Problems With Gentle Discipline

One thing I’ve discovered since beginning this blog is how tough it is to come up with general guidelines for a parenting topic that is as specific-to-the-moment as gentle, respectful discipline. I’ve needed to examine and re-examine the effective responses that for me have become second nature. I’ve struggled to explain in words interventions that are so much easier to demonstrate in person.

So I appreciate the feedback I get from readers. Your comments and questions compel me to clarify Magda Gerber’s respectful approach to parenting through specific examples.

The comment below is in response to my post “If Gentle Discipline Isn’t Working, This Might Be the Reason”, and it exemplifies many of the more general guidelines I recently shared in “The Real Reasons Toddlers Push Limits”:

Okay – so I’m trying to do gentle disciplining, but my 3-year old daughter can be incredibly challenging sometimes. To start, when she is doing something I don’t like, she will purposely refuse to look me in the eye. I could be in the most delightful mood, but when she is doing something she knows I don’t want her to do, she will avoid looking at me. Here are some examples of her behavior:

She jumps on her 1-year old brother, seemingly unprovoked, and “hugs” him tightly around the neck from behind. I pull them apart. I make sure son is okay. I pull daughter aside and try to look her in the eye and say, “I will not let you hold your brother that way. That is not a safe hug. You may hug him around the belly, but you must let him go if he doesn’t want to be hugged. Right now he doesn’t seem to want to be hugged. Would you like to give me a hug instead?” Unfortunately, she will not look me in the eye, and trying to force her seems unnecessarily aggressive. Within 15-20 minutes she will often try the same behavior again.

The second scenario goes like this: Daughter dumps the water she was drinking on the ground and throws in her dinosaurs proclaiming that they are taking a bath. I say, “Daughter, I don’t want you to dump your water on the floor. If you want to play with water, I can fill up the sink. All you have to do is ask me. Let’s clean this up together.” I give her a towel, and I get down on the floor with her to clean it up. We start drying the floor together, and then she starts wringing out the towel in another spot on the floor. I again try to get her to look me in the eye to let her know that dumping water on the floor is unacceptable, but she refuses. We then clean up the new wet spot, and she again wrings out the towel in another spot. I give up and tell her she has to go play with something else like Legos, and I finish cleaning up the mess.

Any suggestions?

Kate – my suggestion is to 1) recognize that this is typical, impulsive sibling behavior;  and 2) say much less. This is too much focus and lecturing: “ I will not let you hold your brother that way. That is not a safe hug. You may hug him around the belly, but you must let him go if he doesn’t want to be hugged. Right now he doesn’t seem to want to be hugged. Would you like to give me a hug instead?”

Your daughter might be looking away because she feels your disapproval, when what she needs is to know is that you understand her impulses and will prevent her from following through with them. If you get there too late or are unable to prevent the action, just give a brief reminder: “I don’t want you to hug his neck, that isn’t safe,” and then completely let it go. At another time mention to her, “I know how hard it can be to have a little brother… I imagine he makes you angry sometimes. I always want to know want to know what you’re feeling.” Both children need to know we are always on their “side” and that we’re coming from a helpful place, regardless of their behavior.

Also, it seems you are misunderstanding your daughter’s behavior. I don’t believe that is strangling her brother because she wants to hug…and she is not dumping water because she wants to play with water. She is doing these things to express her feelings (anger, rage, jealousy, etc.) and also to gauge your response… She knows full well that this is unacceptable behavior, so your responses are only reminding her that she’s being “bad”…and the danger there is that children can begin to identify as the “bad, disappointing one”.

So, the best way to help her stop doing these things is to understand, and calmly stop her without a lecture or emotional reaction. It will be easier for her to make eye contact with you when you see her with more patience and acceptance. Matter-of-factly say, “I don’t want you to dump the water. Can you help me clean it up?” Keep it light so she can choose to help while still “saving face.” Then, let it go, forgive immediately and believe in your daughter, so she will be able to garner your attention in more positive ways.


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

NO BAD KIDS: Toddler Discipline Without Shame



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

  1. such a great post, janet… a perfect refresher!

    hope you’re doing well! xo

      1. Bethany Castellanos says:

        I fully appreciate your work. I think it is necessary work and I know it’s helped so many parents.
        My struggle is “preventing” behavior. I’m not speaking of basic needs, but seeing that one chile is reaching for or about to do something they shouldn’t. With three kids, I’m overwhelmed with housework, it feels, and am rarely within arm’s reach of all my children. Or maybe I am but I’m nursing a baby. Or maybe I’m changing a diaper and seeing my 5 year old reaching to shove my 2 year old, or my 2 year old reaching for something he isn’t supposed to have.
        It seems as though many of your posts assume the parent is standing next to the child most of the day, ready to gently stop impulsive behavior and hold a limit. Maybe some parents are. I am not and wonder if gentle discipline is impossible for me since I can’t spend my day following my children as they move from one thing to another, being kids.
        I have been doing my best to follow gentle parenting practices for over 5 years, and it has actually been more difficult in many ways, not easier. My 5 year old balks when I ask for cooperation much of the time. He picks on his brother, and I repeat the same limits over and over, because again, I am not physically able to always stand next to him or follow him as he plays and stop him before he impulsively pushes past a limit. Is the only way to enforce limits gently by physically intervening? What happens when you can’t?

    1. About the eye contact issue. I find some children find eye contact too intense. In that case I stand behind the child with my hands in a hug and talk calmly in their ear. I am still making direct contact and know my instructions are heard. Touch can be very calming to a child.

      1. Ok i am concerned about this post as i would suspect another cause may be sensory related or some type of developmental delay of some sort. An extremely common symptom of either is a child that avoids or refuses eye contact. My daughter has developmental delays and that was one of the first signs that i noticed and in the eyes of some parents can be taken as disrespect or defiance and not as a warning sign. I would caution anyone whose child is continuously avoiding eye contact to discuss it with a pediatrician or other professional who could properly asses whether this is a warning sign to pick up on. As when a child has developmental delays of any sort the earlier they are detected and worked with the better chances that your child will be able to overcome them. Its interesting to me the child described so closely resembles the behavior of my daughter which is why i am worried that the real issue at hand might be overlooked and categorized as something else entirely. I could be completely off but i just wanted to offer my input

        1. Thanks for your input, Tanya. The parent (Kate) weighs-in in a comment further down in this thread.

        2. i do agree that it is important to consider the possibility of delays and sensory processing issues. my son had sensory processing issues and was / is seriously sensitive. understanding his particular temperment is key to expectations and understanding his pov. he went to a highly respected preschool that not only had a RIE program but also is part of a college for early childhood development etc. and his issues went totally unrecognized. also by our former pediatrician who wasn’t familiar even though in retrospect he had classic signs. etc.

          1. The not getting ready and running from me even if it was somewhere he wanted to go, and battling bed time routines started very early, 3yo ish. Hes now 9 and has only changed in fhe last year. Obviously i didnt get a handle on this. What i can say tho in hindsight is my child is super super sensitive and struggles emotionally with ttansitions and never never wants to go home once hes out, to this day fibbing about needing the loo so we have to stop somewhere, anywhere. Endings. Yes it turns out he has anxiety and possibly is ADD. Hes not hyper but can be crazy silly when not sure how to act. He gets socially overwhelmed very easily, but is very social. We discovered giving concequences and rewards made things worse, choice was paramount if possible, and no amount of pre warning was a good idea. My daughters different and melts down when not forewarned. Whereas he had time for the anxiety to build….reflections. hope this helps in some way

  2. So you simply say “I dont want you to dump water. Can you help me clean it up?” What if the child says, “no!”. Do you do it for them? Multiple times? You mentioned not lecturing so I am just wondering what a good dialogue would be.

    I have a 3 year old that doesnt like to get ready to leave the house. No matter what the reason to leave…enjoyable or not. If I tell her it is time to get jacket and shoes on, and ask if she would like my help or not, she has a hard time getting ready and heading out. If she says she wants to do it, she doesnt. She runs around the living room laughing in (what I interpret as) defiance. If she asks for help, it is the same thing. She will not come by me or allow me to go by her to help her get dressed. She runs and laughs. I try to be patient. I tell her it isnt a game and that we must go or we might miss the appointment/outing/activity/etc. Suggestions? She just will not do it. At least not until after a prolonged period. Same thing with eating dinner and getting ready for bed time (although the first example is the worst). I understand the idea of forewarning that a change is upcoming and I do try to do this as well. Example: we will be leaving for (blank) in 10 minutes and need to get shoes on before that. Doesnt help. Suggestions?? (Can you email me if you respond so that I dont miss it). Thank you!

    1. Hi Jess! First of all, if your child dumps water, you don’t give her more water…she is obviously not thirsty, so there are no “multiple times”.

      Also, please check out my recent post: This post might also be helpful to you:

      It seems that you are allowing these situations to get you wound up… If your daughter isn’t willing to get dressed for a fun, optional activity, you simply don’t go…and that means you don’t get mad or hold this against her. If you need to take her somewhere, you project confidence and give her a helping hand to get dressed… Most importantly, project confidence.

      1. I do understand the need to remain calm, and absolutely try to do so, but I would like a little more clarification on what to do if your child does not want to help you clean up. In the above example, it’s dumped water…so when you simply say “I don’t want you to dump water. Can you help me clean it up?” as you advise, if they say no, do you just do it yourself?

        I’m not talking about cleaning up in an exasperated or annoyed manner, just matter of factly because you can’t just leave the water on the floor (or the thrown Legos in the hall, etc.).

        Thanks Janet. Your writings have been so, so valuable to me.

        1. Hi Tanya, what works for me is saying: “I dont let you dump water (I take responsibility for what I am saying – I dont leave open doors for them to choose if they can or not do it), would you like to help me clean it up?”.
          It is a subtle difference but I have noticed I feel much better about it and children too! They are given the choice of helping and most of the times they do enjoy helping when they feel they are not forced to. If they dont want to clean up, I let go and do it myself. My point is not about cleaning, it is about not dumping water (or whatever other issue such as getting dressed). I feel the difference is letting them know where the limit is, not distracting with the cleaning issue and focusing on what you really care to communicate. This, and talking in first person making myself responsible for the limits I am offering has helped me a lot. Hope it helps you too. Love, Fernanda

          1. Tanya, I agree with Fernanda (thanks so much, Fernanda). Yes, I would ask for help, but otherwise just wipe it up myself without a fuss. If you are nonchalant and avoid making these situations into a drama, they become an uninteresting activity that, in the child’s eyes, is not worth repeating.

            1. Thanks Fernanda and Janet, makes perfect sense! That change from asking for their help to asking if they’d like to help is huge – the difference between inviting a potential power struggle and simply giving them the option to help you, if they choose to. Thanks so much.

              1. Another idea is to turn it around. Give her a rag and say – “here is a rag to wipe up the mess – do you want me to help you clean it up?” If he says yes, I get a rag and help him. Lots of times he says no, and wipes up the mess himself! I have found this works much better. My 2 year old almost always will do it if I run it this way instead of asking him to help me.

      2. You mention not going to fun, optional activities but I have two children and a husband and I also feel a need to get out and socialize. If my children are struggling to get ready I tend to just help them. I am, at times, irritated but mostly we find out way out of the house without upset. Anyway, what do you do if someone in your family really wants to go somewhere and one of your children doesn’t? It seems as though there are many times when one person might not want to go or simply feels like continuing their free play time. If I took this advice I think that we might never leave the house.

        1. Veronique says:

          I don’t know if I’m right about this, but I think that what Janet is implying is that you won’t have to do this very often. When she learns that you are serious and are listening to her “cues” that she doesn’t want to go out, she will stop messing around to get a rise out of you and get dressed. Kids learn quite fast what your limits are. Is it possible, a few times, to agree with your husband, that if your child starts running around the living room, refusing to put her coat on, that he will leave without you with the other kids? I understand not wanting to deprive your other children of fun stuff to do…

        2. I hope Janet answers this question. This is an issue where I’m struggling as well. What do you do when your child doesn’t get ready and just ignores you tell them to do so? I work so my kids have to go to preschool/school.

          1. Hi Denise, I think we must bring common sense to help us sort out this problem. There is a big difference between going out for fun and going out for work. Even when going out for fun, it is different if it is fun for the child, fun for the parent or for everyone. But regarding going out for school and work, I have found very helpful to anticipate what is needed to be done, being very specific at my expectatinons. If emotions arise in children we can understand and validate their feelings but also letting them know there is no way we wont go out. If this is clear and firm enough children will accept it gladly. I feel many times they dont need to stay at home, the only thing they need is to find this firm and calm limit. It is soooo difficult for me sometimes to offer this kind limit as a mother but every time I get to put it into practice it is very rewarding too. Hope this experience helps.! Love, Fernanda

          2. Hi Denise,
            I know its frustrating when they won’t get ready to go and you have to leave for work or school. As someone who has worked with toddlers and preschoolers, I have often told my moms with this problem to just bring them in their jammies. When they get to class, they often adjust and change into clothes when they get to class.
            I would say to the child, “looks like its a jammy day,” and pack the clothes with me. I keep my reaction and words calm. Most often, after a few times, kids adjust to getting ready at home.
            Also, if they are a child that is slow to adjust to routine changes, the transition in the car to school may be the time they need to start the day.

          3. My daughter does this; she insistats on getting herself dressed, but doesn’t and runs around the house naked and laughing, and for me to dress her myself requires an extremely physical and rather violent wrestling match. I’ll tell you what works for me:
            I tell her she has x time to get dressed and I set a timer. I tell her that when the timer goes off, we are leaving, whether or not she is dressed. I’m pretty straight with her and I tell her she’ll go to prek in her underwear…not as a threat but calmly and matter of factly. I typically set the timer for 15 before we have to leave but I get myself and everyone else absolutely ready to go before he timer goes off. If she isn’t ready to go when the timer buzzes but suddenly decides she is going to get dressed, then we wait at the open front door, coats in hand and she dresses like the house is on fire. She often cries, and I comfort her and tell her we’d never leave without her, but I don’t do much to help her unless she asks.
            A few times the timer buzzes and she still refused to get dressed, so I gather up her brother and my bag (which has her clothes) and I calmly say “ok! Time to go, let’s head out!” And we leave. I am not angry, I am calm and I proceed a usual, fully expecting her to follow as she typically does. she freaks out but I stay calm. She alternates between thinking I’m leaving her and refusing to go out undressed, but I stay calm and tell her that we are not leaving her, but it’s time to go, dressed or not. I have forced her to walk to the car in her underwear once because her brother was asleep in my arms and I couldn’t put him down, but I dressed her immediately in the car.

            I guess I call her bluff with calm respect; she can choose not to get dressed and I’ll accept that, but we are leaving and she is responsible for her choices, which might mean heading to the car in her pajamas or underwear, though I remain empathetic and loving.

            I don’t threaten, it’s not punishment, I’m simply letting her deal with limited consequences of her choices.

        3. Solveig – deciding whether the family goes or doesn’t go is totally up to you and your husband. But I also believe, as Fernanda suggests in her comment, that it is our job to acknowledge our child’s disagreement, i.e., “You want to keep playing here and we said it’s time to go. I see how upset you are. You really wanted to stay home”.

          Then, what you are doing (helping your children get ready when they are having difficulties) sounds perfect. And I would only add that the less irritated you are when you help them get ready, the less inclined your children will be toward resistant behavior.

          1. To the parents frustrated with children who won’t get ready when it is time to go.

            Start the night before. When my kids were little, I folded the laundry into outfits that I put into a ziplock bag. The ziplock bags were “filed” into a basket. Each night at bedtime, we would take off our dirty clothes and put them into the hamper. Then put on PJs, brush teeth, wipe the counter and pick out the ziplock bag outfit for tomorrow and leave it on the counter next to the hairbrush and face cloth.

            In the morning, we got out of bed, made the bed, then went to the bathroom. The PJs came off and were hung on the peg next to the sink and bath towel. The clean clothes were put on, and the empty bag placed in a bag attached to the hamper. The face cloth and hairbrush were used.

            THEN we had breakfast, a puzzle or book to occupy us until mom was ready to leave.

            There was simply no question of getting ready. It was something done when one woke up.

            1. This is excellent advice, and something I’ve witnessed countless times in dealings with my daughter. When I’m prepared, I leave enough room to deal with resistance and don’t make it harder on myself or my patience by worrying about getting out of the door on time. The routine aspect is also great because once your child has gone through it enough they understand what’s expected and I think it becomes much less of a big deal on days they may feel less than cooperative.

            2. Those are all great ideas! Thanks for sharing. Yes it helps children start their day on a happy note when children get dressed before starting their day. It is distracting and annoying for a child to stop an activity to get ready to leave the house.

            3. We had a very similar routine tomthe one you mentioned up until June of this year, and it work without issue. And then it stopped working. My daughter would pick out her clothes the night before but refuse to wear them the next day, she would rip through 4-5 outifits and ultimately decide she didn’t want to get dressed.

              I’ve tried giving her a few choices, I’ve tried taking away her access to her own clothing, I’ve tried not getting involved and letting her manage dressing herself. It’s all a battle bc, in the end, she knows I want her to do something (get dressed) and I am met with reactive, instant pushback, regardless of how calm or polite I am.
              If it wasn’t her idea, she’s makes it a fight.
              As I mentioned above, the only thing that works for me is respectfully letting her have the independence she demands, not tell her to do anything, but rather tell her what I’m doing and what she needs to do to be ready. And then be totally prepared to follow through.

      3. This makes sense to me in theory. In practice, however, I don’t know how not to be irritated that we are missing an activity that I _spent money_ on. If we start missing the activity regularly, I can pull the kid out… but I can’t necessarily get my money refunded, and we prevented another child from getting into the class. That’s not a responsible way to behave, and I think there should be consequences.

        My kid specifically told me, when asked later, that he did want to go, but that it was more important to him to not pee.

        1. Courtney Ostaff says:

          I understand your frustration, but with small children, to whom an hour is an eternity, you need a slightly different perspective. Do you *really* want to get into a battle of wills with a 4-yr-old about dance class (or whatever it is)? Would *you* want to spend the equivalent of a solid week, all day, every day, without a break, doing something you hated, for no recompense other than to please *your* mother? I kind of doubt it. I have learned the hard, expensive way to a) ask my child if she actually wants to do something before I pay for it, and b) only participate in activities in which she’s watched a class/practice/session first, and seems interested. On the other hand, quitting can be a virtue. I want my child to quit destructive jobs, quit terrible relationships, and quit self-sabotage.

    2. I totally know the run and laugh!!!! I give my son the option, “Do your want me to put your clothes on you or do you want to do it yourself?” This does it every time. Or before bath when he gets in the buff he RUNS and it drives me berserk so I tell him, “One lap in the nude and then it’s tub time!” Some days he gets two laps, others are three, but it lets him get out his sillies.


    3. I would change the phrasing. “I don’t want you to dump the water. Help me clean it up.” instead of “Can you help me clean it up?” I try to avoid asking a question when there really isn’t a choice. If the non-question is still met with a “no!” (which it sometimes is), I usually respond with “You dumped the water. It is your responsibility to clean it up. I will help you, if you’d like, or you can choose to do it by yourself.” Depending on the day and my patience level, it sometimes gets prefaced with “I wasn’t asking you, I am telling you” but that’s few and far between 😉

      1. I do love Lisa’s reply in not making it optional and helping the child learn accountability and responsibility!

        I did so need this post Janet-like oooohhh so needed it! I have an almost 3 and almost 5 year old and some days the rivalry is intense and some days it is one of them just acting up. Whatever the case may be, these firm directions along with projecting confidence in my limits and guidelines can hopefully help me have better days ahead. Thank you!!!

    4. I use a timer to give the child a clear time frame. A kitchen timer that clicks as it counts down the time is the best.

      Sometimes it’s the words we choose to use which send the wrong message to the child.

      For example: Don’t say, “Would you like to put your shoes on?” This is a choice question. If you instead say, “It is time to put your shoes on.” This is not a choice but a request. This can be followed by the question, “Would you like to put your shoes on yourself or shall I help you?”

      If this doesn’t work, “Since you have not put your shoes on, you are telling me I need to help you.”

      I have also found for some reason 3 year olds become homebodies and really don’t like to leave home. IMO this is because the child has the most independence at home. This is a time I limit the number of outings I take the child on.

  3. Thank you, Kate and Janet, for raising the question and for a thoughtful and helpful reply. I’d also like to add that it is important to not assume we know why our children respond the way they do.

    For example, the refusal to make eye contact is sometimes linked to issues on the autism spectrum. “Thus, when individuals who have autism seem to avoid looking into the eyes of teachers and others with whom they interact, the strategy that comes most naturally and is often pursued quite intently is the verbal cue “Look at me.” If an individual who has an autism spectrum disorder fails to respond within what is viewed as a reasonable length of time, the cue may be repeated more forcefully. If the person still fails to look as directed, misinterpretations of why the person isn’t “complying” may fuel futile power struggles that only frustrate everyone concerned and further thwart the abilities of individuals with autism to respond. Whether requesting eye contact is a wise approach to focusing attention depends both on the person who has autism and on circumstances surrounding the expectation.”

    While not suggesting that the child in this post has autism, I am suggesting that it can be useful to examine our own assumptions and needs and evaluate what strategies we are using. We can use it as an opportunity to understand our children and ourselves better, and change our strategies in ways that are more likely to meet everyone’s needs.

    (Quote from “Should We Insist on Eye Contact with People who have Autism Spectrum Disorders” by Rozella Stewart, )

  4. Good reminder. My son is getting into much more trying behaviors as he nears that 2 and a half mark, and I think I usually do a pretty good job of keeping my cool, but I find my tone moving more frequently to scolding rather than matter of fact. I don’t want him to think I consider him “bad,” I know it’s all normal and developmentally appropriate, but it’s still maddening at times!

  5. Thank you for this succinct post Janet! I have the same three-year-old at my house and I find the hardest part is the “without an emotional reaction” response to her. Having you write it out in short simple sentences as well can help me try to remember it more too! I will say to myself (when she “pats” baby brother too hard on the head) “Understand and Let it go” Don’t worry, I will still explain and follow through on the limit in short clear sentences, but to help me focus on not emotionally react “understand and let it go!” Thanks again!

  6. I don’t know if anyone out there feels like me. If I understand clearly, the bottom line of this article is this:

    “So, the best way to help her … is to understand, and calmly stop her without… emotional reaction. … Then, let it go, forgive immediately…”

    Parent has to 1. understand, 2. calm, 3. without emotional reaction, 4. forgive.

    Sadly, I’m a human too with all of those emotions. I certainly don’t really have what it takes to act all of the above or even beyond, consistently, each and every time. Wouldn’t it solve ALL our parenting problems if we are calm, emotionally grounded, and able to forgive in a whim. Just like the poster Lisa said above, the HARDEST part is “without an emotional reaction” part.

    I think this is a good post with great advice, but I wish there are more guidance for us parents on how to achieve that. I cannot speak for every parents out there, but I certainly WANT to be that calm, non-reactive parent and it doesn’t happen overnight, not even for the 2 short years I’ve been a parent.

    Does RIE have a module of parent self-care/how to nurture those qualities within us, so we can give them to our children? Afterall, we cannot give what we don’t have.

    Any insight would be appreciated.

    1. Claire – for me, the key to “self care” and tempering our reactiveness is gaining a healthy perception of our children’s behavior. We need to see it for what it is…Testing and pushing limits are not only normal, they are necessary for our child’s development as an individual (and this dynamic will reappear during the teen years!). We need a healthy perspective so we can rise above these behaviors…and give children the empathetic leadership they need.

      Parents commonly fall into the trap of taking their child’s behavior personally or feeling threatened by it in some way. I discuss these ideas in detail in The Real Reasons Toddlers Push Limits:

    2. Claire, I think once you start being the calm, non-reactive parent and see the effect it has on your children, it will encourage you to continue.

      I am 97% calm and non-reactive. I occasionally have times where my 3 year old really pushes me to the edge (whether it’s more challenging behaviour on her part [rarely] or my own stress level due to life circumstances [mostly]) and I wind up raising my voice or reacting more strongly than normal. Those are the times that she ends up crying or having a very strong reaction to my own reaction. It makes something small end up being 100 times worse.

      So, in those moments where I feel like I’m going to lose my cool, I just remind myself how much worse it will get if I actually DO lose my cool. So I take a deep breath, and I remain calm and non-reactive to diffuse the situation and keep it from escalating. I am able to do that because of prior experience.

    3. Hi Claire,
      I understand where you’re coming from. I’m not a naturally calm person and when I first started reading about these ideas I thought I would have to constantly bite my tongue and pretend a ‘zen-like’ calm I didn’t feel.

      But in the last 2 years through Janet’s work (as well as “How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, “Liberated Parents Liberated Children”, and “Hold Onto Your Kids”) I’ve realized that it is less ‘rising above’ frustration and more ‘avoiding frustration altogether’ (by understanding the developmental reasons for the behaviour) that helps me.

      An example to illustrate:
      My eldest just started school. Having never been away from me regularly, I knew this was a big change for her and that much of the ‘working through’ the strong emotions around it would be done at home. So I was prepared for anger and meltdowns and high emotions. Because I knew the reasons for them my inner mental script wasn’t “Why is she treating me like this?!? I have to make sure she knows that it’s not okay to act this way! I don’t want to raise a rude child!” Instead it was “Okay, I expected she would act this way. I have to make sure she feels my love and acceptance so that she can move through this. I want to raise an emotionally resilient child” In fact there are even times when I think “Oh Good! This will help her work through those feelings and get from mad to sad so she can find her tears about the change and build resiliency! Yay!”



    1. Hola Fernanda mi nombre es Fernanda Raiti y vivo en Argentina también. Podés encontrar material sobre Magda Gerber en español en el blog de La Casa Naranja: Estaría bueno ofrecerle a Janet traducir algunos artículos!
      Hi I live in Argentina too. You can find articles on Magda Gerber in Spanish here:
      It would be great to offer Janet to translate some of her posts!

  8. This is really helpful to me now. I tend to get too wordy especially because I feel frustrated and just really want this behavior (hitting, pushing and kicking little bro) to end. Can you talk about how to handle when I am there to stop it, I grab his hand before he hits or shoves and firmly say “I won’t let you hit your brother”, but then as soon as I let go, he goes to do it again. Sometimes I have to hold him until there is a full blown meltdown!

    1. Melanie – your boy does this because he NEEDS the meltdown very much. He needs to express his sadness, anger and loss about the change that happened when he had to share you with a brother. Or, he may have other stressors he needs to release. When he is in “out-of-control” mode and about to hurt his brother, holding him is the best thing you can do. And yes, he will meltdown and release these feelings with your calm acceptence (hopefully)…and then he will feel better.

  9. Claire,
    You are not alone. RIE gives me great inspiration for the type of parent I strive to be, but at the same time I feel like I am constantly falling short.

    Thank you for this article. Please, please, please post more specific examples like this of how to apply RIE techniques. Real-life examples are so helpful!

    I am experiencing something similar to one of the previous posters…my 2 year old is in a “run and laugh” stage and it is infuriating. Although I do try to remain as calm and confident as I can, I don’t feel particularly confident…I feel a loss of control. I don’t know how to get past that.

    If he is refusing to come to the bathroom to brush teeth, for example (despite getting multiple warnings and hearing the timer go off), he runs and hides. He does not want to walk and will often lay down. He does not want to be carried, but insists he wants to go on his own. Then he will just sit and do nothing. I feel like I spend a lot of time pulling on him while he kicks and screams and tries to run away. I’m never quite sure what the “right thing” to do is when he tries to run.

    1. Just hearing you describe your struggles lets me know I’m not alone in this!! My 3 yr old does the same thing, and then after she finally completes said task, she is pretty mad. I do my best to give her appropriate ways to express this besides hitting/throwing but I really struggle to keep calm and not resort to shaming/consequences.

    2. Courtney Ostaff says:

      You need consequences that are immediate and relevant. “No teeth? No TV/toy” Then follow through, no matter what. It’s OK for them to be upset, and you can love on them while they’re be upset, but there are some rules that they must follow. Teeth would not be one in my house, because my eldest daughter is terrified of going to the dentist yet again…but we have our own issues. 🙂 Is there a way that you can make the teeth brushing more palatable? Let him brush your teeth in turn? Etc.

  10. Loved the post Janet. Very timely for me too as I’ve just finished reading similar advice in How To Talk So Kids Will Listen (I tend to talk to much when intervening). I think one thing some of the commenters here may find useful is including play when they’re having some of these struggles. A child running away and playing when they know it’s time to go is often trying to engage us or work something out. So when I play into it and do something fun or unexpected with them they usually gladly go along with it and then get ready. Or sometimes it was actually that they were feeling nervous about what was going on (an appt they were dreading). We use play quite a lot to work through things and my girls enjoy it. My oldest (4.5) loves to pretend that I’m the kid and she’s the mom and I’m upset and won’t listen. It’s harder at times when I don’t have energy or am upset about something, and those times I (as calmly as possible) let them know I can’t play that time, I don’t feel good and we just need to go. But since I usually engage them I think it makes them more willing to give a little those times. But no matter what, nothing will “work” all the time. The goal is the relationship and teaching in the long run, not always getting our way right away without incident.

  11. Thank you Claire and Tanya for your questions. I find myself having a really difficult time with these gentle parenting suggestions. I agree with them wholeheartedly in theory, but in practice I’m not finding much success.

    One of my issues is that I am often unable to prevent misbehavior. I have a 2 1/2 year old and 10 month old twins. My toddler will hit/kick/rough hug her sisters when my hands are covered in olive oil or I’m on the phone. I know she is seeking my attention. I understand and empathize with her plight – two adorable needy sisters stealing the spotlight and attention. But I just cannot give her all the attention she craves. We do solo outings with her. I try to talk to her about feelings. It’s okay to hit the doll not sister. But she does it anyway because it makes me angry. I know I should not react, no judgement. I do well 75% of the time. But 25% is reward enough for her. Similar get-my-goat behaviors are yelling noises. I ask her to stop. She doesn’t. I can’t walk away because I’m busy changing a diaper or breastfeeding or xyz.

    I guess I often just feel trapped. I feel stuck and frustrated and that leads to an angry emotional response from me.

    I will keep trying. I strive to embody your posts and philosophies, but I often can’t turn off my emotions.

  12. I really appreciate the way Kate explains her attempts to set limits because it is so true and sincere. While reading I was thinking: “there are too many words here”, but I am almost sure we all tend to say excesive words when setting limits and maybe this is the clue why they dont work as well and good as we would wish.
    And the other high point is to let go. This works for older children too! With my older child (11) the thing I find the most difficult as a mother is to let go (I have discovered I am a bit more resentful than what I ever thought) so I tend to come back to the very same “bad thing” many times. Hum! I dont want that for my child!

  13. Alexandra says:

    Hi Janet –
    Working at a nursery school as director. One of my staff members, upon discussing the idea of “I won’t let you”, who is a therapist, said that this seemed to introduce a power struggle between a teacher and 2- or 3- year old. Your thoughts?

    1. I’d love to chime in with my thoughts on this!

      1) My “I won’t let you hurt her” is shorthand for “Don’t worry, I won’t let you hurt her. I know you’re struggling with your emotions right now, and i can keep this a safe space for you and for her” rather than an angry/confrontational “I won’t let you”. There’s no power struggle – I have the power to stop her and I’m using it – for her benefit.

      2) A year ago I used to say “we don’t do xyz in our family” as a way to avoid seeming like it was a power struggle between the children and myself, and more of a matter of fact rule, but I always felt like my children might hear a false hidden message and think “but I DO xyz, so am I not part of the family anymore?” which is why I started looking for a better way to state my expectations. And when I starting reading Janet’s posts I found “I won’t let you”. What a relief. How much easier, how much more honest and direct.

      Developmental Psychologist Gordon Neufeld talks about how “power’ is a dirty word in our parenting society, but that we need to acknowledge that we are powerful and that is what our children need. Our power comes, not from coercive and punitive measures, but from a child’s loving attachment to us. He says it much more succintly than I could, and if power is something your school is interested in I would highly recommend his work on teaching.

  14. You guys are making some unfair assumptions here. When I speak to my daughter I am speaking to her in a neutral tone. She still won’t look at me and she is not on the autism spectrum. I can’t get her to look at me when I’m trying to praise her either. I do forgive and forget as soon as it has passed, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have concerns. My daughter is very talkative and we tend to talk through these things with her questioning a lot. Like, “what will happen to my baby brother if I hug him around his neck?” Soemtimes she wants very specific details which I struggle with how to answer sometimes. When she is doing something I don’t like, I will try to redirect. If I didn’t redirect she will always immediately return to what she was doing.

    I also don’t immediately take the position that she knows she is misbehaving. With the example of the water, I think you underestimate how much she loves playing with water. She gets upset when it is too sunny outside because there is no rain to give her puddles to jump in.

    My daughter is strong-willed and can be very persistent. She is also incredibly bright. She doesn’t have an innate desire to be a people pleaser and will not be blindly obedient. These are great qualities in an adult and I don’t want to squash these qualities, but I must keep everyone safe. I am looking for more tools for when getting down on her level, asking her to stop in a neutral tone, and physically stopping her isn’t working. I think it is very important for her to learn to take responsibility for her actions (which is why I had her clean up the mess) and also for me not to be one of those gentle discipline parents who just accepts misbeahavior because they don’t know what else to do. Are there any next steps? Is there nothing else to help teach in these types of situations? Her teachers who are all trained in positive discipline are having the same issues I am. Especially, with her not listening.

    1. Kate, I am sorry if my response upset you… and I’m also sorry that you didn’t find it helpful. I’m not sure what you mean by “next steps”… I have tried to offer you steps that I know will work.

      With respect, Kate, no matter how much your daughter loves playing with water, I’m quite certain she knows you don’t want her to dump water on the floor. By age one, most children are well aware that we don’t want them to dump food or water on the floor. You’ve said she is bright, but at the same time, it seems you underestimate her intelligence.

      Are you saying that physically stopping your daughter doesn’t “work” because she repeats the behavior later? I still believe this is because you are making too much of an issue out of these behaviors.

      For example, my response to “what will happen to my baby brother if I hug him around his neck?” would be: “I will stop you, because that might hurt him”. End of story. No need to discuss details and create a bigger story around this action of hers. She just needs to know you are on top of this. You understand and “have her back”. You will help her not to hurt her brother.

      You mention asking her to stop, which is not the authority she needs from you, in my opinion. Also, children this age see right through “redirection”…they see this response as a sign that we aren’t comfortable addressing their behavior directly, which causes it to continue. Ideally, your goal would be to create an atmosphere of calm, by making preventing and stopping her from hurting her brother look easy. And there’s no reason it shouldn’t be easy. She’s only 3.

      Kate, when children persist with these behaviors, “not listening”, etc., it is always because of the way we have been responding. That is why I’m trying to encourage you to respond differently… Sometimes it helps to take a big step back and a good look at your daughter. She is a tiny person, only 3 years on the planet, full of typical toddler (and big sister) impulses. I truly believe that if you stop allowing her impulses to be such a concern to you…and if you realize that you can handle this tiny girl’s behavior easily, she will stop needing to do these things. The other very important action to take is welcoming your daughter’s feelings of sadness, fear, anger and loss about the change in her life since the birth of her baby brother. These feelings are fueling her behavior. If you help her to express the feelings, she won’t need to express them through her testing and limit pushing.

      1. Kate – I should also add that I realize I was a bit off about your daughter feeling your disapproval, since you’ve made it clear that you use a neutral tone. But I do think she looks away because you are telling her things she already knows quite well (that grabbing her brother around the neck isn’t appropriate, etc.) and I believe that this is creating an issue where there needn’t be one. I hope this helps!

  15. Hi all,

    Thank you for this fantastic Post – as usual- Janet.

    I have a 3 1/2 year old and 10 month old and feel as though in the past 10 months we have gone through every sibling jealousy issue and defiant pre-schooler issue imaginable, and just wanted to share a few things that have made all the difference!

    1. Read, and re-read positive posts like this!

    2. FORGIVE, This can be so hard, but I have a real temper on me and realised that I was holding onto the big and small things sometimes all day that my eldest and even youngest did, and it was effecting every interaction with them.
    I had to learn, which meant lots of practice! STOP, BREATHE and then LET GO! Move on, don’t sweat the small stuff and you will find you are not only projecting the confidence your children need from you, you will be feeling it to!

    3. I read, re-read and then bought the book. “How to talk so kids listen and listen so kids talk”. It is one recommended on this site and I would say has singularly had the most positive change out of anything in our household! It gives you tools, real life examples and it really enjoyable to read.

    Be encouraged, if you slow down, be patient, keep it simple you will et through, life is never perfect, but if you start with yourself, your whole family will follow.

  16. Thank you, Janet, I really appreciate the practical advice given in this post and in the comments, and in the willingness of commenters to be honest and open with just how HARD it is to be the parent of toddler(s).

    I also have twin 2 year old “runners” and what seems to be working (at least right now) is consistently only giving them two options – the ol’ “red cup or blue cup” 🙂

    “We are getting ready to go XYZ…would you like to put on your shoes yourself or would you like me to help you?” or “We are getting ready to go XYZ…would you like to wear your Toms or your boots?” They LOVE to choose!

    Oh, and the dreaded teeth brushing: “Time to brush our teeth…would you like to sit on the counter or sit on the stool?” or “Time to brush our teeth…would you like Daddy to help you or Mommy to help you?”

    If the choices don’t work, we say, “It looks like you need help XYZ…” and then they mostly drop what they’re doing because they DO want their first choice to be respected. Or sometimes I let it go, because whatever we were trying to do wasn’t terribly important. And then I get to practice the very hard “Not Taking it Personally”.

    But If I say, “Come put your shoes on!” or “Come get dressed!” That’s a GUARANTEED sprint 🙂

  17. Hello,
    Very useful dialogue! My question has to do with the back and forth between Kate and others. It seems in a way, we are talking about what will “WORK” to stop or curb certain behaviors. Your suggestion to Kate to say less and simply say that “the brother will get hurt and the mom won’t let her…” could work to stop the daughter from hugging the brother (the behavior/reaction to frustration). But how do these type of responses affect cognitive development? What if the daughter is truly asking for an explanation? Isn’t your suggestion somewhat–ever so slightly-akin to the “because I told you so” variety? Do children possibly benefit from longer explanations and discussions? I ask because it struck me as a missing piece in all the advice here which is clearly aimed at behavior but I’m not sure of its effects on the cognitive understanding and natural curiosity of the child. My son, for example, seems to appreciate very lengthy explanations of things. For example, when he refuses to get in the stroller, a brief confident response works only half the time. What seems to work best is a lengthy explanation of how I know he wants to walk, but if he walks, we will not get to the playground in time to spend a lot of time but if he sits in the stroller, I can push him quickly so he has more time there…etc etc. He listens and seems to understand and then gets in the stroller happily. Anyway, I am looking for a response more than something simple like stating that by providing gentle discipline we free up emotional space for the child to be able to grow developmentally and psychologically. I hope this makes sense. Lastly, I, too, think the more SPECIFIC REAL LIFE examples will resonate much more with people than the generic canned examples of minor situations. As you know, raising kids this way (or any way) is complicated and intense, and the examples need to mirror that in order to best reach all of us. I think us parents who read your column deal with about 20 or more of these type of testing boundary situations each and every day (since as you recognize, kids need to test boundaries often), not one or two little situations that are easily managed. I think the poster was also asking for self care of the parent in the sense of maybe a mantra or something to remind you/motivate that this is a good approach even when it’s HARD. That would be great if you could say a few words on that. I’m a happy follower of this approach, so these questions are all coming from a place of true curiosity and good intentions and interest. Thanks!

  18. I am late to this conversation, but I appreciate it very much. I have 20 month twins and have found the RIE approach inspiring. I recently read a wonderful book called “Easy to love, difficult to discipline” by Becky A. Bailey. The main premise of the book is that parents need to learn self control before they can sucesfully guide their children. Loved the book. Easy to read, realistic, respectful of children, and gives lots of specific examples. It even has a a 7 reading schedule at the end to really drive home the principles. I will read it again and again. I don’t know if suggesting this book is appropriate, Janet, but I learned so much from it. That book and “1,2,3 the toddler years” are always within reach!

  19. Wonderful! I so enjoy reading your articles. Thank you for sharing with such clarity.

  20. ” forgive immediately and believe in your daughter”

    I have been reading your blog for some time and have never commented but today, this really spoke to me. When I think about the challenging moments I have with my 3 year old they almost always seem to stem from me taking her behavior/actions personally and feeling like she shouldn’t do this TO ME (i.e. she knows she shouldn’t do that, she knows I have to work, she knows we are late etc). From that point on it is really hard to not get annoyed at her. It can be so hard to remember that her actions are not personal and she is not deliberately attempting to make MY life difficult. I really needed this reminder, to immediately forgive her and let go of my perceived betrayal by her (which is how it can feel sometimes). I know for me, that is what I need to work on most. Thank you for the wisdom Janet, I really appreciate what you do!

    1. Thank you, Sarah. Yes! “It can be so hard to remember that her actions are not personal and she is not deliberately attempting to make MY life difficult…” This is hard for all of us. But she is tiny and impulsive and you and I are older and more mature…and forgiveness is a healing, wonderful thing. Cheers to you!

  21. deanna Waid says:

    I have an almost 4 yo. NOT on the autism spectrum. He refuses to make eye contact when he’s done something he knows he shouldn’t or remotely thinks he shouldn’t. L he is using reverse psychology on us. “Ashton, we aren’t able to go to xyz until we’re done with breakfast.” (Xyz could be Disneyland!) Response: “I don’t wanna go to Disneyland!” Or : “Ashton, I see you’ve dumped your breakfast on the floor. I’d like your help cleaning it up.” Response: “You do it all by yourself, mama. You good at cleaning messes.” It’s difficult not to resort to threatening spankings at this point, because clearly he’s not responding to Gentle Parenting! Ps. He’s an only child. He gets PLENTY of one on one connection time with BOTH parents.

    1. I am looking forward to Janet’s response to this one. Reverse psychology, doing the exact opposite of what we ask him to do, and outright refusals. Gentle parenting, permissive parenting, how do they not turn into teenagers with a overly strong sense of entitlement?

    2. Deanna, I don’t see that as reverse psychology at all. That is somewhat typical 4 year old defiance…but he seems especially defiant and angry. Why do you suppose he is so angry? I’m wondering if you have been using spankings… Or threats about spankings? He seems to feel like you are against him, rather than on his team. He doesn’t seem to feel safe, which would also explain why he looks away. Sorry, but it’s hard for me to tell you more without more information…

      1. Do you think it’s possible to begin using these techniques on a 3yr old, or, has the “damage been done” essentially? I ask because, so often after I have not managed to set the appropriate limits or didn’t act fast enough, my don deliberately refuses also, and, will be defiant. I threatened with spankings, consequences, forced apologies, etc. Pretty much everything you say NOT to do. Is it too late to correct our poor behaviors?

        1. It’s never too late! Yes, you can change your approach at anytime and your son’s behavior will follow suit. However, there may be a period when behavior looks worse before it gets better. And a lot of difficult feelings/tantrums to go along with that. The more you can welcome these feelings (while calmly preventing any truly harmful behavior), the sooner your child will be able to work through them and build trust in you as a respectful leader. Have you listened to any of my podcasts? I think they might be particularly helpful to you in “getting over the hump.” 🙂 They are available here and also on iTunes and Stitcher:

          Only the bravest, most wonderful parents are willing to work to make changes, so I hope you will feel proud and congratulate yourself! x Janet

  22. I have found in working with very young children in Montessori settings to ask “may I see your eyes?” when I want to be sure that I have their attention is more likely to have the child give me eye contact than other statements. Looking in their eyes allows them to see kindness in my own as I speak to them.

  23. eye

    Eye contact can give a lot of pressure to a child who is doing something wrong. Eye contact can escalate a power struggle. That is why they say not to make eye contact with another driver who cuts you off. Kids need a simple action step to show them that your words have meaning, “if you drop water on the floor again I will take your cup away. ” “help me clean up this water or I will take your Legos away” She is right. Too may words only shame a child. Simple action steps motivate behavior because the child learns that your words have meaning.

    1. Not a good comparison, Ginger, because this is not about staring angrily or intensely at a child. Quite the opposite, in fact. I recommend eye contact that is gentle and open, yet assured and fearless. My advice is to teach and help, not demand or angrily confront. Good teachers connect mind-to-mind with their students by making eye contact.

  24. bed time. 6yo and will be 4yo in 11 days.

    for some reason, i can do the gentle parenting all day long, i’m getting better at it (dad is as well), we’ve never done spankings or anything like that. we’ve done rare time-outs, and counting to 5 with a time-out at the end of it (these are short time-outs always with a discussion at the end). we’re trying to get away from needing time-outs (as i said, they ARE rare, often it is just a cool-off period if both boys are so upset they can’t use their words together, by the time the timer beeped the last time they had to sit, they were already talking it out!)

    they share a room. it makes my blood boil when they start to goof off. we have a ritual we’ve had for a LONG time – potty, bath, books, last pees/drinks/stickers on their chart (otherwise we were having the melt down of how badly they had to go potty, or getting back up in 45 minutes), then lights out… they’re OFTEN really good about this, but lately they’re playing/chattering… etc. if they were on the other end of the house, i could maybe ignore it, but they’re just on the other side of the living room wall – we’re quiet, they have white noise in their room.

    their sticker charts are only for earning their allowance, they have behaviors/tasks that we focus on for a month at a time, then we add a new item to work on. my oldest earns money for his 2 fund raisers at school (thursday pizza and friday lunch) so he can use his OWN money for these things (and he can choose to not spend it and keep it, this is okay). they each earn .75 on top of that for their own pleasure if they get 5 stickers in a week. we coach them through the process and use a few reminders, it has worked amazingly well so far.

    tonight, in a not neutral but not yelling voice… more of a firm voice, i explained to them that i’m disgusted (bad choice of words), it upsets me, i can’t focus or relax, and i’m worried that they won’t get enough sleep – and that they need sleep to be healthy… this was after i had to go back in as they were goofing off. i told them this is their last chance before we change the routine to have bath be last and straight into bed.

    i know my 6yo is generally exhausted by bedtime (7:30 start, 8p generally lights out) – in fact, during the week he will often need to start bedtime at 7, if not 6:30 due to behavior decline from exhaustion. i know my 4yo is not always tired yet because he still naps, but he’s also not ready to give up the nap.

    we’re trying to work in more active play before bed, walks around the block, etc. i should probably stagger bedtimes again.

    but how can we phrase it so the boys know we mean business? is it best just to stagger bedtimes and eliminate any chance for goofing off after bath? our bathroom is small, but we could try bringing pj’s in with us… my oldest can tell time, but he isn’t really bothered by going to bed earlier, he sometimes likes the peaceful bath to himself. splitting them up isn’t an option, although i’m sure my 4yo would share a room with his sister (1yo) and probably be happy with that arrangement as well, i just don’t think it is the right time to give my 6yo his own room, as he really needs the connection to his brother that sharing a room gives them. they’re becoming good friends as the 4yo gets better at communication and working together!

    they both attend montessori school, we don’t bring a lot of montessori into our homes, but we do limit aggressive behavior and any toy that breeds aggression is put up to go to a new home immediately.

    i realize they’re pushing the age this blog targets… but i’m really interested in what i read! also, we’re working on active listening and having great results with that – i just can’t make myself do this at bedtime, bedtime is bedtime, not time to draw mom/dad into a big discussion.

  25. Starr – stagger bedtime. Only thing that worked for us after 2 years of trying everything under the sun

    1. thanks! we did choose to re-stagger bedtime, we had done it in the past, and for almost a year they’d been doing good without the staggering, we chose to go back to it AND changed up the routine. i printed out a ‘schedule’ of how the night will go, it has pictures and words, and it is numbered, so they can both follow it easily! so far last night went really well, BUT they were also exhausted from the time change.

      i’m still hoping to hear some example phrases on what to use when/if they revert back to the behavior that makes me bonkers!

  26. Hi, Thank you for this post, I have a (just turned) 3 year old son and I’m afraid I’m struggling to find advice that goes far enough. My main issue is getting my son out of the house for nursery on time.
    I make sure I have plenty of time for getting to his level and understanding his anger, discussing it with him, calmly talking etc. but at the end of the day, he still refuses to leave the house without me physically taking him.
    I will say to my son that it’s time to go and say ‘Are you going to do your shoes by yourself today, or would you like me to help you? – to which I get a wailed ‘Nooo’, he flops on the floor and says ‘I don’t want to go to nursery’. (This is the same whether I have given him advanced warning or not e.g. ‘after doing the puzzle it will be time to put his shoes on’)
    I get to his level and ask why he doesn’t want to go. Usually I get ‘Because I don’t want to’ so I try helping him remember fun thing he’s done at nursery, or possible fun things he will do. Sometimes we hit on something he’d like to take with him. All of this might take a full 10 mins but all he is doing is trying to buy time.
    So having cheered him up, I say ‘come on then, lets go do your shoes, but he wails again and refuses, often decending into kicking or throwing anything in sight (however dangerous). So, I say ‘I understand you are angry, I try to use techniques to help him calm down (deep breath, calm hand routine etc) but he carries on unless I get back into talking about nursery as above but only because he knows this buys him time….nothing gets us closer to actually leaving the house.
    Yesterday, after several calm attempts, I said that he’d have to go in just his socks. I picked him up and put him in the car as he writhed and struggled his belt on. This felt very out of line with ‘gentle parenting’ but I had to leave or the gates get shut.
    I’m close to resorting to consequences (which I know he understands because this is how he toilet trained, he also uses consequences on me ‘if you do ‘X’ mummy, I will do ’X’)
    Sorry this is so long
    Please help!

    1. One thing: instead of saying ‘when the puzzle is finished’, go for something like ‘hey honeybunch 5 minutes, then it’s time to ________’. It doesn’t matter at all that the child can’t read a clock yet. They will learn what five minutes feels like. It’s important to know in advance how you’re going to respond in case of no cooperation, e.g. going to nursery in socks, possibly carrying on loudly. Ear plugs can come in handy sometimes in confined spaces, and can make things satisfyingly baffling to the child if they don’t know you’ve put them in “why my horrible noise weapon not working??”). If you can manage to stay calm, not be drawn into pointless discussions, beyond a kindly “yes i can see you don’t want to go to nursery” (“mmm” can be a handy non-response), and not give in to the ‘horrible noise’ factor 🙂 the battles will fade, and your genuine team spirit, friendship and love can continue to blossom. Unless your partner is not on the same page. In which case the battles will continue forever, so sorry.

  27. Hi Janet

    I have a similar issue with my Nearly three year old. I spend all my time with him but as soon as baby wakes and needs to feed the jealousy kicks in and he starts putting water everywhere while I can’t get up (sneaky ;)) the only thing I can do when I can’t follow through physically due to small baby crying or needing to feed is by making consequences like I’m going to take your bottle away and put it in the bin if you don’t stop and you won’t have it back. Just taking it doesn’t work as he knows he will get back (“so you’ll take my bottle and then Give it back to me later?”) I found that being a bit harsher seems to work for him. I’ve been overly permissive I think in the past as I didn’t want to get angry. When I use the lighthearted tone, (I don’t want you to do that) and just clear it up myself he just goes off and finds something else to trash (he doesn’t act like this often, hes either like a much older child or has a crazy day where it’s one thing after the other) . The crazy days seem to be when I don’t feel well and want to lie down on the sofa and NOT play which doesn’t go down well with him. I then feel controlled into playing with him cause I don’t want so many messes to clean up or just put the tv on but I don’t feel I can have a boundary of I just want to lie down and rest. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong!

  28. I have been using the technique you describe consistently with my son but his behavior has, if anything, become worse and more aggressive. He constantly challenges me and works himself into such a rage if he is denied something that it can take 1/2 hour to an hour to calm down – even with my full comfort and support. He very deliberately bites, pulls hair and scratches faces when he is feeling defiant or tired (often laughing while he does it) – but can be wonderfully compassionate at other times.
    I work full time and life is becoming extremely difficult and quite frankly miserable. We can’t maintain schedules because he won’t follow instructions if he doesn’t feel like it and the only way to avoid meltdowns is to do things through play which we simply don’t always have the time and energy for.
    He’s now 22 months. Do I just need to have faith that in the long run things will improve as his cognitive abilities increase?

    1. Hi Kym – can you tell me exactly how you respond to him in these moments? I think you may be misunderstanding some of my recommendations. The goal should not be to avoid meltdowns, but to actually encourage him to express these feelings so that he doesn’t act them out through his behavior.

  29. I agree with all of this, and have a detail to add – if I’m not ready to let it go, i don’t. That doesn’t mean i harp on about it. It means that if the child wants to act as though everything’s fine, in a way that involves me doing something for her/him e.g. playing monsters or tag etc, i will say I’m still feeling a bit cranky and still need a little while. If the child really wants to play with me, and doesn’t go beetling off to play elsewhere, I’ll say well, I’d really like it if they could please say sorry to me for ______. If that works out, we have a fantastic little practise session at how to apologise properly, like you mean it, etc. As soon as it’s done, which is unmistakeable because i feel better, i beam with genuine delight, say thank you, and it’s playtime/storytime/whichever time. The child gets to learn over time that apologising properly is a fantastic skill to have, and be able to explain to someone else in words, and also that I’m actually pretty easy to please/honest/respecful enough to trust that they can handle the fact that their behaviour has consequences, and on top of that, the all-important concept of feelings being as real a thing as we have in life.

    Boy can i relate to the struggling to explain in words! I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. The whole chess game becomes second nature eventually, thank goodness 🙂

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