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. Haggard Mom says:

    Actually, I don’t think any of those reasons are why I yelled at my 3yo yesterday morning. Maybe you could say it was because I had unrealistic expectations that she wouldn’t lose her mittens, but that wasn’t really it. The mittens were just the trigger because her 8yo brother with mental health issues had spent the last hour screaming at me that I was a f***ing a**hole b*tch over and over again for not letting him play video games because he hadn’t yet finished his chores or homework. I was kind and gentle and firm with him as I guided my children through getting ready for school. But you can’t spend an hour taking that kind of abuse and not be affected. At least I can’t. And there is no one available to help me in the early morning hours, we can’t afford to pay anyone to help, and he’s on a long waiting list for therapy. I only have a certain amount of patience and unfortunately for her, he used it all up. Any ideas? Because I’m fresh out.

    1. I would seriously see if you could find some money in your budget for help on some days in the morning so you can get some relief of this stress.

      Even one or two mornings would provide a breather.

      Do you have a college or university nearby? Maybe a student enrolled in special education needs some credit hours toward field experience or community service.

      Another idea is to see if you can sign up for respite care. I think this is offered through the foster care system. A foster family cares for your child for a few days to give you a break.

      Good luck and I hope it won’t be too long before your son is to the top of the waiting list. When all else fails know you are not alone. Other families struggle with the same issues. Is there a support group nearby?

      1. Have you access to cbd oil with thc. It may help with some of the more aggressive symptoms he is showing. Bin the video games it’s the worst thing for some with mental health issues. Definitely look for respite care sometimes a different environment for him maybe what he needs to show him what he has. Also st John’s worth is good for mood imbalances

    2. Hi HM. I am a single mom and although I am not religious I went to my local Universalist Unitarian Congregation and joined. When a married couple interviewed me to ask me why I joined (and how much I would be contributing financially to join) I explained my financial circumstances (then they reminded me I need not pay more than I could afford), and explained I need help. I said I’m a single parent and have struggles. I guess they spread the word. So many lovely people offered wonderful friendships and help to me and my little guy. It was like having a great big family. Many of the members were older or had no children, and were so happy to be helpful to us and spend time with my LO.

      1. I agree I too have turned to a UU for much needed support. They have been so helpful with everything, super super friendly.

    3. HI, I don’t know if this is helpful for your situation but if you have a spare room in your house you could get an aupair in? You just post an ad on a backpacker board. Generally they only require a room and food and they will help you with housework and childcare for four hours a day (or whatever you decide on with them). I know it wouldn’t be specialised care but maybe it would help for the Aupair to do some of the jobs around the house and your small child so you can focus on the 8yo?

      1. Sure, letting an unknown person live in your house not even knowing it could be a pedophile, it is a great idea.

        1. The vast majority of abuse happens within the family- as difficult as that is to accept it’s factually correct.
          You get to know an au pair a whole lot more than you get to know the staff at a nursery or preschool- you live with them so there is much more interaction.
          We have a wonderful au pair so our children are cared for by someone who actually loves them and makes a huge effort to compliment our parenting styles, culture, and the way we live.
          Very few parents would knowingly put their child at risk- so judgement in this context is very unhelpful.
          I think an au pair is great advice.

    4. Yah, a lot of these articles that get passed around facebook fail to take in to account having multiple children in the house -much less children with unique needs. We yell at our kids because self control is like a muscle. Once our strength to be like Mary Poppins is depleted our instincts take over and we go all rage monster to get stuff done. It’s universal, yelling at kids is universal – not necessarily the “best” way of doing things, but it is normal. I don’t remember my parents yelling at me as a kid – but they did. That’s not what you end up remembering as an adult though. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you yell at your kids, just don’t be insulting or abusive.

      1. Yes I completely agree Bryan, if I had one kid I reckon I would be a pretty awesome parent, but with 4 I’m a pretty awesome parent a lot of the time except when they all start demanding at me at once, then my coping skills max out and if I don’t yell I at least get grumpy and rude to them. Sometimes if they all start talking at me at once I put my hands over my ears cos I literally cannot cope with it

        1. Hi Marisa,
          I’m grateful you brought up being unable to cope with multiple demands. There are days when it seems like all the demands on my attention, from so many directions, just overwhelm me and I can’t handle it. Luckily, my husband sees this coming and helps, but that’s just if he’s around. Our youngest is a high energy chatter who doesn’t know the value of silence, lol. I continue to hope, but it feels a lot less awful knowing I’m not alone in that. Thanks.

      2. Oh my goodness!!! I hear you!! I have 6 children…3 of whom are autistic or have other developmental delays. It is just so much, with so little help. These articles assume a typical response from a typical child. It is so hard and emotionally draining experience.

    5. I can commiserate. I’m a preschool teacher of 10 high-maintenance children, many of whom have witnessed abuse or experienced neglect of some kind and one who has an attachment disorder. I am by myself in the classroom without consistent support. These children are used to yelling, so how can I implement something different if they’re used to adults being pushed to their brink? Any child whose needs demand one-on-one are too much to handle by myself with 9 other high-needs children during the course of my 10 HOUR shift. Caring for myself I am not. The classroom needs to function like an organism, and when there is disruption, that is exceedingly difficult. I find myself scoffing at people who have only 1-5 children to care for.

    6. Dawn Douglas says:

      I’m just taking Lori Petro 10 day virtual retreat and it is full of awesome ideas to deal with these exact problems…sounds like you need help dealing and her information might be exactly what you need…good luck

    7. Respect to you for bringing up two children and one with a mental health disability and I would say sometimes you just gotta let it out. I love reading Janet’s advice and I’m able to implement it on many different levels but that doesn’t mean that I am always trying to be J Lansbury. I’m me, I’m human and sometimes I shout. What I’ learning to do, is forgive myself and move on to the next experience. Sounds easy but it’s not. Could you release pressure alone? Screaming/yelling out loud in your car, or into your pillow?

    8. I have a ten year old with emotional issues and I often find myself in the same situation. I try to be patient with him but eventually I reach my limit and get angry at his younger siblings. I feel that way when I have been stretched to my limits (meaning I am not taking care of myself). When I feel supported I can better remove my emotions from his actions and respond more appropriately.

    9. i reckon that one would fall under a sub category of not taking care of yourself, entitled, “running on empty and there’s no-one here but me to keep pushing through”.
      I totally get that feeling and i wish i could magically send you money/time/a helper. Maybe sometimes yelling is the way less bad alternative to what you really feel like doing when you are just pushed so far beyond your limits? At least you didn’t smack. When i lose my shiz, and feel terrible after, all i can do is apologise/explain and as one friend recommended doing, reiterate constantly that even if mum loses her temper sometimes, she always ALWAYS loves you.
      It’s so flipping hard being a parent sometimes. Sending you cyber momma love and support.

    10. Haggard mom. No ideas for you .. just lots and lots of love and hugs from a stranger mom who is in awe of what you do and how well you do it. You deserve some easy days amidst the difficult days. Praying for you.
      You are doing everything your right way. Your kids can’t get a better mom than you.
      I did think point no. 1 above rings true for me, taking care of myself helps soften my yelling when I feel like I’m losing it.

    11. If this doesn’t resonate with you, don’t worry about it. If it helps: then great!

      I have a seven year old (not with mental health difficulties mind you) but who also loves video games. And as counter-intuitive as it seems, taking away all electronics all together (we did a no electronics month for everyone, tv included) really helped. The kids all melted for three days. But then they adjusted. And actually it was easier to parent when they didn’t use any devices at all (which surprised me. TV is supposed to be a break: for me!). After a few weeks I did half an hour a day. And then an hour. And then stuck at an hour. In retrospect half an hour was better. And I may go back to that.

      Seems kind of harsh I know. But it made my life easier after the initial transition period. Probably good for their brains or whatever. But that’s not what I’m saying here. Who cares about that? 😉 THEY were easier to parent. FOR ME. But yes. It was roughy going for three days.

      I think it helped they knew they’d get electronics back. And also maybe they valued it more after? Or maybe tv/computers WAS making them crabby? Maybe it was just one less thing to fight about? I don’t know. But my life is easier now and they seem happier.

      Good luck!!!

    12. You’re not taking care of yourself. A kid with mental health issues is never going to give you permission to excuse yourself and calm down away from verbal abuse. You’re the adult, he’s depending on you to put on your breathing mask first. This article absolutely described your situation, the question is now whether or not you will humbly take the advice or continue viewing yourself as a choiceless victim.

      1. Did you read what she wrote? Self-care is not going to prepare a person to handle the type of yelling she described. “Taking care of yourself” is also extremely vague. What sorts of practices did you have in mind that you know, just by reading her post, she must not be doing? You mention calming down away from the verbal abuse. I have not been to Haggard Mom’s house, but in my own, if a kid we’re yelling at me, the best I could do is go into the one bathroom that locks…and if he wanted, I would still hear everything as if it were right beside me….because it would be. And then there are things that need to get done in the morning, so while I could take a 5-10 minute “break,” then I’d have to go back to the cursing hurled at me.

        Hugs to you, Haggard Mom. I have no solutions, but I really help some of those services come through. We were not made to do this alone.

    13. I have have lots of kids…three have neurological challenges. Depending on your state I would check into Developmental Disability Services. It takes time buts it can be life saving. Also google “Plan B” with collaborative problem solving….it may give give you hope and ideas.

    14. Tiffany Parker says:

      You poor thing! Have you ever read anything about self soothing techniques? Perhaps they may be able to help. Good luck.

    15. MiddleEverything says:

      Explain your mistake to her, and why you made it. “I’m sorry I was harsh, and I regret yelling. I was overwhelmed with something that is not your fault, and I made a mistake by yelling. I will do my best to make a different choice the next time I have those bad feelings. Do you understand? Are you ok?” (Or similar – you get the idea).
      That’s the best I’ve come up with when it happens. I don’t have a special needs child, but I’ve been in that headspace. I try to model handling overwhelming feelings so hopefully mine will be better at it than I am. And I feel like (or hope) emotional honesty can overcome most hurdles. Oh, and don’t forget to then call a mom friend who will validate you and tell you your kids will be just fine.

    16. I feel for you but please don’t take it out on your 3 year old. I’m sure it is not easy for her to live with him either. His behavior sounds super concerning and dangerous to be honest with you.

    17. Chocolatte says:

      You need specialised parenting advice and Janet’s wonderful but it’s general parenting advice. While you’re on the waiting list, read the Explosive Child by Ross W Greene. Also visit There is also this great resource

      The underlying teaching is similar to Janet’s: No bad kids.
      Greene’s philosophy is: Children do well when they can. When kids have explosive behaviours, it’s because their environment is asking more of them than they have the skill to deliver.

      Love yourself, love your son, love your daughter. If you have a partner, involve him or her. If there is a partner, you cannot carry this on your own because the child needs the parent to act as a unit. Make him or her understand the urgency of this. Make special one to one time with each child if you can. Even if only for 15 minutes playing Lego or a card game. I’m speaking from experience. It is hard, but it can get better.

  2. How insightful! I have never thought about taking care of myself in conjunction with setting limits – thank you for making it so clear. My husband is always trying to get me to put my needs first more often, this lets me see how to do it more gracefully. My 2.5 yo has been getting up before 6 a.m. lately. She is dog tired and grumpy but will not go back to sleep (even when she wakes up at 5:15 or earlier). I’m grumpy all morning if the kids are up before 6:30, so need to set a limit here, to protect all of us! So far we haven’t been able to come up with a way to do this – anyone have ideas?

    1. My sister uses a clock that changes colors with her little girl. You set it like an alarm clock – though an alarm doesn’t sound – and the clock face changes colors. For example, my sister goes to work very early in the morning. Her husband doesn’t get up for several hours after that, but her child likes to get up very early. The clock face remains orange until 7 am, at which point it turns green. When the clock face turns green, my niece knows she can leave her room. She is only allowed to leave her room before that if she needs to go potty. She is five now and they have been using this method since she was three. It works very well for them, though I understand it might not work with all children. I don’t know what the clock is called, but it would it is probably easily found with a quick Google search.

      1. The clock idea – the Gro Clock – has been a life saver for me. My first child kept waking me up before 7 but I cannot function when I wake up earlier than that. Now that the older daughter can read numbers on a clock, I use it for my second child. It’s insanely expensive but worth every penny.

    2. I like the clock idea. In the winter you can also say you may not leave your room until you see the sun shine in your window.

      Another idea is to put a potty chair in her room and a baby gate in the door. She may play with quiet toys until you come and remove the gate.

  3. I’m struggling with limit setting for an almost 3 year old who is starting to show blatantly defiant behavior. It is a time of major transition for us and I know it will take time. She has a 9 month old brother who is recently mobile and a 4 year old brother who enjoys screeching, bathroom humor and roughhousing. We pulled them from regular preschool last week since we are getting ready to move. She’s always been very sensitive and clingy. Now she’s angry. I’m not sure how to work with her, since we are all stressed too. What a timely article. I try my darndest to be patient and consistent. But I am pretty sure she’s more stubborn than me.

    1. You are under stress because of your move. things should settle down once you move. Her routine and environment are being disrupted causing her stress.

      Is there a pre-teen in the neighborhood who would love to come over and play with the kids while you pack? Since you will be there the teen just has to entertain them and can get you if any problems arise.

  4. What an eye opener, thanks so much for this.

    One of my problems, however, is the age difference between my kids. My daughter will be 3 years old in may, and my son is now 15 months. The things she wants and needs to play with are inapropriate for him. Also, she is loving him sooo much, that she cant control it. She is all over him. I practice with dolls, show her how, read books, make jokes… I don’t now how to minimise this hurtfull love she has for her brother (most of rhe time it is adorable!).
    So when i yell, it is probablt the 7th time she does something spontainious that accidentily hurt her little brother. I feel so sad afterwords, because she means well….

    Any advice for this issue?

    Kids regards,

    1. Provide separate play spaces for when she gets to “loving”. In her space she has a space to play with her special toys that he can’t have because of his age. Your son needs a safe place to play with his toys. They can be in view of each other just not together all the time. When you see things getting tense (before it becomes problematic) request she go to her special place. The only toys allowed in the group space are playthings they both can play with.

  5. This was posted at just the right time. It has been a week of yelling and then the resultant guilt that I’m a horrible mother. The first thing on your list is what I need to do. I’d already decided that, and you confirmed it. Can’t take care of four others without taking care of yourself.

  6. Janet,

    Great post. I wonder if you could direct me to a site that is having these same types of discussions about older children. My daughter is eight. Thanks.

    1. I would welcome this too. My son is 7.5, daughter 5. I have been yelling a lot recently.

  7. Thank you for this article. I found it compassionate and insightful.

    My husband and I spent many years using distraction and bargaining with our children as the foundation of conflict avoidance. This was not by choice, but by default.

    Our children are now 3 and 5 and we are all suffering from a family culture of rudeness and accusations. This article helped me to understand that without a history of respectfully establishing and acknowledging personal boundaries, we are prone to feeling trampled on, getting defensive, and that we deal with the fear of our boundaries being violated by being rude.

    I look forward to sharing this article with my husband and including these ideas in our thinking as we tackle trying to detoxify our family culture.

    Thank you!

  8. Hi Janet,

    I print your articles so I can sit and read them and meditate on the words slowly and with deep reflection. Your wisdom shapes my family dynamic and I consider it a great blessing & a gift that you share it here for us. You do tremendous work. Thank you.

    My question pertains to line number 6, letter d) If your child still does not comply for whatever reason, follow through by taking her hand…

    If I try to take my son’s hand he rips it away, and then runs away. Sometimes laughing saying, “chase me mommy”. Sometimes shrieking and throwing himself on the floor. He is 3 yrs 4 months.

    My approach: I tell him it’s time to do x. He refuses. I tell him why it’s important to do it. He may or may not refuse. When he refuses I say, “you can choose. Either you can get into your carseat all by yourself, or I will put you into your carseat.”

    This worked well, especially when he first entered the “do it myself” phase. Now he just says no and runs away or fights me. If I pick him up to put him into his carseat he screams, slaps my face, kicks, etc.

    What do I do if taking his hand doesn’t work? a) if he turns it into chase. b) if he screams and gets physical.

    Thanks for any feedback.

    1. I just read the “taking by the hand” part to my husband and laughed. The section about respect, and setting clear, firm limits is excellent. However, my son also gets physical when “taken by the hand”. I have found that stepping back physically and quietly waiting can help the child de-escalate. It is hard, but when the flat-out NO NO stuff begins, do not engage in an argument. Step back, wait, and then calmly ask again when the child is quiet. (I know that staying calm is VERY hard. It may work to allow extra time into a routine so it is easier to wait. )

      1. I laughed when I read the “taking by the hand” part too. My 2.5yo son thinks it’s hilarious when I want him to do something. No amount of choices, rewards, or limits seems to change that. If I try to get him he either runs away laughing or gets physical and furious. I am at a loss.

        1. Yocheved A says:

          I was laughing too. “Taking by the hand” usually means the child collapses on the floor and screams for an hour or more. I have two ruptured discs in my back, and I cannot physically pick up a child and bring them to where they need to be.

    2. I would very much appreciate more feedback in response to this questions. The article ends one step too soon- What do you do when gently taking them by the hand results in their throwing themselves to the floor screaming? My default response is to put him in his room for a few minutes and generally when I let him out he will be willing to cooperate, but I feel as though I spend my life putting him in time out (and I get the feeling you aren’t a proponent of time out).

      I understand that the other things this article mentions can help reduce the occurrences of my child throwing a tantrum every time I try to get him to do something, but what do I do when he does throw a tantrum? Or when he defiantly refuses to do anything? My 2-year results to tantrums and my almost 4-year old just won’t do anything he doesn’t want to do.

    3. I have found preempting that is the answer. So have this conversation within arms reach, really pay attention to them so you detect just before they run and get their hand then. After a week or so of this, my son got the idea of what was going to happen and fights less.

  9. Toshia, Hi, I’m the mom of four teenage boys. I struggled with this when they were younger. I finally figured out that they did what I wanted/what they needed to do when I gave them a choice, much like you do. However, I added benefits to the “correct” choice and consequences to the “wrong” choice. It taught them a sense of freedom/responsibility/control. I looked at theses type of situations and asked myself how I would respond if the tables were turned. I knew that I would rather have a choice than being told what to do. I have had only positive results with this approach.

  10. Oh my Haggard Mum. This is all too familiar. I. experience the same with my 6yr old. It’s impossible to not be dragged down by the constant verbal abuse. Even I’m lucky enough to get a break for a few hours a week, but you always return to the same crap. Live in help is a good idea. Perhaps publicing at universities on Psychology notice boards and Special Needs notice boards for a student studying in those areas to be a live in. They would interested and keen to help you. Could be a win, win! Their lecturer maybe able to help them with advice on helping your son.

  11. things were pretty much roses when I had only one child. No yelling, respect, ability to cope – and I’m a SAHWM (stay at home working mother – meaning I work a fulltime job from home and take care of my children and house). It is when the first was diagnosed with autism, then I had the second that things started to get difficult. Really difficult around about year 3 of the second, and just absolutely HELL at times when I added my 3rd and last almost two years ago. (see simultaneous screaming, yelling, demands, whilst coloring on the walls, refusing to follow simple directions and trying to prepare dinner).
    All of my patience is used up not freaking out on my demanding clients.Typically I do take care of myself and my husband is “pretty good” at helping out in the way that he can.
    It isn’t that I have unreasonable expectations of my kids, I have – get ready for this – UNREASONABLE EXPECTATIONS OF SELF.
    As an over achiever, I expect to be able to keep my cool, make a very decent living, have a clean house, clean laundry, have wonderful playtime with kids, keep a garden, take time for myself, and have friends, and a relationship with my husband – No WAY on earth is that possible.
    No way is there money for an au pair, not to mention my husband dislikes people in our house, most of the people who have tried to help are either very helpful or quite unhelpful depending on their own agendas.
    Your relationship with your children isn’t the only thing at play here and if you have a spouse who also loses their composure, it is another added stress.
    I know now why my mother lost it on us when we were perfectly capable of doing what we were expected to do.
    it is also hard to break a pattern. If you’ve become used to blowing your top because you’ve been pushed too far, undoing it isn’t an overnight thing. Be patient with yourself.

    1. I don’t know how long ago this was posted, but I work FT from home and would be completely unable to without childcare – that IS a very high expectation!

  12. I hope my child feels safe to feel angry. And if he needs to get mad, he can do it responsibly. Anger and a frustrated yell is not a bad thing. I understand what you are saying, but one day these kids are going to be in the real world (usually by kindergarten, or even daycare at a much younger age) and they are going to be really shocked when this hash it all out stuff doesn’t work as well as it does in their protected environments. I don’t condone a household of continuous yelling and putting kids down or being mean. Step one is always conversation, compassion, empathy and using your words and I am trying to teach these values to my kids, but toddlers are toddlers, kids are kids and teenagers are teenagers. I think it is okay for them to see that certain actions are not acceptable and make people angry, not a polite smile and ‘that hurts mommies feeling when you hit me across the face, perhaps we could talk about it next time’. Or that they can disappoint a parent.Teaching them that anger does not exist is letting them down.
    I have two lovely boys that snuggle, play well with each other and others, whom overall are happy go lucky adventurous. My two year old is also strong willed and passionate and already knows what he wants…. which makes me proud…. but also creates a certain amount of head butting. I yell and it isn’t because I don’t have enough me time or I didn’t spend enough time when they were two months old speaking about limits or any of the aforementioned reasons, he just made me mad. Plain and simple. I don’t want to explain for the 200th time, he knows, he is a very smart kid. I’ve explained and he is trying to push my buttons.

    Anger/yelling is not my go to emotion or way of dealing with everything, not by a long shot, you have to understand that, but when it happens he knows something is not right, there might be a yell and a big scolding, then he gets upset and he learns and when things calm down we talk about it rationally. But the whole rational talking is only started at 2…. pre that, yes he is human…… but he is two…. he has not gone trough 12 years of school and six years of university.. rational conversations were overall way beyond his scope. I know many adults that are incapable of rational discussion. But now we can with baby steps.

    I have spent my life working with children, now that I have my own I couldn’t be happier. Most people that meet me would be shocked I yell or get angry. I love my children I adore them, I am so full of love for them, they make me smile and laugh. We read, play, have imagination time and outdoor adventures. Life is good. We are kind and respect one another. We have manners and display love to others. But then, as I said earlier, toddlers will be toddlers and push a button that might make mommy mad. No is no, not six hours of why. If you flail and disagree with me after our discussion and warnings, I am not going to gently take your hand, I will pick you up kicking and creaming all snot nosed and crying and you will go home, your park/pool/playdate etc time will be over.

    I just can’t handle everyone reasoning all the time with their kids. Or talking about big feelings. No is no, I am the parent. I am here to make sure you turn into a respectful human being that feels safe, knows boundaries and understands mommy loves them with all her might, but anger is only one of the millions emotions I display to my kids. The word NO exists and it is a powerful word. When my boss tells me to do something, I get it done…. I don’t talk it out first. Life people, life!

    1. Thanks for that, Beanie!

  13. But how do you set limits with a 13 month old who refuses to sleep past 4:30? I need my sleep!

    1. That’s not a discipline problem or a tantrum. That’s just the age. You do whatever you have to do to get another 2 hours of sleep…if that’s co sleeping the rest of hebway to dawn or turning on a kids show and offering a small bag of Cheerios, then that’s what you do.
      I don’t see the value in reasoning with someone developmentally incapable of reasoning. explaining that it’s just time, that mom needs to sleep, clarifying he situation and what’s going to happen…yes. Reasoning? No.

  14. Really ?????we yell because we lack self control… Cause we are sinners in need of Gods saving grace just like our kids… This ladies thinking puts us in a very judgmental place as parents and doesn’t really address or help the root problem… It’s like a big band aid on a huge cancerous tumor

    1. Are not all the recommendations an opportunity for learning/exercising self control?

      I’m not sure your worldview is as incompatible with this blog post as you think it is Kel…

  15. This only works if you have kids that eventually give in. If you have ‘high needs’ or ‘independent’ or whatever other nice thing you put on it.. you know what gently taking their hand to get them to go do something got me? A busted hand and a hernia. It’s all still ‘frou frou’ advice if your child does not eventually comply without yelling, which some children WILL NOT.

    1. I used to think that, too. And, to be honest, there are moments I still do. But when I fully gave it a try, I found out that 99% of the time my ‘independent’ child would comply.

  16. Brilliant! Every time I manage to concentrate and read another of your post, I feel a better mother! Thank you for helping me love and respect my child the way we all deserve.

  17. My sister and I would peek out of our room to find out who our mother was at any given moment: “Queen Meany” or “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms.”

    “Rebecca” would make animal shaped pancakes; sing while cleaning the house; and do anything for us (whether we needed it, wanted it, or even liked it).

    But then, for some unknowable reason, she would switch. It was so disconcerting and unpredictable. Sometimes it was on the first thing she found irritating, sometimes the 7th, or the 10th or 15th. You never knew (since we didn’t know that certain bills were overdue, or that she had been up all night, etc). At first it was terrifying.

    Later, it just became embarassing. Her lack of consistency and self control eventually caused me to loose all respect for her.

    When I read the article above, part of it could be that my mother did not take care of herself (that certainly is true). But I think it was also because of her beliefs about what motherhood IS (what mothers DO) that caused many of the problems. As long as she believed it was her job to do motherly things FOR us (to cook, do the laundry); to provide a happy home; to raise her children, to instill values, to make sure we all behaved properly …then none of that was ever OUR responsibility.

    My mother would “sacrifice” and force us to accept things we neither liked or wanted –then becoming hopping mad when she felt she was not appreciated. I made a promise to myself never to never do this to my own children (and see this as the basis for so much yelling and family confusion).

    Instead, from their earliest days, I involved my children in food preparation, clean up, laundry and other chores. I also respected their need time, and did not impose myself or my moods on them. I was an active listener, not a perpectual “cheerer-upper.” By first grade, my children were happily competent and responsible for all their own stuff (from ballet costumes to soccer equipment). We were a team (not a martyr and her unwilling captives).

    I respected their intelligence, and did not assume they wanted everything done for them (which actually forces them to accept service and standards they would not chose –when we all know that doing it something yourself is often preferrable on so many levels —ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU KNOW THAT ITS GOING TO LEAD TO GETTING YELLED AT and a frazzled mom).

    So, an extension for “taking care of yourself” is to teach and allow your children to take care of themselves to. Its a win/win.

    1. If I had a sister I might suspect she were writing here.

      Great to hear a success story of how it can be turned around!

  18. Thank you! I’m not even a mother, but my work as a resilience coach for caring professionals means I cover similar ground regarding setting boundaries and acknowledging feelings. I appreciate your wise words!

  19. Wow! This is so life affirming! I’ve felt like such a bad parent at times when I take care of such simple needs: eating, toileting, finishing a sentence. Because I feel surrounded by the “egoless” parents you describe. Thank you so much for you blog. What a gift!

  20. My daughter is the foster mother of a now 6 week old infant. She introduced me to your blog posts and I have read all with great interest, even clicking on links to further my understanding. My daughter and son-in-law are trying to implement RIE techniques and because I am deeply involved in their lives (my daughter has a disability and sometimes requires help) I need to be on board so I don’t undo positive behaviors and the baby will receive consistent care. I have downloaded your books but haven’t gotten to them yet. I fully acknowledge that I made PLENTY of mistakes parenting; I knew there had to be a better way. These principles will help. I loved this article, but I had the same reaction as most of these parents – how do you deal with a defiant toddler/child who refuses to comply even after the appropriate steps have been taken. You cannot FORCE a child to brush his teeth and I’m sure physical bullying isn’t on the agenda, so, how DO you handle the child who flings himself to the floor when you are on a timetable (work). I think all these moms frustrated answers are cries for help. Please give us a strategy and the words to cope.
    On a side note, your column has relieved much of the guilt I carried from my parenting days. While other moms spent hours on the floor playing WITH their children I did not. I hated it, found it boring and draining. I felt that made me a bad mom. Now I see that my children learned to play on their own and amuse themselves without me quite nicely. All that guilt is gone. Thank you for the work you do. Even this grandma can learn to be a better parent.

  21. So what happens when they are literally physically out of control, a danger to themsleeves and their baby sister? I realize I can put the baby in a safe place if it’s not too late. I always feel like it’s my responsibility to teach my almost 3 year old what is the correct way to respond to the situation while acknowledging his feelings.
    The whole toothbrushing thing is fight most days too, along with taking a nap…almost everyday I feel like I’m a snowball rolling down the slope until I crash at 430 because is no rest period for either of us all day.

  22. I think it’s funny when these articles end with “then take them by the hand.” “Calmly take her hand.” Usually parents are having these struggles because their child is not willing to follow along just because you take them by the hand. Call it what it is– carrying a screaming/flailing child to the bathroom and then trying to figure out how to brush the teeth of someone who is clenching their mouth shut or wailing. I’ve also found that recognizing children’s feelings makes them cooperate 0% of the time whereas these articles make it sound like it should affect the child’s behavior a good percentage of the time.

    1. I am sorry you are having those difficulties. You might wish to check out my posts on discipline and cooperation. There are at least 60 on this website. On the other hand, this may not be the approach for you. Take care.

  23. Thank you for the advice provided in this article. However, I find it hard to communicate this calmly to my toddler when my baby (her brother) cries for my attention. Any way I can do this in a better way?

  24. Cory Noble says:

    I really enjoyed this article, and find that most of what I’ve been doing parenting my 2yo boy lays within this realm. I grew up in a constantly yelling household, and am haunted by phrases like “You’re not listening to me” – even at a VERY young age, feeling completely misunderstood. And I can really, really, feel this when interacting with my son. The big battle at the moment is getting dressed… whether its in the morning, or after a bath, it’s always a struggle, a WWE wrestling event, that often ends with huge tantrums, head banging and hitting. I admit I have yelled in these battle royals. I appreciated this post especially after our battle this morning and needed a reminder of these tactics… any other advice for this situation is appreciated.

    1. MiddleEverything says:

      99% of the time my kids go to bed in the (clean) clothes they will then wear to school/daycare the next day. If someone’s in night diapers, put the underwear over it, then you can just toss the diaper in the morning and go. Doesn’t help with the after-bath dressing issue you have, but absolutely streamlines the morning routine.

  25. So what’s the step after calmly taking their hand and they scream and thrash and throw themselves on the ground? I know In other circumstances how to handle that behavior. But what if you’re on a time limit or it’s time to brush their teeth and all of the gentle hand holding and feeling acknowledgements don’t help them get to the point of cooperating to brush teeth/take bath/etc?

  26. I love this article. I have book marked it and come back to it every time I have a bad run with the kids. It helps me re-set, especially when I am worn out, which ironically is when my boundaries and confidence start to ebb.

    1. I am so glad and can’t thank you enough for your kind support. Please be good to yourself.

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