If Gentle Discipline Isn’t Working, This Might Be the Reason

If you’re reading here because you’re committed to guiding your child’s behavior without spankings or punishments, I salute you, especially if you were punished as a child and are looking for a better way.

Setting limits without punishments works. In fact, it works so beautifully that you’ll find you need to set fewer and fewer limits, especially once the toddler years have passed.  Many of you have sent me inspiring stories about the positive results you are experiencing, often immediately.

I also hear a lot about what isn’t working from parents who believe they are practicing gentle discipline.  Parents share about behavior that might have started as minor testing but has become more aggressive, destructive, defiant, or deliberate. I hear about needy, demanding five-year-olds, preschoolers intentionally hurting their peers, and children who seem either fragile or angry much of the time.

Parents wonder: How can my child keep acting this way when I’m committed to respectful, non-punitive guidance?

I had a sudden inkling about the reason while re-reading blogger Suchada Eickemeyer’s post: “The Most Valuable Parenting Phrase After ‘I Love You”.  The important phrase she refers to is, “I won’t let you.” Suchada remarks, “This phrase has helped me become the disciplinarian I want to be: in charge, but not controlling; gentle, but firm; honest; clear; and direct.”

There seems to be a common misconception that gentle, non-punitive discipline means avoiding a direct confrontation with the child rather than providing the simple, connected response children need when, for example, they hit the dog.  In this case, appropriate discipline would mean getting down on the floor next to the child, making eye contact, and saying calmly, “I won’t let you hit the dog, that hurts” while holding the child’s hand or otherwise blocking the hit.

My sense is that many parents over-complicate this issue, perhaps because of confusion about some of the terms commonly used in regard to discipline, terms like ‘connection’, ‘unmet needs’ and ‘playful’.


Yes, children need to feel connected for discipline to be successful. But how? When I hear the word ‘connection’, hugging, laughing and running through grass together come to mind, not saying “no” and possibly upsetting my child.  Connection during boundary setting doesn’t look warm and fuzzy, but it is crucial. Here are the two most important ways to connect:

1.  Just talk to your child

Most of the advice I hear about setting limits suggests wording that subtly skirts a direct confrontation and distances us when we should be connecting.  The verbal examples are commonly in the third person, “it is not okay to…”, “Mommy doesn’t like it when you…”, or “Joey isn’t allowed to…” Then there’s the philosophical approach: “Faces are not for slapping”, “Streets are not for running into”, “Friends are not for biting”. Or, the royal “we”: “We don’t throw food” (while our perceptive toddlers are thinking, “well, some of us don’t”).

Personally, I’m even a little uncomfortable with “Honey (or Sweetie, or Pumpkin), don’t hurt the dog.” Terms of endearment at times like these sound phony and patronizing to me, especially if the adult is feeling annoyed while faking calm and affection.

“I won’t let you” (or “I can’t let you” or “I don’t want you to”) instantly connect us person-to-person and clarify our expectations. This is the connection children need first and foremost when they misbehave. Toddlers don’t miss a trick, so they need (and deserve) a respectful, straight answer. We can run through the grass together afterward.

2. Acknowledge and empathize

Children need their perspectives and feelings acknowledged when we are setting limits. (I describe this in detail in “The Key To Your Child’s Heart”.) It is usually best to empathize after first setting the limit (“I won’t let you”). But empathy means understanding and supporting, not going down with the ship.  In other words, reflect verbally, (“You were upset about not getting another cracker” or “you want to stop playing outside and come back in the house.), but don’t get upset or discouraged when your child has an emotional reaction to your limits. That level of connection isn’t healthy for either of us. It wears us out and clouds our perspective, making effective guidance less possible, and our child is without the strong anchor she needs.

Unmet needs

By the time they are 18 months of age, most children are fully aware of many of the things we don’t want them to do. So, why do they do them? There are many possibilities to consider, but only after we fulfill the child’s number one need in that moment of limit-pushing behavior.  If we hesitate to set a limit with conviction because we’re trying to figure out what is driving our child’s behavior, he or she is left with a faltering, vague or inconclusive message instead of real help.

The most common need children have when they act out is our attention, beginning with a very specific kind of attention — a kind but firm acknowledgment of their behavior and of our expectations.


Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m a silly, playful person and parent.  I love the genuine, spontaneous playfulness and joking that happens with children when I feel confident about my leadership. Playfulness is wonderful when we’re “feeling it”, and it helps us encourage cooperation for cleaning up toys or brushing teeth. But I don’t advise playfulness as a technique for limit setting when it replaces (or dances around) the connected, honest, clear response children need.

I also think advising playfulness imposes even more pressure on parents to keep children happy all the time, which most of us would do if we thought it possible or healthy or the route to true happiness.  But always smiling isn’t real life or a real relationship. Our kids know better, and they deserve both.

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

NO BAD KIDS: Toddler Discipline Without Shame

(Photo by roland.lakis on Flickr)


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

  1. Mom of Two Year Old says:

    Just wondering about your advice for my situation. My 2.5 year old daughter tests with us at home, but is really quite easy, I believe. HOWEVER, at preschool, she is causing the teachers a lot of headache. We are now in constant communication with them about her and we are worried that they will kick her out of the school, which she loves and would be heartbroken to leave. This is what they say she does:

    1) Refuses to pick up toys at clean up time. She either stands in a corner or runs outside.
    2) Laughs during time-outs. They give her 2-minute time-outs because she is 2 years old.
    3) Is loud and active during naptime, distrupting the other kids.
    4) Says, “chicken butt” during snack time, after being asked not to and after having had time out.
    5) Challenges teachers when asked not to do things, such as putting her feet in a cubby. She will argue that her feet are not in the cubby, since they are not touching the bin inside the cubby (or some such technicaility).

    They are quite unhappy with her behavior and it sounds like she is an outlier in the school (as in, most the kids are more compliant than she is).

    My husband is completely mortified by this and wants to start punishments in earnest (acting angry with her, taking away activities and toys) whenever he hears that she has been defiant at school. He picks her up every day and gets a daily report from her afternoon teacher. He feels that we are to blame for her behavior, because we are not strict enough with her. He believes that we are harming her by not being more strict, because the repercussions of her behavior might break her heart (getting kicked out of school).

    What do you recommend we do?

    1. All those behaviors from a 2 yr. old need to be ignored. Put the toy bin at one side of the area and have her throw them in like playing basketball would help. Time out for a 2 yr. old? Nope. Also, if she is distracting others during naptime she should be moved to a different room. Silly names? 2 yr. old normal. Putting feet in the cubby? Ignore. They just don’t know how children are or something? I’d find a different place. Sounds like they want the 2 yr. old to be 6 yrs. old instead.

        1. My 22 month old constantly grabs my glasses off my face. When she does this, I say “I will not let you take my glasses, I need them to see.” She usually laughs and attempts to do it again. I’m at a loss on what to do. She has recently escalated and tries to bend them after grabbing them. I’m desperately trying to figure out the appropriate way to approach this behavior.

          I have also told her that this behavior makes me sad. She understands because she usually responds “no glasses, momma is sad.”

          Any advice is greatly appreciated.

          1. Daniela Smith says:

            “I won’t let you take my glasses” is a good step one. Step two is, “You can do X instead.”
            Step 3 is “You’re having trouble keeping your hands off my glasses. I’m going to move myself to keep them safe.” And then you move out of their reach.
            Often a 22 month old won’t have the impulse control to stop on their own. So you’re showing them that the behavior isn’t okay and you will stop them if they can’t stop themselves.

            Later you can recap. “Remember when you took my glasses earlier? If you feel silly and want to do that, you can do X instead. If you grab my glasses again, I’ll have to move again. Okay? We’ll keep working on it.”

            It can take a few times since impulse control isn’t great in toddlers. But the more matter of fact you are when you speak and follow through, the better. You are showing them you are calm, confident, and trustworthy when it comes to setting and following through on rules.

            No shame on them “Why won’t you stop?!” Your kid doesn’t know why. They just test boundaries and like shiny things.

            Age appropriate expectations: “if you can’t stop, I’ll help you stop.” You kid know you have their back.

            Your kid might cry and throw a fit. That’s normal. “I know you’re mad because you want my glasses. It’s okay to cry when you’re mad. I’m here and next time we can make a different choice.

            Generally avoid the “Don’t do this because it makes mommy sad” thing. It’s not terrible but it’s not a great long term motivation. And if your kid is only motivated by not making people sad/mad it can lead to people pleasing later.

            “I won’t let you touch my glasses because they are delicate.”

            “… because the are special to me.”

            “… because they are not a toy for you.”

            Are a little more concrete and not tied to keeping someone happy. It’s subtle but I think it makes a difference.

            1. hey thank you for these words I needed them today

      1. Crystal Garry says:

        I am 52. I started sitting and potty training toddlers and teaching kids to read when I was 10yrs old. This continued until college where I was lucky enough to train in a preschool with Owner/Director who had Masters in Early Childhood Education and was pure MAGIC at what she did with her preschool, where I taught and was trained by her. We never had ANY behavioral problems with any kids other than one 4yr old boy who was “in charge” of his home and parents bowed to him. He was the only child ever “kicked out” bc parents refused to take leadership role with him.
        Many, many parents have asked me how I had such well behaved kids w/o spankings. Including my own preschool group for last 10 yrs……
        Simple. Adults are the boss. Adult says, child does. That’s it. The world has gone mad with permissive parenting and children and society are suffering bc of it. I STRONGLY disagree with the direction this discussion takes. A 2.5 yr old knows VERY well when teacher says “don’t”. She is ignoring them, to test them. A time out is not only acceptable, but standard procedure in ANY structured environment. 1 min per yr of child has ALWAYS been standard until permissive parenting took over. I agree with your husband. You are too “easy on her” at home, or she would not challenge adults at school. 2 yr olds want and need to know who’s in charge. (So do all kids) Ignoring bad behavior (refusing to pick up toys, foot in cubby and disrupting nap) shows child that adults have no control over them. This is how a “brat” is created. Easy solution.- T/O MUST be IMMEDIATELY followed up by calmly, yet firmly leading child directly back to toys they refused to pick up. Until they DO pick up, you give them no attention and they do not move to next task, weather play or meal until it is done. Naptime should never be disruoted in a ny preschool by any child. Nap ritual must be established by parents BEFORE preschool, or they cannot attend. Feet in cubby when teacher says “no” is disrespect and should NOT be ignored. No wonder our 20-30yr olds in U.S. are spoiled, self-centered, fragile things who can’t cope with grown up life, grown up relationships, and grown up responsibilities!!!

        1. Crystal, I don’t believe you’ve read any of Janet’s info very well if you are giving this advice. Also, your old school way of doing things is not standard. Any school that has an early childhood development head has moved away from these antiquated methods long ago.

          1. Kristin Smith says:

            Nope. Most early childhood educators and elementary schools are still old school! We are struggling with children who are disrespectful and lack simple skills parents should have instilled at home. Another educator explained a bit about “gentle parenting “. I have a few difficult children whose families parent this way. This led me to this site. This is seen as a joke among most educators. Children should be given structure and boundaries. This not only produces well behaved and capable children; but children who feel safe and secure. This site is the most ridiculous thing I have read; and clearly explains some of the shenanigans I see at work! Good grief! You need a warning label.

        2. Eileen Agnew says:

          I totally agree with this lady. Children’s personality are forming yes so agree but they need from a young age that the world will not allow them to do as they please and that actions reap consequences. As a parent you have to be loving and affectionate but you also have to be prepared to discipline your child when needed. Setting boundaries both protects them for the future and it’s protects other children from your child’s unwanted behaviour. It’s hard as a parent but in order to bring a rounded individual who can fit into society you have to be prepared to set boundaries and be firm. When my 32year old was a toddler she tired to kick my father. He let her. I told him off for allowing her to disrespect him and I told in firmly that she not to do it again and I explained my reasons. I gave her a kiss after our confrontation and she never did again. When your child is adult you don’t them blaming you for their behaviour etc cause you didn’t set boundaries and believe me given the chance they will.

      2. you are definitely are not a teacher…all of that does matter…when we have to spend 90% of our day trying to suffice one child…it takes away from the other children in our care. I do believe it may not be a good fit for them at that center maybe a smaller in home would be better…but to tell them to ignore the behavior, is such wrong advice. So this child grows up thinking there is no consequences to their action?

      3. how do you suggest they put her in a different room for nap time in school? in most states, you can not have more than 12 children per teacher, so if one teacher has to leave the room to take the one disruptive child away, that would mean the teacher left alone with the rest of the class would be breaking licensing laws. she doesn’t need to be isolated she needs to learn how to not disrupt the other kids during nap time. if she isn’t tired, give her a book, puzzle or other quiet activity to do while the others nap.

    2. I hope i am not disrespectful but i have laughed with tears at your post. She is so cheeky at 2,5 yrs old? Mine already has a PHD at that age :)))). If she gets better, take her to the doctor. As a father, maybe not the most experienced and as a dog trainer i learned the following:
      1 – Never punish – correct by forbidding and redirecting (punishment requires that the subject has the ability to connect his behavior with the punishment that comes minutes or even hours after the fact)- if you don’t catch her in the act, foget about it, correct it next time
      2 – respect the needs of the subject – if they are energetic, give them action! If you really want her to sleep, turn off all the lights, close the room where you are sleeping WITH her and go to sleep, ignoring her requests or her noise making. She will play for a while and then fall
      3 – If she is behaving well at home, than they are the idiots! Kids have the ability to understand whether the person in front of them deserve their respect. Let them kick her out eventually as it won’t kill her – judging by their methods (“time out” as punishment), it won’t be such a loss!
      Things i say here are backed by most ethologists and behaviorists, but that is a much longer story..
      VERY IMPORTANT: sounds like you are doing an excellent job at home! Don’t let people full you, she is well behaved at home, than she is well behaved – she’s 2,5, for god sake! 🙂

      1. I would find a new daycare situation. You have a highly intelligent child and she’s reached the top of the food chain there. She needs staff that can mentally out-maneuver her and she’s above the pay grade where she’s at.

    3. Find a new school. There are amazing and respectful schools. She sounds like an intelligent kid with a keen perception of her surroundings, find her a space to match her not squash her.

    4. In my opinion, this current school of hers isn’t knowledgable on RIE and that may just mean that you enrol her in a school that tailors more to a “Spirited and Strong Child” This is an area of child development that interests me, as well, as I’m a Mom to a very spirited child as well, who’s 2 yrs and (months old.
      When it’s time for my little girl to go off to school, I’m only willing to hand her over to others that follow the same discipline philosophy we do in our home.
      And if you can’t find a pre_school like that, consider to become licensed to own your own private preschool (hiring to your liking, of the teachers)
      A new income stream too 🙂 Now I want to do it.

    5. She sounds like a perfectly normal 2.5 year old. I can’t believe they’re annoyed with her because she laughs during a time out…and why on earth are they putting a 2.5 year old into time out?! She sounds like an intelligent little girl who requires a much more gentle approach.

    6. carol brom says:

      Doesn’t seem the ‘teachers’ know much about how to manage 2yr olds, or even older children. i would move my child to a better nursery school with properly trained teachers. They are disciplinarian orientated. Your child will be happier at a more intelligent school.

    7. This made me feel so sad and angry for you guys. Your little one is only 2! The issues that her nursery have raised with you don’t sound major, nor does she sound like a difficult child. I hate to tidy, ave if I could run away from it, I definitely would! I’m quietly impressed by her logic about the cubby holes at 2.5! You love her and connect with her, and have no major problems with her behavior. It sounds like the staff’s issue. Perhaps they need to take Janet’s advice. The consistency between home and nursery can only help. I’m so sorry you are going through this. I hope you find a nursery that is a good fit where you both will flourish xx

    8. Oh geez. Your guy sounds so much like mine. Taking the old school stance that our children’s poor behavior reflects back on is as parents and gets super hurt and angry when they “act up”. For your guy have patience. After 24 years mine is coming around ❤️

      For your little.. please, I beg, find another school. I taught in an amazing preschool under a wonderful lady who had education degrees stacked to the ceiling. It’s the staff my dear, not your silly, bright, smart little that has the issue.

      I learned very early on it is fairly easy to coax littles into chores through play. Someone mentioned moving the bin to throw the toys in and making it a game. Brilliant.

      Time out.. oh geez to that one too. We had a talk of out in the school I assistant taught in. But only for moments of hitting or being mean or hurtful. We had a talk it out. We’d discover why the kiddo did what they did and bring empathy and friendship to them. Usually, like 99/100 times, they’d do the same and correct the situation. Hug their friend, apologize to the pet fish etc.

      Look think of it like an adventure. Finding the right school for the best opportunities for your little. These early years make a huge impact on them. She deserves this so much and so do you hon.

    9. Most kids are not ready for preschool until 3 or 4 or even later. Unless you need childcare (in which it may be better to find a babysitter/nanny), you do not need to put your little one in a preschool. I had found my oldest did not enjoy it when we tried it out, and a friend who was a preschool caregiver told me straight up it meant she was too young, and she told me that it is baloney children “need” to be in a school before kindergarten. It was the best advice I ever received. I pulled my daughter out and took her to nature centers and library story times instead. She not only became very educated for her age, but also very outgoing. Strangers were actually asking me where I sent her to school. When she was 3.5, we did decide to send her to a preschool when she asked. She was a lot more verbal at that point so she was able to tell us all about her day.

    10. Think of behaviors as non-verbal communications. Understand her expressions in this way and you will begin building a collaborative dialogue with her that will pay vast dividends when she is 14. Your child is expressing her opinion on something. Ask her what she is trying to tell the teachers.

    11. Find a different daycare. Try finding a montessori school. Sounds like the daycare only wants children that are one emotion.

      1. Montessori was terrible for my spirited kid. They seemed to only do well with compliant robot kids.

    12. Can she have a different teacher. This doesn’t sounds like a good fit. At 2 this is all normal and not bad at all. And if none of the epotjet kids are doing this then just means they were in daycare beforehand so are used to a similar routine.

    13. Smart kiddo! It’s a game and she is getting attention , she doesnt care if it’s negative!
      ignore when you can.
      Avoid eye contact when she is challenging you.
      Try to outfox her and anticipate her next move and position yourself ( and others )before the behavior can occur.
      Praise others on following the rules. Make general statements, Kids who clean up will be going outside.
      Behavior will get worse before better!
      I had a bright smart young lady in my class when it was time for circle time she went and sit in my chair on purpose right before it was time to read a story. All the other kids were alarmed and begin to get upset. I calmly on the outside, observed the situation and try to hide my annoyance and said “oh well I’ll just get a different chair “ and began to read the story and totally ignored her. This took the wind out of her sails when she saw she wasn’t getting attention and eventually came and sat with the other children to listen to the story.
      Try to spend time interacting positively with her.

    14. Nicolette says:

      This is all normal behavior. I would be second guessing whether or not I even want my child in that school/daycare.

    15. I am horrified by this story. Run away from this preschool at top speed. Find a happy, healthy, non-punitive place for your child to connect and grow! I have been a preschool teacher for over 30 years. In my preschool I NEVER use timeout. I would never expect a 2.5 year old to clean up without lots of encouragement. Experimenting with language and humor is normal development. I am so sad for the children in this program.

  2. I worked in a daycare, we had very loose “rules”, we had “safe spot”, and “make good choices” for some of the kids, this did not work. If the school is not working to develop a discipline plan that is effective for your child, than I would find a new school. Especially if you are paying for her to go there. Not every daycare/preschool is a perfect fit for every child. Even in public schools, if a discipilne plan isn’t working for a specific child, the teacher has to reevaluate what they are doing to create an appropriate plan. The rules are still the same, but how it is handled may be different

  3. So for 2+ months we have been using theses techniques with a little 18 mo girl who bites. Trouble is she bites with no warning most of the time! I have 4-5 children here, with me and my assistant keeping our eyes out for any situation that might get out of hand. She has also started hitting and pinching now, and is really hurting the other (mainly older by a few months) children. Since we are not close enough to physically stop her, all we can do is tell her after the fact that “I don’t want you to bite, I don’t like it and it makes “child’s name” sad. I have to work really hard not to let my frustration show! Her grandma says she spend yesterday with 10 children and there were NO incidents. That makes it hard for us to understand, intuitively it feels like we are doing the right thing, but I’m not sure everybody believes us. Please help!

    1. Sounds like this child is biting for attention. She may be doing it because she’s bored and gets attention from you after she does it. When a bite occurs the hurt child should get all of the attention while the biter should be told do not do that and totally ignored.

      1. I disagree, in totally ignoring the biter it is saying to that child that their feelings don’t matter and that will only perpetuate the unwanted behaviour. Behaviours/actions are all determined by our thoughts and emotions at that moment in time, so I my opinion the biter needs her emotions lovingly acknowledging, once the bitten child has been lovingly tended to.

    2. Are u sure the other kids aren’t fake biting her when you’re not around. Our 2 yr old nephew was biting and we found out his 7 yr old brother was biting (no teeth) and pinching him when he thought no one was looking. Just because. He knew we were all on alert and trying to figure it out and he pretended not to know. Turns out he just wanted to see how long he could get away with it. I think he liked the attention he got when his little brother got attention, BC he was in charge of being his mommys extra set of eyes.
      I’m not saying that’s what’s happening, just that its a possibility, kids mimic what they see.

  4. What if your child DOES NOT care about what you won’t let them do? I am commited to positive discipline but I have a 3y/o that truly will not listen to one single thing that I say, no matter what. If he hits our dog and I block it and say “i won’t let you” he just continues anyway. He does not care if he is asked not to, doesn’t care about anyone’s feelings about anything and even back when we used timeout or sent them to rooms he didn’t care about that and would come out doing the same thing. positive discipline and connection have worked wonders with my 4y/o and 2y/o but my 3y/o isn’t having any kind of discipline. I feel pretty lost with him. And, yes he gets a great amount of attentiona dn plenty of one on one. his diet is also as close as can be to perfect… completely sugar and caffiene free etc… he is very very smart and very sweet, loving and kind when he wants to be but if he wants to do anything, he does it and no one can make him stop. his pediatrician sees the issue as well and has recommended psychologists but im not sure. any other options?

    1. My own daughter was like that. We also had a super healthy, homemade, organic diet–I even tried restricting our diet from milk, eggs, etc. but it made zero difference.

      It’s like she didn’t have feelings, only a desire to push buttons that was not attached to any ulterior motive like the need for connection or love. Connection, love, attention: none of these affected her behavior in the short or long term.

      Finally I decided that if I was going to have a child that could function in the world I was going to have to do what worked, no matter what, with the caveat that if I could get arrested for it I wouldn’t do it.

      The only think that worked was, “If you can’t be nice to people/dogs/whatever, you can’t be around people/dogs/whatever.” And total isolation.

      Her motivation, her key motivation in life, is to get any response or stimulus from the living beings around her. This seems strange to me but she reacts the same to yelling, gentle guidance, firm limits, anything. If you’re there, it’s like her brain says, “Yep. This is a good situation. Keep doing this.”

      So we removed her from that and put her in her room, a safe place, but all alone. Door locked. (When she was <3 she had a water bottle and a potty; light was always on.)

      I realize this sounds super anti-connection.

      But the fact was, this was the only way to connect with the child. The only way to communicate "this is not okay; what you are doing is breaking our connection" was to physically remove her from the positive reinforcement she was getting. And again, *any physical, verbal, or sight contact was to her, positive reinforcement*, even saying things like, "You're hurting me so stop or I will make you stop," Her reaction to that was EXACTLY THE SAME as it would be to, "Honey, you seem to be having a hard time" and EXACTLY THE SAME as it would be if I yelled at her, or even if you took her things away. All of it said, "You're part of the group and you're making me do something."

      So, that was my solution. I've had a super hard time in a house without locks BUT even two years in that situation, when I could completely cut off her power source, was very helpful.

      This comment might not go through. I know people here don't know people like my kid (I have two–the little one is not like this AT ALL, she is normal, cries when others are sad, etc. etc.). But I do. And I feel for people who've had to do what I have.

      But now she associates hurting others with something that keeps her out of the group, and she's actually improving… albeit slowly.

      1. I can relate to this. My nearly-4-year-old girl is like this. She is very confident and often defiant. I think for some kids this can be the result of gentle parenting. I love that she is confident and self-assured, but when she continually doesn’t listen to safety instructions and hits at her dad all the time, something has got to give. Isolation is the one thing that speaks to her, that gives her the message that I am serious. Each child, and each parent/child dynamic is different, so that’s when each family needs to find the method that works for them.

        1. I find Respectful Parenting is about the behavior of the parent, rather than the behavior of the child. I have been changing my own behavior and ways of running the house (calming it down, for example) and being able to meet my daughter where she is: she is experiencing this world and needs me to help her with that: her hitting the dog was actually sibling rivalry, in her mind. I was always, of course, kind and loving to the dog, thinking I was teaching this behavior, when it was actually fueling rivalry! I now read the articles here on sibling rivalry.

          I am no longer trying to stop a behavior per se, but looking to get to the root of it: I am sure you have seen your child calm … when I do not recognize my child I know she is working on an issue and my yelling at her or separating her from me is not going to resolve the issue she needs my help with.

          My greatest fear is us having a broken relationship when she is a teenager: she will isolate then …. by leaving the house and cutting me off from her life: when she needs me 1000x more than ever.

          I am changing me, and my daughter is able to have a person on her side: the most important person on her side.

      2. thank you so much for your honest reply and the respect you showed to each member reading it. I resonate with what you are describing and have total respect for how you are trying everything you can to lead your child in a way that works for her. kudos.

      3. I had a girlfriend with 6 kiddos and her youngest was exactly like you described your little. She eventually followed your same method and it helped her daughter also!

    2. Hi, my 2 year old has started to hitting and hurting either myself, dad, or his older sisters, he laughs when he does it and again if I say, “I wont let you hurt me, that sore” etc if its the others, any advice for when he gets aggressive with us, this can happen during care happenings such as changing his nappy starts kicking and laughing, or just hits his sisters when they are playing. His 6year old sisters are great and always tell him that it hurts .
      please share your thoughts and ideas thanks heaps

      1. Remembering that your son is a very small guy, I would stop him, but not say too much… He knows he’s not supposed to hit, although he doesn’t know why he has this impulse. Just be very calm and competent in stopping him, so he stops seeking negative attention in this manner. Definitely don’t asked surprised or insulted.

        1. What happens if you act surprised or insulted?

    3. Racal, Kids are not born with empathy. It has to be taught. I can stub my toe and one day my son might laugh and a different day may offer me some ice. We are growing a child. It takes time, patience, and lots of practice. And guess what, my 3 year old(who eats plenty of sugar) also hits our dog. When I say “I won’t let you hit the dog” he laughs. Perhaps he is laughing because his mom looks so silly blocking his arm. But he can’t continue the behavior with me blocking him. Once he gets the message, he is ready to move on. Same with your son. You say he does it again but that is impossible, if you are blocking him. Be fully present when you are blocking him. Time outs don’t work – which is why I’m guessing you stopped using them. Most pediatricians know very little about social/emotional development.

  5. Nicole Tate says:

    Dear Janet, this was extremely timely for me, but I have a burning question. I am wondering what to do when I get there too late! The action is complete, the eldest has whacked the youngest (it can happen in an instant) and I’m left picking up the pieces. I want him to know it’s not ok, but I want able to “not let him do that” in time. He gets plenty of one on one time, connection, unconditional love, clear limits at all times I can be there to say the clear “I won’t let you do that” and also plenty of time free to explore his safe back yard without me fussing. In short, I’ve been working determinedly with non punitive, connection based parenting and we seen great age appropriate growth in my children’s confidence and calm affectionate behaviour, but I still struggle with how to respond when it’s after the event scenarios.

    Nicole Tate

    1. Hi Nicole – I think it’s important to know that he does know this isn’t okay, but his impulses took hold and he did it anyway. So, both children need you to stay on their “side”. I would address the child who was hit, but not assume that this was a tragedy for him. Then you might ask how this came about and explore another way of handling the situation. But all of this must be from a very open nonjudgmental place or it will only create more shame and distance between you and your older child — feelings he is likely to continue to act out towards his brother. Hitting is going to happen, particularly between siblings. So, mostly I would let it go, while exploring with both of them how they might find a better way.

    2. Think of behavior as non-verbal communication. What is he trying to express by hitting? Translate the behavior into english. Give him the words to use instead and help him practice using words. using words to expres thoughts and feelings is a skill. with practice the kill will grow.

  6. I have the same question as Nicole. My 3.5 year old keeps on pushing over his 7 month old sister and hurting her. I cannot catch it each time. Timeout has not worked. I feel anxious whenever I leave the room for a moment and leave them alone for a second. I am at a loss. Also jumping on the couch is an issue that timeouts haven’t worked on. We have a small apartment and the only room he can go into without a couch is his bedroom. Please help!

    Thank you,

    1. Katie, it is not realistic to leave a child under seven and a baby alone. You must bring the baby with you every time.

      This is not negotiable. Even if you are the best mom in the world with the best 5 year old in the world, no pediatrician or psychologist in her right mind would suggest leaving kids of those two ages (much less a 3.5 year old!) alone for even a single second.

      The discipline issue is secondary to this. I had two children with a similar spread. I know that it is extremely, extremely difficult and soul-sucking. In some families, it might mean every dinner for two years has at least one canned and one frozen ingredient. I get that.

      But you just can’t leave a baby and a pre-schooler in a room together–ever.

      1. I love you ! I really needed to hear this response today ! I have a 3 year old and 17 month old, and I put so much pressure on myself. This is so simple. Don’t leave them alone, and don’t worry about fancy dinners- i.e. use canned and frozen products if need be! This takes so much pressure off me ! Again – I love you!

      2. I think she is meaning that they are left alone for a moment if she has to run into the other room or use the bathroom. I certainly don’t pack my children around the house to every room I am in, and she should have to either. She should be able to use the bathroom without having to worry. And as and MSW that works with children, there is NOTHING wrong with her going to the next room for a moment. She needs help with what to do with the 3.5yo not telling her to hover over them every second. That’s how you create a child that cannot be independent and think for themselves

    2. Can you provide them with something they can jump on? An old mattress or a small trampoline?

    3. Sorry, not sure how old these comments are- couldn’t find a date. I had the same issue with my nearly 3year old (the jumping on the couch one). It’s mostly a thing of the past now because we do 2 things that have worked for us:
      1. Give her plenty of opportunities to jump – I put a Swiss ball between my legs while I’m sitting on the couch and hold her hands while she jumps on it if we’ve been unable to satisfy that particular urge throughout the day. She knows to ask for it if she’s feeling the jumping urge.

      2. If she jumps, I take her off the couch and explain that I don’t want her to jump on it and if she continues, she won’t be able to use the couch for x amount of time. I have followed through consistently enough that now she only jumps if she’s antsy or excited and stops when asked. My girl is a “why” person, so I explain when asked, instead of “because I said so” as well.

  7. I like your article and i think it makes a good point.
    But, i avoid eye contact when forbidding. Eye contact in conflict is bad, in my opinion because:
    – we are huge compared with toddlers;
    – eye contact is, in all animal regnum, a threat in itself unless in playful context;
    Therefore, it will introduce fear in the relationship and maybe even create a reflex of shyness in confrontational situations later in life (lack of assertivity.
    Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Vlad. I’m not sure what you are basing your opinions on, but I could not disagree more with your point about eye contact. It is when we avoid eye contact that children feel uncomfortable and wary, just as I would if you avoided eye contact with me. I would sense you lacked conviction or were being dishonest. I would not trust you. Humans definitely differ from animals in this respect. Children need to feel our solid connection with them in these situations.

      1. Eye contact means different things in different cultures. We need to be aware of other people’s frame of reference before making that sort of judgment (trust or not, etc.)

      2. Audrey Hanson says:

        I can see what Vlad is saying. I was a very shy child and uncomfortable with direct and especially prolonged eye contact.
        It very definitely can make people uncomfortable. I still remember a teacher leaning in and demanding that I look at her again and again and how I hated her for it. I know that is not what you are saying necessarily Janet (you are talking about looking in their eyes not demanding that they look at yours) but it can be intimidating for some children.

        1. I’m not talking about looking into a child’s eyes in a demanding or angry manner… no, I would never advise such a thing. I am talking about making a helpful, positive, honest connection — letting the child know that you hear their message and want to help. If you are enraged, don’t look into your child’s eyes.

    2. Could you explain further? OR if you could provide links to references. Thx

    3. Working with children I have found eye contact is where the trust begins. If you’re coming from a place of love yourself. The only time eye contact does not work is with children that have issues specifically with eye contact. I worked with one autistic child in the 90’s that simply couldn’t make eye contact. But, for all others I have worked with, and I’m sure there are other examples of kids and you know yours best, but, eye contact is essential. There is no shame in that. And if you introduce shame into eye contact during difficult discussions that will be perpetuated on one form or another as they grow. Please please be careful with this method.

  8. Grandma Kathy says:

    When one of my grandsons behaved like that his parents took him for testing. It turned out he had suddenly developed Asbergers Syndrome. Now he is 16 years old, happy, goes to a special school, is very bright, is not social, but can control himself with his medication and a lot of consistent loving training.
    If that turns out to be what is going on, take heart there is a lot of parent support and education to help parents learn how to assist their children and lead them to good goals.

    1. What kind of medicine are they giving for Asbergers? I didn’t think it was a medical condition. Are you in the USA?

  9. Hi janet! I m new to RIE parenting. I have been reading your posts and trying to implement them for quite a while now. But what I really need help with is I am raising my 20month toddler with few other moms in one house. They all have toddlers and preschoolers and schoolers… but no one follows any method I know off… soo even though i m trying, i don’t achieve much results bcz there are multi disciplinary methods…is there anyway I can proparly take charge of my child? Desperately in need of help!

    1. Hi! It’s hard to help you without knowing the specifics you are referring to. What you should know is that your interactions with your daughter are what will have the most formative impact.

  10. My nephew is a spoiled little brat. His mom always read these child behavior things and say you have to be gentle, you can’t do that and this. I think kids are much smarter than they look and the more they can get away with things, they will do so. I feel like he thinks he has total control and knows how to manipulate and get what he wants. Seriously, I’m not against hitting a child as long as it’s not beating (like hitting their hand just so they’d feel it). When they are little, parents need to guide them, so they know what is right and wrong. If he yanks an animal’s tail, I want to yank his hair so he knows what it feels like. When you are younger, adults do know more. They need to learn how to respect the elders. I hate kids that seems to be out of control and the parent’s excuse is “oh they are just kids.” Teach them? I think it’s important to always explains reasons for things, so they know that the parents are not upset for no reason. Brushing it off is like ignoring the problem. I don’t think you should yell or scream. That solves nothing and it’s just like an adult throwing a tantrum. But showing them the importance of not hurting others and to prevent them from hurting themselves is quite important. You can’t be soft and let things go when it comes to that.

    1. So you pull the hair of small children. You also think that all elders should be respected, regardless of faults? Jerry Sandusky and Charles Manson are senior citizens, should your children respect them? If you treat a child with respect, they will learn to respect, and lemme tell ya, that doesn’t come from pulling their hair. I’m not anti-punishment, I punish my kids and smack their hands when appropriate; I’m anti-treating your kid like they are a lesser person.

    2. And your experience is…one nephew you have antagonism toward?

      I’d suggest reading the site and understanding the purpose before investing time commenting.

      And believe me, “kids know what they are doing/ are trying to get away with ____” isn’t a new concept.

  11. Complete bull shit article! I believe in the Bible way and that means loving your kids while spanking when necessary.

      1. Janet, you are a saint. ❤️ Thank you for all you do!

        1. My laughing emoji didn’t go through on the first comment, so please note that I definitely laughed out loud at your witty reply! ❤️ I can’t even imagine the stress our family would be experiencing had a friend not suggested your “no bad kids” book when my first was only about 6 months old! Thank you for spreading family love, acceptance, acknowledgement, and peace! I’ve listened to both of your books and continue to come back to them again and again.

    1. Gayle Holten says:

      The Bible also says “Parents, do not stir the wrath in your children.” But you don’t hear spankers quoting this one so much, do you? How about this one…”a kind word turns away wrath.” Spankers have been cherry picking scripture for generations to rationalize their behavior of hitting children. If you want to follow Jesus then you will practice loving discipline.

      1. I agree with you that many quotes in the bible don’t get practiced or even read. People really like to quote that flawed book a lot to justify their behaviors. Smh…

        1. It’s not a flawed book Hans are the ones who are flawed and take scripture out of context. If you want to really understand a particular scripture ask a pastor or try looking it up.

    2. Yeah, that’s not the Bible way. Learn some exegesis.

  12. C J Carpenter says:

    There is an “old” book still around called the “Bible” .. It seems that it s primary teaching on this subject is ‘reward and punishment’. In other words, do as I say, behave and you will receive a reward. If not then you will receive punishment.

    I personally would be uncomfortable to disagree with this system, considering who established it.
    respectfully submitted,

    1. Parenting is about building a relationship with your child and guiding, rather than manipulating him or her through these isolated “lessons”. The path you speak of is one that leads to children never really trusting you and, eventuallly, not wanting to be with you. If you consider that a a good trade-off for obedience, then… amen.

    2. That flies in the face of the entire Bible and all of the teaching of Jesus, which, if I recall, are the focus of the entire New Testament.

  13. I really appreciate this article. It highlights a few things we’ve continued to struggle with as parents. We say we don’t make calm people as a joke. We have a 4 (almost 5) year old, 3 year old, and 1.5 year old. They are ALL very independent, curious, smart little people. We love these things about them but it can be a lot to handle!

    Our eldest has sensory issues on top of this (which we get extra help for in the form of OT and now play therapy). She is very challenging.

    I had to laugh reading the various version of “don’t do that” because we’ve tried all the language tricks we could find.

    We’ll add these tidbits into our arsenal. The more we communicate and connect with our kids the better off the entire household is, I find. The further we have come from my own “traditional” southern upbringing and my husband’s manipulative/permissive the better things are overall. It’s honestly a lot harder.

    I like to think we are parenting them with a goal to have thriving adults whose spirited nature is a blessing to those around them. If we were to follow through with the obsession of temporarily having an illusion of control over our kids through “proper” punishment we would not only stomp on their spirits but lose out on the hopefully long-lasting relationships we are building with them.

    For the record, we also believe fully in the Bible. We like to keep in mind the word Disciple when we are disciplining our kids to help direct our approach.

    Did you know the latin roots of disciple or discipline mean learn, instruction, and knowledge. In contrast, the latin roots for punishment or punitive is penalty or pain. The root of parents means “bring forth”.

    I recall the Psalm that calls children and “like arrows in the hands of a warrior”.

    Arrows cannot be shot if they are broken.

    1. Hi Janet, Hi Samantha. My eldest also have sensory issues. So sometimes she can be very impulsive when playing. For example, i already told her a couple times that she cannot lasso with her stuff animal (she grabs arms/legs and start swinging it around), as it will damage the stuffed animals. But she still does it impulsively, like she doesnt remeber that she is not supposed to do that. What should i tell her next time she acts impulsively again?

      1. It sounds like she is stimming. I would talk with her therapists (and her) to see what behavior she can substitute that would be appropriate.

  14. Spot on! Wish I had your brain Janet, agh! Thank you So much for sharing,Helping us all to be better parents. From a Bible-believer 😉

  15. I’m very confused about my child’s behavior at home she is doing things right when i tell her to right but at school she doesn’t I don’t know what could be the problem with her the teacher says she is playful and not ready to go to grade two I need help

  16. I feel angry reading this article and further advice for parents. It’s just not working. With myself in the same room all day every day with a ten month old and a two and a half year old, my ten month old still gets pushed and hit. They both get more connection, co sleep and are alone for seconds as I switch laundry, if I ever do laundry which if you look around my house is pretty much never. The little one gets pushed right in front of my face at random. Since the two year old has never been “not allowed” to do anything unless I held him very tightly while he tries to get away and return to the behavior and because he has a language delay, those words mean NOTHING to him. I really hoped for some magic answer because I feel it is entirely unfair that my oldest grew up without any idea of violence but now my youngest has to be violated by his brother until he grows into impulse control. I feel infuriated by the futility of this. I’m doing my best but this just isn’t practical advice. I’m starting to come to the opinion that it’s all bull and you either have a child who is a pleaser or you don’t. I don’t. I’m ok that he’s free spirited. I’m sad for little brother and there’s really no solution for free spirited kids who act whimsically.

    1. I strongly urge you to try to understand your older child’s experience, rather than demonizing him. Children act aggressively, violently, and push limits because they are uncomfortable, and your anger is magnifying and perhaps even causing this discomfort. Here are a couple of posts that might be helpful to you: https://janetlansbury.com/2013/04/helping-kids-adjust-to-life-with-the-new-baby/

      Take care. I wish you well.

    2. Your kiddo may be fulfilling a sensory need. Can you get out more? Involve the older kiddo in a preschool possibly. Look I’m a homeschooler and the thought of preschool scared me but I’ve seen the experience truly help some children. Sometimes WE are their trigger. And with a world full of amazing fun times in preschool… it could work lady. A few days a week for a few hours!

  17. I work with children with special needs. Hitting is never appropriate. Some children are looking for attention, some are looking to fulfill sensory issues. I have seen many classes where children who cannot communicate their needs are hitting, shoving and biting. It can become a habit when they are young because it is meeting their sensory needs and they are frustrated. Have you ever tried not communicating for a whole day? You may not use words or write down what you want. You can only use gestures. By the end of the day, you may know what it is like to be constantly frustrated by your lack of communication. If a child’s nervous system is constantly telling them to be on overdrive, they do all of these things and no words will help.They have to be redirected and their needs must be met. You can fold them up in a burrito of blankets, sing to them while they are swinging, run with them until they are tired, have them carry heavy things and go on long walks, or swim. These are all ways to help your children without hurting them. I find the less words the better when they are having a meltdown. They are not capable of making choices or learning anything when in the mode of anger or frustration tantrum. Sometimes I make up silly songs to help them and myself with humor too. Like, Tyler, Tyler, Tyler…are you there? when they space out. Or while we are singing I make up songs with their name in it. Singing seems to soothe the little ones. Try it sometime.

    1. Comadrona says:

      Sensory issues are often overlooked – even the sensory experience of going outside and running in the breeze and watching the leaves. Some kids get cranky from seeing four walls all day and a change of scene can really help.

    2. I really like this approach 🙂

      1. Erin, my gut response to your comment was “aw, what a good mommy” ❤

  18. I have an 8 year old. When she was a toddler, she kicked and screamed for 30 min. after coming home from kindergarten. We just sat there on the floor, me holding her so she wound not hurt herself. After some time we could take of her clothes and I would talk with a soft voice, telling her what we would do next. Like, now lets remove your jacket, get a banana, play a game or other nice things. She did not need me to tell her that her behavior was bad etc. she knew it, but it was out of her control. She needed to act out. She could not act out at kindergarten so the did it at home where she felt safe. I am very happy that I had the time and energy to give her this room to act out. After a year she stopped. Being apple to talk a little and putting words to her feelings helped her. And it would come out when we reed bedtime story’s. Even as adults we know that feeling of getting frustrated, not knowing how to deal with it. So of course they do to.

  19. For those of you quoting the bible you MUST know that spare the rod, spoil the child concept is about a shepherd GUIDING his sheep with the rod. Back in those days, they weren’t walking around striking or hitting sheep with rods. It was to gently correct them when they began to go astray. Please please do research.

    1. Exactly! I came across this site looking for some input for my grandson who is 3 years old. He is dealing with a lot of issues and is exhibiting some very concerning behavior. I may not agree with everything I have read here but I do see some sound information. I have been concerned for Calvin from the beginning because his mom did not bond well with him from day one. My son (his step dad) has been Calvin’s primary support parent from his birth. But the kids didn’t really see the need for structure and consistency like we recommended and Calvin has paid a dear price for that. They also have had little stability in their lives….also difficult for Calvin. And now there is a little sister in the picture. Calvin is angrier and angrier, more defiant and aggressive-hurting his baby sister (nearly 1 year old) on a regular basis. My son and daughter in law are at their wit’s end. Their interaction with Calvin is nearly all negative now….he is still delayed in his speech skills and hasn’t begun to potty train yet-and now he is taking great joy in playing in his feces on top of everything. I am going with them to his next doctor’s appointment. We are at the point that I am considering bringing Calvin to my house for awhile-maybe a lot longer, depending on how he responds. I think a “reboot” is in order for all of them. Calvin is at a pivotal point and bad things will happen without intervention. I have the time and experience to deal with him, the unconditional love he needs and no distraction with having a little sibling around. I live in the country and I believe that Calvin will benefit from the structure and love we will provide. The other grandmother may disagree, however-and technically she has more say since she is biologically related to him. But she wouldn’t take him-she seems to be of the mind that they need to learn to deal with him-which in the normal circumstance I would agree-but Calvin doesn’t have time for that. He needs intervention now….But I firmly believe loving guidance (and I believe in the guidance of the Bible and a Loving Heavenly Father) and structure along with close work with his pediatrician may make all the difference for Calvin AND his family. Since I have medical issues of my own, this is not being taken on lightly….

    2. Interesting! Thanks for the information! I can’t believe this is the first time I have heard this fact and wish it was more widely known! We would have some more peaceful people on the planet!

    3. Actually, the phrase is nowhere in the Bible at all. This is just one of those phrases commonly ATTRIBUTED to the Bible in order for religious bigots to get their way. Others are, “God helps those who help themselves” (nowhere in the Bible), and “And eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (nowhere in the Bible). These are phrases intended to teach hate and revenge, which fly in the face of the lessons of the Bible.

  20. I am working so hard to be empathetic and patient with my 3.5 year old. He is wearing me thin. It truly seems to be getting worse since we started this. He fake cries (not a good actor) at bedtime to keep me in his room. This goes on for hours. From what I’ve read, I should say I will be here with you until you are ready to sleep. That would be never. He understands that his emotions are now top priority so he is making them up to see what happens. I feel like I am going to hyperventilate. I walk away to try to calm down and then he really freaks out. He has also been saying he is sick and can’t go to school. He said his tummy hurts because he just had a baby (we have a 1 year old). He is past the new baby stuff so I don’t think that is an issue. This all came to a head when we started implementing peaceful parenting a few weeks ago.

    1. Peaceful parenting is not staying in the room until he is ready to sleep. Book, kisses, lights out, and leave. Should not be more than 10 minutes. A 3.5 year old can fall asleep on his own.

      1. I agree with Heather. A 3.5 year old does not need you to stay in the room. Gentle parenting does not equal ‘kids in charge’, which seems the case with your son now.

    2. Heather and Ann, what do I do when he keeps coming out and doesn’t stay in his bed. Please, help. Janet, you too. We are doing so well with gentle discipline except in this area. I feel strongly that my son needs to learn to lie in bed alone. He just turned four and I’ve been struggling with this for two years. I don’t have over an hour to lie with him midday and at bedtime. Doesn’t a kid have to learn to comply? I’m desperate. I’m ending up screaming and threatening spanking because I’m so lost. Please, help.

      1. When you have a child that gets up take them back. At bedtime do the routine then say I love you good night hugs kisses whatever then lights out and walk out close door.
        I would say for this stay by the door. When it opens don’t say anything just calmly walk him back to bed , then I love you goodnight and repeat Leave the room and close door.

        Yes you will have to repeat for hours but keep doing it. My kid once stayed up till 11 pm doing this game. But just do it don’t talk or anything just lead back to bed calmly say I love you goodnight and leave.

        It takes huge patience and a lot of time but it works. Second night my kid got up twice third night she did not get up and never did that again.

        It may take longer if the child has established a habit of getting up but setting the boundary and sticking to it will work. You have to stick to it and the first night is the hardest because they will keep getting up all night practically so be prepared.

  21. I totally agree with talking gently and validating kids feelings and experience. But saying no and giving consequences to there actions is also necessary.

    The biggest problem i have with this method is the kids of parents who use this are so disrespectful and often times brats. I have had many, many interactions with different kids like this, they dont respect or listen to others in authority, and hands down every time my kids are in playgroups or classes with them they have problems with them bullying, stealing toys, not apologizing and reacking havok. My kids have had terrible interactions and experiences every time they are around kids from this context.

    I have seen the kids screaming disrespectfully at there parents and other adults, hitting them etc. To me this is unnacceptable behaviour.

    If this is what this method produces in children, it makes the world miserable for any others involved or around. I have a hard time buying into it. I am willing to take the tips of gentleness and validating, but throw the rest outthe window.

    1. “The biggest problem i have with this method is the kids of parents who use this are so disrespectful…” This really assumes a lot, Heidi. So, you believe that you know when parents are using this method I describe in my blog and books? I can assure you that you do not, or you would not make such a statement.

      And I have no interest in you “buying into it”… You are welcome to go elsewhere for information and advice.

    2. You really need to read Janet’s book and other blog posts. I think you’re talking about parents that do not discipline at all and don’t set any limits rather than the ones that follow Janet’s RIE methodology. Following her advise produces independent, respectful, empathetic children and not bullys.

    3. I hear you, Heidi. As for how we “know” parents of these kids are using the techniques espouse in this article… well, for myself I can tell you I know because I’ve been in the room and watched their parents handle their children. When a parent is visiting in my home, and their 6 year old kid is running wild, actually truly, running up and over all the furniture and throwing things, and absolutely refuses to stop, and will not go with the parent, that kid needs physical punishment on the spot. They need to be physically grabbed, and dragged out the door if need be. Nobody, not even a child, gets a pass on behavior like that. And sorry… words don’t cut it with these kids. They are outlaws.

  22. Amy Brandon says:

    This is spot on for the issue we are having with our 5 year old. I have been struggling internally, with, “why is she acting this way when we parent respectfully?” and you hit the nail on the head!
    Instead of setting a clear limit for her, I am struggling with what to do, and leaving her hanging, not helping.
    The “I/we will not let you…” statement, followed by acknowledging their feelings about the problem is perfect. Thank you!

  23. Diana Chapman says:

    Hi, I like your approach. I’d really like to see your answer to Nicole Tate’s question about how do you practice this approach when your children are alone? I’m talking about 2 preschoolers -children that are old enough to explore their safe surroundings without parents hovering over them, but whose disagreements frequently end in the older child hurting the younger. I don’t wish to ‘helicopter parent,’ but would like to avoid any kind of punitive approaches. Your suggestions please?

  24. how about a 7 year old in this situation?
    she is gifted the . when she reads, the rest of the world disappears which is fine to an extent. I get her attention by saying, “her name, may I ask you a question.” This usually works, but other times it is difficult as I ask for daily routines when she is not as focused on something. she flat out ignores me – we call it selective responsiveness! how do I get her to want to do things to help herself? like brushing teeth, getting changed, not doing something when she is told not to do it, etc.
    if you could respond to my email, that would be superb – I’ll probably never find this site again…….
    Thank you so much!!!

  25. Hi Mia – I do not agree with you at all. I think you can be firm and gentle without giving a child a taste of their own behavior. If you hit they will. You teach what you want to emulate. You don’t yell, they won’t yell. they watch others and learn from that. I have been raising my 3 year old son. He is a very well behaved spirited lil man. He has his moments but when he is frustrated I have taught him ways to deal with his frustration.

  26. I totally agree! Thank you so much for this reminder, it helped me today.

  27. tired mom says:

    What about the mom aka me who is exhausted due to the never ending attention seeking behaviour child. My son is 5 years old, smart, funny etc however since about 3 I don’t think I have ever been able to satisfy his attention needs. I am turning into a neglectful and resentful mom because I need a break from my needy son. Is it wrong to admit that sometimes mommy doesn’t want to and cannot give the attention a needy child needs and demands? What if the solutions out there about alternate care etc are not a reality. What if my son has to be at home with me until this upcoming September and I have no choice or ability to have a break. What do I say and do with my needy son?

    1. I think you might be confusing “wants” with “needs”. Just say no. Calmly and clearly assert your personal boundaries, while allowing him to scream in disagreement if he needs to.

  28. Tayyaba Ali says:

    Helo.plz suget some for my son.he is 3.5 y.
    From pervious 6m he become so agresive.he abuses everyone.i tried my best to over come this situation but I failed.all time he is angery.he has no interest in anything.not in study.not in toyz.not in boks.not in games.i am so much worried

  29. Dear Janet & fellow mothers,

    I honestly need your advice. I have an extremely spirited 4 year old (turned 4, less than ago). When we are at home, he managed to relax and stop running around, which was impossible for him one year ago. He is currently undergoing play therapy and speech therapy. He is very strong willed, picky eater to say at least, and hard to be around.
    As a baby he would not sleep but yell and cry all day long – and I mean ALL DAY LONG. It got so bad that we were afraid to take him out for a stroll because his crying was so loud – even now his voice, his laughter, everything is always on HIGH – that people would stop to ask us if the baby is alright or wonder if we hit him – which we never did, of course.
    At kindergarten, he is not seen well because of his high levels of energy. He also lacks fine-motor skills. Started talking broken sentences when he was 3.5 y.o so not long ago.

    How can I help him understand that some things shouldn’t be done when he doesn’t listen? When I leave him at kindergarten I say goodbye he won’t even reply – no, he is not busy playing, he just sits looking lost or observing other children.
    For example, in church, it is impossible for him to sit still for even 5 minutes. When I go to him tell him to stop running around or talking in a lower voice, or stop laughing, he does it even more so. I sometimes take him outside which he does not like, when even so, he continues this on and on.

    Any advice on how to make spirited, strong-willed children understand when they HAVE to do something?

    1. Julie S, sounds like your son might be on the autism spectrum, like mine. He will likely learn how to behave in public eventually, but it will take longer than with neurotypical children. Be aware that when he does finally learn to “fit in” publicly, he might have meltdowns as soon as he gets home, due to the stress and energy involved in trying to hold everything together when he is in public.

    2. You need an evaluation sounds like Autism. I have an autistic child who didn’t get diagnosed till 5 yrs old. But his behavior now makes more sense. Talk to the Dr and see if you can get an appointment with a neurologist.
      Speech therapy, and OT would most likely do wonders for your child.

  30. Thank you Janet! We are heading into the twos.. and I’ve been trying to understand reasonable ways to deal with things like hitting. I’m certainly guilty of using the royal “we”; and think your advice to be direct and not tip-toe around the situation makes perfect sense!

  31. Hello! I love your blog. Unfortunately my husband doesn’t read your articles, so we are left with different perspectives on how to discipline our nearly 4 year old son. He is smart as a whip, playful, and easygoing. However, sometimes he will do things that we have already set firm limits not to do, including using the phrase “I won’t let you.” We also spend a lot of time with him (I took a sabbatical to be with him and his nearly 2 year old sister), so he receives a lot of attention from me, and his Dad is there with him every morning for breakfast and evening for bedtime. So when he does things like intentionally hit me – I’ve explained many times that I will not let him slap or kick me but sometimes he will still do it, seemingly randomly – or intentionally refuse to follow routine instructions (time to brush teeth, time to bring your plate to the sink) we don’t know why it happens. My husband wants to do time outs and let him cry in his room for 10-15 minutes so that he can “feel consequences to his actions” and “feel bad about what he did.” His theorizes that if we are always there to talk him through what just happened and try to understand it with him, then he never suffers a consequence that he doesn’t like and therefore will keep doing it. I see his logic, but I don’t know how to convince him otherwise, especially when these things continue to happen. I would love to hear your perspective on this!! Thank you!

    1. Hi Rebecca – it’s very normal for a 4 year old (particularly one with a younger sibling) to periodically test limits and be defiant/resistant. I would stop saying “I won’t let you” at this point and make much, much less of this. Rise above it while blocking him or moving him through resistance and defiance as best you can. Continue being curious about the causes of his behavior (you may start to see a pattern or certain instances when this comes up), but don’t discuss with him in the moment, because that makes it into a bigger deal. I think this podcast I recorded (and several others) might be helpful to you: https://www.janetlansbury.com/2017/11/how-to-handle-behavior-we-cant-physically-control/

      In the podcasts, I’m able to explain more easily how to rise above these kinds of behaviors.

    2. Saying I won’t let you means nothing unless you actually don’t let them do it. Meaning physically preventing the child from hitting if necessary or simply separating them from everyone they are hitting

  32. Oh, “punishments” are necessary in the sense of enacting consequences. This happened recently in our home after I kept asking my child to keep toys off the table as she’s complained heavily when I asked her to clean and explained why it was important to me. It was really disruptive to our scheduled having to remind her and she’s old enough to remember (she’s 9).

    So, I’d either be dealing with her negativity or having to clean the table myself every day. Well, I made it clear that since she could not keep the table clear that hit had become a toy/book-free zone. Anything ending up there, would have to end up on the top of the closet, and she would not have access to it for a week.

    I calmly informed her today she just lost some toys and books. She totally understood why and didn’t even get upset (apologizing afterwards).

    This was a negative consequence and could even be construed as a punishment. But the point isn’t to make her feel bad (though I was starting to feel resentful). I understand it takes a while to change some bad habits and keeping our dining room table clutter-free, but she needed help to remember and at this point a negative consequence helped. I could have written a sign, but I find those can be easily ignored after time. She will get her belongings back in a week, she understands why, and she will be more mindful about clutter on the table now.

    I find it very important to set healthy boundaries for the sake of a family and the individual child’s future success—even if you have to enact consequences. A lot of parents—especially those who claim gentle discipline—seem to forget that. You don’t have to spank or scream at your kids, but they often still need help staying on a path to becoming healthy mindful adults. Sometimes it won’t be pleasant. In extreme cases of misbehavior (where a child is being malicious or doing something dangerous) it shouldn’t be.

    Sadly, while I consider myself a gentle parent, I have run into many other parents who are ridiculously permissive under the gentle parenting label. I’m about to leave an entire parenting group that I had been part of for 7 years, because of it.

    These are people who allow their older kids to regularly violate personal boundaries (like stealing food, hitting, and inappropriate touching). They are often strung out mothers who do way too much and ignore their own needs—as well as their marriages. The husbands are often super angry, and tired as they are the sole bread winners who get little appreciation (and give little back in return).

    The children are terribly behaved. How could they not be? The kind of attention they are getting is the wrong kind. They are doing afterschool activities almost every night of the week and while their parents claim to be gentle disclipliners (who let their kids have access *all the time*—sorry, but by the time your youngest is 4 or 5, you should be able to poop with the door closed) they are actually emotionally checked out—letting their kids be super rude or harm one another (or friends outside the family) without consequence. Good manners is so much more than making your child use surnames for adults (something I actually think is strange to do in casual situations).

    If your 7 year old child is demanding chocolate and lecturing the hosts that they are not good parents for not having candy available when they are visiting, it’s time to re-evaluate your child’s behavior. If you think it’s okay for your child to punch his sibling in the stomach or eat another child’s meal without any consequence, because you are all out “having fun,” you probably should also re-evaluate your parenting.

  33. Hi there, I am looking for tips on how to help me deal with my four and a half year old. I worry that she takes great pleasure in hurting others around her and has started to ignore specific rules I give. I’m not strict and I do my best to talk about feelings when there has been a bit of a disagreement with my younger or older sibling. I would get down to the same level and ask why the situation may have occurred, without raising my voice. I never do time out! However the last few days there have been a lot more outbursts, and I am being completely ignored. Perhaps it’s just a phase but any advice would be much appreciated. It is getting serious when I am being ignored at the road or other children are being put in danger.

    Many thanks!

  34. Hello Janet
    I have read your articles off and on . My 10 year old son just refuses to listen to me at all . That’s when I use threats, punishments and taking things away. It’s not helping and he has actually started stealing and lying . I am ok to set limits but he never respects those limits or follows them . I am learning not to make him force to follow but what to do I do when he does not listen. He is an extremely bad eater and can go for hours or a day without proper food .
    I have a theee year old too. He is a good eater but wants a lot of attention.

    I am not working and feel it so difficult to go back to work as I think my 10 year old needs a lot of time . He is lagging in studies too . And it is very difficult to make him study without him getting aggressive as he can’t accep he has done anything wrong.

    I guess I need to change my attitude too because I feel I am not natural when he is around , like I am
    More of instruction person or just calling him to do things. He is just in the backyard talking to his friends over the fence or troubling his younger brother or not listening. He is so addicted to media that we had to put a complete stop to any media at home for anyone. Even then he tells me I have my phone and I check my messages and fb. So he is always trying to be my equal.

    Need help to change myself, I guess.

  35. The problem I have with “I won’t let you” is this: I’ve always been taught that if you say something to a child but fail to follow through, the child won’t take you seriously. I’ve seen this to be true when I was a preschool teacher. That said, if we say “I won’t let you hit the dog,” how do we follow through?? A child like my 6-year-old son will obviously look me straight in the face and slap the dog again, then put his hands on his hips and wait to see how I’m going to enforce this. He sees that if I’m not physically overpowering him, or enforcing consequences, that I’m clearly not the onn control, but he is. The transistion to GP is working great gor my 8-year-old daughter but it’s a distaster for my son. ☹ He now sees that he can run the house because all consequences are gone.

    1. Hi Haley – Generally, my advice is more geared around toddlers. It’s true that we need to be able to back up the statements that we make. Why do you think your six-year-old is behaving In this manner? I would need to know about your history and what’s going on with your family to be able to advise. Sorry!

    2. So don’t let him be around the dog anymore. Show him you mean it.

  36. Rosetta Barnes says:

    My children r 6,8,& 10 years old they seem to have a need to touch everything in sight & get into things plz help me understand y this is happening

    1. Hi Rosetta! I would need to know a little more about your family life to understand why this is happening.

  37. The correct statement is: we do not hit / hurt the dog / animals. It’s not an ‘I’ statement.

    A gentle, intentional parent is intentionally conveying the family value system, not merely setting a firm limit.

    All family rules are expressions of the family value system. All corrective guidance flows from the family value system.

    1. Hi Ken – I appreciate your input, but respectfully disagree about using “we” rather than “I.” The approach I teach is relationship-based and that’s what children understand best. They need the intimacy and knowledge that we are there for them. “Family value systems” are not concrete or graspable to a child and are distancing. Furthermore, while we’re saying, “We,” our child might be thinking… “Well, one of us hits, apparently!” Children need us to accept their point of view and lovingly draw them in. They learn through relationships.

  38. but don’t get upset or discouraged when your child has an emotional reaction to your limits. That level of connection isn’t healthy for either of us. It wears us out and clouds our perspective, making effective guidance less possible, and our child is without the strong anchor she needs. << this part confuses me. So after you talk to your child and acknowledge/empathize.. what would be the next “step”? I’m always confused by gentle parenting blogs/books/etc that say the #2 part but then leave it hanging.. you set a limit and acknowledged your kid but they aren’t moving on and everyone is frustrated do you then do the playfulness?

  39. Love all your articles! Gentle parenting is not permissive parenting. Kids crave boundaries.

    You are always so spot on.

  40. Stargazer14 says:

    Hi Janet,

    I need advice for my 6 year old. Our rule is that everybody helps. My 6 year old sometimes has a really tough time with this. He will bring a toy on an outing and I always remind him that he needs to carry it back home if he wants to bring it out.

    Today he had a meltdown because my hands were full and I was asking him to carry his toy in from the car. He refused to leave the car and yelled and screamed as loud as he could while crying all because he didn’t want to carry a toy. It seemed ridiculous to me, but I didn’t react. It’s hard for me not to see this as spoiled behavior because of the society I’ve grown up in and the social conditioning I’ve had. Those thoughts make me doubt my gentle parenting. Whenever he has meltdowns like this, I stay with him until he gets it all out and then he still carries his toy. I give him a hug if he needs it. People see that as spoiling him because I’m giving him attention. But he still has to do what I need him to do at the end of it. It just takes a really long time. Am I doing this correctly? I feel like he shouldn’t be having meltdowns at 6 years old if I’m being an effective parent?

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