They’ll Grow Into It – Trusting Children to Develop Manners, Toilet Skills, Emotional Regulation and More

Most of the advice I share is focused on infants, toddlers and preschoolers, but since my own children are now well past those years (my oldest just turned 21!), it occurred to me that I should be sharing more often from my “long view” perspective.

Like most parents, I’ve had my worries. For instance, despite my commitment to natural motor development, I worried that my first baby would never learn to walk. Both she and her younger sister were perfectly satisfied exploring on their hands and knees into their 16th month.

When my children were toddlers, it was sometimes hard to believe they would naturally develop the ability to greet people politely or say “thank you” without my nudging. I wondered if my mentor, infant specialist Magda Gerber, could really be right when she assured us that modeling good manners and values would be enough.

I’ve also worried about my kids’ food choices, like my highly active son’s passion for sweets, and the periods he didn’t seem to eat much of anything other than fruit. I was dismayed when my oldest, who was always an ardent bread-eater, decided to go vegetarian as a teen, since in her mind vegetarian meant cheese pizza, pasta, even more bread and nary a vegetable in sight. Would she ever crave vitamin-rich foods?

Yet my training with Magda had taught me that if there was one reliable catch-all, go-to word to get me through the worried speculation and second guessing of parenthood: trust.

Trust, whenever and wherever it’s possible, reasonable and age-appropriate, is one of the most profound gifts we can give our children. Through trust we offer children opportunities to fully own their achievements and internalize the validating message: “I did it!” This, as opposed to the far less self-affirming one: “Finally, I did what my parents have been wanting me to do!” Believe me, children know the difference.

Trust is also a gift for parents, because it means we don’t waste our energy trying to urge development forward or “fix” issues that are usually best resolved by providing children with a nurturing environment and leaving the rest up to them. Attempting to force development before a child is ready sets us both up for unnecessary frustration and failure. We all know the expression, “you can lead a horse to water, but…”

Here are a few of my positive experiences with trust and some of the elements I believe need to be in place to ensure optimum child-initiated development:

Motor skill development

This is one of the more obvious developmental areas we can trust our children to self-initiate from day one, and I’ve written extensively about it. We can trust typical children to develop motor skills naturally if we provide:

  1. A safe space for free play
  2. Freedom of movement
  3. Uninterrupted floor time
  4. Responsiveness, but not interference. “Spotting” for safety when needed.

Toilet Learning

I have three children, one boy and two girls, and their personalities could not be more different. None was “toilet trained”. Toilet learning was a natural process that they self-directed with our support and without tension or struggle (or tricks, treats, cheering and parades) involved. I know my three kids aren’t enough for a scientific sampling, but it’s my belief that toilet learning can be an almost effortless process provided we:

  1. Pay full attention to children during diaper changes and invite them to actively participate in all self-care activities.
  2. Communicate to them respectfully about their bodies and bodily functions
  3. Make a child-sized potty available for experimentation, while letting go of any agendas surrounding its use (very important!).
  4. Familiarize children with the process by modeling toilet use and/or reading books about going potty. Here’s a funny one we enjoyed (that is unfortunately out of print!): Stop and Go Potty
  5. Give children the behavior boundaries they need, which definitely doesn’t mean ever insisting they use the potty. If possible, always allow children the choice of a diaper. Children most commonly react to our pressure by subtly (or not so subtly) firmly putting the brakes on this process.
  • Do kindly insist that children wear diapers when they’ve demonstrated that they aren’t ready for potty learning. You might say something like, “I want to help you stay comfortable and not worry, and I can’t let you keep peeing on the floor.”
  • Do make sure children have clear, consistent boundaries generally, or they will be inclined to turn toilet learning into a testing ground.
  1. Understand that this process can be different for every child. It might take a year or more for a child to complete. It might happen in fits and starts (so keep diapers around long after you think you’ll need them). Children need the freedom to develop this lifelong skill on their schedule, and they gain confidence from fully owning this accomplishment.


As Magda Gerber said (or perhaps warned), “What we teach is ourselves.” The lessons children learn through our behavior trump all else we aim to teach. Children need us to prevent them from hurting themselves, their peers and us, but otherwise they learn the manners we expect by observing and listening.

As I mentioned previously, I was a bit concerned about my kids remembering to say “thank you” when others expected it, and I would occasionally quietly remind them, perhaps more often than I needed to. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by their graciousness. I’ll never forget my oldest daughter’s sincere and unexpected “thank you” to her friends and their parents after each gift she unwrapped on her 3rd birthday.

Another concern I’d had was that even in their early teens, both my daughters were uncomfortable engaging with adults they didn’t know well. But by the time each was 15, this discomfort magically lifted and was replaced with genuine enjoyment.

  1. Model, model, model
  2. Forcing children to greet or hug people or say “thank you” or “I’m sorry”, shaming them for being “shy” or “rude” will only make children less confident in these social situations.
  3. Trust, trust, trust

Getting beyond one-note food choices

My white-bread teenage daughter? She’s now red meat, dairy and gluten-free, loves quinoa and squash, and never meets a green vegetable she doesn’t like. She’ll try anything new and eats things she wouldn’t go anywhere near as a teen, and I’m hoping my 17 year old middle daughter will soon begin to broaden her tastes as well (she’s been narrowing them since adolescence like her sister did).

My sweet-toothed son? Still has an insane amount of focused positive energy and excels in school and athletics. Maybe when he hits puberty he’ll start eating more. I believe we can trust children to eat what they need, provided we:

1. Offer a selection of healthy options and then let go of our expectations and agendas

2. Keep mealtimes peaceful, never tense, emotional, or a battleground

3. Keep our sense of humor about one-note choices. They pass. (Russell Hoban wrote one of my favorite children’s books about that: Bread and Jam for Frances)

Emotional regulation

I know that emotional regulation is a topic that worries parents, because whenever I post articles about accepting our children’s negative feelings (and I actually don’t believe there are “negative” feelings), I get feedback like this: “Shouldn’t we be teaching children to control their emotions, so they don’t grow up thinking they can have a tantrum when they don’t get what they want?” I wholeheartedly agree with clinical psychologist Kenneth Barish’s perspective, because this has been my experience, too:

… Children most effectively learn to regulate their emotions when they are confident that their feelings will be heard. When a child expects that her feelings and concerns will be appreciated and understood, her emotions become less urgent. Because each disappointment and frustration now feels less painful, less “catastrophic,” she will be less insistent in her demands and more open and flexible in seeking solutions to problems. She will less often get stuck in attitudes of blaming, argument and denial. She will be more able to feel empathy and concern for others, and to take responsibility for her actions.

We therefore need to set aside time, every day, to listen to a child’s concerns. Of course, we cannot listen patiently — or listen well — when we are tired or hurried; when we are burdened or preoccupied; or when, at that moment, we are just too angry. Over time, in healthy development, children come to understand this.

In these conversations, children begin to learn that their bad feelings, although painful, will not last forever — that through their own efforts or with the help of supportive adults, they can make things better. This may be the most important lesson we can teach, the lesson that is most essential to our children’s present and future emotional health.

  1. Listen
  2. Understand
  3. Trust


There’s much more about the power of TRUST — and how to balance that trust with our respectful boundaries — in my brand new No Bad Kids Master Course. I created this course to give you all the tools and perspective you need to not only understand  and respond effectively to your children’s behavior but also build positive, respectful, relationships with them for life! Check out all the details at ♥





(Photo by Alfredo Mendez on Flickr)




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

  1. OH I needed this. My son has some difficulty ending a playdate and I don’t force him to say sorry. The other child’s mom must be uncomfortable because the child said to me, when her mom was absent, “My Mom says that you don’t seem to say know how to say no.” So it really worried me, but I just have to trust. He’s going to be kind and compassionate and he is now and he’s 5.
    Thank you.

    1. You’re so welcome, Loren! What was your little guy supposed to be sorry about?

  2. I’m a bit confused about toilet “training” part. I’ve tried using EC, and it worked well during the first 4-5 months. However, it didn’t stick and I let her go diaper free since birth. Of course, this meant she going in the floor and me cleaning up right afterwards. I try not make a big deal of it when she goes, but sometimes I couldn’t help but feel irritated. My husband couldn’t stand the peeing on the floor, “like animal!” He never participated in EC and insisted that she wears diaper. DD now 14 mo, and last week she pointed to her pee-pee, and I correctly read that she needs to go pee or poop. She went pee, right in the potty! I couldn’t help – and I thought it was good thing to do – and praised her over and over. Yet…something in the back of my mind, I don’t want her to do things for rewards. I’d rather her do it because it’s self-directed, intrinsically motivated, not for external rewards. In this article, I’m not understanding #3 under toilet training. Can you elaborate further? And…do you have an article on toilet training? I found the sleeping article extremely helpful, by the way, and perfect timing. Thank you for that.

    1. Jessica – I agree with your assessment: ” Yet…something in the back of my mind, I don’t want her to do things for rewards. I’d rather her do it because it’s self-directed, intrinsically motivated, not for external rewards.” It can be especially unproductive to praise toilet use, because as your 14 month old grows into toddlerhood she will sometimes need to do the opposite of what you wish, because that is one of the ways toddlers individuate. So, if you are excited about her using the potty, she might not do what she is capable of doing. Here are two articles I recommend, one is mine and the other is by Lisa Sunbury from Toilet Learning Made Easy And here’s mine:

    2. We did EC as well, and hit a peeing on the floor phase, we just always modelled using the toilet as presenting it as just one of the things we do, not good, or bad, it just is. She has been daytime/at home potty trained willingly since about 14 months ish, but we still diaper outings, and sleeptimes

  3. I would love suggestions for an almost 6 year old that is still getting poop in his pants. We didn’t do any of the above as I just learned about all this 🙂 However right how we are doing this he has a watch that vibrates every hour to remind him to go (he still won’t poop at a school ) we are remaining totally calm about accidents and saying oops and we still love you no matter what as he has shame from dad going ballistic about this for a few years. I know there is way more to this story than I can type out right now, but I am desperate for suggestions.

    1. Janie – others might disagree, but I would encourage him to relax by giving him back his diapers.

      1. Do you think even for school I should give him diapers

        1. If the school will allow it, yes. How many hours does he spend there?

          1. Tara Smith says:

            My grandson had this problem due to severe constipation. Have the child assessed. It can be easily corrected if that is the case.

            1. So True! – my friend’s daughter had the same issue. She’s also six and entering Kindergarten but due to constipation she was having accidents with poop in the pants. They have had her tested and it has been helpful.

              1. Catherine Menefee says:

                Thank you for writing this. My kiddo and I have had a tough summer since he turned 3 in June. There have been a lot of changes this summer, and I know he’s under a lot of stress, but lately I’ve been overwhelmed at times by his frequent tantrums, during which I may struggle to block every hit and kick he sends my way. I feel like people all around me are advising that he needs harsher consequences for these meltdowns, and I started to become worried that my approach (blocking hits, using logical consequences like putting away toys that are thrown. and practicing calm support until he regains composure) would just lead to a child who thinks he can hit or throw things anytime. But my kiddo is such a sweetheart at other times: he thanks me for making dinner, tells his friends he loves them, loves cuddling. I needed some reassurance that we’re on the right track and that I’m helping release hard feelings rather than reinforcing bad behavior. Thanks for all your work.

    2. Has he been evaluated by a physician? Constipation can present as an inability to control one’s bowels and is especially common in school aged children. The child’s stool can still appear normal despite being severely backed up. Diagnosis requires a quick abdominal x-ray. It may be worth checking out if you haven’t already.

    3. Just want to encourage you, as we’ve been there! My son wouldn’t use the bathroom at all at school, and still had accidents up until age 7. He/we didn’t want diapers, as we didn’t want to shame him, but we all agreed the thicker training pants style of underwear was a good choice for him. I am happy to report that now at age 10, we’ve been accident free (during the day…still working on wet nights every once in a while) for about 3 years. I don’t have any magic to share, just know that there is an end in sight!

    4. I am in the same. exact. situation. He’s been back in pull-ups for 6 months and shows no interest in EVER going potty. We made a big deal out of treats and stuff when he was 2 (because we didn’t know better)- Dad went ballistic about it by the time he was 4- and we’re still here. Vibrating watch and all. Already evaluated for constipation issues. If nothing else, you’re not alone. Our school will not allow diapers so we’re home schooling. I just want to know this will end

  4. Hi Janet – Love your blog, thanks for all of the great tips and encouragement. You have a great reference here.
    I’ll be honest, this one left me a little puzzled with regards to teaching vs modeling manners. I think it’s necessary to teach kids manners, or else how do they know what is appropriate? For example, how to write ‘thank-you’ notes (my littlest ones can do stamps or scribbles on a card, the older ones draw/write), or we’ve been working on apologizing when you hurt someone, even if it wasn’t intentional (asking the toddler if she’s okay and helping her up after you accidentally knock her down). I try to let them ask for things themselves when ordering or interacting with strangers, but I help them have the tools they need, so that they are set up to succeed (my 5-yo orders the muffin that she wants at the bakery, helps her brother get his roll, and after they pay for their food ‘on their own’ I whisper “don’t forget the thank-you” so they learn how to end the encounter. How/why is this bad? It seems like ‘trusting’ that they will get there is wishful without giving them the guidance and tools they need. Sure, maybe after the fact they know that they did what I asked/expected, but they also navigated successfully because I didn’t leave them to figure it out entirely on their own (and thus end up ‘rescuing’ them).
    In the same vein, re. toilet learning, we use the toilet before leaving the house, whether we want to or not. If I don’t occasionally ‘force’ it to set up that routine, then either we don’t leave, or we have to find bathrooms/change underwear constantly all over town … shouldn’t there be an element of ‘the parent is in charge’ and this is what needs to happen (hopefully with encouragement and support, maybe a choice – can you pull down your own pants or should I do it for you …). Just a few thoughts. Thanks again.

    1. Thanks, Maria! I don’t see trust as all-or-nothing. I would certainly insist on the thank you notes, since this is not something children will actively observe us doing. And I’d need to know more about “working on apologizing” to know if I’d advise that or not… The best “work” we can do on this (in my opinion) is expressing concern for the child who has been hurt. And I would only point the situation out to my toddler if she hadn’t realized she’d hurt the person, because after observing toddlers for many years I have noticed that they see and take in EVERYTHING. So making an issue of pointing to the hurt child and saying, “see how sad she is”, etc., is shaming for our child, in my opinion.

      Regarding toilet learning, if the child is still in the process of learning, I think it’s safest to offer a choice of diaper or potty before leaving the house. After children have reached this milestone, insisting they try to go potty before they leave sounds fine… But I can’t tell you how many times, my kids didn’t “need” to go until we were on the road 15 minutes later, even after they’d tried. 🙂

      To be clear, most of what you are doing sounds fine to me, Maria, especially if it’s working for your family. I meant this post as “food for thought” rather than as suggested “rules”.

      1. In regards to shaming your child by telling her to notice the feelings of others, How will your youngster learn to empathize with the emotions of others if they never know what they look like on others. Labeling emotions for little ones prepares them for learning emotional literacy which is an essential skill for socializing and moving out of an autonomous view of the world.
        You may in your adult view interpret it as shame, but your child looks at this as another learning experience. We need to think about what we are teaching either knowingly or unknowingly.

        1. Patti – your comment assumes that children are not sensitive and aware. Yet, studies show that they are actually more aware than we are. They don’t need their noses rubbed into what has happened. They see, especially if we give them the emotional space to do that.

  5. Janet, thanks for this — the toilet learning part especially is just what I needed to hear right now. My daughter will be three next week and is still in diapers, and that’s fine with us. Last night she said she wanted to wear panties for a while, and after about a half hour she peed on the floor. No surprise, no fuss, we just cleaned it up. She said that she “didn’t know it [the pee] was coming.” So I’m guessing this is just a readiness issue. I talked with her a bit (in what I hope was a relaxed way) about how being able to tell when it’s “coming” is important to being able to use the potty, and that she will learn over time to be able to tell.

    My one internal challenge to the relaxed, trusting approach is the looming preschool-in-the-fall issue. (I’m sure you’ve heard this many times before!) She doesn’t HAVE to go to preschool (her dad is home with her), but honestly I think another whole year of full-time child care would be hard on him, and I thnk by that time the social interaction will be good for her. Plus, I don’t want her to get excited about going and then have to tell her “you can’t go to preschool after all because you’re not using the potty.” But nor do I want to tell her now, or anytime soon, “oh by the way, you won’t be able to go to preschool in the fall if you’re still in diapers” — talk about NOT relaxed!

    Anyway, it’s a dilemma. For now I am just trying to remind myself that 7-8 months is a long time in the life of a young child, and that chances are it will work itself out between now and the fall.

    1. Hi Rebecca! Yes, 7-8 months is a very long time and I would believe in your daughter. Trust is most important when it’s most challenging! So I strongly encourage you to let go, and let your daughter reach this milestone when she’s 100% ready. In the meantime, since it doesn’t sound like her wish to wear panties is in response to pressure coming from you, I would just do as you did…with the attitude, “Well, that was an interesting experiment, but don’t worry, we’re going to keep you comfortable in diapers for as long as you need them.”

      1. Thank you Janet, for this affirmation. Indeed, trust is most important when most challenging! . . . Meanwhile, great news: yesterday morning I visited a preschool to consider it for Maria, and learned to my great pleasure and surprise that they do NOT require kids to be potty trained. In fact, they take a very relaxed, respectful, individually-focused approach to the whole issue, as to virtually everything else. So, there’s no question where Maria will go in the fall — even if it does turn out she’s out of diapers by then, their attitude on this (and, again, to everything else — not surprisingly) shows us that this is where our child should be. 🙂

        1. Great news, Rebecca! I’m so glad you’ve found a school that you are comfortable with. Yay!

  6. Thank you for this timely post. Just yesterday I ended my third day of trying to potty train my 3 yr old. After not one success at all and on the third day her holding it longer and longer and my growing concern of health risks I quit her half way through the third day. I asked her if she was ready to potty and she said no and I asked if she wanted to use the diapers and she said yes. I promptly changed her. Still not totally knowing what to do except wait, this post gave me perspective. Thank you!

    1. Sherra, the good news is that you don’t have to do anything! Just relax and let your daughter do this when she’s ready. She knows what to do.

  7. Janet, What you say rings true – not only for bringing up children, but for the ways in which we treat ourselves (do we trust ourselves to do what’s kind, beneficial, compassionate?), and how we relate to one another, be they little ones or large. Being someone who works with children but doesn’t live with them, this post is a very sweet, very gentle reminder that Trust truly does begin at home. It’s also bittersweet to reflect on my own upbringing, which was decidedly trust-less! I nearly sent this article to my mother… and then thought better of it. Thank you for the introspection.

    1. I love your comment, K. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Thanks again for another encouraging post. My son will be turning 1 soon and as confident as I am that he will walk when he is ready, it is hard at times, to remain calm in this belief when everyone around me (friends, family) seem concerned that he hasn’t really shown an interest yet. This has bolstered my convictions again. 🙂

    1. Bolstering your convictions is EXACTLY what I hope to do!

    2. My daughter JUST started walking at 18 months. I was not concerned, but her pediatrician was. She is my 4th so I have come to realize they all do things in their own time.

  9. Katharine says:

    Hey Janet!

    She has shown all the signs, so we are potty learning. I really, really appreciated this reminder, “.. which definitely doesn’t mean ever insisting they use the potty. ”


  10. your toilet learning tips are golden! i was forcing Sisi to wear underwear before she was ready in the name of “consistency”, and it was causing so much frustration and shame. when Sisi started saying, “Mommy is so so frustrated” and hiding after doing her BMs, I realized that putting Sisi back into pull ups would be good for both of us. she’s now 3 and is still not poop trained but I’m not at all stressed about it. trust trust trust!

    one thing I have found about food is that the only thing we can control is what we make available to her. I don’t force her to eat certain things or bribe her or threaten to take away dessert. I simply have a limited selection of food in the house (we are a gluten free, processed sugar free family). Her favorite foods are sardines, nuts, berries, parsnips and sweet potatoes because that is what is available in our home. I do think we need to be careful about our kids and sugar/carb addictions, so I’m a little more controlling with food than most parents. although, like I said, just with what is available. I don’t shove anything down her throat. In fact, the few times I have forced her to eat more, she ended up throwing up. Her body obviously had had enough.

    Same with technology, I don’t have ipads and TV and video games available to her, but I give her space and freedom to play with whatever toys she does have in her own way. I trust that even when she is in school and exposed to society’s technology and crappy food offerings, she will have the ability to make good choices eventually.

    so i guess my point is, in the same way we limit the types of toys and technology we bring into the home, we should be just as intentional about food, because a well-fed kid tends to be happier, more independent, and better rested. just my two cents!

  11. Catherine says:

    I love that you included manners and food in this. That has been my instinct all along, but these two things are the hardest for me.
    Its hard to watch other parents
    of other toddlers look miffed when my son turns away instead of returning their greeting. But I do know his shyness will only be exacerbated by adding more pressure to the situation. And lo and behold, he’s recently made some sudden jumps in confidence!

    Food is also hard because I am a very nutrition-conscious person. What I have the most trouble relaxing about is sugar. Even fruit, I worry that I let him have as much as he wants he won’t have interest left for anything else (and he’s a very small kid). Interestingly though, I relaxed a bit during the holidays..and I’ve seen his interest in sugary things gradually wane. He’s also become more willing to try other foods. Its quite possible this is age-related, but also possible that he no longer feels like he has to fight in order to ever get a chance to taste his favorite sweet some way similar to kids who relax when they believe their emotions will be heard.
    Now, will I one day be brave enough to try that approach with technology toys?…

    1. Interesting, Catherine! “…but also possible that he no longer feels like he has to fight in order to ever get a chance to taste his favorite sweet some way similar to kids who relax when they believe their emotions will be heard.”

      But I personally think technology is different because it can be soooo overwhelmingly engaging and addictive, especially for children.

    2. Kids, eating, independence, and structure. It’s tricky, isn’t it? Have you ever seen Ellyn Satter’s work. She talks about a division of responsibility in eating that fits perfectly in this pattern. We take proper responsibility for our roles as parents and we leave our kids the responsibility for their roles. Her website is here:

    3. 🙂 I remember being a very picky eater, and having people tell me that I would miss out on food I actually wanted (a single biscuit, etc.) was very stressful for me. Removing the stress of “But what if I don’t get the think I really want!” is probably huge for your son. And you seem to be doing it in a healthy way – maybe you could have designated “treat” times, like weekend afternoons or every second day, and he can have a small “treat” (biscuit, a mini cupcake) If your child “fills up” on fruit, then he might not eat as much dinner – but next time, you could say “I want you to be able to eat dinner, so we will only have a bit of fruit now”.

      I work in a preschool, and I find the children who eat “too much” fruit at morning tea never seem to have trouble eating their lunch too. I think as long as the food is healthy, it is okay to let the kids eat until they are full. It helps them to learn to regulate their hunger and “feelings of fullness”. How else will they learn this skill? Otherwise the grow up into adults who don’t know how to tell when they are full, or don’t know how to regulate their own intake at all.

      I also think technology is a bit different. TV and “screens” are very addictive for children. Sugar is too, but small amounts are okay. Just like small amounts of screen time are okay! (Over two years of age! :))

  12. So what about external toilet training deadlines?

    My son is 2 and a half years… I honestly don’t think he’s anywhere near ready, and we DO have plenty of time at the moment… But he needs to be potty trained in August to move up to the children’s house (preschool) and ideally by mid June, because I’d like him to participate in the school’s 3-6 year olds summer program to help him transition. I realize June is still 5 months away, but I think it’s going to sneak up on us.

  13. Great article as always! Your part about the food rings so true to me. We have followed the Baby Led Weaning method with our little one, which is all about making healthy foods available, and then sitting back, relaxing, and trusting that they will eat what they need when they need it.

  14. Hi! I was wondering what insights you have on emotional regulation and empathy in children who laugh or seem amused when other children are hurt by their actions (shoving, pushing in the other child’s face, biting)? And other children who only seem to “realise” they have hurt someone else when it is pointed out that that child is crying? (3-4 age bracket).

  15. “Children most effectively learn to regulate their emotions when they are confident that their feelings will be heard.”

    This entire paragraph hit home – for me, a 35 year-old woman. What I love about this method is that the underlying principles are relevant to PEOPLE, be they big or small. I can’t tell you how many arguments between my son’s father and me were fueled by feeling like my concerns were being dismissed. Feeling catastrophic? Oh yes, indeed. I should think about that the next time my 16-month-old stiffens, opens his mouth, and screams.

    What is wonderful about perceiving our children as people is that the best guidance lies in our ability to empathize. Our world can seem so far removed from theirs, but with a little imagination, it’s not so hard to put ourselves in their shoes. Especially when we actively listen to what they’re signaling.

    I love your blog, Janet. It’s good to know you’re out there.

  16. Long time reader, by my standards(a year and a half) first time responder. And also first time reading your blog with the newly updated digs, it is a bit easier on the eyes.

    Caesar Milan the dog whisperer has a motto that he rehabilitates the dog and trains the owner. I feel like this blog similarly trains me to be a better parent and rehabilitates me from my bad behaviors of trying to train my child to do things that I want them to do.

    Sometimes I won’t visit your blog for a while and I fall off the proverbial wagon, losing core principles and backsliding in my relationship with my son.

    Thanks for reminding me it’s okay to forgive myself and for the knowledge that children are much more flexible and forgiving than adults.

    I am a dad to two little boys, I first started reading when I only had one, and although I never notice any dads in the comment section, I can’t say I’ve ever felt left out here. I would however be interested in any tidbits about how your significant other handles the RIE approach.

    In conclusion I had rough day and night with my boys, and the first guidance I looked for besides my wife was your blog. Thanks, I’ll be writing myself a reminder to remain unruffled in the morning.

  17. Hi Janet

    Thank you for your blog – I continue to learn, be inspired, and emboldened in my parenting.

    I’m curious about whether you a view in relation to strategies for working with children whose pragmatic language skills are considered to be delayed for their age.

    I have always taken the approach of modelling social skills (greetings, manners, conversation) for my son and trusting him to develop these in his own time. Recently however it has become clear that his deficits in this area are having negative impacts.

    We have started speech therapy following a formal assessment and in a very short period of time, my son has started to demonstrate marked improvements in things like using greetings and saying please/thank you. I feel conflicted – on the one hand, the techniques used appear to go completely against the principles espoused by RIE. On the other hand, I am observing my son’s proficiency and confidence grow and seeing the flow on effects, such as more positive encounters with peers.

    I would welcome your thoughts.

    Sincere thanks,

  18. I love this – and am grateful for another excellent and thought-provoking post.
    There’s one thing though –
    I will never force my child to say sorry. Nobody should go through life as an apologist.
    But I DO think we should travel through life expressing gratitude. I have no problem enforcing an expression of “thank you” as a practice. I’ve seen this habit help my child and other stop and acknowledge gifts and thoughtful behaviour. I also remind my child to make eye contact when saying thank you… when the gift is accepted and well received, then why not?

  19. Shannon Wilkinson says:

    Cheers for this one. Agrees with my choices and such (relief)
    Sometimes I wonder whether I really have ‘made a rod for my own back’ but then instinctively know I’m helping my 3 1/2 son to build the emotional skills and self regulation he needs for the future. Complex home scenario with scitzoohrenia and depression in the home, as well as regular paediatric visits for low weight and iron means there have been major hurdles and emotional risks for him.
    But he’s beautiful, a sweet tooth and some tooth decay issues but he apologises, he says thank you he’s working on using the toilet. He socialises pretty well, doesn’t like loud environments or bigger groups but is a dude.

    A question re an issue still worrying me… I chose to let him go to sleep while breastfeeding and am having concerns on whether to allow him to self ween completely or to gently force a gradual weening… Any ideas… Will he have breastfeed to sleep forever (lol.)

  20. Ah, now if only this trusting attitude would extend to infant sleep, that they will learn to fall asleep independently and sleep through the night as soon as they are developmentally able, I’d be a complete RIE advocate 😉

    1. Yes, that would be wonderful… Unfortunately, sleep isn’t free and clear, because parents’ responses create habits and learned “needs” for the baby from the very beginning… If parents could begin by trusting that falling asleep is natural and doesn’t need to be forced or made to happen… there wouldn’t be sleep issues.

  21. Nancy H Cochran says:

    You provide such valuable child-centered parenting support. As a child-centered play therapist practitioner and trainer I am going to be recommending this website and your writings. I wonder if you are familiar with the value of Filial Play Therapy (developed by Louise and Bernard Guerney) – for children? This offers a one on one focused play and listening time where the parent is trained in responsiveness based on showing (providing) warmth, acceptance, and positive regard in weekly, consistent play times with their children.

  22. Danica Del Mundo says:

    I feel guilty of forcing my 2yr old daughter to say sorry if somebody gets hurt. The result, even she didn’t do something wrong or hurt anybody she says “sorry”. How can I undo this? Please help.

    And in building trust. I have lots of trust with her and sometimes even when bringing fragile things I let her and most of the times she breaks them. I know it’s very dangerous but all the fragile things in the house are easily reach by her. I live in my inlaws. I have no say in managing the house. How can I divert saying “no” into positive parenting method? Can you help me Janet?

    Thank you!

    1. I do not like saying no either, so we have been saying “hands off” which is great because that informs LO what she can do. She also used to put her feet on the table, saying no or don’t do that want working. “Feet down” works like a charm!

  23. Im terrible at letting my 3 1/2 year old express his emotions. Where can I learn more about how to do that? I feel badly that he is stifled by me and really want to change.

  24. I very much enjoyed your article! Thank you! It affirms my natural feelings about parenting our 27 mos old. My in law have a hard time with our patenting style but I’ve decided it’s their problem. Lol.

  25. Yikes. I strongly believe kids need boundaries and expectations from parent and caregivers.

    It’s not about waiting until a child is “ready” for a certain skill. Children are born ready to learn from those around them. Siblings, parents, family, friends, strangers. It’s how a society grows successfully and becomes full of capable adults. How else do we learn about our place in the world and how to get along in it effectively?
    It doesn’t mean they will master skills immediately of course, but you can start teaching them about the world around them from birth. You can certainly model behavior, but also use your words to tell your children that they are also expected to do these things. Communicate with your children, they are listening. And listen back! You can be gentle with a child and give them space to learn as they will, but goodness, please give them boundaries and expectations. They need to know that they have edges and, once they learn these edges, that they have the right to choose WITHIN these limits. A child without boundaries makes for a very lost child and extremely exhausted parents and caregivers. Bring some peace to your home. And to our future generations.

    Honestly, it seems most children aren’t learning these things as they grow and are in major deficit once they leave the home… We’re all still trying to acquire basic life skills in our 20’s and 30’s (and beyond) wondering why we don’t have patience and empathy for the experiences of others, why we don’t understand our emotional bodies, and don’t know how to control our desires and urges to consume (food, materials, substances, attention, sex, etc). Teach your children to respect you, themselves, others, and our planet.

    And, oh dear. The potty debate. Learning where it’s acceptable to go to the bathroom, and where it’s not, is an extremely important life skill.
    -The majority of the world’s children (over 50%) are potty independent by 1.
    – Before the invention of disposable diapers in ’59, US babies were independent by 9-18 months
    – As of 2009, the average age in the US for potty independence is 3!!!
    This is a necessity for the parents to teach a young child. I am appalled at the suggestion in the comments to put a (developmentally able) six year old back in diapers. Be strong in your boundaries and expectations. And, without getting angry, gently tell your children that their pants is not the place to go. Don’t tell them it’s “ok”, because it’s not. And then have them help clean it up.

    All of this is of course going to look different for each child and each family as no two situations are the same. But even children with disabilities and developmental delays are looking to grow and learn and interact with the world around them.

    We can certainly trust that our children have the abilities to learn these skills, but we can’t expect that they’re going to do it alone without your firm, kind, gentle direction.

  26. AMAZING article! Love it. Should be standard issue to all parents!!

  27. Elizabeth says:

    I love reading your posts and have your latest book in talking book format. I listen to it repeatedly on my commute to my elementary teaching job. I have a three year old and a one year old. My three year old is showing signs of autism. I try to follow gentle parenting, but it is such a challenge when, frequently, an hour in the day will contain multiple meltdowns, often over his little brother touching anything in the same room as my 3 year old. He is often aggressive with his younger brother, making it hard for them to be together without me hovering over them. Do you have any for resources that specifically address how to apply gentle parenting to kids with additional behavior and emotional challenges like autism? Most of what I have found does not seem to follow your gentle parenting philosophy.

    1. Hi elizabeth,
      My ten year old has autism and I wanted to apply this parenting style when he was young. I think it’s entirely possible to respect your child fully and teach them the things that they aren’t able to pick up through osmosis or modeling, as many children on the spectrum need. Social language often needs to be directly taught and can be done in a matter of fact, loving way. My son so appreciates adults who are straight-forward with him about what they need and are feeling, because he can’t easily read subtleties, facial expressions or body language, which this method assumes kids can read and internalize.

      One thing that I have found to be huge raising a child on the spectrum, is that I respect that his brain works in its own way and value that. I am not trying to teach him to act like he doesn’t have autism, or ‘act like other kids’. He has amazing gifts and feels good about himself when those are recognized. I think it is much harder to raise a self-confident child with a disability in our culture, because the culture does not value or respect these differences. So, at home I work to offer him that building up. Some of his teachers are good at it too, but not all.

      I would highly recommend the ASAN’s website. It’s the Autism Self-Advocacy Network and they have a lot of good resources. There are also some good Facebook pages like “thinking person’s guide to autism”. I tried to stay away from anything that talked about curing autism or training a child not to act like they have autism as it felt harmful and full of disrespect for the unique person my child is.

      I think what’s tricky is that children with additional needs do need more support and teaching, but there are respectful ways to do this. But in many cases you can’t use the method in this article and just wait for them to learn from adult modeling.

  28. Hi Janet,

    I’m wondering if you can provide some guidance in regards to people greeting or saying bye to my toddler. Often grandparents and others will want my son to hug or kiss them. What’s the best way to approach this and support my son? It makes me uncomfortable when people don’t ask! Usually these people will take him from my arms, pick him up and hug or kiss him. What should I do? I ceriently don’t want to force him to do anything he’s not comfortable with. I usually give him the choice “would you like to give grandpa a hug”? Any suggestions are appreciated!

  29. Hi Janet,
    thanks for this post, which was very helpful and insightful. I was wondering what your thoughts are about trust with regards to weaning from a dummy. Our daughter is 2 and only uses it for naps and bedtime. She’s very attached to it when she goes to sleep and there has always been a clear boundary on not having it during the day. She is not used to it at daytime anyway and never asks for it, even when she’s upset. We want to keep it that way, eventually removing it from her when she’s sleeping too. But I’m torn between interfering with that process or letting her get there by herself. Because I can see that she gets more attached to it if we gently suggest that when she’s older it will be time to say bye-bye to her dummy. And perhaps if we let her be and allow her this comfort which she’s had ever since she was a baby without getting worried or stressed about having an agenda about it, we will get there when she’s ready. I wonder what your thoughts are and if you have any suggestions on what to say to her with regards to her attachment to it and the prospect of saying goodbye to it eventually, phrasing it in a positive way especially in terms of making sure we acknowledge her feelings and we show her our trust and respect. After all, we introduced the dummy to her. Thanks in advance for your help.

    1. Hi Gaia! Yes, I would let her let go of this in her time, since she is not using it to stuff emotions. You might comment sometime… “You like your dummy when you go to sleep. One day you will decide you don’t need it anymore.”

  30. I love the idea of modeling manners and have been using this main strategy as I’ve raised my daughter, 5 1/2. Yet, she continues to struggle with manners and being “rude” to adults in our life. One small but common example, they will politely ask if she wants something to eat and she’ll yell “no!” to them in a really rude way. In no way is this ever modeled in our home. It seems to happen most with extended relatives, I’m thinking she’s possibly stressed by those social situations when a lot is going on. But I don’t know how to deal with it when it happens.

  31. Faith Johnson says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with most of what you post, especially on matters of regulating emotions. I have a 5 yr old son & 21 month old daughter. I struggle so hard with their emotions. Everything has become a testing ground for my 5yr old and he explodes when I try to stand my ground and be consistent. I can only hold it together for so long before I explode too. I feel like such a failure. I told myself it would be different with my daughter but I’m already falling into the same pattern with her. I guess my question is, once I already created a “hostile” environment for their emotional release, how do I correct it while still being the calm & firm guidance I need to be? Every time I read one of your articles..I feel any overwhelming guilt at how I approach my children!

  32. My partner is the opposite and won’t trust our gurls to develop when they are ready and want to.

    Our 19mo doesn’t want to wear floaties but wants to do 1m underwater swimming laps (like her big 3.5yo sister) and says ‘again, again’ as she’s loving it. She holds her breath and I am there to keep her safe.

    How do you help someone trust your kids own instincts, whilst in a safe environment?

  33. Janet, do you recommend this approach as well to table manners (chewing with mouths closed is my big one)?
    This is such a source of frustration for me because I find it gross. My 2 kids with this challenge are 9 and 11. I remind them over and over and over again and it doesn’t change. Perhaps I should just lay off?

  34. Janet, thank you for this! It came at exactly the right time for me. I recently mentioned to my therapist that my 4-year-old daughter sometimes has explosive meltdowns (i.e. hitting, scratching, etc.), but only with me and my husband (her primary caregivers). These episodes are getting less frequent, and she feels remorse every time she hurts a person. I’m not terribly concerned about this, because like you mentioned in this article, I trust that she will grow out of the behavior. In fact, I see her doing it! But my therapist was alarmed and wanted me to take her to a child psychologist for an eval, saying that this is definitely, 100% not normal 4-year-old behavior. In the mean time, she suggested setting timers to limit my daughter’s meltdowns. To me, that is disrespectful of my child’s process and a hindrance to learning to work through the stress-response cycle. What do you think? Is this still in the realm of normal at 4 years old? Should I be worried? Or should I keep trusting her and the process? THANK YOU for all your work.

  35. When it comes to the issue of manners, this post seems to ignore the concept of scaffolding/ZPD as it relates to child development and social language/behavior. While children do learn some things through modeling and are biologically prepared to learn from social situations, learning manners and courtesy requires a capable partner (adult, slightly older or more competent peer) to actively teach, as well as significant reinforcement through modeling. I would definitely suggest looking into other viewpoints and research on this!

  36. Trusting with foods scares me as I have an example of a grown up man who only eats chips, soda and garlic bread. He remembers how his parents gave up on fighting over food and all he could cook was garlic bread so that’s what he eats now.

  37. Darcy Lee says:

    Thank you Janet, for always giving me a place to reset when things start feeling off with my two toddlers.
    I re-read your blog and listen to your podcasts every time I find myself feeling stuck with sibling rivalry, manners, tantrums, food, sleep, pretty much everything.
    I agree with some moms that reading your posts sometimes leaves me feeling guilty or crappy about my “bad day” but then I quickly change my mindset to “I am going to really work on my own regulation tomorrow, and also focus on being totally, emotionally and physically, present with my two boys.”
    I work hard to provide my kids with a peaceful, stable, and calm environment. However, I have days where my own lack of self care, spills out as impatience, and lack of tolerance, sometimes, even yelling.
    We are simply human. Regulating our emotions is a forever lesson, and will forever be a work In progress. Thanks for providing parents a place to seek some helpful and important advice.

  38. Hi, I have a 5yr old who still wears a nappy at night time. He has been happily using a toilet since he was 3yrs old but has no interest in getting rid of the night nappy. I have accepted that for ever and have never put pressure on him to stop using one at night. Do I continue to trust that he will work this out or is there something more I should be doing to support him?

  39. I have a question about emotional regulation. If my son gets upset or frustrated he hits, kicks, bites, bangs his head, throws things. I don’t mind him voicing his frustration, but he is physically hurting himself, me and others. When he hurts me, I tell him “ouch” and “you’re hurting momma”, but he doesn’t seem to react. He’s just a little guy (19mo) and frustrated by boundaries and an inability to communicate, but he’s very, very strong. I don’t want this to become a habit as he gets older and even stronger.

  40. I love how reassuring this is for a parent like me who is prone to anxiety. However, does it apply to neurodivergent kids too? Should I trust an autistic child to develop emotional intelligence by watching us modelling it for him?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More From Janet

Books & Recommendations