The Securely Attached Child and How to Handle Their Disrespectful Behavior (with Dr. Tina Payne Bryson)

Dr. Tina Payne Bryson joins Janet to discuss what children need most from the adults in their lives to feel securely attached, self-confident, and happy. Tina outlines the truths that scientific research and her own experience show, and then using the parenting tools she describes in her new book, The Power of Showing Up, she and Janet address an email from a parent who’s concerned about her two-year-old daughter’s disrespectful tone of voice.

Transcript of “The Securely Attached Child and How to Handle Their Disrespectful Behavior (with Dr. Tina Payne Bryson)”

Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled. Today, I’m beside myself, actually, because one of my idols is here: Dr. Tina Payne Bryson. I’m sure most of you have heard of her. She’s coauthored with Dr. Dan Siegel several of today’s most read parenting bibles. Revolutionary books, really, because of their neuroscientific approach to behavior. The Whole-Brain Child, No-Drama Discipline, The Yes Brain, and now she has a brand new book, The Power of Showing Up.

I’ve had the privilege of reading it, and they get to the crux of the issue — what matters most for parents. They clear away all the extraneous ideas that we all hear about online and everywhere and really get to the core of what matters, which is raising a securely attached child and what showing up means.  Here she is. Hi Tina.

Tina Payne Bryson:  Hi. I’m so excited to get to talk to you. And that was so nice, but you are one of my idols too. So it’s just a love fest today, it’s so fun. And I think you do such amazing, important work that really resonates and connects with parents to support and encourage and give strategies. You come with authenticity and there’s not a lot of shame and heaviness that comes in your approach, which I really appreciate.

I think we all carry such a burden of wanting to do it right and we beat ourselves up so much of the time. And so, I think a respectful parenting space where we really want to be respectful of our kids and use the experiences we have with them to build their skills and strategies and their brains, so that they can become these amazing human beings requires that we’re respectful with ourselves too. I think that piece sometimes is missing, so I really appreciate you.

Janet Lansbury:  Yes. And, actually, that’s one of the things that I was so moved by by your new book, The Power of Showing Up. The space that you hold for parents and how you help validate them and give them hope for changing these patterns that we all were raised with. Understanding that where we came from is going to impact and mostly direct the way that we engage with our children, and the power of that and how we have to, as you say, get in touch with our story so that we can do it differently.

Tina Payne Bryson:  Either our story happens to us or we shine the light of awareness on it, so that we are not sort of enslaved by it.

Books are sort of like babies in a way. I love all of the books I’ve written with Dan. I certainly have favorites like you would not with children probably, hopefully. But, I think this book, The Power of Showing Up, it really is the book that’s been waiting to be written from the very beginning.

What’s so powerful about the message of this book is that, for those of us who feel like we work so hard to do everything just right and to do everything for our kids that they need and be really intentional, and for the parents who are really overstressed, over-scheduled maybe even distracted and checked out, the message is actually the same. Which is, the number one most important thing our kids need from us is to show up.

And what I mean by that is actually based on decades and decades and decades of research done all around the world in multiple cultures. Looking at, what do we know is one of the very best predictors for how well kids turn out on everything that we measure them on? The answer is really just one thing. I mean, there are so many parenting books and there are so many parenting approaches and there’s all these things we need to be doing, we think, but really the science boils down to this one idea, which is that kids who have at least one person with whom they have secure attachment are the ones that turn out in the ways that are most resilient.

They have healthier relationships all throughout their elementary school, middle school, high school, college and adulthood. They have better mental health, they have better leadership skills. I mean, just on and on and on, which are actually very interestingly tied to functions of the middle prefrontal cortex.

So what I mean by that is a fully built brain that has its full capacity comes about from secure attachment, so we see better empathy and insight and flexibility and problem solving, all those things that go with it.

When we say though that the best picture is having a secure attachment with at least one person, what do we mean by that?

That’s what we really do in the book, is to say what secure attachment is. And Dan and I like to talk about the four S’s, which is where our kids feel safe, which … Some people might say, “Well, that’s obvious. Of course, we have to keep our kids safe,” but it’s actually really interesting to pull that apart and to ask questions like, “Are there things we’re doing as parents where we become the source of fear for our children?” Including fighting in really big ways with our significant other in front of our children or other kinds of things like that.

But do our children feel safe?

Do we help them feel seen, where they feel like they’re known, that we understand their internal experience?

The third S is soothed. So, it’s sort of like: you’re really upset. I will keep you safe. I’m here with you. I understand what you’re feeling and I will help you calm down. I’m going to soothe you to get you back to your self again.

And then repeatedly over time, not perfectly, but predictably enough when kids feel safe, seen and soothed by their caregiver, then the brain actually wires to build what we call secure attachment. Which is basically where the brain has wired to predict and expect that if they have a need, someone will show up for them. You could see why that would be so powerful throughout their whole life in terms of the kinds of relationships they have, how they feel about themselves, where they can focus their attention. Like, instead of being hypervigilant to scan their environment all the time to make sure they’re safe, they’re like, “Yeah, people are here for me. I can focus my attention on learning about philosophy,” or, “how to do multiplication tablets,” those kinds of things. So this is huge and that’s really the crux of it, is feeling safe, seen, soothed so that they can build that secure wiring. That is most coming about when we consistently, not perfectly, show up for our kids, particularly when they are in distress or in need.

Janet Lansbury:  And this actually affects the way that their brain is wired, is what you’re saying.

Tina Payne Bryson:  Yeah. One of the things that’s so interesting is, the kinds of experiences our kids have with us and in the world don’t just influence their minds or their characters or their behaviors, but actually how that brain gets wired. So we can think about the brain like an association machine, neurons that fire together, wire together.

If, for example, my child, let’s say he’s disappointed that I’ve said, “We’re not going to buy popcorn at the movies today.” That’s like just an everyday moment, and he gets disappointed and he starts to cry or pout and my response consistently when this kind of thing happens is to say, “You’re such a baby. You’re so ungrateful. It’s a big deal that I took you to the movies anyway and now you’re going to cry about something you’re not getting. Forget it, I’m never taking you anywhere,” and, “You’re spoiled.”

If that’s my response, then his experience is: Wow, when I have big feelings, it’s not totally safe to share those with my mom, because I get in trouble. I get a negative response from her. That doesn’t feel good. Actually, now I’m more upset and I don’t have anyone to help me deal with my upset feelings because, if I share more about what I’m really feeling, it’s going to be even worse for me.

Okay, so that’s one experience.

Janet Lansbury: Right, and, I’m wrong for feeling these feelings too. I’m flawed. There’s something not right about me.

Tina Payne Bryson:  There’s something wrong with me. What I did was wrong, versus, if I can still hold the limit, which, by the way, I’m not a fan of permissiveness, but I can show up for him. Let’s say I say, “Oh, you’re so disappointed, you really wanted popcorn. I wonder if … the last time we went to the theater and we got popcorn, so this time you were expecting we would do that again. Is that right?” And so my son would say, “Yes,” and I would say, “Yeah, it’s so hard to be disappointed. I know you really wanted that. We’re not going to do it this time. It’s hard to feel disappointed. I’m right here with you while you’re feeling that.”

So I’m not saying, “Okay. Fine, you can have popcorn,” I’m acknowledging his experience, I’m making it safe for him to share his feelings, and I’m saying, “I’m right here by your side while you’re feeling disappointment, because I know that that feeling doesn’t feel very good.”

Then if he has that experience, then his brain wires to say: I can share big feelings with her. If I need help, she’ll show up for me. And she trusts that I can handle these feelings. In a little while when I pull out of this feeling and my day goes on and I’m okay, huh, I just learned that I can tolerate negative emotions and those are part of who I am and that’s part of life.

Janet Lansbury:  Normalizing the disappointments.

Tina Payne Bryson:  Exactly. And that’s one of the things I know you and I both talk a lot about, is that if we want our kids to be resilient, we have to let them practice experiencing difficult things with enough support.

And, by the way, I’ve definitely been the mom that was in the first scenario, so don’t take what I just said and say: Oh my gosh, if I said that to my kid, I’ve wired their brain for all those bad things.

What I’m talking about is, what is their most common experience? In that first experience, I responded in that way some of the time, but most of the time I respond in way that feels better to me and to my child and build skills. In the time that I don’t do it as well, I can repair with him and go back and say, “I’m sorry I responded in a way that didn’t feel good to me. I wish I had handled that differently. I wish I had let you talk about your feelings more,” or something like that.

Janet Lansbury:  Yes. And then the reason that we do respond in that first way is often that we don’t feel safe around the experience. We feel like our child is greedy and ungrateful and, ugh, all these things that we’re doing wrong and we’ve got to fix and it isn’t normal or okay for our child to ask for ridiculous things or want unreasonable things, when that is where children’s emotions go a lot of the time.

Tina Payne Bryson:  I think you make such an important point there, Janet, because I know for myself, the times when I’m parenting in reactive ways that aren’t the way I want to parent, it’s almost always one of two reasons. One is, I just get dysregulated, and that might be because I’m sick or I’m exhausted or I’m stressed or I’m distracted and I’m just trying to kind of manage my child because my attention is split and I’m not really tracking what’s going on and then I feel like they’re interrupting what I’m doing.  So part of it is just dysregulation, like an adult temper tantrum.

But the other point that I think you just hit on right there is so important. I think when I’ve made my biggest parenting mistakes, it’s been out of this place that you’re talking about, which is fear. I think when we do fear-based parenting, like: If I don’t nip this in the bud, if I don’t tell my kid this is unacceptable in this reactive way … It’s not even necessarily intentional, it’s just there’s a fear inside of us that we’re not even necessarily aware of and we react out of that fear.

We don’t want our child to be spoiled. We don’t want them to demand things in the world that are going to deprive them of opportunities. So I think a lot of times that fear-based parenting is what really gets in the way of us really being present and really showing up for our kids.

And, the truth is, if we were really to look at some of those fears, we would laugh at ourselves. I remember a mom saying, “Well, if I let my kid…” She had like a two-year-old and he was having a lot of nightmares, and she’s like, “If I let him come into bed with me and sleep in my bed with me, I’m worried he’s going to stay there forever.” And that’s fear-based parenting.

Janet Lansbury:  Yes.

Tina Payne Bryson:  So I can say to her, “Well, I promise you at some point in the next few years your child will not sleep in the bed with you even if you allow it to continue. If by middle school your child is still sleeping with you, just call me, because there probably is something else going on. You know, we probably do need to assess that.”

But, that idea that, “If I don’t react quickly to this the first time it happens …”It’s like, “If I don’t know nip this in the bud, my kid’s going to grow up and live in a van down by the river and never amount to anything.” We would just laugh at ourselves if we really got clear on what those fears are. I think most of us, after we’ve been through the first time when parenting our second or third child, we have a lot more perspective and we know that the seasons come and go very quickly and that things change so much over time and that the things we’re afraid of almost always take care of themselves anyway, just as development unfolds.

Janet Lansbury:  Exactly.

So, on that note, I actually have a question here that I would love to get your feedback on through the perspective of your four S’s. It’s from a reader and a listener who actually said a lot of nice things to me that I want to say “thank you” for, but I’m not including them in the question. But I’m grateful, it always makes my day when people express support. So she asks:

“What is the developmentally appropriate response to a two-and-a-half-year-old when she’s not having a meltdown or tantrum, but simply talks, or more like demands or yells at you, in a tone or way that is disrespectful? I feel like two-and-a-half-year-olds are too young to really understand or control their tone or choice of words, since vocabulary is new and limited, and the best thing I can do is model respectful language. However, is it ever appropriate to say in a calm unruffled tone, ‘I don’t like the tone in which you’re speaking to me, so I’m not going to… blank’? Or is there something else to do, say or teach this? Or is it simply by modeling that they will learn? Is there an age when addressing tones and word choice becomes appropriate? I would like to raise a child that talks respectfully to me and others. Any insight is greatly appreciated.”

Tina Payne Bryson:  Oh, that’s a great question. We’ve all been there. The first thing is, you’re right that a two-and-a-half-year-old… language is exploding. If she is expressing herself with tone that sounds disrespectful or, Janet, I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about, it’s like I have a teenager in my house already at this age. This is actually awesome that she is using emotion-filled, nonverbal communication and tone with you, because it’s evidence of sophistication. It’s evidence of development. When that tone comes out and she’s saying, “I don’t like you, mom,” or she’s saying, “I want more yogurt,” and she’s using these kinds of disrespectful tones, what she’s doing is, she has matched the state of her nervous system and emotions.

Keep in mind, when we talk about emotions, they’re not just the feelings we often talk about. Emotion, like feeling frustrated or angry, those emotions are actually tied to neurophysiological states. So when you’re frustrated or when you’re angry, even when you’re two, your heart’s speeding a little bit faster, your muscles are a little bit tighter, you feel a surge of energy. So the physiological response of frustration and anger, along with the feeling of frustration and anger, are linked up. Then she has now linked up communication to that, so she’s using her words with nonverbal tones that are a match. This is awesome, this is evidence of good stuff. So now, let’s talk about how you respond.

The first thing is to go back to the core and purpose of discipline, which is to teach. We have completely lost our way when we’ve used the word ‘discipline.’ Typically, people associate that with punishment. Dan and I in our book No Drama Discipline wanted to reclaim the original meaning of that word, which is “to teach or to build skills.” Each time we are disciplining, we are teaching. If we can just hold that in mind, that can change everything.

Now, I’m not saying when my kid says something disrespectful to me, I’m thinking: Oh, what a wonderful opportunity. I’m so grateful for this opportunity, because my nervous system can get reactive too. But really this is an opportunity.

She’s communicating to you how she’s truly feeling and she feels safe enough to do that. So that’s also good evidence of attachment. What you can think about in this moment is this is an opportunity to build skills. You absolutely are right that modeling it respectfully is one of the best ways kids learn. Kids learn best from practicing doing things themselves and by watching other people. So, we’ve already got the one in place where she’s watching you and you are modeling that respectful response. And you can give her practice so that she has better facility over time as development unfolds to communicate in more respectful ways. So when your daughter is not throwing a tantrum, but she’s saying something in a disrespectful tone, I would definitely continue to make her feel safe about expressing herself.

And then I would say to her, “Oh, I can see you’re really frustrated. You’re really mad about this.”

The brain is either in a reactive state where it’s very difficult to learn or it’s in a receptive state where it’s open to learn and be curious and can really take in information. So often when kids are using more disrespectful tones or for sure when they’re having a big tantrum, they are in that more reactive state where it’s harder for them to learn. That’s partly the purpose of why I would say, “You seem really mad. You’re really frustrated, I will listen,” or, “Do you need help?” I would provide that space to help move them back into a little bit more of a receptive state so that they can learn, so that your discipline or teaching is effective.

Every child is different, every situation is different, so you have to know your child and experiment with some different things. But one way is to practice, so you might be able to role model or role play kind of thing. So I would keep it really, really simple. I would say something like, “When you’re mad, it’s okay to be mad. Can you say it to Mommy in a way that is a little bit gentler, like… ?”

And then you could practice it. It depends on how, again, on your child and how sophisticated she is in terms of language. What I will tell you is this: if your child is two or two and a half and is using disrespectful tones of voice, even if you just create a safe connection, address her feelings, and model respectful communication and response, as development unfolds, she will build those skills without you doing anything.

So what I’m saying to you is that you don’t have to address at two-and-a-half those tones. This does not lead to a permissive, spoiled child, because developmentally we’re still waiting for a little bit more development to unfold. And she’ll have many, many, many opportunities to get feedback from her peers and teachers and from you as she gets older to reign in her tone as she’s expressing feelings.

And the truth is, that’s a really sophisticated hard thing for a lot of adults, is to authentically communicate your emotion, especially when your nervous system is driving a lot of that, in a way that is respectful. So at two-and-a-half, that’s going to be really, really difficult. So, what I’m saying is, you don’t have to do anything right now.

The second part of what I was saying earlier is that you can, if you want to, if your child seems ready for it, start laying the groundwork for this as a skill-building moment, where you can say, “Earlier you were mad. This is what you sounded like.” As long as it’s done with enough connection and play and silliness. But then you can really just say, “Let’s practice. How could you be really mad? Let’s pretend we’re mad. How can I say, ‘I want more yogurt,’ in a way when I’m kind of mad, but I want to be kind and gentle with my words?” And so, you can just sort of play with it as a skill-building opportunity.

But, at this point you don’t have to and you don’t have to worry that you’re indulging your child. We’re just waiting for development to unfold. What else would you say about that?

Janet Lansbury:  Yes, I agree that to try to do those little soft lessons isn’t necessary. I would balance that with the idea of not wanting to make this into an event that gives it a lot of power and shows that you’re so bothered and that now we want to lecture you. So, yeah, keeping it light and just knowing that it will pass.

I was also thinking when you were saying all the positives of this child being able to express herself this way, I was reminded that, yeah, and she’s not throwing things and hitting you and doing other things that she could be doing. As you said, it’s a good sign, children that can push back on us and flex that muscle that way, feel comfortable to share those uncomfortable feelings, are the children that are securely attached.

Also, I was thinking that one of the suggestions that this mother has is, “I don’t like the tone in which you’re speaking to me, so I’m not going to… blank.” What she’s talking about there is holding a limit. But I think the way that you suggest doing it is definitely going to be more helpful in shifting this behavior. Allowing this behavior to play out, rather than to confront it in a way where the parent is a little bit lowering herself to taking that as… as a peer would.

What you’re saying is, you’re still holding the limit by not jumping to go get her whatever it is. You’re not saying, “Okay, sure. I’ll get them right away.” Or rushing, or feeling like, “Oh yeah. Yeah, I’ve got to please the boss here” (which I used to feel with my daughter sometimes).

Tina Payne Bryson:  Yeah. I’m glad you came back to that part of the question because I think that’s a lot of how our parents did it and we don’t know what else to do. Let’s say the daughter’s like, “Get me juice now,” and the mom is like, “I’m not going to get you juice until you ask me nicely.” Instead, we can basically say, “Oh, you sound really frustrated,” or, “You sound angry when you’re saying that. I will listen.” Or, “What’s going on?”

That’s a bid for connection. And that’s really what all the attachment stuff shows us is that, when our kids are in distress, and that might mean full-on tantrum or terrified, but it also might mean: I’m really frustrated and my feelings are kind of taking over here. Or anything in between.

When we’re in distress, that’s when we most need a connection, to regulate our physiology, to regulate our emotions, even to regulate our body temperatures. I mean, there’s a lot that’s happening there as mammals, and the purpose that attachment plays. So I think for you, Mom that’s asking this, in that moment, see that those dysregulated moments where she’s being disrespectful are a bid for connection.

I remember one time when one of my sons was bored or something, he was like, “I hate you. You’re so mean. I don’t even know why people listen to you.” Like, here you go, parenting expert, deal with this, right?

The first thing in that moment is to stay regulated myself, and then to just say, “Oh, you sound so mad. What’s going on?” I respond as if he’s physically hurt. That helps me frame what’s happening. It’s like, if he skinned his knee, I’d be like, “Oh, what happened? Come here. How can I help?” I did the same most of the time when my kids showed big emotions like that, “You’re having a hard time, I’m right here with you. What do you need?” Or, “How can I help?” So then you’re actually breaking the connection between stimulus like: I’m demanding juice in a terrorist fashion and my mom’s going to go jump to get it. You’re breaking that association just by connecting.

Janet Lansbury:  So, we’re still holding the limit and we’re not having to do some kind of consequence thing that is actually going to create more distance between us and make our child feel more disconnected and, therefore, create more of the behavior. But yeah, these things are hard to remember, it takes a lot of practice. I love your idea of thinking about it as your child is physically hurt. That’s another wonderful tool for parents, I think, to figure out how to get in the right state of mind.

Tina Payne Bryson:  It is hard to remember all that stuff. You think about, when your child is in distress, physically, emotionally, whatever, really, anytime, any moment that comes up, any particular behavior we need to address, think about those as back-burner issues and front burner is always connection and relationship.

I promise you that the more we focus on connection and relationship with our kid while holding boundaries and limits, the behaviors start just getting less and less and less.

Janet Lansbury:  Exactly. I have this part of your book here marked where you say: “Keep your relationship with your children on the front burner, most other things when it comes to behavior can remain back-burner issues. Teach the lessons you need to teach, but do so in a way that values and prioritizes the relationship.”

So, not getting into a “nanny, nanny, don’t do this or I’m not going to do that” relationship with our child when they need us to be these pillars in their life. Yes, of course, we’re human and we’re going to go there, but, ideally, as much as possible we’ll try to remember that they’re just so tiny and they get so easily overwhelmed and they’re trying things out too. They’re trying all kinds of things out.

Tina Payne Bryson:  That’s right. Also, if we are to tell our kids, “If you speak in a nice way, then I’ll do it for you,” be prepared for your child to say, “Well, if you get me juice, then I’ll get in bed.” Be prepared for your child to use that same kind of threat/bargaining strategy, which obviously we wouldn’t want. So it’s again, back to that modeling question.

Janet Lansbury:  Exactly.

You are an amazing speaker. If anybody ever gets a chance to see Tina Payne Bryson present at a conference… She was a keynote speaker at the RIE conference this last year, she is so inspiring. One of the things that I love that you did, you imitated what we as parents tend to expect when we’re not in the space that we want to be in with our children, where we’re going at their behavior in a reasonable way.

Like, “I don’t like the tone you’re using, so I’m not going to do that.” We expect that they’re suddenly going to turn on a dime from this somewhat dysregulated, uncomfortable state they’re in to be doing that behavior and they’re going to say, “Oooh, excuse me, I’m so sorry. Of course, what was I thinking?” Which is so spot on, because that is what we tend to expect. We expect they’re going to be reasonable like we are and like other adults mostly are.

Tina Payne Bryson:  I mean, it really is pretty funny if we can make fun of ourselves. I remember having this moment with my son, he was probably seven or eight and we’d put him to bed and he’d come downstairs and had his arms folded. He wasn’t throwing a tantrum, but he was clearly having some big feelings and he was like, “I hate homework and my birthday isn’t for nine more months.” He was sort of saying all this stuff. My first instinct was to be like, “You’re tired, go to bed.” It’s back to that point you were making, like, if I had said that, I doubt he would have said, “You’re right, I am tired. I think I’m feeling a little over-reactive. I’m just going to go on to bed now. Good point, Mom.”

Or, if I’d use the logic and said, “I don’t know, the homework’s your job. Do you know how many things I do around here? You just need to be grateful that you get to go to a good school. I can’t make your birthday party come any sooner.” I doubt he would have said, “Oh, you’ve made two really good points I hadn’t considered. I’m good now, I’m going to go to bed.”

In the daily life we say to our kids like, “What are you so afraid of? There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Never once does the kid say, “Oh good, that’s really helpful.”

Kids are incredibly brilliant. By like four they actually already know that knowing something and feeling something are different.

I’ll give you a quick example. My nephew was a preschooler, he was four. He said, “Auntie Tina, I’m afraid about something that my friend at school told me. He told me that there was a skeleton that lived in my bathroom.” And he said, “I know he’s a liar, because he told me he has an octopus that lives in his bathtub and I know octopuses need salt water, so I know he’s a liar. I know there’s no such things as living skeletons.” And then he paused and he said, “but I’m still afraid.”

So he had all these logical strategies he had already worked through about why that information was not valid and he had an emotional response that wasn’t necessarily in line with that logical information.

Janet Lansbury:  Wow.

Tina Payne Bryson:  And that really is how our left and right brains work. And so, just telling him, “You’re right, Liam. All of that’s true. There’s no such thing, so now you don’t have to be afraid,” would not have worked. He had already walked through those steps himself. And so, what we wanted to do was create a new emotional response to the idea of the skeleton in the bathroom. So I actually had my sister get those markers you can use to draw on the mirror, where you can wipe it off. I had her and my nephew draw his own bathroom skeleton, and I said, “Okay Liam, every time you walk into the bathroom, your job is to add something new and silly to the skeleton.”

We live in southern California and he lives near the beach, and so he would draw flippers and snorkels and, because he was a four-year-old boy, the skeleton got some anatomical parts and then he was using a lot of body humor and all of that. But what happened then was, instead of the neural association of: Going into my bathroom is scary and I’m using all these mental resources to think through why I think my friend’s a liar, but I’m still afraid anyway, and what if he’s right, what happened was he could walk into the bathroom anticipating with silliness and laughter what funny thing he was going to do to the skeleton.

So it became his skeleton. He had some ownership. And it created a really positive, funny, silly experience related to that. And one of the things we know from the science is that being in a state of humor and silliness and play and laughter is pretty incompatible with fear. When we’re playing it basically communicates to our nervous system safety.

This is a way that we can think about, you know, we use all this logic, all of this time and it never talks kids out of their feelings.

If my husband said, “Stop stressing so much,” I don’t immediately feel no more stress, that’s not helpful. It just makes me feel like I have to defend my stress. It makes me focus more attention on the negative emotion.

So this is a really great thing for us to remember as parents is, instead of trying to argue with them about their feelings, to let them name the feelings, to let them express them and then to say, “Yeah, I would feel that too.” We validate it so that their internal experience and our response are a match, which is what creates what we call in the literature ‘coherence,’ so that they have a connected core self knowing that their parent reflects back. So, that’s part of the being seen part of attachment. Then you can move into problem solving. You can say, “Hmm, do you have any ideas? What should we do about this?” You move into the problem solving. It’s not like you just stay stuck in the feelings, but talking kids out of it or giving logic to tell them not to feel it, it doesn’t work with kids and it doesn’t work with adults.

Janet Lansbury:  Right. That also means slowing it down and not try to harness the problem-solving on the feeling right away, which usually comes from our own impatience with the feeling and wanting to fix it and wanting to make it better. And then we might try to get into problem solving too early.

Well, this is so helpful. I can’t thank you enough. I’m really honored that you wanted to do this. Please, everybody, check out the new book, The Power of Showing Up. It will give you comfort. It will give you clarity and a lot of practical advice. It’s the most extremely helpful book that I’ve read in a very long time. Thank you so much, Tina.

Tina Payne Bryson:  Thank you so much. It’s an honor to get to talk with you.

Please check out some of the other podcasts on my website They’re all indexed by subject and category, so you should be able to find whatever topic you might be interested in. And both of my books are available on audio, No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting. You can find them through my website or on, and you can also get them in paperback at Amazon and in ebook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and

Thanks for listening. We can do this.


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

  1. Verena von Vegesack-Semmler says:

    Hello Janet,
    thank you for your podcast, i loved this episode, like always.
    How do i react when my child shows this disrespectful behaviour, but she ist not 2 1/2, she is now 4 years old. She talks back and yells often, without a stressful situation.
    Can you give me a helpful advise?
    I stay calm and say that i dont like this tone, then she cries and says we can´t talk to her like that. Im a little bit lost for words.

    Greetings from Germany,

    1. Alexandra says:

      This is exactly our situation as well. Can’t wait to read a response. Our highly intelligent, sweet little girl also uses a rough, yelling, bossy tone more than we would like. She is 3.5 and very mature for her age.

    2. Hi Verena! Why does she behave this way, in your view?

  2. Meredith Luksha says:

    Hello. I have the book. No bad kids. I’d like to watch some podcast with my husband. Where can I find those??

  3. I’m still a little bit confused. What should I actually say/ DO? When my 3 (or 6!) year old announces “I’m thirsty”, or if they say something like “I wish I had some water” (passive aggressive there), or are demanding, do I get them water while talking to them about their tone? You say we shouldn’t make getting the water contingent on them asking nicely, but it still just feels wrong to get the child water in any of these above situations. I’m just confused. Maybe I need to listen again. Any suggestions?

    1. Hey Sierra! I’m just a parent like you, but I nannies for many years so I’ll tell you what helps me in those moments.

      I think maybe what they’re saying is that the most important thing isn’t whether you get the water or not, but taking the opportunity to emotionally connect with your child. So if your three year old daughter says, “I’m thirsty!” you can say gently, “Oh wow. You really yelled that you were thirsty. I’m busy making lunch, but if you bring me your glass I’ll get some water for you. Maybe you can hop over here like a bunny.” Or, “I hear you. You’re very thirsty. I’m going to finish folding these pants, and then I’m going to get you the biggest cup of water in the whole world! It might have a whole ocean in it! And some fish! And a whale!” Connect with their emotion then use gentle humor and imagination. You don’t want to drop everything and run to the sink, but you also don’t want to get into a silly power struggle over a glass of water. 🙂

    2. From how I read it, it sounds like you ignore the demand for the moment and talk about how it seems they’re feeling and try to help with that. For example child says “get me water, now!” Parent responds, “Wow! You sound really upset. Do you want to talk about it? Is it something I can help you with?” At which point the child is supposed to up and tell you everything that is going on and why they’re acting that way.

  4. I have always thought that the primary thing in early childhood education is to help a child learn how to want!

  5. Have you all ever heard the saying, “No one has ever, in the history of being calm, started to be calm by being told to be calm.”
    Thank you for a wonderful podcast!!!!

  6. Great episode!

    I do have a question. My ultra-sensitive 7 year old will get more upset if I try to label her emotions. For example, if she said “I want a cookie” in a demanding tone, and I said “it sounds like you are upset right now,, I’m here with you”, she’d start yelling “I’m not upset! Stop saying that I’m upset!” and it might tip her over into a full meltdown. How can we show these kids that we see and hear them during those sassy/demanding moments, without aggravating the situation further?

  7. This episode was so good! Thank you both so much!
    I do have a question – what is the best way to respond when my child is upset about the boundary specifically being that we need to separate? A struggle we’ve been having lately, especially with my 5 yr old, is him not wanting to stay in his room (yes space) when I can’t give him my attention, like when I’m trying to get ready for us to leave the house or fix dinner.
    So my choice is to hold the boundary or help him regulate his emotions (which I don’t always have time to do when we have a place to go or when I need to meet the needs of our entire family).
    He has also learned how to open the gate that we have in his doorway. I’m not sure if it’s best to try to buy a new one? At this point I’m guessing he could quickly figure out how to open any gate like that. We are just needing guidance on how to deal with this situation and hold the boundaries when we can’t physically.
    Your help and advice is very much appreciated!! Thank you!

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