7 Reasons Kids Need to Disagree

It can be our tendency as parents to avoid conflict with our children. But disagreements are a natural part of our parent/child relationship and a healthy (though seldom fun) interaction. The irony is that if we practice the art of respectful disagreement, our relationship will strengthen, deepen, and actually involve less real conflict.

I often hear from parents who share concerns about their children testing limits or behaving in a defiant, demanding, bossy, or aggressive manner. Others are alarmed because their kids seem insecure, fearful, anxious, fragile, or needy. In both cases, comfort with disagreement is often what’s missing in these relationships.

The parents I work with would never forbid their kids to disagree and risk sacrificing love and trust for blind obedience. I don’t seem to hear from that type of parent. No, the parents I engage with tend to work their tails off to be respectful, sensitive, loving, and get it right. And I can totally relate. However, conscientious parents like us still unknowingly discourage disagreements, albeit in kinder, less obvious ways. Like these:

We are tentative, cautious, or uncertain about setting limits that might cause children to react negatively (in other words, disagree), which gives our kids the message that disagreements are delicate territory that neither they nor we can handle safely.

In our hope to avoid disagreement, we attempt to convince and/or coax our child to agree by repeating and explaining ourselves: “I really need to cook dinner. If I don’t, we’ll be hungry. I see how upset you are. It’s just for a few minutes, I promise. I can play with you afterwards, but I really need to cook now. Look at those cool new dolls you have! They really want to play with you while I’m cooking our dinner.” This telegraphs to kids that we aren’t comfortable disagreeing and being decisive – that we need their permission.

We talk ourselves out of disagreeing by rationalizing: “Well, I really don’t mind rewashing the blue spoon for him if that’s the one he prefers. And changing my seat at the table to please him is no big deal. If he’s that keen on me bathing him, I can certainly cover for his daddy. I don’t care one way or another.” Problem is, children need us to care. They need our leadership. When they sense us subtly avoiding or evading their disagreement in our aim to please, they feel uncomfortably powerful and can get stuck compulsively trying to control us.

When our children do disagree, we see it as our responsibility to calm them down, soothe their feelings, make them all better.  We might feel we need to immediately jump in with a hug, gaze into their eyes, or  (as I often recommend) acknowledge their feelings. But if we do so in a sympathetic, “poor baby” way rather than genuinely accepting, this indicates that their feelings of disagreement are a problem that we don’t believe they are capable of handling without our assistance rather than a normal, healthy, everyday occurrence between two human beings.

So, to help make disagreements feel safe and comfortable for both parent and child:

Do understand that children unconsciously use these disagreements as a healthy release for their emotions. The more unreasonable the demand or disagreement, the more obvious that becomes. So don’t try to reason with the unreasonable: “I can’t get you that toy that’s across the room right now. Your brother’s just a baby, so why can’t you walk around him?” Instead, comfortably hold your ground while being on your son’s side in regard to his feelings: “You don’t want to go near the baby. I can get you the toy later, but not now.” The importance of letting our children’s feelings be (in all their pain and glory) can’t be overstated. This is the key to relaxed, happy kids and far fewer disagreements that can become serious conflicts.

Do confidently and clearly assert yourself with your child and believe yourself capable in your leadership role. Angry or annoyed aren’t confident, and neither are stern, frowning, or ultra-serious. Those don’t read as comfortable to our children. True confidence is the realization I’ve got this. It’s utter assuredness, and it is often upbeat and feels breezy to both of you. This doesn’t mean your child won’t have a meltdown when you won’t play with her, but it does mean she’ll feel secure when expressing her feelings, because she has a comfortable, capable parent.

Do recognize that your child is highly aware, but also small and unthreatening, and that you are big, mature, and experienced. Our children can seem gi-normous to us, but gaining a more realistic perspective will help you recognize that your child is neither a peer, nor a frightening ogre. There’s nothing he or she can send your way that you can’t handle with relative ease.

Do sweat the small stuff. With bright, assertive children especially, parents can get caught up allowing them to make too many decisions. To clear away the confusion, let all decisions regarding play belong to your child. Then consider easing up their decision load the rest of the time, like when their demand is for a certain cup or for you and Daddy to switch seats. This means kindly and comfortably overruling them while acknowledging, “You want me and Daddy to switch seats. We won’t be doing that, m’dear.” (A parent told me that when I used “m’dear” in an example, it helped her nail a confident, breezy attitude.) By trying to control this small stuff, your child is letting you know that you need practice disagreeing with him.

Don’t overthink the right response, ask permission, plead, or soft-peddle your case. Be assured. You can always change your mind.

Don’t expect children to disagree respectfully. This will happen in time. Maybe a long time, because kids are impulsive and have intense feelings to express. It’s our job to guide them by modeling respectful disagreements and then confidently handling their messier behaviors, while accepting their emotions.

Don’t buy into (but do secretly appreciate) fabulous performances. Here are a few of the impressive ones parents have recently shared with me:

  1. The 3-year-old who masterfully created a slow- mo visual effect which made it appear physically impossible for her to follow her mother’s direction to please get into her car seat quickly.
  2. The doted-on 3-year-old who immediately dissolved into a puddle of agony and despair, demonstrating a critical case of separation anxiety whenever her mother said she needed to stop playing with her and make dinner a few feet away.
  3. Also about a car seat (which apparently ranks incredibly high as the most commonly disagreeable idea to a child): A 20-month-old needed to take a thirty minute walk around a residential neighborhood before he could get into his car seat to go home. He just wasn’t feeling it. When his mother finally insisted and picked him up, he disagreed and screamed anyway.

Don’t get me wrong — I would never, ever laugh at a child expressing these feelings. I would always acknowledge these situations at face value: “You really don’t want to get in the car.” But allowing these performances to push our fear, worry, or annoyance buttons takes parents and children in an unhealthy direction.

In short and in summary, here are some reasons children need us to agree to disagree:

It’s developmental
Growing up — individuating in a healthy manner — is all about being able to disagree with our parents.

It’s natural
Disagreement and conflict are a part of life.

It’s healthy
Normalizing age-appropriate conflict and disappointment builds healthy resilience.

It’s loving
Assures children they have able leaders who love them enough to brave their feelings and behaviors.

It’s freeing
Frees kids up from testing and controlling the parents that they need to take charge; and frees us from walking on eggshells, avoiding or trying to manage our children’s emotions. We get to be ourselves in this relationship.

It’s informative
Besides helping our child to really know us and vice versa, the freedom to disagree provides children with a superior relationship model they will naturally apply throughout their lives. It teaches social/emotional intelligence.

It’s respectful
Taking our space in the relationship fosters our children’s self-respect as well as their respect for the boundaries of others. The freedom to disagree safely and comfortably is a key element of the healthiest relationships. Agreeing to disagree fosters mutual respect and trust.

And on that note, you can feel free to disagree with my advice. I’m okay with that.

“Remember that your child needs to disagree. It’s part of growing. The better the parent, the more the child dares to disagree.”   – Magda Gerber, Your Self-Confident Baby

At last! I’ve created the No Bad Kids Master 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 nobadkidscourse.com. ♥

You might also appreciate my bestselling 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. Oh my gosh, Janet, I needed this tonight! My 3 yo has been flipping out/screaming bloody murder with the highest shrilling voice the past few days when it’s time to brush her teeth. This would happen periodically months earlier but she seems to have ramped it up again. My husband said it because I let her play with the things on the bathroom counter and then wash her hands, wet her hair, fill and dump spray bottles, etc, instead of brushing to avoid upsetting her and after reading this post, you and he are both right! I do remain unruffled once I finally tell her we must brush her teeth now, but then she flips out, clenches her mouth shut, pushes/fights my arm and toothbrush. I actually have to wrap her in a towel (like a straight jacket) and force her to let me brush her teeth. I then tell her gently why we have to brush. I hope I’m not traumatizing her (what should I do at this point: its 9:00 pm, we all have to work in the morning, and she’s fighting back and refusing to brush?) Also prior to her flip out, I give her the opportunity to brush her own teeth (but because we’ve had teeth/decay issues my dentist and I insist on an adult brushing them after her). She doesn’t even want to do it. My husband created very successful attempts at coaxing/convincing her to brush. He pretended the toothbrush was a plane and said with urgency, the plane needs a place to land! She opened for that, no problem. He also gets her to race the clock. They check the time and see if they can finish brushing their teeth before the minute hand is on some random time. Worked like a charm. Now that I say it, we put a lot of unnecessary effort into trying to avoid our child’s discomforts! But I see our problem and am looking forward to tomorrow so I can allow the disagreements…now the challenge is to be breezy (and use m’dear -I’m feeling it!). Thank you so much, Janet!

    1. I”m so glad this was helpful for you. My guess is that it is not the games your husband plays so much as his confident attitude. (Although those games do sound like fun!) I say this because it’s important for you to know that you don’t need to think up games in these moments. Just don’t let her work you… if she’s flat out refusing… I would try breezily offering, “I’ll be down the hall.. (doing something…), just let me know when you’re ready to brush.” Have complete confidence in her to say, “ready!” in a couple of minutes. This kind of attitude can help strong children like your daughter to “save face”.

      1. I am in a similar situation whether it’s brushing teeth or time to get dressed or change a diaper. Sometimes we don’t have the option to wait until my son is “ready” We’ve given him opportunities to be ready and choices (do you want to change here or in your room) and acknowledged that this isn’t what he wants to do but at some point it’s time to get moving, get ready and go. I hate to physically move or restrain but the talking isn’t cutting it. I feel like I am confident in my words and actions but my husband less so, he often ends everything with, ok? It’s time to get dressed, ok? What’s the next step?

        1. I don’t know if it’s what Janet would say but I can share what I do in these situations First I try to allow extra time to get ready, not always possible I know, but it helps if you can build it in. I avoid giving a lot of options. If we change diapers and clothes in the bedroom then that’s where it is going to happen most of the time. If I give her a choice about clothes or ask if she wants to put on her shirt or pants first and she says she doesn’t want to at all I will tell her that I will help her decide. I will choose and sometimes have to dress her without her cooperation. She may be yelling and kicking. I dress her then acknowledge, “You’re mad because I made you get dressed. We need to keep moving to get to school on time.” Usually she will accept this and move on. Hope this helps!

  2. This article is so spot on! My blind spot to be precise. I am so relieved…
    It still feels a bit like rocket science, because of the subtleties in which I ‘went wrong’, thinking I was doing ‘it right’ and couldn’t figure out what I felt (on some level) was missing. I’ll put this one on the fridge to get it really in.
    Fortunately my preschooler is probably willing to give me some more chances to practise disagreement. Phew.
    Nothing less than brilliant! Thank you!

    1. You’re welcome, and you can DO IT! This comfortable leader is in all of us. We just have to find her.

  3. Thanks for this post! It really struck some chords for me. Could you please elaborate on your distinction between sympathy and real acceptance? What does one look like in practice versus the other? I try in my heart to be truly accepting of my toddler’s feelings, but I wondered when I read that if my attempts don’t come across more like sympathy than anything else.

    1. My pleasure, Rachel. Well… if you are thinking you’re coming off a little too sympathetic, you probably are… The difference I’m suggesting will feel like speaking to your child as the strong, together person she is, rather than as weak, fragile, or deeply wounded. It will feel like not trying to ease the feelings, really letting them be, almost even encouraging them, but from a place of strength… like, “Yeah! You want me to play with you! It’s not fun to hear “no”!” Err on the side of saying LESS, and don’t repeat YOUR side of things (like, “but I really need to cook”), only repeat hers… or say nothing, just nod your head intermittently while she’s upset, and also carry on with what you’re doing, making dinner, etc.

      1. Hi Janet,

        Do I do the same with my almost 6 year old?

        When he wants to do something and I say NO he just won’t let go.

        I have other two little ones, 3 and 1, and sometimes it is just plain insane the level of demands that come my way all at the same moment.

        I’m struggling to understand in practical terms how to accept the expression of their feelings while setting limits.

        For example, when the expression of disappointment at a NO is whining and louder and louder nagging, how can I accept the feelings but set a limit to the nagging?

        Do you have any suggested resources for understanding and interacting with that age children (5,5 – 6 and beyond)?

        Thank you!

  4. Janet one of your best and most important blog posts congratulations. I will be spreading the word

    1. That’s so kind, Rick. Thank you for your support!

      1. Yes, this is absolutely me when it comes to play. I absolutely hate having to use physical force to get my 2.5 years ild to get dressed or change diaper. What wirked in terms of diaper was to give him the choice of walking to the changing table or me carrying him there. A couple of times he sid no and no so I carried him while he was screaming his lungs out. Now he walks without a problem. But thre are so many times when i give too many options, i explain, I negotiate and I game around (as some other mother mentioned) we call the mouse police to brush the teeth. I feel incredibly stressed during a meltdown and like a total failure.

  5. Just what I needed to hear. I was wondering what made my almost two year old make lesser demands and throw lesser tantrums since last couple of days.now I know the answer- I started disagreeing with him without feeling guilty or edgy(after realizing that my avoidance could have caused a major accident) and stopped asking for his permission or giving him multiple explanations. I guess at last he’s comfortable to know that he’s not ruling our home!!

  6. We let our oldest son make too many decisions when younger, thinking it was appropriate (though inconvenient). He “took control” and became physically aggressive when corrected or told that something wasn’t acceptable and bossy, etc, etc. We’ve been trying to correct this misstep for over two years (he’s now 6.5 yo). Fortunately, he isn’t as physically aggressive anymore but he still constantly runs from us when we tell him that what he’s doing is not acceptable and will not be allowed, screams at us, and encourages his younger sisters to disobey the rules. It’s gotten to the point that we have stopped going out with them (Sunday’s were Together Days where they rotated picking activities), explaining that until he shows us he will come to us when requested, even when he’s angry, we will not be going anywhere bc it’s a safety risk at this point (3 younger children). It’s been months and he’s no closer to doing this than he was before. And we’ve even had to start sending him to his room for digging in his heels and exploding over any and everything that isn’t what he wants. We HAVE to get a handle on this because he’s getting too old, too big, and his siblings are copying his behaviors/attitude which is making our house an unpleasant place to be. How in the world do we fix this without being jerks?

    1. My two cents: Try hiring a babysitter for him and start doing Together Days with just the younger two children. Breezily say goodbye and when he asks, remind him that when he consistently comes when he is called, he will get to come along too. Also, I’m curious why you’re worried that setting firm boundaries might make you “a jerk”. Whether or not you are a jerk is based on: your internal motivation (wanted to hurt vs. wanting to help); and your actions (unrealistic expectations & revenge vs. reasonable expectations & consequences); but NOT his feelings about the situation (if he gets angry at you sometimes and accuses you of being mean – it probably means you’re doing something right!) And if you actually WERE being a jerk to him, it definitely wouldn’t improve his behavior.

  7. Robyn Smith says:

    Thank you- great advice! Will take more please! 😉

  8. I echo your other commenters. This is exactly what I needed to hear. I catch myself asking for permission to go to the toilet, make tea etc to avoid the reaction. As you describe, it all becomes much clearer as the demands become more and more exaggerated , otherwise it takes me a while to realise I’m being sucked in. I strive to be that confident calm leader.
    Thank you again

  9. You are absolutely right that the art of respectful disagreement can result in stronger relationships and less conflict. Sadly it is not a skill that many of us learned. So many of us were taught to be people pleasers (don’t disagree with anyone.) Or we were taught that people who disagree don’t love one another, or cannot be friends.

    It is important for our children, and us, to learn to disagree respectfully. This is a skill that will serve our kids throughout school and into their careers and with their own families one day.

    When we are empowered to disagree with requests large and small, we model for our children how to communicate clearly what they want and how to deal with disagreement in honest, respectful, rather than manipulative ways. Giving in may seem harmless now, but we must check in with our own Internal Guidance System to feel if it truly is our, and our child’s, best interest or if we are creating a cycle of manipulation. And who wants to raise their child to become a manipulative adult?

    1. Well said! I read this line at the beginning of the article:

      “The irony is that if we practice the art of respectful disagreement, our relationship will strengthen, deepen, and actually involve less real conflict.”

      and thought, “As true of adult relationships as of adult/child ones!” How many of us struggle with feeling that our relationships are fragile, shallow, or insincere because we do not believe we or our friends are strong enough to risk disagreement. How many public conversations are diminished when we cannot respectfully disagree.

  10. I often find myself in the moment not really sure what is happening. (This is weird because I have always considered myself pretty emotionally/socially intelligent.) Then, when I figure it out I have all range of emotion and response. My daughter is fourteenth months and my first child. The first year following RIE seemed so easy (except diaper changes which become better after taking the RIE foundations course), but the last two or three months, I feel in over my head again. I oscillate between enraged toward her (staring angrily at her until she stops whatever behavior in which she is engaged and sometimes worse) or completely abandoning her (by walking out of the room or away from her “cause she just needs to deal”). It is really hard to find the assertive, confident ground without any sense anger, eye-rolling, sympathizing, or wavering.

  11. meredith ellman says:

    Hi Janet,

    This advice came at the perfect time for me as well. My son argues every single word I utter, whether its me telling him the sky is blue, or that his whiney voice hurts my ears. He will just debate and debate until I’ve unravelled. I try to use your techniques and put up my “annoyance sheild” but he is very smart and knows how to wear me out. He has always been unusually strong willed and opinionated. I know this will turn into a great benefir to him one day, but at this time, its exhausting. What is the best response to constant defiance and debate and arguing? How do I not get stuck in a power struggle even though I might be telling him important truths and lessons that he is negating? I feel very stuck. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    1. It almost feels as if you are talking about my five year old. Every single word resonated with me. While I am struggling as much as you are, just wanted to know that you are not alone.

  12. Thanks, Janet. I get more out of your articles every time I re-read them!
    A new one from our very verbal 3.5 year old is flat-out arguing. She’s not doing anything “bad”, just being cheeky.
    Ex: After we spent some lovely time preparing to make soup together: “I’m NOT going to eat soup for dinner! I’m going to eat MACARONI!” (*with angry face!!!*)
    What do you suggest? In these instances, I’ll say, “you’re mad that we’re having soup, and you want macaroni. But we made this together, and this is what’s for dinner. I’m not making another dinner.” But she keeps arguing. By now I’m at my wits’ end, and I just say to her, “I’m done discussing this.” I don’t want to give her the silent treatment, but I run out of ideas!

  13. For me, this is where being ‘unruffled’ is really helpful ( though not always easy). I acknowledge my daughter doesn’t want it then move on, eat my own food, and that’s that. It seems to take the power out of the demands.
    Older posts talk about being ‘unruffled’ and it just kind of makes sense to me.

  14. I am guilty of attempting to convince or coaxing my child to agree, often in situations such as the carseat or stroller. Sometimes we simply have to get home, and if I don’t “convince” him in some way to get in the seat, I will have to physically force him to. I hate doing the latter. I feel like it’s such a violation of his physical and emotional wellbeing for me to hold him down kicking and screaming, and once I finally get him strapped in he has a big “defeated” sobbing cry about it all. In a situation like this, is that the alternative to convincing or coaxing, because that doesn’t seem like “confidently handling their messier behaviors, while accepting their emotions.” I would love to apply these concepts to a situation like that, but I don’t really know how. At home, if I say no to him, he’ll knock a chair over or throw a toy across the room.

  15. Thank you! Great advice! We sometimes forget what’s our goal in raising our children

  16. “There’s nothing he or she can send your way that you can’t handle with relative ease.”

    I wish that this was true. After years of abuse and neglect in my own childhood, I seem to be constantly triggered by my child’s actions. I cower at my child’s defiance and insistence. It’s not just “giving in.” I seem utterly incapable of being “breezy” and “in-charge.” The social worker on the maternity ward actually said, “Given what you’ve been through, it’s amazing you have chosen to have a child at all.” Now, I am starting wonder if she had a point. I don’t got this. It’s almost four years on, and I have never been the one in control.

    A friend recommended your site. I wish I felt anywhere near as capable as some of your comment writers. Have you written anything about how to parent confidently and respectfully as a survivor of abuse? Or do you have any other authors to recommend on that topic?

    1. Kat – thank you so much for your comment. I have an abuse survivor working on a response to you right now, which I will be sharing as a guest post. I’ll link to it here as soon as it is live. Thanks so much for your inspiration and for being so candid.

  17. I have a 20 month old who tugs my arm (so much that he would fall over ) and whines until i will get up and he will march me to get something for him to play with-with me. This is always when i just want to have my coffee on the couch in the morning and watch him play. He just seems bored and not able to play independently. We have a relatively small place but it’s all childproof so he can play with everything.
    I just don’t know how to act breezy while trying to fend him off physically.

  18. Oh my god, I love you.

    The LOOKS I get sometimes from my mother in law when my eldest decides she’s going to go a few rounds with me can drive me crazy.

    My eldest is what’s commonly called ‘spirited.’ Perfectly normal, not on the spectrum or suffering from any kind of behavioral abnormalities. She’s wonderful at school and her teacher loves her… but every now and then she decides she wants to go a few rounds. Normally with me but sometimes with her dad as well. I have had disagreements with her that lasted RIDICULOUS lengths of time about things like putting her banana peel in the bin, flushing the toilet when she’s done, and using the napkin that’s sitting right next to her to wipe up a little spill of sauce that dripped off her sausage and onto the table.

    These are end of the world issues, points of morality upon which she will not budge. There’s nothing for it, and I steadfastly refuse to ‘distract’ her or ‘redirect’ her. If she gets up a good head of steam I can be a broken record for what feels like hours. “I know honey, but the banana peel goes in the bin. No darling, there wont be any icecream until you’ve tidied up after your little spill. Yes my love, I know the toilet is in the other room, but you ARE going back to flush your poop yourself, and this IS going to happen before whatever fun thing we’re doing next starts.”

    Sometimes mummy and daddy have to tag team it so the grown up in these little exchanges doesn’t start losing their cool. She’s 7 now, still a model citizen at school, and doing well academically. Still drives mummy right up to the edge some days. That said, she is also the more affectionate of my girls, and is far more interested in curling up with me to watch a cartoon, or sitting on my lap and singing with me, than my more independent (but significantly less ‘spirited’) younger daughter.)

  19. Oh my gosh I used to work at a preschool, and after a few weeks getting acclimated, found myself the sole source of boundaries and discipline! The teachers and even the head of the preschool were so non-confrontational and appeasing, that most of the kids ran circles around them daily.

    Even my most difficult and obstinate kids responded well to a matter-of-fact (not angry) tone of voice and short explanation. If they protested or threw a fit, they were put in a quiet place for a minute or two, and invited to rejoin the activity. Most of them choose cooperation over boredom, and tears were more for show than anything else.

    Another child I nannied (4 years old) was labeled as a “menace” and “difficult” but it was really his grandmother’s lack of boundaries – who I couldn’t blame much, since she just wanted to be the lovable nana. She caved to his every whim. A few weeks of “no, you can’t have ice cream for a snack” and consistent consequences for bullying his little brother made him a totally different kid.

    I’ve found that the sooner you show children that you mean business in a controlled, non-aggressive way, the sooner they conform to those boundaries, and feel more comfortable within the confines of a clear right and wrong. It also allows me to enjoy them for the wonderful little bundles of crazy they are, instead of a lot of expended energy and eye-rolling.

  20. We thought the “terrible 2’s” was a breeze and didn’t actually happen and almost instantaneously at 3 everything was a disagreement matched by screeching, angry faces, forceful even somewhat vicious response inasmuch as a 3 year old could possibly understand viciousness.
    Thanks for your article which my wife sent me (and everyone of her mother’s group friends).
    I’m happy to say at times we have seemed incredibly successful at applying some or all of your suggestions and we really celebrate when our little Miss O calmly listens then puts forth a (sometimes) well thought out negotiation…and (only sometimes) we even agree and change our minds. But there is no doubt still a long way to go and we (very) often get it wrong and have to constantly remind ourselves how to act as the Adult (Parent), without being unreasonable just for the sake of it.

  21. This may or may not be the place to post this – but my husband and I are desperate! Reading this truly helped but what I’m dealing with mainly is a 3.5 year old who has the worst bedtime anxiety – it’s even flooded over to nap times. She has a 5 month old sister who she adores that also shares her room and the tantruming bedtime routine has become exhaustive and also begun truly disrupting us in a way that leaves it impossible for our marriage to have any evening time together and also keep her young sister asleep! She begs us to make a bed on the floor right by the door. Begs us to say goodnight through the baby monitor. And – my favorite – to “check on her 40 times” [each of us, that is– to walk by her room and wave]. But even with all these conditions, when we leave, she scream cries in her bed [waking the baby up], and ends up waking in the middle of the night [around 2am] and comes into our bed to sleep the rest of the night out [or start the entire process over]. I want to understand her resistance and feelings, but I am crying inside. I have tried to be assertive, calm, quick, and easy about it all but she clings and claws at me to hold on while I leave. Any suggestions or help on how to be respectful of her without losing my mind is so appreciated!

  22. Could you please write more articles about children coping with divorce and how to navigate all of these topics when that colossal life change is also occurring.

  23. My toddler’s screaming in disagreement used to be really stressful for me, even though it was obvious he was having a hard time and just unleasing his emotions (new sibling in the house and getting nowhere near the attention he was used to). Ever since I’ve reframed the screams as ‘cathartic wailing’, it’s been so much easier for me to take it less personally and calmly hold space for him. I hope this might help others, too.

  24. Helene Skantzikas says:

    Thank you for this, Janet! Interestingly, I’m starting to observe this issue with 8-10 years old as they deal with each other! They feel responsible for their peers’ emotions, feel like they can’t disagree without “making others feel bad”. They want to (and do) disagree but feel that makes them the bad guy or resent the other party for having feelings about it. I am sure modeling those boundaries at a younger age helps them navigate this a bit better later on. There’s much work to be done on this topic with that pre-teen age group!

  25. This is very helpful and giving me a lot to consider. Thank you!

    A question- I’m a bit confused about how it isn’t letting them disagree when my 4 year old wants me to play and I say, “I need to make dinner, I can’t play with you right now. Daddy can play with you, and we can play after dinner.” He’ll push to say he wants to play with me, and I’ll tell him I need to make dinner, “I’m sorry, I can’t play right now, but we can play after dinner.” The way I think of it intuitively, he’s not getting what he wants, and I am holding firm because it’s not a moment I can compromise (I do like to try to say “yes” if I can to give him a sense of agency), but I’m letting him know I will be available to him later, which i wouldn’t offer if it weren’t true. But I think after reading this article, it’s not letting him disagree?

    Another situation that I’m reconsidering after reading this, but want help understanding why: the other day my 2 year old REALLY wanted a cookie. I said no. He started bawling and trying to open the pantry. I said, “You really want that cookie. It’s so hard because mommy is saying no. I understand, it IS hard when you can’t get what you want. Are you feeling frustrated? Yes, it is frustrating. I know. But we are not having a cookie for snack. It’s hard when mommy says no, right? I know, it is hard.” Then after a moment, he said “better!” then ran back to eat the bowl of banana slices I had made for him. I felt really proud of how being validating while holding firm helped him. But now I wonder – was I not letting him disagree?

    Thanks so much for any additional insight. I really want to get this right and trust your perspective.

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