This May Be Why You’re Yelling …

“I find that I become one of two moms when my children are upset. I’m either Mary Poppins — kind, loving, patient — or I’m completely intolerant and prone to yelling and screaming.”
–Concerned Mom

If you’re yelling at your kids, you’re not alone. Yelling seems to have become something of a parenting epidemic. Some are even calling it “the new spanking”. Why are so many dedicated, intelligent, aware parents losing control?

My sense is that we often end up yelling because we’ve actually made the very positive decision to give our children boundaries with respect rather than punishments and manipulation. We are working really hard to remain gentle and kind, and yet our children’s testing behaviors continue. We may become increasingly frustrated, even fearful, feeling we’ve lost all control without any way to rein our children in.

And it’s no wonder! If I attempted to absorb all the vague, contradictory advice I’ve seen and heard regarding discipline, I’d be blowing a gasket on a regular basis. So many of these theoretical ideas are seductively warm and fuzzy, but they come with a whole lot of scary don’ts (“don’t punish, reward, control, give time-outs or consequences, use the word ‘no’, expect obedience, be authoritative, etc”), and very little in the way of practical tools.

If you’ve been yelling, here are some thoughts to consider:

1. You aren’t taking care of yourself

A long soak in a warm tub, or getting away with friends or your spouse are always good ideas, but what I’d suggest is far more basic and crucial: know your limits and personal needs, and establish boundaries with your child from the beginning. Yes, even with your infant.

For example, in the context of a respectful relationship (which means perceiving your infant as a whole person and communicating with her as such), it is okay for your baby to cry for a few minutes while you make your regular morning trip to the bathroom to brush your teeth. You leave your baby in a safe, enclosed place, tell her you will go, and always acknowledge her feelings when you return.

Since you are respecting your baby’s need for predictability, you’ve made this activity a habitual part of your day together, and your baby learns to anticipate that you will go and return. She still may complain, which is her right, but you confidently let her know you hear her and accept her expression of displeasure. “You didn’t want me to go. That upset you. I’m back.”

If you are a sensitive person who can’t sleep deeply with your baby near you, but you’re co-sleeping because you think you should, you are not taking care of yourself.

If you want to wean your child or limit your toddler’s nursing, but you feel guilty about that, you are not taking care of yourself.

If you need to go to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, but you’re afraid to leave your fussy baby or screeching toddler, you are not taking care of yourself.

In fact, if you feel guilty about any self-care moment, you are probably not taking care of yourself.

We all give up much of our lives for our children, but it is unhealthy for us (and even less healthy for our kids) to become an egoless parent, neglecting our needs and virtually erasing ourselves from the relationship. We need personal boundaries, and our children need us to model them. This is what it means to have an honest, authentic, respectful relationship that will make limit-setting in the toddler through teenage years clear and simple (notice I didn’t say “easy” — because it’s hardly ever easy).

Parenting fact: Our babies and toddlers will never give us permission to take care of our needs. “Go ahead and take a little break, mom, you deserve it!” will never be said or implied through our young children’s behavior, even on Mother’s Day. Quite the opposite, in fact. These boundaries must come from us, and our children will do their job by objecting, rebelling, making demands and more demands, and continuing to feel around for our limits until they are firmly and consistently in place.

2. You have spent your baby’s first year distracting, appeasing or otherwise manipulating her rather than speaking honestly about limits.

It disappoints me to hear some of the non-punitive discipline advocates I admire making statements like this one:The bad news is that babies often want everything they see. The good news is that they’re generally distractible during the first year.”

Your baby is a whole person ready to engage actively and honestly in a relationship with you at birth.  When you distract, you are practicing avoidance – denying an honest connection in order to side-step your child’s healthy feelings of resistance. The pattern this creates for both of you will make it so much harder for you to feel comfortable setting respectful limits later on.  This formative first year is a crucial time to set limits honestly because this is when we will establish what will always be the core of our parent/child relationship.  (For more about setting limits honestly with babies, please read 5 Reasons We Should Stop Distracting Toddlers (And What To Do Instead)

3. You feel responsible for your children’s emotions

Here are the main reasons parents neglect to establish personal boundaries with their children or use manipulative tools like distraction (all of which often lead to yelling):

  • They don’t believe a baby is really a whole person who can understand words and interact honestly.
  • They can’t make peace with the discomfort they feel surrounding their child’s emotions.
  • They perceive all crying as something to avoid or fix, “one-note communication”, rather than a nuanced dialogue.
  • They ride the whirlwind of their child’s disappointment, sadness, anger, etc., (easy to do!) rather than being an anchor with the understanding that it is essential to emotional health for children to express themselves.

This less healthy perception of children and their feelings thwarts the development of emotional resiliency, creates the need for even more limit-setting in the toddler years, and will exhaust you every time you have to say ‘no’ or insist upon something (which will be often). The toddler years, especially, are a limit-pushing, resistant period. Your child needs to behave this way in order to individuate in a healthy manner. If you feel pained about or responsible for your child’s daily roller-coaster of emotions, you’re going to be reluctant to set honest limits, get tired, and probably end up yelling…or crying, which isn’t healthy for your children either.

Repeat after me: Once I’ve fulfilled my child’s basic needs, my only responsibility regarding feelings is to accept and acknowledge them.

4. Your expectations are unreasonable

You also might be yelling because you are expecting the impossible. Children are explorers. They need safe places where they can freely move, experiment, and investigate. Asking a toddler not to run, jump or climb is akin to saying, “Don’t breathe.” Create and find safe places for your children to play. Don’t expose them to materials or equipment they can’t use as they wish and thereby set yourself up for frustration and anger when they don’t comply.

It’s up to us to avoid situations that will try our patience rather than get caught up struggling to keep the peace and make it work.

5. You are confused about setting limits gently with respect

Join the club, we’ve all been there, and please allow me to introduce you to the most well-tread section of my blog: (HERE) And my book: No Bad Kids. I also recommend the blogs and books of Lisa Sunbury Gerber, Susan Stiffelman, Maggie Dent, Tina Payne Bryson, and Dan Siegel, Mona Delahooke, and Teacher Tom for their wealth of helpful advice and advocacy for respectful limit-setting.

6. You needlessly enter into power struggles

It takes two to struggle, so don’t engage. You are not your child’s peer; you are her capable leader. So, instead of taking your child’s healthy, age-appropriate button-pushing behavior personally and going to that “uh-oh” place that leads you to yell:

a) Make eye contact with your child and confidently state a limit: “It’s time to brush your teeth.”

b) Give a simple choice or opportunity for an autonomous decision: “If you can come now, we’ll have time for a second book.”

c) Acknowledge your child’s feelings of disagreement (and welcome those feelings to continue as long as they need to, while you continue to acknowledge them). “Oh, I know you are having so much fun with the dog and it’s hard to stop, but it’s time. What a bummer! You are really upset and disappointed that it’s bedtime. I know the feeling.”

As completely counterintuitive as this is for most of us, it works. The more you are willing to agree with your child’s feelings while calmly holding on to the boundary, the easier it will be for her to release her resistance and move on. How can your child continue to fight when you won’t stop agreeing with her? This parenting “white-flag” of empathy will miraculously dissolve the tension for both of you.

d) If your child still does not comply for whatever reason, follow through by taking her hand (literally or figuratively). “You’re having a hard time coming upstairs to brush your teeth, so I’m going to help you.” You take her hand or pick her up, and then maybe you add, “Thank you for letting me know you needed help.”

This by the way, is exactly what she was doing.  And once you’ve recognized that all of your child’s resistant, impulsive, objectionable behavior is really just an awkward request for your help, you might find it easier to stop yelling about it.


For a complete understanding of these ideas, loads and loads of encouraging examples, and so much more, please check out my No Bad Kids Master Course ! You’ll gain all the tools and perspective you need to not only respond effectively to your children’s behavior but also build positive, respectful, relationships with them for life. All the details are here for you at ♥


(Photo by Natesh Ramamsamy on Flickr)


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

  1. This is such an insightful piece- thank you for writing this.

    I never thought that yes, I have permission to have needs as well!

    1. Danielle, thanks for your comment… It’s kind of sad to me that the need for self-care isn’t more obvious. Yes, please give yourself permission.

      1. Wow!! This article somes me up in a nutshell. Overwhelmed by all the parenting advice I’ve read. Not wanting to use my own parents tactics and lastly i feel heavily responsible for my second childs “emotional state”, believing and led to believe i caused it.
        Truly insightful and left me with food for thought.

    2. IMHO this starts in pregnancy. Moms in the USA are told what not to do for the good of the developing baby. The medical profession tends to ignore the fact the pregnant mom also has needs which need to be met. Once her baby is born she is conditioned to always put the baby’s needs ahead of her own and her husband’s needs as well.

  2. avatar Maine Momma says:

    You have no idea how timely this is. I have not been taking care of myself, and it is showing up in our two children screaming for boundaries…which has led to a lot of yelling from both me and my husband in the past month. I’ve been reflecting a lot in the past week and looking back now, it is clear to me what was happening.

    Thank you so much for all that you do!

    1. You’re welcome and take good care, Maine Momma.

  3. Janet,

    Another must-share article! So perfect that you started off with self-care and included a specific list of examples that includes doing things you think you should rather than what feels right to you. Modeling self-trust is the best way for our children to learn to do it themselves. Thank you!

    1. As always, Sandy, I appreciate your corroboration. Thank you!

  4. I really love this article Janet! So so good!!!

    1. Hi Amy! This is off-topic, but I just noticed that Ruby’s awesome video has been viewed over 13,000 times. Wowsa! She’s been such an inspiration to so many!

  5. Most of RIE’s principles were so easy and natural for me to implement with my daughter because they made so much sense to me. But the one that remains a challenge and the one that stands out the most for me in this post is being my child’s emotional “anchor.” It’s not that I don’t the believe in the power and necessisty of a child’s self expression, though. I believe emotional expression is incredibly important and paramount to emotional health both for children and adults. As a child I don’t think my emotions (especially negative ones) were ever acknowledged by either of my parents. As a result I never received the message from my parents that I was seen for who I was.

  6. Is this distraction?:
    “You can’t play with the drum right now because Sean is playing with it. Why don’t you come play with the bells instead?” I’d consider that more misdirection… But I’m not sure where to draw the line between distraction and misdirection.

    I agree that I start yelling when I haven’t been taking care of myself… But it’s never by choice! No matter how much you commit to take care of yourself there are just going to be times when there’s not enough sleep or not enough help or not enough time, or not enough support. When my fuse is getting short I try to get my husband to take over as much as possible..l but sometimes I’m just not going to be able to be the parent I want to be. I think thats ok… No one is at their best all the time. (and we’re ALL doing better now that he’s made his way past that sleep regression. Phew!)

    1. Meagan, I’m so glad you are easy on yourself for not being perfect (especially while sleepless!). What I see in your suggestion about playing with the bells is that you feel at least slightly responsible for making this situation OKAY for your boy. You don’t want to hear his disappointment. This is certainly not terrible or an overt distraction, but it does indicate that you are not as welcoming as you could be of his feelings….and this responsibility you seem to feel is definitely adding stress to your life.

      1. It hasn’t come up for me much yet since I just have the one child (and haven’t found much opportunuty for play dates) but I think this is about how they deal with it at school (Montessori toddler room 18 months – 3 years) when the kids can’t sort it out for themselves.

        1. Hmmm… Well, in a group setting it makes more sense, but it still overrides the child’s ability to problem-solve, so it is not the best response, in my opinion.

          1. Not being a parent- but an Aunt to a few adorably but rowdy kids-I’m curious…would the better option be (using the example listed above) “ I know you’re sad/upset/annoyed/etc that you can’t play with the drum right now because Sean is playing with it. Is there something else instead that you’d like to try while you wait?”

            I mean- I’m all for allowing peoples’ emotions to be what they are…but i’m a problem solver by the gift/curse of God…So is falling back on a slightly more Socratic method the better option?

            1. Kerri, yes! I like your suggestion, because it isn’t as directive as “come play with the bells”. I lean towards giving the most minimal help possible to maximize the child’s participation in a solution. So, I’d probably wait a moment to see if the child figured out to go to something else on his own, and then if he seemed upset and totally stuck, I might start suggesting other options.

    2. *I meant redirection, not misdirection! When I star in a magic show, we can talk about misdirection.

      1. Hahaha Meagan. I’m the daughter of a magician. I know all about misdirection.

    3. Yes Meagan. No one can be the best parent all the time. That’s when you apologize to your child for your transgression. That modeling is equally important for children to see. It gives them permission to make mistakes and make amends.

  7. (Sorry I didn’t mean to publish my last comment before finishing!) So early in childhood I turned inward to my feelings because the external world was not meeting my needs. For a long time I considered my feelings my identity, but the problem with feelings is that they are forever changing, and without someone to be your “anchor” as you say, the constantly changing sea of emotion becomes hard to navigate. When my daughter is upset it is not hard for me to acknowledge her feelings or be with her while she experiences them. My problem is that I feel myself almost getting sucked into them and identifying with them so much. Sometimes I have to step away, and take a minute to really feel the sensation of the floor under my feet to ground myself . That is the challenging part for me and the part I have to work on so hard every day. Thank you so much for this post. It will be one that I come back to again and again for the reminders.

    1. Heather, your self-awareness and insight is incredible. I can totally relate and I’m sure many others will as well. If you need to step away, do it. For me, the answer was to step away emotionally, but still remain present and available. You may have read my slightly embarrassing post describing my process:

      I wholeheartedly encourage you to persist with this work you are doing, because I truly believe that it will be as healing for you as it is helpful for your child.

    2. I also find myself identifying so well with, or feeling so empathetic towards my daughters dramatic feelings that I have a hard time thinking clearly so that I might remain an anchor, and a leader. I come here to read posts and replies like this to help me regain strength so that I can try again tomorrow. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Being a parent is so hard.

  8. Perfect timing! I was talking exactly about this today after I completely lost control and screamed with my toddler! I’m not my son’s buddy as much as I want to be, I’m his mother. If I cannot set limits, who will do it? Life? So much harder for him. I need to wear my invisible cape of Mother that gives me power, patience, persistence and trust and remind me everyday that setting limits before I loose my patience is key. Thank you, Janet! I love your blog.

  9. Yet another powerful piece! I find that taking care of myself is my biggest weakness and you’re right: when I don’t, that’s when my patience and compassion go out the window. The problem I’ve encountered is sometimes this: while caring for myself (eating a snack, brushing teeth, etc.) my experience of self-care is completely thwarted by the sound of my son’s upset. I mean, who could possibly enjoy a cup of tea to the sound of crying and screaming?! It’s not that I feel responsible for my son’s feelings, it’s that I just can’t stand the sound of whining. How can a mother get a moment of peace when she needs it most?

    1. Thanks, Sylvia, and great point: “I just can’t stand the sound of whining. How can a mother get a moment of peace when she needs it most?” My only answer is to lower your expectations and try to “stand” the sound, because young children always take their tone from us. If we are uncomfortable, it is almost impossible for our children to get comfortable. Keep acknowledging the feelings and letting go of “responsibility” and your boy will be more likely to accept the situation.

      1. ‘My only answer is to lower your expectations and try to “stand” the sound, because young children always take their tone from us.’

        That just seems unkind. I think it’s just abnormal to pretend like you’re enjoying your tea while a child is going mad in the background. I think it’s more of an issue of being more creative with ‘me time’ rather than learn to dull our senses and ignore upset child.

        1. I don’t see it as unkind at all (or as akin to ignoring the child) as long as we are always responsive. I would go ahead and make the tea, and then my response to the whining would depend on the reason for the whining. If my child was whining, “come here and play with me right now”, I would try to stay very calm and reply, “I’m looking forward to doing that in a few minutes.” Our calm “modeling” has a calming effect on our children.

          This is not about ignoring our child, it’s about not getting sucked in…which is usually the reason parents lose their tempers.

          1. Thanks for clarification, this makes perfect sense now. I am new to your page and I have misinterpreted what you said :)I have started doing something similar recently and it does work: being responsive, but respectfully holding my ground. However, I found that I need to time my breaks right – when I’m already yelling and the child is already screaming is too late to have a cup of coffee in relative peace. But if I set out to incorporate little breaks here and there BEFORE I blow up and after spending some quality time with him it goes a lot smoother.

            I have a question for you and maybe you can help me to start moving in the right direction.

            My main “yelling episodes” is when my 3yo sabotages what I’m doing. Like when I’m cooking and I tell him not to do something and he proceeds to do it multiple times or I ask him to bring forks to the table and he throws them in soup. Or I’m putting spilled pencils back in the box and he picks it up and throws them back on the floor half way through.
            What I eventually want to achieve is “we can do this together or you can play and wait for me to finish what I’m doing”. He is an only child by choice and we live in a small flat, so I do not NEED him to have a contribution to tidying and have no desire to enter into power struggles about it. However I don’t want him to actively ruin my work and grow up entitled.

            1. Evs, in response to your first point, yes, yelling or even feeling like yelling is a sign that you have been WAY too late setting gentle and clear limits. Once we start yelling, we completely lose our ability to teach. We also usually create the need to repeat undesirable behavior, because our child is disturbed by our response.

              In regard to the “sabotage” ;)… This is a sign that you are not giving your boy the help that he needs. It’s hard for me to tell from what you’ve given me where your guidance is lacking, but these tests could very well be the result of your boy not feeling safe and comfortable because of your tendency to yell. It’s as if children will keep testing to see if they can “deactivate” our reactive-ness.

              So, my advice would be to respond to these tests patiently, remembering that your boy is doing something he needs to do to make sure you are calmly in charge. You might even want to try to anticipate that he will do this when you are cleaning up together and then stop him gently by holding his hand before he dumps the pencils, etc. “I know it’s fun to dump those, but I can’t let you.” If you are too late and he does it, you could say, “Oh, you wanted to dump those instead of putting them away, but I don’t want you to do that please.” Then be ready to stop him, because is is bound to want to test whether you will stay calm. These kinds of responses will reassure your boy that you are his confident leader who will stay on his “team”.

              1. Thanks so much for your reply! I will try to think of it your way and try remain calm (oh dear, I need to work on that). It never occurred to me that he might be doing these things to reassure himself that “I’m his confident leader”. It is probably fitting that this behaviour is quite frequent exactly at the time as I’m going through a confidence crisis.

                I also recently found another trigger – I instantly become furious when he kicks or hits my husband (I seem to be much better at staying calm when he’s aggressive towards me). It is silly, because my husband can stand up for himself perfectly well, but I seem to just turn into a Hulk! Should I just leave when things like these happen and let them work it out?

              2. oh and something else – I do feel very guilty that I am not a stay at home mum. Do you think he might be picking up on that?

                1. I don’t know that he’s picking up on the guilt per se, but this guilt is very likely impacting your behavior towards him. When parents have less time with their kids they sometimes fall into the trap of hoping and expecting the time they do have together will always be happy and problem-free. But oftentimes, what the child actually needs from us is confident leadership and consistent boundary setting (while they resist or complain about it). This, of course, doesn’t feel like quality time to the parent, but it IS quality time for the child. So, try to let go of the pressure to makes these times “nice” and instead work on staying calm and understanding your boy’s healthy need to push limits.

  10. Janet, you have no idea how much I need to read this right now. I often feel as though I am at my breaking point with my almost 3 and almost 5 year old (my 7 month old baby is a breeze compared to the big kids.). I have been feeling that much is amiss for months and now I know why. Now I can change. Thank you so very much. I will take all of this to heart.

    1. Liz, I am so glad to be able to help. Thank you and please take good care.

  11. I love this post. I don’t always agree with everything I read on this blog, but I agree with every word of this article. And it really hit home. Thank you.

  12. avatar Jessica Isles says:

    I not only have trouble having the right expectations of my children but also of myself. I imagine each day as I get up in the morning and assume I will accomplish a variety of tasks from cooking to laundry to pet care to playing with the kids to school drop off and pick up etc. When I only achieve a third of that (if I’m lucky) I get frustrated and feel a failure and ridiculously and unconsciously blame the kids, which results in me being impatient and yelling at them – how silly is that?!

    1. Jessica, I have the same self-expectations, but rather than perceiving my inability to complete even a fraction of the tasks I set out for myself as failure, I’m calling it “eternal optimism/insanity”. It’s this little fantasy I indulge in every morning, sometimes while still in bed. Going easy on yourself will help you to go easier on your kids, so be good to YOU today.

      1. avatar Jessica Isles says:

        Thank you Janet – your help is always so wonderful!

  13. Hi Janet! Thank you so much for this very helpful reminder. I’ve learned a lot from your article and I am very glad to have read this post. You are really doing an amazing job helping a lot of moms out there (myself included). Again, thank you very much. 🙂

  14. Hello!
    Thank you for a beautiful and useful post. I have a question for you: what do you do when your child goes into a back-arching tantrum because he won’t, let’s say, brush his teeth? I usually just sit next to him and tell him that I’m there for him and wait. This can take forever. Do you think there’s a better way though?

    1. Hi and thank you, Karla! I would trust the need for those feelings to be expressed. They are very likely related to lots of other tensions that have built up throughout the day. How long is “forever”? You might try to acknowledge the feelings a bit more, rather than assuring him that you are there (which he knows).

      1. What about tantrum throwing all day long over every little thing? I always considered myself very relaxed parent but Miss three has been very trying for the last 17 months and with an 11 month old that doesn’t like to sleep (last night I got up to him 5 times in the 2 hours after I first went to bed, then I stopped looking as it was too depressing. We also co-sleep but he likes me to sit up with him in my arms) I am getting very frazzled.
        After carefully reading through this post I can say I do all of the techniques you write about, empathising with emotions, agreeing with them, being firm, staying beside her while she throws a tantrum (if bub is ok) but the screaming and crying can go on for more than an hour and not usually less than 20 minutes and often gets violent. This can be over putting on undies (yesterday I took her out pantless as I needed to be somewhere, we were still 30 mins late), getting the wrong bowl at breakfast time and someone sitting in her spot on the couch or the chair (the spot changes at whim). At night time she doesn’t want to wear a nappy but every morning she does a big poo in her pants (unless I managed to get a nappy on her the night before, then she gets up and goes to the toilet. This morning I burst into tears at the sight as I’d had such a rough night and it was only 5am and she was up for the day). How do I be fair to everyone else while helping her through this time? Does she have a bigger problem that I need to see someone about? Do I? Often after being calm for ages I do suddenly lose it, yell and smack. Time out turns into another battle of not staying in the spot. Time in is not an option as she doesn’t want me near her. Being sent to her room usually works the best as she can rant and rave, break things, kick and punch the walls and door for as long as she likes until she calms down enough to knock. Then I go in and we talk about how she felt, how I felt and get on with our day. I don’t like this but often it’s the only thing that works and if bub needs me or is being hurt by her (she pushes his head into the ground or tries jump on his leg) then I don’t have the time to be there by her side. I have tried picking her up and holding her through it but she is very strong and thrashes about quite successfully. I don’t want it to be like this but I don’t know how to change it. Sorry for the long post, it’s hard to write a clear picture of the situation.

        1. Hi Amanda,

          I think your daughter is triggering unresolved issues from your childhood. None of us escapes childhood unscathed no matter how skilled our parents were at parenting us. You are doing the best you can and this demonstrates you a good mother.
          The issue I see with your daughter is here age. Three year olds by nature are obstinent. I find this much harder to deal with than the “terrible twos”. It will pass… Four year olds can be bossy and five year olds become sweet again. She is a little girl with very big raw emotions. Her tantrums are her way of releasing the pent up negative energy.
          With some children I find eye contact makes them more aggressive because it is seen as a domineering, oppressive stance on the part of someone more powerful. In this instance I stand behind the child with my legs spread apart and cross my arms over the front of the child and talk softly in the child’s ear. By using this hold you are less likely to be kicked and grabbed. You are present for your child’s big emotions while at the same time letting the child release the pent up energy. When we touch each other there is an exchange of energy which can be very calming.
          I’m also reading that you are exhausted from fractured sleep because of your 11 month old. You answered your own question on this issue when you wrote, “and with an 11 month old that doesn’t like to sleep (last night I got up to him 5 times in the 2 hours after I first went to bed, then I stopped looking as it was too depressing. We also co-sleep but he likes me to sit up with him in my arms) I am getting very frazzled.”
          Ask yourself: Is it time to stop bed sharing and move him to a crib? Do I need to answer every cry? Or can I wait 5 minutes to see if he goes back to sleep?
          All people have some nights when we wake up briefly. We all use sleep to offload and unravel the emotions of the day. Babies often wake up briefly between sleep cycles and cry for a few minutes before going back to sleep on their own.
          I suggest you go to a few counseling sessions to see if you can find out your unresolved issues. This will reduce your stress and maybe help reduce the tension between you and your daughter. We all need help sometimes and are allowed to seek and receive help.
          Good luck and hang in there. This too shall pass.

        2. Amanda, the timing of this behavior (“Miss three has been very trying for the last 17 months”) sounds like it is related to your pregnancy and new baby. The older child’s transition to the addition of a sibling is almost always excruciatingly painful. And like other forms of grief, the feelings of fear, sadness, anger, etc., come and go, and young children express them through their behavior. Your daughter desperately needs you to understand her crazy, sick puppy behavior… I realize that it seems ridiculous, mean, impossible at times. Please believe me when I tell you that she cannot control herself in these moments.

          She needs you to calmly provide her with boundaries way before you get angry, so that she can release these painful feelings. Every time you “lose it, yell, and smack,” you are taking many steps backwards — creating less safety for her and making it less possible for her to express her feelings…and continuing this cycle. Time-out and other punishments will also continue this cycle. The good news here is that she’s still expressing her pain, rather than shutting it down and stuffing it.

          As far as specifics, calmly insist she wears a nappy, she is letting you know she can’t make this decision right now. Remember, boundaries ARE NOT punitive measures, they must be provided out of love for our children and ourselves. “I want you to be comfortable…and I also can’t let you poo in underwear, so I’m going to help you stay in nappies as long as you need them”.

  15. Wonderful reminder. Now, what about for older children? Ours have been raised in the environment you speak of above, but now we find ourselves resorting to raised voices, which is just intimidation and not healthy for any involved.

    Any ideas for older kids?

    1. Laura, can you please give me a specific example?

      1. I have an example that happened at naptime today. I am an in-home daycare provider and at naptime today, my 4 yearold refused to nap and was not being very quiet which was keeping the other kids up. I know he was tired, but he has learned to keep himself awake, which is frustrating because I do not get a break that I need and he gets over tired and falls asleep before supper. The added background is that I worry that lack of sleep will cause his immune system to not be at his best and he will get a fever, this is very stressful for me because 7 weeks ago, he had a fever and had his second and third febrile seizure (and the daycare kiddos have been out lately with a fever). So I let him come up. I get mad and scared, I try to explain how I am feeling and not to yell too much, as my mom was a yeller and I really do not want to repeat that. I try to validate his feelings, and let him know I need to take care of myself too, but letting him yell and cry isn’t really an option when the other kiddos need a nap so they can function at night with their families. Any help for using the method you write about with older kiddos?

        1. Lisa – sleep happens when we feel relaxed enough to “let go”. Imagine trying to sleep after having a big argument with someone close to you. Multiply this times ten and that’s how your son feels when you’re tense, stressed, angry. Helping children sleep is a different from setting other kinds of limits, because staying calm in this case is not just important, it’s essential.
          So, I suggest that you do what you can to calm yourself. Have his nap time be “meditation time” for the two of you, if possible. Your son will only be able to relax when you can relax, so try to let go of the worry that he won’t sleep. Take the pressure off yourself and him. Make this a positive, quiet time, and accept him sleeping or not.

          1. Do you have a separate room in your home that you use for daycare? If so could you put him in his bedroom for his nap and use a monitor to listen in case he needs you? I have a few kids here for daycare and I try to give each child a private quite place to sleep. It sure helps promote sleep. You may also try rubbing the bottom of his feet to relax him.

  16. This is fantastic post. Thanks for writing it!

  17. How is the best way to respond when:

    E) You gently take your child’s hand and she throws herself on the ground/runs away/ screams or refuses to walk with you?

    The above scenario is a relatively new one with my six-year-old daughter, I’m a little but stuck with this one. I’ve ended up doing time-out, but that isn’t ideal. I’m pretty sure it makes both of us feel bad.

    1. Depending on where this happened, I would probably relax, sit and wait. Any idea why she’s running away?

  18. Perfect timing. Being 7 months pregnant, and having a toddler with croup that just won’t quit, I was not taking care of myself in the least (I actually asked my son if he could give me 10 minutes to shower…really) and yelled last week. And of course, can’t forgive myself!
    I’ll take this post as a sign to regroup, and start taking care of myself and my boy. Thanks, as always.

    1. YES! Regroup and please forgive and take care yourself. Don’t ask permission for the things you need to do. You won’t get it.

  19. What a great post. I always feel so frustrated with myself when I yell, which is mostly at my 5 yo when he is fighting with his younger sister at times when I am busy doing something else. These ideas will really help.

    I have a question about acknowledging feelings. It makes a lot of sense to me to accept the child’s feelings and allow them to express them but my husband (who grew up hearing things like “stop being a baby” and “boys don’t cry”) seems very uncomfortable when our 5 yo son cries (which he has been doing a lot lately) and often tells him to stop. I think he’s worried that if he allows our son to express those feelings, it will encourage him to be whiny or overly-emotional. How can I explain to him the importance of allowing our son to fully express these uncomfortable emotions?

    1. Hmmm… Lindsey, I admit that am much better at helping parents with their children than I am at dealing with adult conflicts. But your husband might be interested to know that emotional resiliency is fostered when children feel comfortable expressing their feelings to the hilt. Discouraging (or avoiding) the crying is often what causes emotional fragility…which means there will be more crying.

  20. Loved this. Thank you. I could have written those exact words written by “Concerned Mom.” I’m a late-in-life mama w/ an almost 3-yr old, and a single Mom. I do use 6c above. My family, God bless ’em, criticizes this one though. “Geez…… you’re using too many words….you need to just (spank, put in time-out, make her….). I yell more at her when I’m around my family. Just realized this the other day. But I can’t get away from the family. So now I need to find my balance to stand up for the way I want/choose to parent and try not to take the criticism so personally. Oh… and yes… my 3 sisters have children (six total between ages 10-14), and my brother has a daughter 9 months younger than mine. And somehow mine still is the “trouble-maker” out of all the kids. And she absolutely is not. And I’m not saying that just ’cause I’m her Mom! Everybody except my family reminds me that she’s a very, very good (& “normal”) but most important…. happy little girl.

    So grateful for your posts as they give me moments of sanity.

    1. Suzanne – it’s wonderful that you are able to remember to acknowledge feelings. I’ve found with the parents I work with (and myself) that taking the leap of faith it requires to go to where my child is emotionally is the hardest thing. It always feels to me like I’ll exacerbate the feelings when I do that, and it never ceases to amaze me that it actually has the exact opposite effect.

      Your daughter’s happiness is reflective of healthy boundaries, acceptance of her feelings, and mutual trust. So, kudos to you!

  21. Can we talk about #6 for a moment? Let’s say you’ve done all the above, you’ve given clear direction and choices, and they aren’t listening about getting into bed. You’ve empathized and acknowledged that it’s not fun and you know they would rather stay up but they need rest. You’re already in their bedroom. Then they start to lose it, kicking the floor and screaming “I WANT BOOKS” and you calmly but firmly tell them that you cannot read books to someone who is acting so worked up, and that to get books, they need to settle down. So now they are yelling at you that they ARE in fact settled down, when clearly they are not.

    You offer comfort, you offer to help them settle, you tell them if they cannot behave respectfully you are going to say goodnight. Still insanity ensues. It’s far past the point of rationalization with the child and you’re getting upset.

    What do you do? This happened last night out of nowhere out of nothing. She didn’t want to go to bed, which isn’t abnormal but then, we told her if she didn’t get into bed there would be no time for books (we read in bed, she’s had the same routine since 7 weeks old, she’s almost 3). This didn’t prompt her to get in. Eventually it’s been a long time and we have to stick to the previous statement and let her know that since we haven’t got into bed, there isn’t time for books. Now she’s flipping out.

    Eventually, we left her room and told her we’d come back when she settled. And she didn’t, we went in to give her a chance to settle, and she refused. So I yelled, but that didn’t help either (which isn’t a surprise but I really don’t know the option).

    She just continued to cry and scream and carry on asking for books for over 30 mins. Even when I went in to make sure she was ok, and was myself now calm and in control of my emotions, she was still yelling at me (yelling to tell me she wasn’t yelling to boot ha!).

    At that point, what do you even do? I mean, I left her room and left her to her own devices and she went to sleep and woke up chipper as ever. I laid awake all night feeling like the worst person alive and woke up and had a cry.

    I don’t like to yell. We do choice and consequence for the most part, rarely do we do a time out. If it’s necessary she will have a time into sit with us and calm and then talk about the issue. But this situation, where she’s not listening or calming is happening a little more often the closer she gets to 3. I know it’s a power struggle, I know she’s pushing boundaries, but when they are clearly set and she doesn’t “win” but keeps pushing, I don’t know what to do?

    1. Sorry one more bit, at some point I know she’s a child but throwing herself on the floor and kicking things and yelling at me like that are not acceptable behaviours to me. That is a boundary as well, so as much as I am more than happy to speak toddlerease and acknowledge how she’s feeling, I don’t want to give her the impression that it’s an ok way to behave (yes I see the stupidity in trying to teach someone not to yell by yelling at them….it’s not my usual MO 😉

      1. BC – the problem I’m hearing is that you want to limit your daughter’s emotional outbursts, rather than accepting them. This is what I meant in my post by “making peace with your child’s feelings”. It is not your job (or your place, in my opinion) to “settle” your child or calm her when she’s tantruming, nor would I expect her to be able to do those things. It needs to be okay with you that she expresses her feelings.

        So, rather than this approach: “you cannot read books to someone who is acting so worked up, and that to get books, they need to settle down.” I would accept the outbursts as your “friend”. These expressions of emotion will help your daughter clear her feelings and then be able to calm down and settle into sleep in a healthy manner. Just acknowledge, “I hear how upset you are.”

        It sounds like you are trying to battle your daughter’s feelings (which you perceive as disrespectful) and force her to calm down. This never works, especially at bed time. As I wrote to another commenter, children (just like the rest of us) can’t fall asleep when they are feeling anger and other intense emotions, or have parents yelling at them, etc.

        Allow her to yell as much as she needs to. Don’t take this personally. Her feelings belong to her. As you’ve noticed, the feelings don’t just go away because you’ve demanded it: “You offer comfort, you offer to help them settle, you tell them if they cannot behave respectfully you are going to say goodnight. Still insanity ensues. It’s far past the point of rationalization with the child and you’re getting upset.”

        I would also not speak to her in “toddler-ease”, but rather in your authentic voice.

        1. I believe you’re having trouble distinguishing between an emotion and a behavior. We can’t force our children not to have emotions, but we can discipline their behavior and teach them to control themselves. The whole point of parenting is to teach them how to deal APPROPRIATELY with their emotions. When my kids (6 and 4) start screaming and crying because they didn’t get what they wanted or don’t want to do what they’ve been told to do, I am all for acknowledging those emotions– for instance, saying to them, “I know you’re disappointed that you have to stop playing and go to bed, but sleep is very important.” Then I let them know it’s ok to say, “Aw, man, I wish I could play some more,” but it is NOT ok to scream at Mommy. Allowing a child to disobey, scream at and kick their mother with no negative consequences is absurd. Our jails are full of people who don’t know how to control their emotions. You don’t have to scream at them (I agree that doesn’t work) or even spank them, but there has to be some negative consequence for verbally or physically attacking their mother! I’ve spent years working at day cares, a school, and a mental health facility for children, and I have my own children, and I have never, ever seen this approach work. If a woman was feeling emotional in Wal-Mart because you took the last loaf of bread, would you feel it was appropriate for her to scream and cuss at you and kick you in the shins? Or would you expect her to feel disappointed but control herself? This is crazy!

          1. Emily, you seem to be suggesting that toddlers and preschoolers need to be forced to develop emotional self-regulation…and that they should be expected to have the self-control that adults have. I encourage you to do some research on brain development. The message you are giving your children is “anger at your parents is not allowed,” which means that when they DO feel anger (and they WILL, because they are human beings), they will have no choice but to turn it inward, or take it out on others.

  22. Janet, this is an entire book in one post!! I have just shared widely and will continue to do so. Thank you so much for summarizing all these pieces of the puzzle with so much compassion and also practical advice, a hard balance to achieve. Love love love this.

  23. Oiy!! So much of this is me!! So many times I’ve lost my temper because I’ve felt so helpless…. I have had so many arguments in my head with certain authors, because I felt at such a loss about setting boundaries. I felt like I didn’t have to be a playmate, but I wasn’t supposed to do anything else, either…..not even housework or food prep…I spent a lot of toddler years being totally frustrated….also, saying yes to everything even when I was trying to set limits was completely ineffective… I felt like my hands were completely tied when trying to figure out the need didn’t work, and my toddler was trashing the house in a rage….

    I only recently started being more firm and clear, and its been so much easier – they really like knowing what the heck I mean.. But I felt like I was breaking some sort of rules. This article really helps…

    I am the mom who is resentful and feeling like I should be just sucking it up for the sake of my children’s sense development….but I always felt like my resentment couldn’t be healthy, either..especially when it came to breast feeding…oiy! Six years of it, and four spent hating it and feeling like I was a complete and utter failure for not getting over my aversion…

    I wish I would have found you years ago…. I needed a LOT more explanation about gentle parenting practices.. I am so glad to have found your site…

    1. Hi Skye, sounds like you’ve survived some difficult times… Kudos to you! I thank you for sharing your story. I think many will relate

  24. Dear Janet,

    Thanks a Lot for your blog. It is always an Inspiration to read and help for raising up my 23 month old son Unfortunately i haven’t found a similar Website in german, because sometimes i struggle with my englisch skills :-).

    Best regards from the snowy Germany

  25. I have read advice like #6 many times in books and blogs. The problem I have is that there is never a 6E. What do you do when you calmly take your child’s hand and he becomes a dead weight? Or starts screaming, hitting and kicking? That is when the yelling typically starts. What do we do then?

    1. Lauren, there are two things I recommend.

      One would be to get down to your child’s level and hold onto her hands or wrists, look into her eyes and gently acknowledge, “you are so upset about this. You really don’t want to come up with me now. You are having a very hard time.” And perhaps, “You seem very angry.” Your child may continue to struggle for a while, but she will eventually relax if you keep assuring her with acknowledgements and empathy. Hold or block her in a manner that prevents her from hitting kicking or hurting her. You might even say, “Please let me know when you are ready to come upstairs with me.”

      Another way, if you are physically able or the child is young enough, would be to carry her upstairs even if she resists, kicks or screams. “You are having a hard time coming upstairs, so I will carry you.”

      The make-or-break-it ingredient here (and always in these situations) is your calmness and conviction. I would also consider how you are handling the other things I mention in this post, because our children’s extremely resistant behavior is almost always the result of the way we’ve been handling boundaries.

  26. So weird, apparently this is my parenting philosophy, although I had no idea I actually had a parenting philosophy. I have a 6 month old so we haven’t run into any actual problems yet, but I’ve been doing more or less what you’re advocating from day one and I don’t know where it came from. I know it didn’t come from my own parents or anybody I know for that matter.

  27. i read this right after you posted and wanted to comment right away… but alas… such is life! but i wanted to chime in anyways, so here goes…

    this post is so great. i forwarded it to austin to read, too.

    i’ve realized how, for me, one of the most important things that i can so easily forget falls under “self care” is keeping up on the housework. i’ll admit my threshold for clutter is really low but i know for certain that when i’m on top of things around the house, i feel like i can take on anything! on the flip side, when piles are piling up faster than i can manage them, i can feel my fuse getting shorter and shorter and i know i’m going to snap – and probably at someone!

    so making that a priority transforms everything.

    thanks for (another) awesome post, janet… hope you’re doing well! xx

  28. Thank you for writing this… for writing this blog!

    Number 4 – Expectations. That’s my achilles’ heel. Whenever I yell or I feel the urge to scream, I repeat a mantra “she’s two”. Realizing she’s only two grounds me and rids me of all those unrealistic expectations.

  29. This couldn’t have come at a better time, Janet. I’m so stressed with our upcoming move that I’ve been very short with all my children. After I read this, I’ve been repeating to myself, “accept and acknowledge”. It made our weekend much calmer and happier. Thank you!

  30. Hello Janet,
    I am a young single mother with a 32 month old. She is very smart, verbal and strong willed.

    Really great article with lots of amazing insight.

    However, my question is about the very end of your post. Once I acknowledge and validate her feelings, the tension relaxes until I insist she still has ‘fill in the blank’. I give her ample opportunity to walk to the bathroom, or put on her pjs etc. She still won’t. Then when I “help” her it leads to a catastrophic melt down involving hyperventilating, attempts to slap, kick, run away etc. So I end up like bear hugging her by the sink calmly insisting she brushes her teeth but she is screaming so loudly she can’t hear me and her condition continues to deteriorate. Eventually she is so upset I can release her without her trying to run away and she stands there sobbing DONT TOUCH ME, KEEP YOUR HANDS AWAY for about 5 minutes then she wants me to hold her and she will sob softly, “I want to do it myself.”

    However, this type of interaction makes me sick to my stomach and it feels detrimental to our relationship. I’m especially concerned because my parents were accidentally very shaming and I am a HUGE people pleaser. I don’t want to teach her the same lessons but I can’t seem to have success with gentle parenting. What can I do differently?

    1. Alexa – this sounds challenging, but it was obviously an explosion your little girl needed to have… And from what you say: “I am a HUGE people pleaser”, I’m sure the expression of these explosive feelings is long overdue. This interaction you describe is gentle parenting. So, kudos to you! The parents and advisers who might tell you otherwise are either regularly blowing up at their kids and/or neglecting their children’s needs for boundaries, neither of which makes for happy, joyful children.

      Your only “mistake” was waiting for your daughter for a little too long, because right there you gave her the idea that it was up to her to decide what would happen (which is what I imagine she is used to from you, and this power is paralyzing her). You also placed yourself in danger of getting to your wit’s end by not “helping” her right away. If you continue to give your daughter these kinds of boundaries, her explosions will not be as common or last as long.

      It’s going to take you a while to feel comfortable setting real limits this way…and facing your daughter’s responses. But keep reminding yourself that children without leadership are in bondage. We might feel timid about harming our child’s spirit, but it is our reticence to be a gentle leader that actually hurts our children. Your daughter will be able to feel truly free and joyful when she knows she has your strong, confident leadership and safe boundaries.

  31. While I love this piece and find it incredibly helpful, especailly after a morning of yelling at my children AFTER trying for ten minutes to be calm and help guide them. My only challenge is that what do yo do when these things fail, like this mornign for me? How do I guide my child to brush his/her teeth when they are lying on the floor screaming at me or throwing a fit?

    1. Kara – can you give me the blow-by-blow of this morning?

      1. Of course. My son was already on edge, just grumpy and realized that his dad had left without giving him a hug and a kiss and lost it. I knew that this made him very sad and so I sat on the floor while he screamed and tried to talk to him (I know you’re sad, daddy was in a hurry, daddy will be back tonight and will give you big hugs, can mommy hug you, etc.). Finally he seemed to calm down and go to the bathroom to brush his teeth, but then got upset about something else (don’t even remember now). So once again, I sat down on the floor and tried to talk to him about it and sat there saying I am here when you are ready to hug me. But at some point, selfishly I realized we were going to be late and so I started yelling. I realize that was not the right thing to do, but this seems to happen frequently. I feel like I try and try to remain calm, sit with them (I have twins), talk to them, etc until I am done and have to move us forward. Yelling is not the right thing to do, nor is it what I want to do, but I think I just get so frustrated feeling as though I am trying to parent the right way and it just doesn’t seem to always work.

        1. Kara, what I am hearing is that you are feeling responsible for making these feelings better, rather than just letting go and accepting them. This will wear your patience and sap your energy and this is why I think you ended up yelling. You are not selfish, you are human.

          Talking about hugs when your child is melting down is not helpful to either of you. In your description: “I know you’re sad, daddy was in a hurry, daddy will be back tonight and will give you big hugs, can mommy hug you, etc.” and even in this one: “sat there saying I am here when you are ready to hug me”, I feel your impatience and urgency for your son to feel better. Instead, LET GO and just acknowledge, “You are so upset”. Let it be okay with you that your son stays in these feelings as long as he needs to, because that is the only way he will really be able to move on. I wouldn’t even assume he’s sad… He might be furious. We only know he’s upset and maybe after he melts down he can talk about it and try to understand why, but not when he’s in the middle of the emotion.

          Acknowledging is a little different from empathizing. Empathizing might take us into the other person’s feelings a bit… we try to share their feelings in order to understand them. Acknowledging is being just as supportive and validating, but keeping a little emotional distance, so that we don’t sink with our child. It’s the sinking that wears us out and makes us lose it.

          1. Thank you. This makes perfect sense. How long do I let him melt down, though? Especailly when we have to go somewhere. I know he needs time to have those feelings, I would too, but how do you keep things moving when on a schedule and they are having these really big emotions and don’t want to do anything else. Thank you for helping me look at this differently.

            1. Kara – The tricky part of this is that if you can totally give up on trying to control his meltdown, the length of it, etc., if you can really LET GO, it will be a brief meltdown. Then, if the big wave passes, but he continues to whine, I would go into “help” mode, meaning I would say, “You’re having a really hard time getting it together today. I hear how upset you still are about Daddy not kissing you good-bye. But we have to go, so I will help you…” (This must be done willingly, lovingly, without sarcasm, resentment, etc.). Then get his shoes, bring him his toothbrush and maybe even ask him to please open his mouth so you can brush. You’ll probably both end up laughing, which would be wonderful. But again, your tone and confidence is what will make all the difference. You might even ask, “How can I help? Shall we put on your pants together?”

  32. Hi, I have a question about talking to infants. My son is 9 months old and at the “I want everything and am going to burst into screaming and crying if you don’t let me grab it!” phase. You said that babies can learn reason and that we don’t need to distract them. How would that look? It most often happens when he tries to grab my face – this is a boundary that I can not let go. It sends me into a panic attack when he won’t stop grabbing at it. (yeah, and I have lots of other issues that it taps into, but that’s not the point :P) I know it’s because he likes it and it is entertaining because it moves and is how he can see my expressions. I understand that it is totally linked to how he loves me. But I can’t handle it. My husband thinks we should flick his hand, but I don’t want to. What should I do? Thanks in advance 🙂

    1. Hi Emily, I think you might have misunderstood. Not distracting doesn’t mean just letting it happen! Nor does it mean trying to talk or reason him out of it. Not disracting means treating your little guy like a whole person and telling him the truth, while also realizing that he needs you to follow through by physically preventing him from doing unsafe or unwelcome things. You are big and he is little. Stop him from grabbing your face by gently, firmly removing his hand or blocking him from being able to hurt or bother you. While you do this, say matter-of-factly, “I won’t let you grab my face. That hurts.”

      1. I sometimes have a similar issue with a daycare baby and I get upset when the parent tells me it’s OK for the baby to grab my face or my glasses. What I have learned to say calmly is, “OK if your child breaks my glasses I’ll need you to buy me another pair. By the way they cost $600.00. This solves the problem every time.

  33. This really seems to be me lately and every time I can’t keep my cool and start yelling I feel like such a terrible mom. It’s mostly over the frustration of my 8 month old not taking to her crib very well. I’ve tried making it a fun experience by playing with toys with her while she is in it, and I’ve tried having a good routine to set the stage for sleep time but at night she just screams every time I lay her down in the crib. I’ve co slept with her since she was a newborn because I felt that through what I had read from AP that was the best for both of us. I don’t regret co sleeping with her because i liked having her near. But now that she is older and moves around a lot I don’t sleep very well and she scoots to the edge of the bed in her sleep. Because of both reasons, I’d like to transition her into her own crib. So far the only advice I’ve been given from other AP followers is to change up my bed situation like putting my mattress on the floor. That may solve the edge of the bed problem but I still wouldn’t sleep very well. I no longer feel like AP parenting in its entirety is for me. I can’t be like those moms who don’t mind changing their bedroom around so their baby can continue sleeping with them at night. And I shouldn’t have to feel like a terrible mother for that. I want her to learn good sleeping habits so that she can comfortably sleep on her own. RIE is fairly new to me and I am slowly trying to incorporate throughout our day. So far though trying to talk to her and tell her what I am going to do ahead of time hasn’t help keep her calm about going in the crib. It’s only been a few days and I am not giving up yet but I am starting lose my patience a little from the lack of sleep and feeling so terrible about her crying. :/

    1. Kristina, rather than trying to make it fun or make this transition “work” for her, be honest, loving and accept her feelings. They are going to be strong… There really is no getting around that. She sees no reason to do something different from what she knows, which isn’t to say that she’s suffering or needs to be in bed with you. She is saying, “NO, I don’t want to sleep this way. I like the other way.” This is a healthy objection, not something to feel “terrible” about…and that is the key to easing this transition: If you feel terrible, she has no choice but to feel terrible, too.

  34. Reading this brought tears to my eyes. There has been a shift in dynamics at my house as my soon-to-be three-year-old has recently started to assert her independence. I am pretty much a doormat of a human being and I hate that about myself so I am so glad to hear her stand up for herself. However, it does spark controversies in the house from time to time and I feel trapped between encouraging her to be independent but still needing her to follow rules that were developed with her health and saftey in mind. I absolutely love the dialogue examples I am reading here. This is really giving me the tools I need to communicate better with her. Thank you!

  35. Oh, thank you so much for this post. I’ve been so riddled with guilt over my lack of control with my 3-year-old. Oddly enough, I have never yelled at my 17-year-old or my 1-year-old. It has always been my middle child only. I think it has something to do with the fact that she is so much like I was – so stubborn and self-absorbed, unable to empathize, hyper-alert, and endlessly energetic. I KNOW why she continuously treats her little sister poorly and gives me such pushback, and I know she’ll grow out of it one day just like I did. But, for some reason I still fly off the handle with that child. As another poster said, I am just identifying too strongly with her (seriously dramatic) emotions. I look at her and I see me, and I fear all the things she will go through if she stays like that. I also don’t take care of myself at all (AT ALL), so I guess I really should congratulate myself on merely becoming a shrieking lunatic from time to time, and not something worse. I appreciate this post so much. Now that I understand where I’m coming from, I can figure out what I can do to help myself.

    1. Lisa, you are impressively self-aware and insightful! NO more guilt, please! It is common for parents to get triggered by children they strongly identify with. Just remember, your daughter is NOT you and never will be, but like you (and everyone else) she needs a parent who will not judge her, while also kindly guiding her behavior.

  36. Reading your posts is like breathing fresh air. This one especially. Thank you.

  37. avatar Katharine says:


    I needed to hear this.

    Especially this, “We all give up much of our lives for our children, but it is unhealthy for us (and even less healthy for our kids) to become an egoless parent, neglecting our needs and virtually erasing ourselves from the relationship..”


  38. On the one hand, I want desperately for you to be right. For the yelling to cease with a hot bath and the resolution that I just won’t enter into any more unnecessary power struggles.

    On the other hand, I’ve been a parent for long enough to know that my kids just don’t play by those rules.

    My 3 year old needs a nap. She gets angry and crabby and violent without one. But I can’t actually make her sleep. I could try re-arranging bed time to see if that might change something, but it’s a never ending quest that gets us absolutely nowhere. If I’m respecting my own limits in any sense, then we’re not pushing bedtime back. Nor are we going to skip nap and just put the three year old to sleep earlier, because then we’d have to do another bedtime with the two year old. Is it unreasonable to expect that my 3 year old either sleeps or stops being violent when she’s tired? Because that right there is one giant power struggle, on either side of the coin. It’s a matter of isolating the three year old for the rest of the night to keep her from hurting the two year old.

    Yelling is no solution there, clearly. But daily I feel like I’m set up for failure with two very smart, overly-verbal toddlers who just aren’t ready to handle the consequences of their choices.

    And as much as I want to print this and post it and hope it helps something, I think for most of us, yelling has just become a way to cope with the frustration of being regularly backed into a corner. If the kids were still babies, we could put them in a crib and go downstairs for a drink of water when we reach That Point. But now? When kids get older?

    I think most of us are just doing our best not to shake the babies.

    1. “Is it unreasonable to expect that my 3 year old either sleeps or stops being violent when she’s tired?” My answer to this is yes, it’s unreasonable, because as you say, you cannot make someone else sleep. And a 3 year old does not have the executive function skills to be able to sleep just because she doesn’t want to feel tired later on.

      Battles around sleep seldom “work” because to fall asleep we need to feel peaceful, calm and be assured we are surrounded by love. Imagine trying to sleep when you and your spouse are angry with each other, etc. So, by getting wound-up and frustrated, you are essentially shooting yourself in the foot.

      The best thing you can do is let go of the desire for your toddlers to fall asleep and focus on providing a peaceful, gentle, BORING atmosphere conducive to rest. Then let your children know that you don’t care if they sleep, but you will all have quiet rest time each afternoon. Present this very positively — rest time is a wonderful gift for our bodies. If might help your 3 year old to actually sleep if you can rest or meditate along with her, but that isn’t necessary if you can proceed with confidence, rather than getting caught up in a battle. Close the door and tell her you look forward to seeing her in an hour.

      If she doesn’t sleep and gets crabby and violent. Let her be as crabby as she needs to be — encourage it even — and as much as you can, prevent her from being violent with her sister.

      Let your job end there… rather than trying to control what you can’t control. Yes, that makes us feel like yelling!

      I think you actually nailed it here: “But daily I feel like I’m set up for failure…” I think the answer might be to adjust your “set-up”.

      1. When I have an older daycare child who doesn’t want to nap I insist on a rest or quiet time. The child may have books or a stuffed animal to cuddle but must stay on their cot. Even if the child doesn’t sleep I usually notice they lay down for a little while and are quiet. I tell the child this is time to turn off your brain and relax. After an hour I get the child up. For some kids I use music (a 60 minute CD) or a timer. With the timer (I use a windup one where the child can see the time ticking away.)

  39. Hi there,

    Thanks so much for this post–I found it really interesting. I had a question, though. I care for a toddler–he’s 3 1/2, and I find it virtually impossible to encourage him enough to use the potty before he has an accident. I try to gently approach him and ask him if he needs to pee (when he obviously does–he’s doing the dance), and of course he will deny it. So I will say we are going to stop xyz, and can resume it when you go potty.

    Still won’t go, but will be upset that he can’t do what he was doing before, but will just start playing something else. He will usually have a tantrum at some point during this, and I will tell him, “I know you are frustrated, but you need to go pee, we don’t want you to have an accident.” Still won’t go. I have tried taking him the bathroom, but he resists, and I don’t want to drag him there. And, I can’t make him go potty–so I just keep asking him if he needs to go, and we start the whole cycle over again–until finally, he runs to the toilet, already having peed a bit in his shorts, and then finally goes.

    It’s really frustrating. I do my best to stay calm–I never yell, but I will tell him that I am feeling frustrated because I know he needs to go pee, but will not.


    I’m just not sure what else to do. I want to be gentle, but firm, but my approach now does not work.

    Any suggestions would be much appreciated (by me, and I’m sure his parents, too who are having the same troubles with him)

    1. Institute a potty schedule when he must try. Give a warning when the activity will change. Asking constantly is annoying. No one likes to be interrupted. This works for me when I am potty training a daycare child. Have you offered rewards? Say a sticker chart or let him choose a colored M & M or smartie candy?

      Another issue is clothing. Are his clothes easy for him to manipulate?

    2. Scarlett, it sounds like he is being urged out of diapers, is that the case? I would talk to the parents about allowing him to stay in diapers, since he is obviously resistant to going on the potty, not 100% there yet. Turn this around so that HE can tell you when he wants to take his diaper off and use the potty.

  40. Thank you so much for this… I often feel very overwhelmed with my own 1, 3, and 5 year old plus 5 others that I watch in my home daycare who are always pulling me in a thousand different directions. The “if you feel guilty about any self-care moment, you are probably not taking care of yourself” sentence was eye-opening for me and I became teary-eyed when I read it!!

  41. I want to go back in time and fix so much. 🙁 My 4 children run me ragged. At 15 my son is helpful but argues. At 10 my daughter is self absorbed and I feel the only way to get her to do anything is to yell. At 5 and 4 the younger two have decided that cleaning up is only for when Mom is there forcing them to do so. My health is poor and I am awaiting surgery and so frustration is high. I wish I could have established a better routine with the kids when they were younger. And as for help from my husband, well he is hardly ever home and it has been like this for years.
    This article is so very true and I wish I had read it or something like it years ago.

  42. Thank you for clearing this up for me! Blessings:)

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  44. This has to be your best blog ever. Take action before you feel the need to yell. I’d like to add acknowledge when your child complies the first time when in the past your child has been contrary.

    My father was good at this. One memory I have is how I hated to go to church and it was hard to keep focused on the service.

    One Sunday I was on my best behavior and participated in the service.

    While we were eating lunch, he said,”Did you notice how grown up Betty was in church today?”

    It wasn’t over the top praise. It was an acknowledgement he saw the conduct he expected of me.

    I would have felt “Good girl, or good job” were condescending.

  45. Wow wow and wow! I just wanted to say a great big fat Thank You for this piece… I’ve been feeling pushed to the edge of my limits by my 5 year old this week. And that very last little bit at the end of this article about the awkward plea for help… that really hit the nail on the head for me. So. Helpful.

  46. Thank you very much for this great article. I’ve been confused for a lot of time now knowing what i didn’t want to do but not knowing what to do (like you mentioned).
    3 days ago i felt a complete failure i busy into tears after yelling while my daughter was having a huge tantrum / meltdown in her car seat bumping her head… i yelled and asked her to stop i really couldn’t take it anymore.
    Knowing that i wouldn’t let this happen again, i spent the next day reading every postyou kindly sent me, i underdtand that that was what i wanted and joined a RIE group in facebook.
    Yesterday i was able to have a great rip with her, Kindle talked to her and the diffence was that i acted like someone who’s in charge, capable of leading and ready to comfort if needed. And it worked.
    It was abig step for me. I thanked her for being able to stay in her car seat while i was driving and thanked her for being with me and told her that she helped me

  47. Sorry… i accidentally pressed on publish (smart phone can be small sometimes).
    I really wanted to thank you for helping me seeing what my role was – leading, be there for her because I’ve misunderstood my role for a long time: avoid crying, tantrums and all discomfort. …

  48. It’s like this was written for me! Immediately with #1, it reflected my situation. I have a 2.5-year-old. I really wish I had read this article when he was a baby!! I always let myself get lost in the equation, thinking that’s what a good mother did… And my own yelling surprises me, as my parents did not yell when I was growing up (they didn’t spank either), and I know how awful yelling is. I really hate losing control like that.

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