Don’t Waste an Opportunity to Connect With Your Kids

I have a keen interest in every aspect of child care, but the advice I share is focused on one goal: Building healthy relationships with our kids.

There’s a lot riding on this. The quality of our connection will dictate whether teaching our children appropriate behavior is simple and successful, or whether it is confusing, discouraging and ineffective. It will decide whether our children feel secure and retain the sure sense of self and confidence that helps them fulfill their potential.  And perhaps most importantly: Our relationship will be forever embedded in our child’s psyche as their model of love and the ideal they’ll seek for future intimate bonds.

In the impressionable first years especially, every interaction we have with our children is an opportunity to deepen our connection…or not.  Sometimes a missed connection is just a minor wasted opportunity. In other instances, missed connections create distance, lessen trust, and are even invalidating for our children.

Connecting often means overriding our instincts and emotional impulses and thinking before we act. Here are some common examples:

1. We don’t want to hear crying.

Hearing and acknowledging our children’s emotions can be intensely challenging, but it is essential for raising healthy children who feel connected to us.

We disconnect when we discount their feelings (“Oh, don’t be frightened, it’s only a puppy”), or invalidate (“That didn’t really hurt” or “Those aren’t real tears”), or rush feelings through (“Okay, okay, that’s enough now”), or when we misread our infant or toddler’s cries and try to calm her before listening and understanding.

Since feelings are involuntary (and even if they seem forced, who are we to decide this?), these disconnected responses also teach children that they aren’t wholly acceptable to their loved ones, that they can’t trust themselves or their feelings.

The secret to connecting is to meet children where they are.  Listen patiently and acknowledge. We can never go wrong or overboard when we acknowledge: “You are so upset we have to leave. Oh, this is terribly upsetting for you! I said we had to go when you really, really wanted to stay longer. You were having so much fun!”

2. We don’t want to be the bad guy who confronts and displeases

Distraction is the polar opposite of connection, yet I often hear it advised as an acceptable “redirection” tool for infants and toddlers. Really?

Distraction doesn’t teach appropriate behavior. What it does teach children is that they don’t rate an honest connection in their first and most formative years. So these distractions, along with other manipulative, controlling methods like bribes, tricks and (most disconnecting of all) punishments threaten the relationship of trust necessary for close parent-child bonds.

Children need simple, truthful, empathetic, but direct responses, especially when they are testing and learning limits. The parent who confronts situations honestly, acknowledging the child’s point of view and possible (actually more like probable) displeasure may worry about being the bad guy, but this will be the “trusted”, genuine guy, the brave person the child feels closest to and safest with. (For details, please check out my many posts on respectful, non-punitive discipline.)

3. We get invested in what our child plays or learns.

“Wouldn’t life be easier for both parents and infants if parents would observe, relax and enjoy what their child is doing, rather than keep teaching what the child is not yet capable of?”Magda Gerber

Trusting your child, appreciating what he or she is doing right now will bond you and transmit positive messages of acceptance and appreciation to your child. Again, the key is to meet children where they are. The way children choose to play and learn is usually better than enough – it is the perfect thing for them to be doing at that particular time.

But sometimes our agendas get in the way and leave parent and child less connected and fulfilled. Anna Banas shared an evocative example of this recently on her blog “Every Moment is Right”. She concludes, “How easy is it to assume we know better what the other person wants. And why? It seems especially ironic when it comes to having ‘fun’, don’t you think?”

My own son’s birthday party last weekend was yet another great reminder of the power of ditching agendas and valuing what is. We’d spent the afternoon decorating our house with cobwebs, ghosts and other scary things at our son’s request and a dear friend, our son’s beloved godfather, had been “hired” for DJ duties.

We were all set for a house party, but our son and his guests had another plan. They took the glow stick party favors outdoors and spent the entire evening exuberantly throwing them at each other under the moonlight, a game they invented called “Rainbow Wars”. To another family, this might have been disappointing, but we were amused and totally thrilled about the great time the kids were having. We’ve since celebrated this success together.

5. We don’t have patience for exaggerated, over-dramatic, unreasonable behavior.

Toddlers can seem to have overblown reactions, emotions and behaviors. They can seem to be greedy, self-centered, oversensitive, crybabies, braggarts, and the list goes on. It’s as if toddlers are unconsciously auditioning annoying behaviors just to test our reaction. Will we be accepting, understanding, on their team? They need us to be.

I admire one of the parents I work with so much for realizing she needs help with this. She has a tendency (passed down to her from her own parents) to discount her daughter’s point of view. She feels herself going there almost against her will. For example, if her daughter complains that another child bumped into her and her mom sees that it’s obviously nothing serious, she might reflexively say, “Oh, he didn’t mean to. It’s fine.” I’m encouraging her to try to catch herself before she does this and instead meet her child where she is by acknowledging her perspective. “Oh, did that hurt you? Sorry to hear that. You and Peter bumped into each other? Ouch!” Subtle adjustments like these are the difference between connecting and invalidating.

6. We want to get care-giving duties over with.

Diapering, feeding, bathing and bedtime are important opportunities to slow down and connect. We do that by paying attention and inviting children to participate, even when it’s not going well — especially when it’s not going well. These activities are prime time for the kind of intimacy that not only deepens our connection, but also refuels our child’s body and soul.

I’m often asked, “How can I pay attention when the baby needs to feed 24/7?” Or, “But my toddler hates having his diaper changed. I have to distract him and get it over with quickly.” Ironically, these are common results of disconnection. Babies need to nurse less and appreciate diapering more when we are engaged during these activities.

“Whenever you care, do it absolutely with full attentionIf you pay half attention all the time, that’s never full attention. Babies are then always half hungry for attention.” – Magda Gerber

7. We hesitate to express our love, appreciation, gratitude or apologies because our child doesn’t seem to be listening.

Whether our children are infants, toddlers, teens or somewhere in between, when we talk about the feelings that connect us, they’re listening.

One of my RIE Parent – Infant Guidance Classes met for the last time recently, and I bid farewell to families I’d sat on the floor with each week for almost two years. I started sharing with strong, sweet and sometimes feisty two-year-old Maren how much I had enjoyed watching her grow and play, but she walked away. I continued. The moment I finished she turned around and surprised me with the most tender hug and kiss.


“Don’t Waste an Opportunity to Connect With Your Kids” is included in my compilation: 

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting


(Photo by Larry Crayton)


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

  1. One point: constant nursing isn’t ALWAYS about being engaged. My baby seemed to cluster feed for his first 3 months. He was also a sleepy baby (jaundice) so he tended to “sleep feed” and jumped from 50th percentile to 90th percentile in 2 months. He was making good use of all that milk!

    I just don’t want (already exhausted/stressed) parents of newborns to feel like if their baby is nursing constantly it means they aren’t giving enough. Sometimes babies just need to eat constantly, especially if you’re nursing!

    I also have a question: when your child gets hurt because he doesn’t understand the “rules”, how do you deal with it? The example I’m thinkings of is when my toddler goes down the slide and hangs out at the bottom (or tries to climb up the slide) he’ll often get pushed into by the next kid coming down. My impulse is to agknowledge that he got shoved (which was scary and may have hurt) and then to remind him that people come down the slide, or in other examples, that it’s good to look out for other people. Should I not be “correcting” at all? I don’t want to imply that he “deserved” whatever happened, but I feel like I need to give some context. Is that unnecessary? I guess he’ll figure it out on his own… it just seems cold to watch him get smashed over and over the SAME way.

    1. Thanks for your clarification, Meagan. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that nursing constantly (especially in the first months) is always about the mom being less engaged. But I recommend keeping the baby’s need for engagement “in mind”.

      Regarding the slide, I would definitely protect your son and help him to understand playground etiquette. If there are other children using the slide, I would explain that it isn’t safe to climb up the slide or remain at the bottom after he slides down. I would also not allow him to sit at the top of the slide without moving when there are children behind him, or cut the line, etc. If a verbal instruction isn’t enough, calmly follow through by moving him, “I’m going to help you to be safe.” Or, “This child wants to slide after you. Please slide now, or I’m going to need to pick you up.” If he gets upset about these respectful instructions, acknowledge his feelings as always. This is shared equipment that can be dangerous, and when there are other children involved, our toddlers can’t be allowed to do whatever they want.

      1. I should probably add my own clarification here: this is usually happening at one of the “soft play” areas in a mall. So the slide is really a slow, 3 foot slope. The kids running into him are other toddlers or preschoolers, and getting “hurt” is generally more about a scare than a real danger. As long as he’s not blocking “traffic” too badly I tend to let him work out on his own when it’s ok to climb the slide or hang out at the top. I’m trying to let him get innocently pushed (as opposed to more intentional hurting) about some when it’s safe to do so… Because I’m hoping it will build awareness of other people and personal space. I’d prefer him to learn playground “rules” from other kids when it’s not a safety issue.

        Should I not be giving this much leeway? I don’t feel that I’m leaving him in danger of getting injured. Is it important to respect playground etiquette that I don’t agree with? I tend to ignore the unwritten rule of “don’t climb the slide” because I think it’s a stupid rule. I favor my own version: kids going down the slide have right of way. I’ll say something like: “Look, she wants to go down the slide. Let’s move so she can slide down.”

        My concern was more about avoiding scolding him when he comes to me in tears. I’ll catch myself saying, “That looks like it hurt. You have to move when people are sliding down.” And I don’t like the way that feels. Do you have a better suggestion as to how to respond, or do you still think I should be trying to prevent the collision altogether?

        1. It sounds to me like he’s letting you know that he needs more support from you. He may well understand the “cause and effect” of getting bumped, pushed, etc., but want you there a few times reminding him. Maybe you could ask, “Do you want me to stay near you to keep you safe?” But if you don’t want to do this, or you end up missing something and he comes to you and cries, the most connected response (in my opinion) would be, “You got bumped at the bottom of the slide. That looks like it hurt. Sorry I wasn’t there to help you move away before the boy slid down!” This is what I mean by “meeting children where they are” rather than scolding or second guessing them.

          It’s okay with me if we disagree about playground etiquette. 🙂 But I don’t think it’s fair to the children sliding down to get bumped because your little guy is there. That doesn’t feel great to them either.

          1. Thinking about this a little more, Meagan, I think it also comes under the category of a “learning agenda”. You have an expectation for him to learn what to do regarding the slide, etc., and he is indicating that, for whatever reason, he isn’t ready to do this right now. If you have no expectation about him figuring this out on his own and are ready and willing to help, you won’t get frustrated and have the impulse to scold. Just a thought…

            1. I’m not scolding because I’m frustrated though… I’m scolding because I’m trying to explain, and don’t know how else to say it. My tone certainly isn’t scolding, I’m just not happy with the language.

              Why do you think he’s not ready to learn? He does seem to be understanding better a little each time… He is becoming more aware of other children, he’s starting to move away from the bottom of the slide. I’m actually seeing much fewer tears at the play area as he becomes more used to being around other kids. This was just the best example I could come up with needing to provide verbal instruction/explanation for an incident that’s already happened.

              1. I think he’s demonstrating that the verbal instruction isn’t enough… He needs you closer, supporting and protecting him…in my opinion.

          2. I’m fine with disagreeing as well, but I’m curious: what do you see as different about allowing to toddlers to struggle over a toy vs, struggling over a small soft slide? Would you intervene if they were jostling against each other for space on the floor? As I said, I don’t feel he’s in any danger (or presenting a danger). You may well be right that it doesn’t feel very good, but it seems to be at a level that the other children are capable of handling. A least none have seemed particularly upset, except for the unfortunate times when their parent starts yelling at them to “look out for the baby!”, often before they’re even close to my toddler son.

            He comes to me when he’s been bumped, and after I’ve given him a snuggle, or after he’s just hung out next to me for a few minutes, he’s back on the slide. I see allowing him to get “hurt” in a safe place as exercising trust in him- trust that he can handle getting bumped, and trust that he’ll figure out how things work. Again, this is not a 10 foot metal playground slide we’re talking about, everyone is safe. I think you’re right that he sometimes needs support… And he comes to me when he’s feeling overwhelmed, and gets back to playing when he’s ready.

            So I’m trying to understand: why are playground interactions different from other small child social interactions? Why should I let my son “fall” literally as he learns to walk well… But not in dealing with other children at the slide?

            1. Meagan, when children struggle over toys at RIE we move close to them, “sportscast” in a comforting, non-judgmental manner and prevent them from hurting each other. We stop them before they hit, push, bite, etc., while allowing them to continue to work the issue out. When two or more children are on a piece of equipment, I also move close and spot to make sure they don’t push against each other and fall. Again, I often sportscast, especially if one or both of the children seem uncomfortable with the situation. “You are right next to each other…so, I’m here to make sure you don’t fall.” Or, “You are both wanting to go down that slide. I’m here to keep you safe.”

              We also allow infants to crawl over each other’s bodies, and toddlers to wrestle, but we are always close by making sure both children are comfortable and feel supported. If one of the children seems very uncomfortable, we intervene. “That’s too rough for Joey. He’s saying he doesn’t want you to do that.” “Joey, you can say to Paul, “I don’t like that”

              I don’t compare learning to play on a playground to walking, Meagan. This is a much more complicated situation because it involves other people. Asking him to navigate this alone is asking a lot, in my opinion.

              1. Hmm well you’ve given me things to think about, but I honestly think he’s capable and confident here. I was concerned with my responses giving a message I didn’t want to give, not with my son’s actions or reactions. I feel that if he were out of his depth or uncomfortable, he wouldn’t so readily go back to play once he had enough of being comforted. Is that off base? He certainly makes it clear when it’s time to leave, and when he was younger, he spent most of the time at the play area hanging out next to me, watching.

                I do see the differences you’re describing. I would like to point out though that my son was climbing this slide a good 6 months before he started walking! 🙂 But yes, I get that the social dynamic makes things more complicated.

    2. Its so nice and useful ideas. I agree with you
      Thank you

  2. Thank you very much for this post. I love reading your posts and find them extremely empowering. My 3yr old and 18mts old boys can be pretty full on and sometimes I forget to simply enjoy them more. Also been feeling guilty for having returned to work recently. It just shows then I will be able to maintain the connection. I guess its quality time, not just quantity

    1. Yes, it is the quality of the time that matters most. And please ditch the guilt! Guilt doesn’t help our kids and can “cloud” our connection. Thanks for your kind words, Dani.

  3. Thank you for posting this. I needed this!!

  4. I think the most difficult and painful part of this process of parenting is that I constantly fail to stay in a state of patience and acceptance. One minute I am feeling great and connecting with my children and the next I am yelling. I am so exhausted; how does one stay centered when overtired and when facing multiple challenges. I have an extremly emotionally 4 year old and twin 14 month old girls and my husband is facing kidney failure. I didn’t get much sleep last night and feel very angry today, especially at my 4 year old for waking me several times last night. I guess whet I am really needing right now is some encouraging support; there are many days I just don’t know how I am going to make it through!

    1. And some days, making it through is all you will do…and only barely. Lower your expectations of yourself, it sounds like they might be too high. Let go of the least important things (like a clean house, folded laundry and great meals, for example). This period will pass. Remember that your energy will effect the whole household — you set the tone. So try to let go, let go, let go, so your family can calm down, too. Be gentle to YOU first. Forgive yourself for yelling and anger. Children understand these things, but because they absorb them, they act out, their sleep is disturbed, etc. It’s almost impossible to function when mom’s tense. I’m so sorry to hear about all this stress you are dealing with, and especially sorry to hear about your husband. Take care and please keep me posted!

  5. That opening quote in blue is absolutely fantastic! It perfectly summarizes the available literature about attachment theory, and all of the reasons why connection/attachment has been my #1 priority as a parent.

  6. Can you help me put this in the context of a classroom? There are times when it’s so hard to be engaged with the kids in my group or when one of them gets lost in the mix. If there’s a child that needs shadowing because of repeated biting, for example, it can be so hard to give other children special one on one time. After lunch is the most challenging time because I have to get 5 tired toddlers to put their lunches away, roll out their blankets, and either use the potty or get their diapers changed all in the span of about half an hour. It sounds like a long time but because it kind of happens all at once, I feel like I’m often yelling across the room, “Your food is still at the table!” or “You need a new diaper!” or “Wait right there, I’ll help you when I’m finished helping so and so over here!” I feel like I need to be everywhere at once and I end up losing someone along the way. How do I stay connected when I feel like I’m spread so thin?

    1. My first thought is: Could you give yourself a longer period of time for this transition? 45 minutes to an hour maybe? Like Janine, it sounds like you are expecting quite a lot of yourself. Even two and three year old’s understand that you can’t be everywhere at once and I imagine they are more patient than you might think. Their pace is much slower than ours. Whatever you can do to unplug, let go of time a bit and slow down will help. You’re not going to be perfect or able to connect well with each child each day. Relax, enjoy, and when you do have a one-on-one moment, whether it be a happy or difficult one, embrace it!

      I’m going to see if I can ask RIE Associate and Board president Polly Elam to weigh in here, since she has much more experience with group care than I do.

      1. Thanks for your input. I’ve actually thought about reconfiguring the flow of the day to accommodate for this transition. If I had my own classroom I would totally do this, but I’ll have to run it by the team. I’d love to get an RIE perspective on group care! I know it’s not the ideal but it’s what I have to work with. Thanks again!

  7. Always a great read. Quick question regarding brushing over feelings. My 21 month old son recently started noticing small “imperfections” on me and saying “mommy owie? kiss mommy owie? mommy hurt?” First it was with a freckle and I showed him one of his own and explained that it was a freckle and didn’t hurt. Next was a really small peel of skin on the bottom my my foot he found. He was very concerned and said, “ohh ohh Mommy owie foot, hurt mommy.” over and over. He brought it up the next day completely out of context as well. He seems to have empathy for this “owie” and I want to show him I am fine without discrediting his concern.

    On the other hand, he can also be rough with me or the dog and have no concern when I say “I won’t let you pinch the dog, that hurts him”, but I know it’s all coming together for him.

    1. Thanks, Jennifer! I totally agree that this is the way it is “coming together for him”. So, keep trusting your little guy’s unique process. It sounds like you are handling this well, but here’s my take on a response to the “Mommy owie? Kiss mommy owie?” “Oh, thank you for wanting to kiss my owie! Actually, this is a freckle and it doesn’t hurt me, but I never turn down a kiss!” Or, “Yes, I see that, too. I must have scraped my foot (or have dry skin 🙂 ), but that isn’t hurting me. Thanks so much for your concern!”

  8. Margarita says:

    Thanks for this post. The subject of distraction is an important one, and complicated, I think. I see so much value in your suggestion that one avoid “papering over” disappointments, distress, and pain. I’ve seen the consequences of that in children I know well, and I do think it does not do justice to the child in ways that can be harmful. At the same time, I also believe that there is a place for inviting a child out of a sad, unhappy space. Getting out of a funk is hard work, and sometimes I do think the adult has an active role to play in helping a child realize that that’s possible. A lot of contemporary psychology interventions (say, for depression and neurosis) are based on the premise that, for individuals who are mentally in anguish, being able to stop ruminating on that pain by redirecting the mind toward something else can be a healthy and constructive step. I think that can easily become disrespectful (cognitive behavioral therapy isn’t always respectful of people’s right to BE in pain). At the same time, I think there are definitely times when I am mentally better off because I decide to do something “distracting” when I am faced with something that causes me physical or mental pain. I believe that I probably would have been better off if I had been supported better as a child in being invited to “move on” from a distressing sentiment (I suspect I got more of the kind of forced distractions instead). To me, the key is in whether what is offered to the child in a moment of distress a) acknowledges and honors what the child is feeling; and b) invites the child to consider whether s/he is ready to move on to something else. “That really hurt when you bumped your head. You’re crying a lot. You want to sit here on my lap for awhile and cry some more or are you ready to read a book?” When my daughter is angry, and I’ve acknowledged that, sometimes I eventually just sit down somewhere nearby and begin to read a book aloud. I frame it in terms of what I want to do. “I want to read this book now. If you feel like it, you can join me.” Sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn’t. I don’t put a judgment on her choice, and I also don’t feel like I need to offer an alternative every time there’s a negative emotion in place. But I feel like offering the alternative is, at times, important. Some kids may not need that extra help, but I think there are probably some, including my daughter, who benefit from it.

    1. Margarita, I use a similar method with my daughter but I think in those instances, it’s not so much a distraction (i.e. a way to forget) as a reflection (i.e. a way to process what happened). Like you, I tend to help facilitate my daughter’s self-awareness and self-control abilities, and incidental events like getting hurt or getting upset provide great opportunities to build and refine those self-regulation skills. True distraction seems to imply a complete lack of thoughtful discussion or interaction.

    2. Very good points, Margarita and Shasta. Margarita, the book-reading sounds like a way for you to stay available, while also offering a “way out” if your daughter is feeling stuck. I don’t equate this with distraction. This also might be helping you to handle your feelings and remain patient.

      I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

  9. I am new to this site and the concept of RIE and I really appreciate this discussion. I notice with my son that sometimes he will start to feed into his feelings of fear or sadness and actively work to intensify those feelings and resist self soothing. It is interesting to think about this, and what need he is expressing with this behavior. On the one hand, I want to respect his processing, whatever it is; on the other hand, I want him to know when I do not think he is being well served by spinning himself up. His issues are mostly anxiety related. Of course, his feelings are real, but he also is learning how to process his feelings and what to do with them, and I don’t always feel confident I’m striking the right balance between respectful listening and support and helping him learn to self soothe.

    How much whining about the need to go to the dentist is enough? When various version of “I see you’re anxious and maybe scared; we need to go to the dentist to keep our teeth healthy, would it help to look at pictures of exactly what will happen so you know what to expect” don’t work, when does one say some version of, “I see you getting really upset and it seems like thinking about how upset you are is making you even MORE upset; when this happens to me I try to calm down by making a plan, listening to music. . .” How does one respectfully communicate this idea to children: sometimes we will be uncomfortable, we need to learn what works for us to get through that? And, any adivce on sites/books oriented towards older children? My son is 5. Thanks!

    1. Great question Elizabeth! I find myself in a simlar situation with my three year old son, where my listening and supporting his emotions sometimes seems to keep him a little stuck and I wonder too, at what point do we begin to work through them proactively. Looking forward to your response, Janet!

      1. Thank you, Elizabeth and Elle. @Elizabeth, since you say you are new to the concept of RIE, may I ask how you have been handling your son’s difficult emotions up until now? If children are generally given free rein to express the depth of their feelings, they usually do pass through them eventually without getting stuck. Do you think you are being patient and totally accepting…and openly acknowledging the feelings?

  10. Jessica C. says:

    Hi Janet,
    I am a new reader and am still trying to educate myself futher on better methods of parenting. I have three boys, ages 7 1/2, 3(next month), and a 13 month old. I was raised in a house where my mother yelled all the time and there was a lot of verbal degrading and some physical abuse. I have been trying to work very hard not to repeat this with my kids. I have done well, I think, but there are still some areas that I need to work on. One thing is that because I did not want to be “too hard” on my oldest son, I never really set any boundaries for him or gave him any real responsibilities. My mother was very hard on me and nothing I did was ever good enough for her. However, I am now having a hard time with my 7 1/2 year old because he does not want to do anything that I ask. What are some ways you might recommend handling this? Also my 3 year old yells alot and is extremely demanding. When I ask him to do something I am not sure how to handle it when he ignores me or tells me no. I do yell more than I would like, but get frustrated and feel unorganized in my methods of parenting. Can you recommend any books that may help me? Thank you so much!

    1. Yes, I feel this with my kids as well (11 & 8). Sometimes they cooperate, but it seems to me that more often that they ignore me and then I repeat myself, getting louder, and sometimes yelling. My husband does not make them do chores unless I make him make them. Then he also yells at me and them that the house is a horrible mess (it is). I have some health issues and don’t have the energy to pick up their stuff (and shouldn’t have to). We have no family close by and babysitters/house cleaners are super expensive where I live ($15-25/hr). I’ve tried playdates hoping they’d get invited back but that only happens once in a while. I am a SAHM but I am older and the kids just drain my energy on a nearly daily basis – one or the other or both! Suggestions?

  11. Hi Janet,
    Loved this article. It’s a great perspective and I have enjoyed reading the other comments too. Such a great learning resource for us parents. THANK YOU!
    Okay, I have a question regarding changing diapers. My 15 month old detests it and it’s become a constant struggle to get him to hold still (or even in one place – he’s a master at flipping over so quickly!). If I give him a special toy to hold while we’re diapering that seems to really help, but after a few days he loses interest and I’m stuck until I find a new special toy. BTW, I only let him play with the special toy when we’re changing diapers and/or clothes (same problem with both areas).
    When friends of mine (who have 4+ kids themselves) see me struggling with him while changing his diaper they say it’s kinda crazy how intense it is to get him to hold still. I’m at my wits end and I’ve started wishing away these years until he’s out of diapers. And that alone makes me sad. I want to enjoy these moments with him! I want to be connected with him – rather than thinking – when are you going to be bigger?! You’re killing me, kid! 🙂
    Anyway, I let him know that it’s time to change his diaper and get him to walk with me to his room but that’s as far as I get with cooperation. So how do I get him to help get his diaper changed so we don’t have a big yucky mess all over the place? Thank you.

  12. This article was re-posted to Facebook at just the right time… I have been wondering lately if I am interpreting #6 (giving full attention during care activities) too literally. If we are giving our full attention during feeding, does this mean for the entire meal? My two year old son really enjoys sitting at the table for meals and snack, so much so in fact that each meal can take an hour or more, afternoon snack can take 45 minutes or more. We often start our meals with a a cheers and we light candles. We chat a bit while we eat and I feel that we are connected during this time…but soon my meal is finished and I am not sure how to stay engaged with him for the rest of time. Eventually I find myself staring off into space (I don’t bring technology or books to the table) or wishing I could pop into the kitchen to do the dishes. I don’t want to rush him, but my day must also go on (and soon I will be working from home, so time may become even more scarce).
    So, am I interpreting #6 too literally? Perhaps there is a point in the meal when it is OK to step back again?
    This question also applies to bath time (is there a point where bath moves past ‘care time’ and becomes ‘play time’?)

  13. In think “hearing and acknowledging our children’s emotions can be intensely challenging”, sometimes but not all the time.
    For me, when I’m exhausted, stressed or unwell and know within myself I do not have the internal space to meet them with openness, patience and receptivity they need and deserve, I find it hard to hear them cry; knowing that they need me in that moment in a way that I can not wholly facilitate and respond how I’d like to and they need me to. And thankfully I find knowing this – that they’re tapping into my tired buttons, my low resource buttons, whilst they cry and ask to be heard, helps me not to try distract them or pacify them, but let them be in their space and me in mine. They may not receive my full attentiveness in those moments but at least I’m able to honour and respect their space.
    BUT, happily, my tired responses are not the case all the time. Hearing my kids cry, when I’m rested and aligned, can be liberating (as I know something had shifted for them and they’re in the process of expressing pain / emotional distress / a need to connect….) and can bring joy to my ears. I know in those moments they are in touch with themselves and offering me an opportunity to meet them there.
    And I think it’s important for parents to be gracious with ourselves; mindful presence and engagement is a huge part of helping us build our connection with our children and their trust within us but it’s something that moves and shifts within us every second of every day and sometimes we can practice it effortlessly and other days less so. And that’s OK. If the intention is there, we will find ourselves back in those moments of 100% attention when we are full again within ourselves.

    1. Sophie, yes, this is challenging, especially because most of us are conditioned to feel like we need to do something when our children are upset. This is the key: “…helps me not to try distract them or pacify them, but let them be in their space and me in mine.” And I totally agree that this is fine, too: “They may not receive my full attentiveness in those moments but at least I’m able to honour and respect their space.”

  14. Hoo boy, I see myself in some of these. The ones that feel like gentle, non-confrontational ways to parent. But as you so kindly show us, post after post, it’s not about minimizing discomfort but acknowledging it and loving it. Work to be done! Thank you again Janet.

  15. I have the same question as Katie regarding diapering my 9 month old. Sometimes it is all her dad and I can do to keep her on her back and get a diaper on. Sometimes she starts to cry and get upset as soon as I am putting her down on the changing table, before she’s even touching it. I would love to know how to connect better with her so this process isn’t such torture for both of us. I have tried similar techniques to what Katie mentioned. Thank you!

    1. There is no reason in the world a 9 month old would want to be flat on her back for a diaper change… So only insist on that when there is no other way you can manage. Allow her to be on her tummy…and all fours (usually a great position for wiping). Even allow her to pull up on the wall to stand (if she is doing that and wants to). Be FLEXIBLE. She needs to feel more autonomous…

  16. To your points about crying and emotion…what are you thoughts around crying at bedtime/naptime because they don’t want to go to bed. She insists she isn’t tired but I KNOW she is and will lose it if she doesn’t nap. After going into her room to check on her and seeing her playing with her toys, I tell her she needs to lay down under her covers. At that point she starts crying. I ask her to lower her voice and she says, “It’s not a mistake to cry.” Very true and broke my heart a little. I certainly don’t want her to think she can’t cry or express her emotions but with 2 other sleeping kiddos, crying that boarders on screaming is just not okay. I explained this to her in a three-year-old way but I guess I’m just worried that I’ve done something to make her think she even has to remind me that crying is ok.

  17. Love this article, but I do find it very difficult when my 20 month old is having a meltdown because she can’t have her own way. Today she was crying inconsolably & when I tried to comfort her she pushes me away & punches me. How can I deal with that without trying to distract her from the situation? Are you saying that if I just hold her & say ‘I understand you are upset right now as you can’t do what you want to do’ that she will just stop crying & move on? So is it our job as parents to not let her being upset, upset us & just let her cry until she stops?

  18. Janet,

    I am an avid reader of your blog posts and have bought several books of which to learn. I feel really connected to this concept and am trying to learn on my own for the sake of my 15 month old boy. I would love to actually take part in classes but I live in Dallas! I have been searching for RIE classes in my area but do not find any. I wanted to see if you happened to know personally of anyone in the area that teaches this?

  19. Hi,janet !
    Connection with our children plays an key role in the parenting process.
    I would like to clarify some aspects :
    -when my daughter cries , I come next to her ,I comfort her , express the feeling she has and after that I try to find some solutions together . Synthetically :understand-support-find solutions.
    Thing to clarify : I don’t think it’s ok to leave your child to cry to exhaustion without any support just for her to deepen her feelings .She needs to know that she has a suport and solutions can be found by her or using a team( asking for help) .
    -I don’t agree punishments but there are some cases when the distractions are useful. I remember my father when I was 5 , I had a throat infection with Streptoccocus and I needed penicillin .After the injection , I was sad , not crying ( still) and my father was there for me to support me and show me the little butterflies (in the way home ) .I was so grateful for his support and for the fact that he was showing me the good side of the infection : I was connecting with him.

    -While I buy educational materials , I keep an eye of what she chooses , I think that we have to do both things : giving our children the liberty to choose from the selected things .This is what parenting means , no?Listening your children,connecting with him but helping him to choose what can be helpful.Of course , our children will make mistakes( like us) , they have the right to do it but we can always be there for them to support.

    1. Hi Andrea – thanks for sharing your process. We have different approaches to parenting. That’s okay! Just to clarify, I have not (and would never have) suggested “it’s okay to leave your child to cry to exhaustion without any support.” You must be misunderstanding my advice. Most of us have the impulse to hurry our child to a solution, because we are uncomfortable hearing the feelings being expressed. So, I work with parents to be aware of that and to trust that it is always healthy to share one’s feeling fully. That is true for all ages.

  20. Janet,

    I am right there along with Farrah. I live in the Dallas area and would love to go to an educational class, however I have yet to find any close by. We are expecting a baby boy in July and I have been knee deep in your blog posts, books, and podcasts. I was recommended to read your book Elevating Childcare by a friend and I have never been the same since reading it! If you or anyone on this thread has any info on classes in Texas I would be so appreciative!! Also, it would be interesting to see if there are any RIE groups started in the area, if not I would like to look into starting one. Thanks so much!

  21. Janet, what do you suggest for the times in which you need to connect more but are trying to rush through- example, diaper changes. My 2 year old fights getting dressed, always trying to get side tracked by asking for certain foods, and or just kicks and screams? I’m also at a loss for when she is asking me to do certain things and I try to tell her that I am tired and that we won’t be doing that tonight (I’m 7 months pregnant) but all she does is throw a fit. She will continue to throw this fit until I distract her with something else. Which bring me to my next point, how do you get grandparents and spouses on the same page as parenting.

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