The Key to Cooperation (How to Stop Reacting and Start Connecting)

Acceptance is the one of the most loving gifts we can offer another human being, and it is especially crucial in our relationships with children. From the moment they are born, our children are receiving formative messages from us about their worth, their place in the world and in our hearts. To develop a sense of security and self-confidence, they need us to at least attempt to accept, acknowledge, and understand their individual perspectives.

Perhaps an even more compelling reason to acknowledge and accept our children’s perspectives, especially when they differ from ours (which is bound to happen every ten minutes with toddlers), is that it works. It makes parenting much easier. Acknowledging feelings and desires helps to ease challenging behavior. It clears the air, opening up the safe, emotional space children need to feel more cooperative.

Once children are assured we hear them loud and clear – we understand how much they want to throw their toy trucks, though we prevent it — they usually stop acting these messages out.

Leah shared her discoveries and the progress she and her husband are making as they practice acknowledging:

Hi Janet,

I wanted to share a couple of things with you. Your page has changed my life! I was a pretty relaxed mum “pre-Janet”, but now even more so, I don’t worry about trying to make my daughter stop crying or trying to stop her experiencing a range of feelings. I’ve stopped getting stressed over it. I love that I feel confident knowing it’s ok for her to be upset, disappointed, angry, frustrated, etc. The bonds I have now developed with my daughter (3 years old), and the bond I’m developing with my son (10 weeks) are incredible due to your advice.

Acknowledging my daughter’s feelings instead of distracting (something so simple) has been the biggest factor in the change in our relationship. I’m slowly helping my husband to use your language and understand this parenting style. This morning without my prompting I heard him say, “I know that you’d like to play with those pencils, but they belong to mum. Let’s find some pencils that are yours.”

Wow. Acknowledging what she wanted first! This is a huge breakthrough. Just today I heard him say to our son, “You sound upset. Do you want me to pick you up? Ok, I’m picking you up.” To our daughter, also today, “You’re having trouble being quiet, I’m going to put you in the play room until you can be quiet.” Not perfect, but I could see what he was trying to do.

Today I read the piece your husband wrote, about how he had changed his approach to parenting, Respecting My Baby (An End to the Daddy Doo Dah Dance). Sounded so familiar! The things we do or did because that’s how we were raised or what we see.

I think by my husband observing how well things are working for me, he’s realizing that you don’t need to raise your voice or sound angry to stop your daughter jumping on the new couch. That was today’s moment of “teaching” for me. “Stop jumping on the couch! I said stop! Isabella, stop! Just stop it!” While he’s clearly getting annoyed, frustrated, and angry, Isabella thought it was hilarious and kept jumping while laughing hysterically.

I came over and quietly said to him, “She’s seeing the way you’re reacting, and she’s responding to it. Try this…” I turned to Isabella and took her hands so she stopped and looked at me. “Isabella, I know you like jumping on the couch, but if you keep doing it our new couch will get wrecked. It might break. If you can’t stop yourself from jumping on the couch, I will lift you off the couch.” And she just stopped! I think we were all a bit surprised, especially my husband.. I am so blessed to have found your page and book.


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

NO BAD KIDS: Toddler Discipline Without Shame

(Photo by Julian Povey on Flickr)


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

  1. Hi Janet! Thanks so much for another insightful post. I’ve been struggling a bit with acknowledging my sons feelings because I’m hesitant to use the word “but”. In the situation above with the pencils, Leah’s husband says “I know that you’d like to play with those pencils, BUT they belong to mum. Let’s find some pencils that are yours.”
    In this particular case I feel that the “but” doesn’t sound invalidating but many times I find that it can be. When is it OK to use “but”? Does it just depend on the circumstance? I find myself trying to avoid it but it feels clumsy not using that word. I don’t want to acknowledge and then immediately invalidate with a “but”. What is your take on “but”? TIA 🙂

    1. Hi Julie! I wouldn’t focus on or worry about the word “but”. If you are rushing through acknowledging or doing it with the intention of trying to calm your child down, it won’t work as validation. But if you acknowledge sincerely, really taking in your child’s perspective and connecting, the “but” won’t matter at all. You can also simply remove “but”: “I know that you’d like to play with those pencils. I can’t let you. They belong to mum.”

    2. I hear what you are saying Julie. I have heard school aged kids that are used to the “but” getting annoyed and just kind of expecting the “but” at the end of an acknowledgement of feelings, desire, wants. “even though” works nicely. “You really want to play with these pencils even though they belong to Mum. Let’s see if we can find pencils that are for you.” Try it out!

  2. Creative language tools are great at any age. I never had kids of my own, but when I taught school (23 years, K-6) I learned to preface bad news by saying what I thought my students would think of it: “I have news to deliver, and I expect you’re not going to like it. I don’t like it, either. The playground is flooded with irrigation water that we thought was coming tomorrow, and we’ll have to postpone our kickball game. So – what other plan shall we make?”

    Stating my students’ expected “gripes” up front would take the wind out of their sails, so to speak. They’d go right past the griping stage – short pause for a groan – to the solution stage. A much more comfortable way to function!

    1. Yes! When we can join others in their perspective (or even just fully accept it), there’s much less to fight about.

  3. Thanks for sharing this inspiring post. I agree acceptance is important to bridge the gap between parents and kids. Each child is unique and by knowing them more, it will be easier to accept their weaknesses and rely on their strengths.

  4. Thank you so much for this blog. I’ve been reading it so eagerly over the past month. This way of parenting has really started to bring a peace to our home.

    My husband and I have slowly started to change the way we parent by acknowledging our son (3yrs) and daughter’s (1yr) emotions and desires. I am a recovering yeller who still falls off the wagon in stressful moments – I’m having a hard time not yelling at my son to get his attention. I usually have to ask him at least 3 times to stop doing something before he cooperates. It’s incredibly frustrating.
    I know in these moments that he is trying to get attention because he usually starts picking on his sister or throwing things. He only does this right when we are trying to leave the house, when I’m preparing a meal or cleaning up after a meal. Basically I’d love to see them play on their own so that I can get a task done on my own.
    Is there a transition time for the child when a parent is adjusting their own way of disciplining/parenting? Even when I do acknowledge his desires (I know you want to throw toys right now. It’s not safe to throw toys, you could hurt yourself or someone else) I’m met with opposition (but I WANT to throw toys RIGHT NOW!). Do I just keep acknowledging the same emotions and desires? Do I continue to repeat myself? I don’t know if he gets that I hear him and understand what he wants before I remove him from the situation (If you can’t stop throwing toys I’m going to pick you up and take you to your room to play alone). And sometimes I don’t have time to stop…


    1. Thank you for reading, Mary!

      There will be a transition period in which your children will learn that you no longer feel threatened by these episodes. That will create safety and ease limit-pushing. After you’ve acknowledged his wish to throw toys and you, as you say, are “met with opposition (but I WANT to throw toys RIGHT NOW!)”, acknowledge the power of those feelings… “You are upset. I hear you. You need help to stop throwing the toys… Here, I will take your hand” Or “pick you up” or something like that. Think in terms of helping, “don’t worry, I will help you stop.. I will always stop you went you get all crazy.” I’m not advising saying those words, but focusing on that train of thought.

      Sending him to his room is a punishment that tells him you are giving up on trying to handle him. It will be more calming for him if he sees that you can handle him with relative ease… If you are easily triggered, I realize this will be challenging. But you CAN do it. Remember, these are teeny, tiny people.

      I also recommend reading my advice for helping your son through this difficult transition… Having a baby sister is tough!

      Hope this helps!

  5. Understanding is one of the greatest gifts we can give to anyone in our lives, and I loved reading the letter from Leah, that listening and acknowledging her child’s feelings has made such a change in their lives! So good to read – thank you for sharing it.
    This is another post I will be adding to my toolbox – I am currently a preadoptive mom so learning everything I can before my children arrive.
    Ali Jayne 🙂

  6. I watched a girl taking care of someone’s baby, who was under the age of 1. The adult kept picking her up without respect (Respect would be; “I am going to pick you up. Ready?”) and moving her into the living room. She kept telling her to stay there, even though the adult, or attachment figure, was in another room. The child was not allowed to bond with the caring adult because of all this. The child, not understanding why she was being rejected, was crying, of course. So the adult picked her up and put her in the dark lonely bedroom, and said, “She’s not disciplined enough.”

  7. I am an American living long-term in France. If your insightful books could be translated into French,they might make an important impact on a culture based on shame and negativity. Merci.

    1. Hi Janet any suggested readings for similar issues just with other children. My Ten year old, grandson has trouble following directions or being redirected without having to be heard or understand why. He gets frustrated and talks under his breath but aloud, fidgets, rocks, sighs, loses focus etc.

  8. Janet, I have been reading your work for some time. This is the most meaningful writing for me personally so far. I am currently writing a dissertation on a theory I have on emotional dysregulation and it’s application to attachment and interpersonal relations. The first part of the title is: From Rejection to Connection. The react-respond piece is part of my theory as well. It warms my heart to see others understand and relay how connection with others is everything. Attachment is a primal need. If we can attach we can learn to self regulate independently in time. If our attachments are insecure we risk living in a chronic state of emotional dysregulation. Thank you for writing this piece. I plan to share it with parents in my practice as a family and child therapist. Be well.

    1. Hi Laura! Thank you so much for reading and for your encouraging note. Your dissertation sounds interesting!

  9. Hi Laura,
    I’m having a hard time changing my 14 month old sons diaper. He wants to roll, get up, and throw all the toys I give him as a distraction. It’s really frustrating. I also try to sing, and count to keep him entertained dur8ng the changing. How can I communicate to him that I need him to lay still so I can change him? I say that too and it doesn’t work?


  10. OK ! Thank you for posting this, Janet. I am realizing that I have actually never really been able to practice this with our second child. This is very weird but it use to come so naturally to me when our first son was born but I am seeing now that I have completely dropped the ball. Thanks for giving me the motivation and inspiration to take that tiny pause before I react and give the gift of acceptance. Not only does it “work” better, it also is a more mindful way of parenting. Thank you!

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