, maybe very early on, but eventually he would just reiterate what he originally wanted and ignored the choices I provided him. He’s 3.5 now and they still don’t work well. I typically have to step in a provide a boundary, often physically and then support him through his upset regarding that boundary. It’s exhausting and getting increasingly difficult to not regulate off of his emotions and show irritation or annoyance. I am certain he sees and feels my exhaustion. Any tips on lengthening ones fuse without the option of getting away and taking a break? We live in a remote town with no family so support is minimal. It’s like I’m stuck in a cycle of him needing to connect more with me and perusing me, which is suffocating me and making me feel more irritated with him. Bleh. Sorry, I know this is a little off track from the original post.

  6. The best advice I received was from a psychologist. He said that small children don’t like to be interrupted when they are focused on a task. I have found this to be true. I try my best to always leave a cushion of time so that anything that my daughter is doing can be finished in enough time so that she doesn’t feel like she has lost control. I also have noticed that many times she just wants to try something for the sake of trying it and to be in control. She usually doesn’t want to do it–she just wants to try it. So with trying on the mother’s shoes, I would say let the child do it (if it isn’t going to be dangerous) and know that it will take more time, but the child might get tired of wearing the shoes after 30 seconds. A potential battle of wills totally disappears. Another thing I learned is to anticipate when small children are tired or hungry. Temper tantrums can usually be avoided if the child’s limits aren’t pushed. It might mean leaving early before the child is too tired, or waiting to go to the store until after a nap or meal.

    1. There is a time and a place for wearing mom’s shoes, and what was described above is not one of them. I can’t fathom hobbling across sharp decorative stones barefoot while my child hobbles along in my high heels as we say good-bye to friends.

  7. Great post. I love your clear description of the difference between things you need to say Yes to and things you need to set boundaries for. I wish more people understood this.

    One thought on the girl wanting to wear her mom’s shoes–I have noticed with my daughter (now 4.5) that sometimes she makes ridiculous requests when she needs an excuse to get frustrated and release some feelings that she can’t otherwise express. She does it most in stressful (to her) situations (like being at someone else’s house or having guests over) and seems to do it to get the limit set and then have a good excuse to have a tantrum–then out comes the REAL reason she’s upset. Usually it’s hunger or wanting to leave. If I don’t set the limit on that crazy request of hers, she comes unglued and keeps amping it up until one or both of us lose our cool. It’s easier to set the limit the first time, deal with the resulting outburst, and find out her real reason of being upset.

    1. Hi AK! Wow, want to write a guest post? You’ve totally nailed this! Seriously, every parent should read your extremely insightful comment. (In fact, I’d like to share it on FB, if that’s okay!)

      1. 😀 I would be honored–and you definitely have my permission to repost to FB.

        1. Cool! Just fleshing out this experience you describe would be an awesome thing for me to post here…and I’m off to share your comment on FB. Thanks, AK!

    2. AK, fascinating. The only time my older son made irrational requests was when he was tired. Like stumbling tired, going limp in my arms tired. I’d get him into the car and we’d be headed home and he’d be saying, “I need to see [my cousin] Johnny to go see a movie…” over and over, more and more upset until there was silence. No amount of understanding reassurances would help, he would just wail for three minutes and then vanish. Secretly, I think that some portion of his brain was already asleep.

    3. I have TOTALLY experienced this with tiredness too–my 4 year old will make a ridiculous request or do something he KNOWS is inappropriate, I set a limit, he has an epic tantrum and then shortly thereafter falls asleep. Such a strange phenomenon but I feel much better when I recognize it. The other day I actually said to him, “You know, when you do _____, it’s usually a sign that you are tired. Would you like your blanket so you can go rest?” And he scowled and said no, and then came and gave me a hug, and I realized seconds later that he had actually fallen asleep in my arms. I hope eventually he’ll learn to recognize those tired feelings for himself without the need to test limits/have a meltdown first….

  8. I always feel it really depends on the way we say yes more than what we say yes to. I’d say yes only if I thought it will be fun to try not because I’m scared of her throwing a tantrum.

    This is pretty much my guideline, am I saying yes because I truly am ok with it, or because I’m avoiding a scene? I really feel kids know and sense our comfort/discomfort.

    I personally would’ve said yes to the heels thing if we were visiting close friends.. that sounds funny and I truly would like to see her try 🙂 (assuming they’re low heels and not stilettos). Then again I let her walk around in the rain yesterday even though we had umbrellas, she asked and I thought yeah why not?

    I’d like to add about tantrums: the biggest thing I learned from this blog, after respecting oneself and one’s child, is not to be afraid of their tears, tantrum and feelings. Whenever I feel the fear of my daughter’s tears coming up. I literally mumble to myself, “don’t be afraid of her tears.” It really helps me stay calm and empathetic.

    1. Kay, thanks so much for sharing your process for staying calm during tantrums! You make me want to put a list together: Parents’ Helpful Hints for Handling Feelings! This is such a difficult thing for all of us.

  9. “Wow, you were so upset that I said you couldn’t have another piece of that yummy cake. You really wanted more.” Sometimes tantrums happen not only because of feelings (really wanting some more of that yummy cake) but also because of high blood sugar then low blood sugar dip from having that yummy cake!!!! Please think before giving a toddler any yummy cake and if you’re going to give it to him/her then give a tiny tiny piece in relation to how tiny his/her body size is!

    1. Jade, HA! Yes, very true. Funny, I imagined getting feedback like yours for choosing that example. 🙂

  10. Possibly my new favorite post–so affirming and clarifying. I have a question about whining. Where does this fall on the expressing emotions vs. annoyance scale?

    1. Hi Kay! Whining often means there are overwhelming feelings simmering below the surface that need a release. Tiredness or low blood sugar might be involved, too. If we stay calm rather than “react” (as with the head banging) we don’t empower and encourage this behavior. If we give responses like, “I can’t understand when you speak that way. Can you tell me in your regular voice?” the child will usually either do that or work herself towards a bigger release. So, if we’re going to categorize this, I would say that it’s a little of both a “yes” and a “boundary”. The boundary is not validating the child’s request when it is given with a whine, but at the same time, we are understanding that it’s perfectly okay to have the feelings behind the whine. (Boy, this is really making me think!) 🙂

      1. With my kindergarten students I actually say, “try to take the whine out of your voice and ask again,” which has the double benefit of making them giggle and then they ask normally.

  11. Dear Janet,

    Thanks so much for your response to my questions. Determining how to set boundaries can be such a difficult issue! Thinking about my two specific examples, I like the suggestion to allow tantrums – even ones that involve head-banging on occasion – to run their course, providing a pillow as needed and being available to provide emotional support.

    The shoe example is more tricky to me, and I have been trying to figure out why. You make the excellent point that when a child is testing you, it is important to set boundaries. But how do you determine when the child’s behavior is testing you versus just a natural exploration of the world?

    My colleagues conducting research on play find that even infants sometimes act like scientists and explorers. Infants and children throw toys to see how they fall, move objects around the floor to examine their properties, hand toys to the dog to see which ones she will take and which ones she will ignore. And they also act like experimental psychologists, crawling towards objects that are off-limits or making silly faces at us or pulling on our hair, just to see how we react. This is one of the reasons I am such a fan of your enclosed play space idea: children can use that play space to explore as much as they want without interruption or judgment.

    Outside of that play space, I feel like the lines between acceptable exploration and unacceptable experimenting become more blurry, but perhaps this is because I see so many different interpretations of what people think is acceptable behavior for a child. A few months ago, I saw a woman spank her preschool-aged child in a grocery store because the child had dropped something and it had spilled. Should she not have let the child touch anything in the store because it would upset her if he dropped something? Last time I flew, I heard some people complaining about a toddler who was climbing on some of the chairs outside the gate before boarding the plane. Should the parent have not allowed the child to climb?

    Complicating things further to me are individual differences. We know that 2-year-olds don’t have much impulse control (their frontal lobes of their brain just aren’t that developed yet), and we know impulse control improves as children get older, but there are enormous individual differences (see the marshmallow test by Mischel for some great research on this topic, examining both developmental and individual differences). So two parents with 3-year-olds may feel like setting very different boundaries: one may want the child to sit quietly in the grocery cart playing with the iPhone while shopping, while the other may be okay with the child “helping” get food from the lower shelves (and perhaps occasionally making a mess in the process). What boundaries are appropriate?

    I know I am asking lots of questions here. It’s interesting to me that although there is a good amount of research finding that play is important and that being a calm, assertive parent setting clear boundaries is great for children, there is less research on *how* to determine what those boundaries should be.

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts! Thank you,

    1. Re: toddler climbing chairs. If it were my kid I’d be hard pressed not to ask the strangers if they’d prefer my toddler to climb over chairs ON the airplane. I’d think everyone would be happy to see parents trying to give a small child a chance to burn off energy so they’re less likely to be stuck with a time bomb later. I guess some people must believe “good” parents can/should keep their 2 year old quiet and still every minute of every day.

    2. Hi Michelle,

      Another tall order from you! 🙂 Seriously, I agree that the shoe scenario is not as clear cut. One thought I’ve had is that since you were there, I’d love to hear your impressions. Did this seem like a child focused on exploration…or more of a performance? One way the parent could have handled this would be to say, “I would love to give you the opportunity to wear my shoes, and we’ll do that at home, not while we’re going to the car”. If the child really wanted to explore wearing the shoes, she would do it as soon as she got home.

      If there were a group of you getting into this car together, would that have made this look different to you? Would it be a good idea to make everyone wait for the little girl to explore walking in the shoes? I’m not sure I would want my child to be in that position. Often children ask to do these kinds of things because they have been reinforced for being “cute” and “adorable”. Educator John Holt has written about this.

      I couldn’t agree more about infants and toddlers being scientists, explorers, psychologists, inventors, problem-solvers…I have seen this with my own eyes many, many times. An episode of authentic exploration would look like this to me… You are walking to your car with your daughter and she notices an insect, leaf, flower, whatever, and stops to examine it. That would definitely be something to slow down for and allow, if possible.

      Observation is one of the best tools parents have for understanding their children.

      Regarding behavior in the store, another need infants and toddler have is to be active participants. This idea is at the core of Magda Gerber’s RIE Approach, but few other experts mention it. This is truly respecting the baby — including her in whatever’s happening in her life. So, when we’re out on errands, as tempting as using a distraction might be, it’s far healthier and more respectful to find ways for the baby to participate (even if that means an occasional spill), and NO, I would never spank a child for anything! There’s absolutely no reason to do something so potentially damaging and unproductive.

      We want to teach children to pay attention to life, and yet we teach them NOT to by distracting them during diaper changes,etc.

      Young children don’t have much impulse control, but they are not wild animals. They are people who can be stopped from doing messy things, given boundaries around touching and holding boxes in the store, etc. NO, the parent can’t be out-to-lunch and expect the child to behave perfectly. But when children are respected and understood, they respect us in return. Children accept these “yellow light” situations much more readily when they have lots of “green light” time in their safe spaces at home.

      Parents have to consider other people…and thereby teach children to as well. If there are people sitting in chairs and a toddler wants to climb on the chairs next to them, I would say, “not now, you can climb when we are at home.” A child does not need to follow every one of her impulses. Even the youngest child can listen to reason, if it’s brief and respectful. That doesn’t mean she won’t complain, yell, cry, have a different opinion… Those “opinions” then need to be acknowledged, while we gently hold the limit on the behavior.

      This video might interest you because it shows how capable one year old’s can be when given boundaries respectfully: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0IK2SlHn7o&list=UUaICuB_dNMBliDawMmoYaaQ&index=2&feature=plcp



  12. love this post. LOVE it!!
    i was going to copy and comment on a few of my favorite quotes here but i would have needed to copy the entire post because it’s all so good.

    i’m so glad you do what you do, janet… i learn SO MUCH from you and appreciate all you do so much. thank you!!


  13. Janet (and Michelle), As usual you have triggered a great conversation. So many specific yet generalizable situations, huh?
    One thing is missing, however. I read in the comments (even your, Janet) a tendency to want to know the “right” answer to a situation–(shoes–right or wrong, etc.)
    Whatever the behavior and whatever is motivating the child’s behavior there is always a meta question for the child “Does my Mom (Dad) consider this a boundary?–always? under what circumstances? only when she is tired or in a hurry? are shoes dangerous–objectively speaking?” In other words what kind of an authority is THIS adults. I just wrote about that on http://www.geniusinchildren.com with respect to a teenager, but the same principle applies.
    A parent does not have to be right all the time, never make mistakes in judgment, never change his/her mind. Consistency is over-rated (as well as impossible). Kids perception of reality is much more nuanced than that–their brains are designed to dope out a COMPLEX reality.
    The only consistency a parent should work for is his/her own integrity. Am I trustworthy to my child. There could be different reasons “No” to shoes would be OK or not OK.

  14. Hi Rick! I’m going to have to read that latest post of yours… Great point about “consistency being over-rated”. That idea has swirled through my mind often, but I’ve never really focused on it. I think it’s wonderful for children to know that we are NOT always right and that we change our minds. It’s so helpful to them when we model our process and also talk to them about it.

    Our children need to learn about us while we learn about them…and they DO learn about us whether we want them to or not, but he more we fill them in, the better. We are their models of what it means to be human

    It’s perfectly fine to say to a toddler, “I know you want me to carry you the car, but today my back is hurting. I’d love for us to walk together holding hands.” “Today I just don’t FEEL like it” is fine, too!

    My responses to Michelle’s (and others’) questions here have mostly been about understanding the subtleties young children communicate through their behavior. @AK and Colin nailed a VERY common one in their comments above. If we take these situations at face value, we often misread them… For example, a toddler who throws food is seldom indicating she needs more time to practice throwing. She’s saying she’s done and she wants to get out of her highchair (the first time she does this, at least. Depending on our reaction, it might become something else.)

    But the other side of this coin is what you are talking about, Rick, and what I only touched on with “The Annoyance Factor”. Children need to know us, and we don’t have to be perfect or even consistent in these “gray area” situations. Magda Gerber would have referred to these as “yellow lights”.

    1. I think the honesty factor is a big thing for me. I felt strange at first when I realized some limits I had set were safety limits but some limits were because a behavior was a big trigger for me–there was no rational reason my child couldn’t do certain things but they upset me far too much to allow them.

      These “yellow light” areas have been a wonderful area for me to use Dr Ross Greene’s “Collaborative Problem Solving” tecniques. Like the shoes example–I could (for example in a time crunch) simply set a limit (I want to walk to the car in my own shoes, you may wear your shoes or go barefoot) and there’s nothing wrong with that.
      But if I had a little extra time and patience, I might engage in some collaboration, a la Dr Greene: “You want to wear my shoes to walk to the car. I want to wear my shoes to walk to the car too. What solution can we find that we would both be OK with?” You’d be surprised at the creative things a 3 or 4 year old can come up with (probably some 2 year olds too but my son was largely non-verbal til age 3). Perhaps the child could wear the shoes to walk out to the car and then walk back to the parent so that the parent could walk to the car in their own shoes. Perhaps the child could try the mom’s shoes on and then give them back. Perhaps the mom could let the child wear her shoes around the house after they get back home. Sometimes, just having a little back and forth conversation about it is enough for the child to decide that they’re fine wearing their own shoes–the key is to be open-ended and consider all the possibilities, and explain WHY if you think something wouldn’t work. Exploring/negotiating/rejecting/accepting different solutions is a great skill builder for conflict resolution, and the best thing is that it transfers to other situations–I see my son using these negotiation techniques to resolve disputes with his 2 year old sister as well.

      1. Thank you for this reply – it is exactly what I wanted to read! I also am looking for communication options that don’t involve parental manipulation (referencing “safety” when that’s not the actual issue, creating only 2 choices, etc.). Thank you!

      2. Yes, Chelle! I really appreciate your suggestions to collaborate when there’s time and we’re feeling patient. I’ve noticed that our tone and intention matter a great deal. For example, if we feel we must negotiate in order to be respectful and avoid a blow-up (but we’re really NOT into it), testing and resistance will persist. But if we feel genuinely open and into it, negotiation can be truly helpful and positive. Self-awareness as parents is extremely important.

  15. Its really interesting to read how differently parents can interpret each scenario, how differently each interprets the risk, and how differently they may behave!
    I love the point about consistency (or lack thereof) and honesty. My kids (3&5) LOVE it when I confess to a mistake and apologise to them. They usually respond with generosity, sympathy and hugs. Sometimes with “But I still love you”.

    The times when I am told “I don’t love you any more!” or (the worst threat they can dream up) “You’re not my best friend now!” I have always seen as a test, though maybe challenge or dare would be better words. They want to know how far my love will go, and how strong it is. My usual response is something deadpan, like “Well, I’m your mother and I shall always love you no matter what”. Which I hope lets each of them know that 1) I’m not worried about you saying that, and 2) I actually will always love you.

    The other game which I love playing with my girls is “mums and darlings” – role reversal. By acting the part of the child, I get to vent by saying all the things that I find so annoying when they are said to me! In a whiny voice!!
    They get to try out some of my responses, as well as some of their own. It can be a harsh lesson in what I actually do say, and what they hear too. We always end up laughing and cuddling.

  16. There is some merit to how you handle things, but the reasons such as children “secretely” want you to say no are ludicrous.

    1. I might have agreed with you had I not known children who actually verbalized these “secret wishes” to parents and caregivers.

      1. I’ve struggled with this too, although I wouldn’t call anything in your excellent post and advice “ludicrous.” (Thank you for the great article–I’m excited to look at the rest of your site!) What I’m starting to think about the idea of the child’s secret wish for boundaries is that it could possibly be phrased differently. For instance, I’d be willing to believe that many children would never consciously agree that they want a “No” or a boundary in those moments or even later. But if we think about it from the standpoint of what the child *needs* in that moment, rather than what the child *thinks* she/he wants, then it seems very reasonable to say the child needs boundaries set. Another cake analogy: when my children are very hungry, they sometimes scream for sugar. When I give them a non-sugary snack, they wolf it down and stop demanding sugar. I learned that from my own body–when I crave sugar it seems to actually be that I need protein. What I think I want is different from what my body needs. Same with kids boundaries. In those tantruming moments or pre-tantrum moments, my daughter will demand something crazy (to my mind) like driving back to where we started and getting in the car again without her dress on. Is that what she needs? No! She needs sleep or food, and she needs to trust that she has a parent who will help guide her in learning to interpret her emotions. It takes a long time to learn to decipher what our body or our emotions are telling us, and part of parenting is helping children learn to do this. Over and over again. I think that’s one thing that boundaries can achieve, is this business of saying “At this point I’m going to help you help yourself, because you’re starting to do some lousy translation of your urges.” And boundaries set well and consistently enough will also tell the child that she /he can trust the parent’s guidance. On some level, that’s what the child really needs, whether she or he can ever state it as a desire or not.

  17. avatar darlene farhadikia says:

    hi janet, i query about the enclosed safe play areas. DS is 2 and he is very active and between me and DD7, he hasn’t really done ‘alone’. He used to do playpen time a bit but never for long and we never really made it a habit. i have made the whole house safe, everything is put away, put up high or closed off, like kitchen, my bedroom, etc. the problem is he just ‘needs’ someone around all the time.he’s not clingy, but can’t stand having alone time. and cries when i have tried to put him in his room with the baby gate up, he can see out and has all his toys and there are no restrictions as to what he can do in there, but he cries and it escalates so i take him out. DD and i never get any alone time to sit together and read on the couch (he jumps on us to get us to play) or for her to pull out her big girl stuff (he will get into it and throw a tantrum when i tell him no)i have even tried a few times going in her room with her and put up the baby gate and give him ‘free play’ in the rest of the house (the safe zones that are open to him) and he stands at the door and cries to come in and it escalates. we homeschool and never get anything done. please tell me how to handle this. i was more authoritatian when DD was this little, but i am new to gentler parenting and thoiugh i know there is a need for more boundaries with him, i’m not sure how to handle him with a different, gentler approach and get results. all my attention goes to him as it is. please help and many thanks for all you are doing, darlene

    1. Darlene, the key here is being perfectly okay with your little guy complaining loudly and tearfully about not getting what he wants. This is a healthy response to disappointment. Your healthy response will be to calmly acknowledge his feelings and let them be. Make his interference a “boring” thing to do by not getting worked up by it, which isn’t the same as purposely ignoring him. It just means not getting your buttons pushed and gently acknowledging, “I hear you yelling and wanting my attention, but I’m reading to your sister right now.”

      If you can stay calm and confident about this he will stop.

  18. avatar Stefanie B says:

    Hi Janet, Can you speak to the idea that we, as parents, also have a responsibility to teach our children how to respectfully share their feelings? I am torn between letting my child have the full out tantrum that they may need to express their feelings and guiding them to more acceptable ways of expressing feelings. For example, if my child hits I would catch their hand and might say, “It’s okay to be angry about xyz, but you may not hit.” Obviously, they are not going to be able to scream at their boss or hit their head against the wall when they are adults. How would you suggest we start teaching these skills so that we are not invalidating our child’s feelings but are still teaching them respectful behavior?

    1. Hi Stefanie! “Obviously, they are not going to be able to scream at their boss or hit their head against the wall when they are adults. How would you suggest we start teaching these skills so that we are not invalidating our child’s feelings but are still teaching them respectful behavior?”

      It’s important to understand that young children are impulsive and easily overcome with emotion. As they mature, they will naturally learn more self-control. So, our best, most crucial tool is MODELING. Model peaceful behavior, rather than violence and yelling. Model patience and self-control, while providing reasonable, age-appropriate boundaries. Then your children will assuredly grow out of their impulsive behavior.

  19. Hi Janet,

    Love the article. Love all your articles!

    I’m someone who grew up feeling that I was an annoying nuisance and I certainly don’t want my 4 year old son to feel the same way. But he takes after me in some ways. So my question is how to “enforce” boundaries.

    For example, he makes noise all day long, oftentimes very loudly. In the car it can be dangerous. In the mornings it’s rude to our neighbours. At the end of the day it is overwhelming.

    I set the boundary: he needs to turn down the volume. I have several different strategies for encouraging him to be quieter: many playful strategies, copying him but at an appropriate volume, etc. If he cannot be quieter, then we have to stop the car or go outside. The suggestion of going outside (even though I go with him) brings on very loud tears. Eventually he recovers, we go back inside and he’s too loud again within minutes.

    I can’t control this boundary. What can I do?

    Thanks in advance,

    1. Hi Jess and thanks for your kind words!

      I can’t control this boundary.” EXACTLY. You can’t control this, so stop putting so much energy into controling it. Your boy knows how hard you are working…and this is what makes the loudness interesting for him. Four can be a pretty loud, out-there age. Let it be. Don’t set a boundary around it. Don’t lecture, comment, use playful strategies or any strategies at all. All of these tactics are “charging” the behavior, making it into something very intriguing for your boy to continue. Be totally blase about it and it will cease.

      1. Great, thank you for this post on boundaries! Could this be geared towards sleep as well? My 3.5 y/o finds it tough to relax- night or day sleep is challenging. Naps have been the worst of the two. Not enough sleep at night = grumpy son and Mom and yet he refuses and fights naps, of course! (age appropriate, I understand) Is there an appropriate boundary to set around basic needs like sleep? If there is, I’ve not figured it out. He needs rest for development.

  20. About acknowledging feelings. I have always felt that is sooo important. Now, my 7.5 year old daughter has a negative attitude about anything that isn’t what she’s wanting. It’s like she isn’t able to be disappointed.

    it’s disruptive to the family because she will ask for things (often things we have already addressed — like starting a movie at bedtime), we give an answer, and unless it’s the one she wants, she has a, “but what about…” until we start to get annoyed and tell her enough. Then the pouting starts — staring me down with sadness, grief, and tragedy. not sure how else to say that.

    What then? I tend to acknowledge her feelings and my husband tends to get to the Enough! point quicker, and she is able to recover more easily with him. It feels to me as though acknowledging her feelings has become indulgence — is that possible?

    1. First and foremost, she needs a clear, firm answer, so that she can express her displeasure and eventually let go and move on… Then, I would also acknowledge her feelings… “you didn’t like that”. If she says “but what about…”, answer, “I hear how unfair this seems to you”, but be resolute so she can let go.

  21. Hi Janet,

    What are your thoughts on grandparents. My 3 y/o spends a few hours a day with her grandma (my mom) 4 days a week. Grandma’s ways of dealing with my little girl are different than mine, of course. Nothing to drastic but I have seen her play the “guilt card” a few times. I think my mom uses “gult” because its something that stems from the way she was brought up which resulted in self esteem issus for her as an adult. I don’t want this for my child but I also don’t want to put too much pressure on grandma to be “perfect”.

    I have very high expectations for my own parenting but I don’t feel it’s fare to expect that of other mainly b/c they haven’t done the research and reading that I have. They simply don’t understand things the way that I do nor do I think they should have to invest their time into doing do so. I want my mom to enjoy being a grandma.

    Is this going to be detrimental to my 3 y/o though as her grandma is a big part of her life?

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    1. Hi Beth! Ultimately, what you and your partner do will matter a million times more… So, if this isn’t abusive, etc., I would let it go.

  22. Hi Janet
    I really loved this post. I have a related question. My son who is 26 months recently started not wanting to sit in his highchair to eat meals, he would say he wanted to play and then would get upset if I moved him to the high chair(even if given time to finish what he was doing). So I suggested he eat at his little table and chair (so he can still feel free to move). This worked ok for a while then he wanted to move around while eating. I allowed this as I felt perhaps he needed this freedom and seemed to eat better when on the go.
    I am wondering though whether sitting down to eat is a boundary I should be pushing as it will be required of him when he goes to nursery for example. Also it occurred to me that it is perhaps not very safe to be moving around while eating (more prone to choke?)
    I don’t want to impede him and I think I’m a bit confused over if this is an issue to respect his wishes around or if I should set a clear boundary.

    1. Hi Amy,

      I’m a preschool teacher teaching 24 – 42 month old children. We keep it really simple when it comes to eating and movement. If you are eating you are at the table (sitting or standing). If you don’t have food in your hands or mouth you can walk move. I’ve had to perform the heimlich on a toddler (I ended up bruising his rib) and it was in the top three worst days of my life.

      It takes quite a lot of practice to introduce the new routine especially since most of them are in high chairs at home. It took about 2-4 weeks for our kids to get it but I am amazed by how capable they are. We modeled it and then use questions to get to them start self regulating: “Do you have food in your mouth/hands? Okay where should you be?” in a very casual light hearted way at eye level. Eventually we shortened it to just “Where do we eat?” Sometimes I could even look at the kid and wink at them with a smile and they would go back to the table haha We keep it light but clear that it’s non negotiable.

      We haven’t had too many kids try to push it. When they do I normally get down on their level and say something like: “I can’t let you dance and eat. It is not safe. I will hold your food until you are ready. Let me know when you’re ready” and get ready for some kind of reaction and then gently put their food up and hang out near them but not necessarily reacting. Our kids can all say or sign ‘ready’ and they like having that control. I did have one little girl scream like she was being scalped for a full 25 minutes while holding my hand! Eventually she melted into my lap and whispered “Ready” into my ear and she stood for the rest of her meal. Turns out she her Dad had left on a business trip for the first time ever that morning. Of course I have 25 minutes to chill through a tantrum because it’s my job but she (and no one else) has tried to push it since.

      I realize this is super long response to a simple question but I was just thinking through this explanation to discuss with a parent tomorrow.

      It sounds like you are asking whether her freedom to explore is more important than the probably very unlikely instance of her choking. You have to decide that for yourself. For me it is because I am responsible for other people’s children, but I might be different for my own child and how well they eat. I will say, it will be one less routine for him to learn at preschool if you introduce it now.

  23. hello janet,
    thnak you so much!
    i am french, and sorry for my non perfect english (yes i want to be perfect in most of time and that’s make me crazy with children… but i don’t writ you for that)
    thank you yes, because i often cry when i read your posts! i would like to manage what is written… and/or i would have parents like that whan i was a child! it’s silly ! lol
    i have a 4 years old boy whose relation is very difficult… so lovely misunderstand’s boy. and a 2 yeras old girl who’s lovely but i think, a little erased.
    i will loved to meet you one time…
    i trust very strong in your approche and lead meeting Faber&Mazlich in france… and would like to leanr with you. do you know some class (RIE) in europe? if i have enought money to come in USA, would you welcome me ? in a class to learn for other parents and to learn for my own healing.
    with much love,

  24. hi Janet

    I have a question regarding this part of the article ‘The child who falls to floor and bangs his head in anger, rage or frustration needs a calm, understanding parent to allow him to express these feelings fully — not punish him or even “comfort” him to make this outburst stop’

    can you give me some idea of what that looks like, what does a calm understanding parent DO in these situations ? what are her actions.. how does this parental behaviour look ?

    my son doesnt head bang, butwhen he gets upset i dont know what to do, ive read this kind of comment in a few posts, but i honestly dotn know what that means me to do. can you give me a basic idea guideline please.

    thanks alot Nayana

    1. It simply means ACCEPTANCE, which usually looks like quietly and patiently waiting. Maybe nodding one’s head if the child looks at you.

  25. avatar Carina Miller says:

    You cover a lot of good ground here, Janet. THANK YOU! Much needed over here in my home.

  26. I had something happen yesterday that totally stumped me. My son is 20 months old. Usually DH picks him up from daycare, but yesterday I did (I suspect this is relevant). I could NOT get him into his carseat. He would only stand in it and play. I knew he was tired, but everytime I asked or told him to sit down so we could go home, I got “Noooooo!!!” We sat there for 45 minutes. It probably would have been longer, but DH came and as soon as he saw his father, he sat right down. *sigh* Any ideas for how to handle something that HAS to happen like that? I had friends say just wrestle him in, but that doesn’t sit right with me at all. Nevermind that he’s also too strong. I’m just stumped.

  27. avatar Ayse gurbuzer says:

    Just wonderful. Just what I really needed to hear after trying to get through my days with a 3 year old who had not napped 7 days in a row, and had several melt downs daily.
    Because of your fantastic writings I still love parenting no matter how exhausted, frustrated, and crazy I feel!

    1. Wow! That is the BEST feedback I could ever hear. Thank you, Ayse!

  28. I was happy to read this as I’ve been wanting to ask you, Janet, about head-banging. My 13.5-year-old has been falling to the floor and banging his head (hard) for a couple of months now. He does this repeatedly throughout the day when he is frustrated (and he is frustrated very easily). I make sure he gets naps, eats food before he gets too hungry, has a safe place to play, play objects that are safe to play with, etc. In other words, I’m not telling him “no” all day. I’m a Child Therapist and value the importance of allowing kids to express their feelings but with my own child (and my sensitive heart), it really gets me down to see him hurting himself all day long after so many months. The pediatrician didn’t seem to think it was a problem and encouraged me to ignore him – which is not my style. I’m feeling a little hopeless as I’ve heard it can take years to outgrow this. Any further suggestion about how to handle this is would be much appreciated. Thank you.

    1. I realize how tough this can be, CaliMom, but I would try not to be bothered by this behavior, because that will only give it power. What you might do is casually insert a pillow between your child and the floor… Your nonchalant attitude is really important.

  29. How do we determine appropriate expectations? Consider the needs of others, in the first example. How would mama then walk to the car? Then let’s talk about how to help the child meet the expectation if she can not do it herself. In this case, relinquish control of the shoes and get into the the car. In the second example, safety. “I will not allow you to harm yourself” while gently holding the child.

  30. avatar Katie Gardner says:

    So, how do you start inserting your own boundaries again? My son has had a really rough year (he’s 8) and I feel like I’ve let a lot of expectations go in order to help him through. Now I’m feeling like a doormat sometimes and I don’t know how to gently reinstate boundaries and limits. I’ve finally come to terms with his tantrums and they don’t scare me and frazzle me like they used to. But sometimes I need space and sometimes I just need him to do something because it needs to be done.

    1. Just be clear and honest, Katie. Acknowledge, “I know I was letting such-in-such happen, but I realize now that I am not comfortable. So, I will not let you ___”

  31. Janet, this is one of my all time favorite posts about children and power. Keep reposting it! re: how to respond to awful words/verbal tantrum, I use: “I have heard you/I hear you/i heard your words. I also use this as a question: did you hear my words? And with two children: did you hear his words? You can say: I heard you. Everyone deserves acknowlegement, but not necessarily feedback 🙂

  32. Janet, I’ve read this several times over the last months. Fantastic.
    My favorite part… I think it’s vitally important to be able to parent in a calm way, and this really makes the difference:

    “Also, when we placate children by allowing them to do what we don’t really want them to do, we end up being the ones who want to explode, and that can be dangerous.

    Do we want our children to grow up believing they are annoying, unpleasant people…and very possibly fulfilling that prophecy?”

  33. I notice in the shoe example you have the parent reference the larger concept of “safety” to set her limit (and then offer 2 parent-created options).

    What if – more honestly – the issue is the parent doesn’t want to take the time (it is not REALLY about safety)? How do you suggest we honestly and directly include our own wants in our communication with our children?

    “I know you like to walk in my shoes and [that’s safe to do in our house, but not now.] … ….. you really like doing that, but because I want to get to our appointment on time… ??

    I get that it is easy for a while to create manipulated reality for children (not safe, here are your 2 options, etc.) but obviously there is a time limit on this so I’m curious if there are ways to communicate NOW that set us up for the future.

  34. I have a one year old and feel I do not deal with his whining and tantrums appropriately. I get frustrated with him and do not know what the right way to deal certain situations because he whines frequently and refuses many things- sleep, eating, nursing, and drinking frequently. I feel as though I have messed things up, because in the moment, I don’t know what to do. He has been a challenge for me. Any advice on making changes when I haven’t dealt with my responses appropriately in the past and if past frustration from me has already caused negative associations with me and/or messed up my relationship with him?

  35. I have a three and a half year old daughter who can have very intense meltdowns especially when she’s overly tired. I’ve seen her repeatedly bite her own hand so hard she leaves red circles on it. Is this normal behavior or something I should be concerned about? How do I react to this?

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  37. avatar Monica Rosnersky says:

    Thank you for such an insightful and honest article. I couldn’t agree more and try to follow this philosophy as best as possible. As a result, I have a wonderful relationship with my daughter. Everyone else praises how easy she is, and she is! Because we respect each other. I love this line in your article, “The true wish or “need” this child is expressing, in my opinion, is the comfort of a parent’s leadership and limits.”

  38. Hi Janet,

    First I want to thank you because your blog has been so helpful to me as a parent. I first found it right around the time my baby started acting like a toddler, and you gave me a confident way to handle emotions/tantrums and set healthy limits.

    One thing you said in this article worries me a little. You said, “the typical child will not deliberately hurt himself.” When my now 19-month-old has a tantrum or gets upset or frustrated and starts hitting or biting, I usually say something like, “You’re frustrated. I won’t let you hit.” And gently hold her hands. Or, “You’re so upset. I won’t let you bite. I’m moving my body away so you can’t bite.” Then I set her down so she can’t bite me. Recently, her response has sometimes been to bite herself or hit herself when she can’t hit or bite me. I try to stop this as well, by gently holding her hands, although it’s admittedly harder to catch this if I’ve moved her away or when she’s really fast. I’m not very strong or quick because I have back problems, but I try. Should I be worried about this? She otherwise seems like a normal, healthy, child who is developing normally.

    1. You’re so welcome, Christin!

      I’m sorry my statement wasn’t clear… I should amend that to “seriously” hurt himself. It is common for children to try hitting themselves or hitting their heads on the floor, etc. My point was that I recommend not stopping your daughter when she hits or bites herself, because that will tend to encourage her to repeat this behavior… The behavior becomes more interesting to the child when it has the power to bother or worry us.

      1. Thanks for responding. I hadn’t realized that you’d responded until today, because I thought the system would send me some sort of automatic e-mail. I thought, “I should check again, just in case…” and here it was.

  39. Hi Janet, thank you for your wonderful articles which continue to improve our family life bit by bit 🙂 I am curious however, about a particular facet of letting children fully express their emotions over any given subject; strange as they can sometimes be!
    Our little 3yo girl (especially since dropping her day sleep recently) becomes very reactive and emotional when she is tired, and tantrums over little events which would not usually be an issue at all.
    I feel that without a calm comforting approach by us, the tears and distress goes far beyond her genuine feelings on the matter And she is being left to OVER react, rather than have her immediate needs met by way of soothing words, a cuddle and bed. I would love to hear your thoughts on whether this is a valid exception in your view. Thank you, Jolene

  40. Hi Jolene! Can you share what you mean by a “calm, comforting approach”?

  41. There were two points in this post that really got me thinking.

    You mention “enclosed play spaces” in response to this question regarding 3 year olds. I completely agree with setting up the environment so that you don’t have to say ‘no’ to children as much as possible, but 3 (even 2) seems a little old to me to confine them to an enclosed “yes” space. Is it realistically possible to confine a 3 year old at home? At what age do you entrust them with the whole house?

    The other one is the “annoyance factor”. I cannot imagine a way that I could possible prevent my two year old from doing anything that annoys me. There are so many things that two year olds just need to do despite the fact that they can be annoying. Taking 10 minutes to put on her own shoes or wanting to do just about everything “all by my self!” It would be so much faster and less annoying and less messy for me to just do all these things for her, but how would she learn? I remind myself that although it might seem unimportant to me and might annoy me it is probably very important to her. How do we balance our annoyance with their need to do these things?

  42. Hi Janet,

    My soon to be 3 year old has a busy day of testing me. He poured paint out inside the house after I told him that I was running upstairs to quickly change and then we would go paint outside. And because of this, he did not paint today. While outside, he continued to ride his bike further away, after I told him to stop and turn around. I told him we had to go inside now, since he was having trouble listening. Once inside, he was happily running off to a new toy. I tried to discuss with him what happened and he had no interest. Am I doing these natural consequence the correct way, as it does not seem like my son is phased by them. Thanks!

  43. Hi Janet- I’m wondering how this boundary setting can perhaps apply to breastfeeding on demand.
    I’ve got an 11 month old and he nurses whenever he wants (save for time with husband and at daycare) and I’m wondering if this is perhaps giving him an overwhelming sense of power. I’m not sure always how to read the situation. I know that when he’s teething or feeling kind of sick, he attaches and does not want to let go. But also in more regular times he’ll want boob over water. I have started explaining when he nurses to sleep that he will have to let go and can’t sleep with the boob in his mouth, which usually is successful. But I would appreciate some more light on this topic.


  44. Hi Janet,

    Thank you for your writing, which has been a great help to me over the last few months.

    I would appreciate any thoughts on how to apply your ideas with two boys born only 16 months apart, now coming up to 3 and just over 18 months. They both use volume (shout/crying) and pushing a lot at the moment and I find it very difficult to enact the empathetic responses you suggest when 1) there is so much noise nobody can hear me and 2) whichever one I speak to causes jealousy and therefore a new friction with the other one. I am also not sure how to cope with persistent nagging and am struggling to make any space at all for my needs in this three way relationship. My husband is away from home 5 days a week and I work about 60% so there is also quite a lot of nursery and grandparent care involved…
    Many thanks for any ideas!

  45. Hi. Could you clarify something’s for me because I don’t know how to modulate my own reactions/expectations of my own behavior around them.

    When you say freedom to irritate us through their behavior what really jumps to my mind from my daily life is how my 4 yo starts getting Loud and repetitive in the car. I have discovered that noise really triggers me. My heart races, I get breathless and full on panic mode. Sometimes my vision blurs and ALWAYS I get a severe headache. Let me add that I suffer from chronic pain and severe mobility restrictions that primarily only affect my caretaking duties. I appear fine but I cannot even physically tolerate being pulled while she’s holding on to my hand. So the noise I feel kind of adds to the stress of tolerating the already barely manageable pain and it just gets too much to bear. I almost always get triggered and have to resort to yelling to get her to stop making things painful for me because the preceding half hour of calmly asking her to talk softly because I’m in pain does not work. Ever. I get that she forgets when she’s excited and she does truly sometimes tries to accommodate me. But the problem is that it always eventually goes wrong in a way where I cannot get out of the car to get away the noise (I have tried that. Sometimes calmly and sometimes in anger and she gets frantic understandably on both)
    So what limit to hold and how without making myself suffer because I really really hate being a parent at that time even though I love her a lot.

    Secondly you quote Magda saying it helps to know what your needs are and to convey to your family so they can respect your needs. Sigh. My needs are to limit the physical strain of actually lifting, taking by the hand, seating in my lap, bending down for, showering, cleaning up after toilet, dressing, cooking, cleaning up after toys and feeding my kid. I can walk sit lie down, lift weights as long as I can control how my body moves (she overtakes that choice when I have to lift her) but I cannot do any of that for her. She spends majority of her waking hours at daycare because I couldn’t even feed her or clean her during a diaper change even when I stayed at home. The ‘need’ for all this to be taken care of whiteout straining myself physically have been outsourced to daycare and my partner but the price is that I don’t get to connect with her. I cannot play with her the games she wants. I cannot read to her for long because of maintaining a posture. And my need to not be sensorily overloaded esp by noise is something that affects whatever little time we do have. There was a time I used to walk around the house with noise cancelling headphones and songs on so I could block out the sound that would push me to feel stressed.

    Self care is not effective, pain can not be managed by medications and I’m not disabled. I want to participate in my daughters life instead of being the one to watch from the sidelines.

    Because of my limitations I do resent that there are things I’m forced into that I cannot do the few hours a day she spends with me. I have to pretend to be okay with pain That is caused to me by doing what needs to be done (she has gone 5 hours with a poop filled diaper in the pre daycare times) and I start resenting her for something that’s a limitation at my end. I cannot physically enforce limits at all. And every single minute I spend with her involves ongoing sacrifice of my health and causes pain which always leads to anger outbursts. I’m managing my acceptance of my limitations by therapy and meditation etc but I want a concrete plan to be included in her life. I’m not.

  46. Hi Janet,

    In reference to the wonderful article, I have a question: I have a 2 year old, a 4 year old (both girls) and a 9 month old so, and I’m a stay at home mom. My kids are with me 24/7, and they get a lot of love and attention. My 2 year old has been acting out for months, but I feel like it’s been getting worse as time goes by. She yells at me, slams doors when she runs to her room when she doesn’t get her way after I’ve explained to her nicely why she can’t do or have so and so and she sometimes even hurts her sister. Two things I don’t understand and we’re really struggling to handle is her constant need to do the exact opposite of what we ask her to do and she runs away all the time. It’s been very dangerous where she runs away from me because she doesn’t want to go into the house, and literally missed running in front of a car by seconds, and another instance she almost drowned because she wanted it her way and ran into the pool before I could grab her.
    We recently hired a nanny to help me with the kids at home, and she refuses that she does anything for her. She even tells her that she doesn’t like her, yells, runs away even more and is really ugly toward her – and this woman just wants to give her attention and love.
    Basically, my questions are; how do I go about the running away part? I don’t even want to take her to the park anymore.
    When she screams, runs away and yells ‘I’m angry’ (for the millionth time that day) and sulks in her room, do I go in and comfort her? Or does that create a pattern where she knows mommy will come and comfort me even when I’m wrong?

    I feel so lost in this parenting thing, and I have 3! Haha. I’m just exhausted and tired of fighting with her after I’ve tried my best to stay calm and revert the situation – distractions don’t seem to work with her.

  47. I love the rule – always say yes to feelings. I think it so important!

    My problem with it is this: Our elderly neighbours often babysit my 2-year old daughter. They love her and she loves them back, she likes spending time with them. They’re like grandparents to her.

    But! They often tell her things like: “It is not nice to shout.” “You have no reason to be angry now, nothing happened.” “Stop crying. You are prettier when you smile.” “Go to the other room and come back when you are calm.” “Nice little girls do not scream like this.”

    To me it seems like violence on children. It hurts me when I tell my daughter: “It seems you are angry at me,” and she replies “No, Elena said, I cannot be angry”.

    I tried talking to them about it but they disagree with me. I have a dilemma now: should I let them have their own relationship and trust that I, as a mother, am the primary influence in her life? Or should I request they stop this? Or end the relationship?

    Thank you so much for all you do. You have no idea how much your blog has helped me.


  48. Hi Janet, thanks for your timely post. My soon to be 3 year old son has been hitting himself on his head (slapping really hard with both hands) when having a tantrum or distressed. We have tried different things- giving a pillow to slap, teaching him to stomp, use words and also letting him just hit himself but it hasn’t changed. It’s so hard to watch him to do that – for us and others too. I fear he will learn self harming behavior growing up. Any advice on how to help him as giving pillow isn’t an option? Thank you

  49. I wanted to add this behavior has persisted over 6 months (on and off but more on than off).

  50. Thank you for this. “I don’t like how this makes me feel”. This is the language I never had access to. Just even reading this post, (and I’ve been a reader for 15 years!) helped me to understand that my own feelings weren’t allowed or welcomed growing up. This phrase has illuminated a few corners for me. Thank you

    1. (Above is in response to Johanna)
      I really appreciate this community of compassion and love for our children and us as their parents, guardians and teachers.

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