Families in Isolation Q&A – Welcoming Your Questions, Comments, Concerns

I’ve been at a loss trying to figure out how I can support parents and professionals during this difficult period in our lives. For parents of young children, feelings can run the gamut from minor discomforts and inconveniences to overwhelming fear and grief. Sometimes it can be the whole spectrum in a span of minutes. Caring for children is challenging enough without these additional stressors.
I have the honor of hearing from people every day through email, FB, Twitter, Instagram, and comments on my website. But I’ll admit that I get scattered. My organizationally-challenged brain, along with the volume of questions I receive through these various channels means that most are left unanswered. I hate that.

So I had the idea today to invite readers, browsers and listeners to reach out to me here in this quieter place, where I will attempt to prioritize replying to your comments — and in a timely manner. If I don’t have an answer for you, I’ll try to refer you to another person, a resource or a post of mine. I’ll be checking in regularly. It will help me if you can keep your questions to one or two paragraphs, because I’ll need to keep my responses brief as well.

I really hope this will be helpful! I’ll also be hosting some live Q&A sessions on Instagram and you can follow me THERE for updates. And I’m committed to continuing my podcasts for as long as I can.

Please take good care. Together, we can do this.

UPDATE: After reading through your wonderful questions so far (thank you for sharing them!), I thought it might be helpful to add these  relevant recent podcasts to this post. They provide detailed responses to many of the questions you’ve asked.

In this first one, family therapist Susan Stiffelman and I discuss explaining the pandemic to young children and also how to focus our energies at this time:

In this podcast with ECE icon Lisa Griffen-Murphy, we discuss home-learning through independent play! We encourage parents to release themselves of the burden to entertain and teach. Your kids can do this!

I hope these are helpful!

234 Comments

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

  1. Hi Janet, I would love to know your thoughts on screen time for my 4 year old and 18 month old – I have always tried to avoid screens until now and I can see almost instant overstimulation and addictive behaviour since we’ve started using them more (mainly video calls to keep connected with grandparents, family and friends; and the odd YouTube video). Thank you!

    1. Hi Janet I was hoping for something of this nature. I have an almost 3 year old and a 15m old. My older one is all that much more whiny and clingy. And mama for everything. I’m home with both of them full time, even b4 isolation. But before I would drop them off at Grandma’s or they would have activities now we are just stuck at home and walks.

    2. Hi Rebecca – For me, the video calls are in a totally separate category from other screen time. They are safe, “real life” and not as addictive. So I wouldn’t worry about those as much. As far as entertainment-type videos, if you notice they are having a negative effect, there’s no need for them. Children will not miss out. I would not show videos to an 18-month-old at all. Try just doing the calls and see if you notice a negative effect for your son. If that’s the case, you might want to do them less, but I would also welcome the feelings (we’re all feeling the strangeness and intensity of the world right now) and not give in to repeated asking to watch more, etc.

  2. Dear Janet
    Thank you for everything you do and for all the wisdom you are sharing with families every day.
    We are a family of 3, our son is 3,5yo. We have been enjoying the extra family time that we get as a result of lockdown; however, our son doesn’t play independently at all and wants to play ‘pretend’ pretty much all day long and I find it really hard to play along. I am just not enjoying it one bit to be honest.
    I usually set up other activities in the day (things he likes like baking or making a volcano etc) but once these are done it’s pretend play until the end of the day. Can I not play? Can I say no? Can I somehow set a boundary around it so he doesn’t expect me to play 24/7? How do I encourage a bit of independent play? I don’t want him to feel rejected but, equally, I am not really preset when I am playing something hours on end that I don’t enjoy at all.
    Thank you in advance for your reply.
    Stay healthy and safe
    Eli

    1. Hi Eli!
      I’m obviously no Janet Lansbury, but I am a parent educator so thought I’d give you my 2 cents ‍♀️
      I personally do not think it is a parent’s job to play or entertain their children. I do think it’s important to have intentional time with your child whether that’s reading together every day, doing a craft, or engaging in a mutually enjoyable task. Then, during independent play time, your child can engage to their heart’s content in their own fantasy world. If your child asks you to play, you can confidently say “thank you for asking me! Right now it’s your time to play and my time to do some xxx. Why don’t you tell me about what you played when we sit down for lunch together.” – or something along those lines.

      It’s really helpful to have some sort of rhythm or routine to the day to give expectations. But don’t feel bad! Your child is learning SO much through independent play time and make believe. You’re giving your child a gift to explore their fantasy worlds without the distraction of an adult’s notion 🙂

      Hope that gives you something to ponder whilst you wait for Janet! <3 sending your family vibes of health and wellness!

      1. Hi Janet,

        How do you think we should explain a 3,5 year old why we do social distancing? A good way explaining this ilness risk? Thanks.

      2. Hi Janet PLEASE HELP. We’re living in a house during COVID with 3 different parenting styles! How can I explain the importance of RIE and the techniques to our aupair and my husband. They are quite strict and defer to regular timeouts and what I consider fear based parenting. By way of example our aupair puts our (just turned 3 year old) in timeout for not saying hello and then is angry Lily is not building a relationship with her. She also put her in time out for lying about spilling water in the bathroom accusing of her of weeing on the floor. Our daughter got very frustrated trying to explain it was water from the basin. The aupair gets angry with her and says she’s an actress and mean and rude but I don’t see it as that. I see a young child learning about greetings and change. She’s not aggressive or insolent just disengaged from forming a relationship despite our positive reinforcement of let’s create this for XX or please say good morning to XX with a big smile as that is kind and will make her feel happy. Additionally My husband is always saying stop crying and forcing her to hug people which she doesn’t want to do at times. I do acknowledge that our daughter is definitely not always listening to me and I am frequently researching your site for ways to communicate more Effectively but am also finding myself increasingly drawn to their preferred means which is either straight timeout (which they see as endorsed by the super nanny) or 1-2-3 magic which is “state what’s wrong and the consequence, then count to three”. These are really effective as she complied, but I don’t know the psychological impact of that and thought if I could explain that and where our daughters neuro development is at now compared to that of an adult. We have an aupair manual but neither my husband or our aupair see my attempts as effective. How can I become more effective and how can I influence them to adopt RIE. Many thanks

        1. Hi Bel,
          wow do I completely understand what you are experiencing.. as my husband and mother-in-law are both believers in negative consequences to teach and raise children. My husband and I have gotton in major fights — he’ll no longer listen to any research or info I have gathered.
          Anyways this is my attempt to maybe offer you an approach.
          I don’t know whether this will work long term or whether Janet would agree but here’s what I’ve learned:

          1. I can’t change my husband’s parenting. At least not by “teaching” him though words, and dialogues. When I do this it only makes him dig his heels, makes his feel judged. And makes him feel like he’s failing, which is never a good thing.

          2. which means when i see him (or mom in law) enforce a punishment I have to stay out of their business. This use to hurt me to do this before and I would always step in and ultimately just end up fighting. But now I’m respecting their path. Here’s the thing: If i want my husband to have empathy and compassion for my son, then I have to model that. I must have empathy and compassion for my husband. I must allow for my husbands feelings as I allow for my childs- esp in that moment when he’s reprimanding our son.
          Knowing this has helped, I know that these measures he’s using is because he believes them to be right and he’s trying to do his best.

          3. Not take their response and beliefs personally. When I use RIE my son will object to his limits with wail-out-crying. Which I will allow him to do. This serves as proof to my husband that this isnt working. So often i’m met by him and his mom with – what your’e doing isn’t working, you’re developing a cry baby, who’ll just manipulate you, etc etc.
          I use to defend – show that he only cries for a bit, then moves on, give them research, articles etc.
          This doesn’t work– and its really just a defense mechanism. You don’t need your husband to agree with your methods. You don’t need to agree with his. You don’t want your husband to make you do it his way. And you dont need to change his way to yours. Whats needed here is mutual respect and compassion. Once you start to have that for yourself and for him, chances are he will return the favor. But this starts with you not getting defensive.
          Or rightous.

          4. The only way to teach or influence another is by example. My hope is as I stick to my understanding and application of RIE the proof will be in the pudding. And overtime they will see how this works and gradually adopt it.

          5. I’ve taken the belief that my son will be ok.
          it’s ok that he has different people in his life using different methods. Not ideal, but ok. I’ve done my best to given him consistency– i.e. in choosing day care more aligned with my self (the au-pair may be someone you can reevaluate when things calm done?) but the truth is I’ll only be able to control his environment for some time. Their will be lots of people in his life and they will all have their own responses and way of being with him. Instead of fighting all of them — if I can create a home of peace, of respect for each other then I’m giving my son a valuable lesson.

          Anyways hope this helps.
          Wishing you the best!

    2. avatar Kathryn Stewart says:

      https://www.janetlansbury.com/2013/05/stop-entertaining-your-toddler-in-3-steps-2/

      Hi Eli

      I wonder if this article has some helpful ideas for you, as a starting point.
      I reckon you can set limits regarding your involvement in your child’s pretend play activities…. Provided your child has a safe, well-resourced play space (“Yes space”), and that you’ve spent some WNQT (quality time) with them in there already, you could say “I’m going to do ABC now, I’m not going to play with you at the moment. I will come back and check in with you in X minutes.” Or you could also just try saying “I am finished the distend game now. I am happy to sit in your play space and watch you play at the moment.“ It depends on other factors too but from my limited RIE understanding, this seems sensible. Thankfully, my daughter is generally accepting of this with me and ends up engaged in independent play fairly soon after I tell her this and go to do what I’ve chosen.

    3. Thanks, Eli! Please remember that you are allowed to say “no” to your child’s wishes and demands at any time. 🙂 He needs you to do so! Especially if you are not enjoying the time with him. Children feel that.

      I agree with Emily that it is not our role to be our child’s play partner. I would go further and suggest that setting up activities for a child can actually discourage their inventive self-directed play, because they get in the habit of depending on us to come up with the ideas and make play work for them. We’ve all heard the saying that play is a child’s work. I don’t really like that saying, but it is true that only a child can know themselves and their therapeutic play needs, their cognitive and motor skill development paths. When we play with a child, we alter their path (without meaning to). Oftentimes play turns into our child directing and watching us! That defeats the purpose of a child’s play.

      Here’s one of my most popular posts about encouraging independent play. It’s geared toward toddlers but the same ideas apply: https://www.janetlansbury.com/2013/05/stop-entertaining-your-toddler-in-3-steps-2/

      Here’s the podcast I recently posted with ECE icon and play-master Lisa Griffen-Murphy:https://www.janetlansbury.com/2020/03/kickstarting-your-childs-learning-and-play-at-home-with-lisa-griffen-murphy/

  3. avatar Lauren Williams says:

    Hi Janet,

    My son is 2.5, in the last 3 months he has gone through major life transitions. We were evacuated from Wuhan due to Covid 19 and spent 2 weeks in a government quarantine facility in the U.K. Once we finished that we moved in with my in-laws and 2 weeks later I gave birth to our daughter. My son has been a trooper through it all but I am still concerned for his mental and emotional well-being. We feel like we have gone from the frying pan into the fire now that the virus has spread worldwide.
    With no ending in sight to this situation we are in a very intense limbo as we aren’t at home and aren’t even sure when we will be able to go home. We are also meant to be moving from China to Canada in June so that’s another layer added to our life. How can we protect our son through all of this, so he feels stable and secure when everything around him isn’t. I feel like I need to protect him from my own emotional turmoil through all of this as well, I know children should see our emotions but this feels like it would be overwhelming and scary for him. Any guidance on how to help him (and is) navigate this season of life would be so appreciated.

    1. Hi Lauren – I am so sorry you are dealing with all these difficulties. I think you might benefit from the podcast I recently recorded with Susan Stiffelman (I added it to the post above). The best thing you can do for your son’s wellbeing is to take care of YOU. Beyond that, developing some predictable routines for your day will help you both to feel more settled. He will express the feelings he has, ask you what he needs to ask. You can really trust children this way and they are resilient. Take care.

  4. Hi Janet! I just had my second daughter 2 weeks before the shelter in place started. My three year old is having a really hard transition. She went from getting my full attention & going to a waldorf playgroup three days a week to becoming a big sister and not being able to leave the house. She has been having big feelings. She has become extremely demanding and when she doesn’t get her way she will get into a blind rage , throwing things, hitting us, scratching us and screaming. We try to hold space for her , to sit with her through the storm , offer options , hugs or just sit silent with her. It usually ends with her wanting a hug and saying she feels better. The problem is that it’s becoming really hard and tiresome for my partner and I. How can we better support her in this time ? How should we handle the violent behavior? Thank you for your kind attention.

    1. Hi Janet, thank you for doing this at the midst of what’s going on around the world. I think my most burning question is… how is this affect the social development of children at a young age when they are learning so much also from seeing other children play, imitating what other do, and learning to engage and negotiate in social play. And what can we do… to help?

    2. Hi Brittany! Congratulations on your new addition! Your daughter actually sounds right on track in the way she’s processing these big changes. Can you share a little more about what holding space for her feelings is looking like? What you are saying and doing? In terms of violent behavior… I recommend containing these outbursts, but not holding her tightly or overdoing this. And then at the same time, I would encourage the feelings behind the behavior. “Ah, you wanted to stay outside and we had to go in! You don’t like we said no to outside.” Don’t be pitying, be encouraging her to express the force of these strong feelings.

  5. avatar Jillian Chapin says:

    Hi Janet, can you recommend ways to talk to a sensitive 3 year old about this? It seems like most things I’ve read really are aimed at older children (4+) and Am struggling to find a good way to explain why we are home all of the time and not seeing anyone in person. I’ve tried the “there are bad germs” speech but am afraid to go too far with too much info because I don’t want to scare her. As we settle into week 4 of isolation she is really starting to notice and I am noticing her acting out more and not sleeping quite as well. Thanks for all you do!!

    1. Hi Jillian! I really like this framing that Tina Payne Bryson offers in this brief video. She talks about the importance of keeping the focus on the message: “our job is to keep people safe”: https://vimeo.com/402467778

      You might also appreciate the podcast with Susan Stiffelman that I have added to my post (above).

      Basically, be simple, honest and speak in concrete terms and then trust your child to ask her own questions if she has them. Trust that she will be all right. The biggest influence on our children’s sense of safety will be our OWN fear, so I would try your best to lead with trust.

  6. Hi Janet,

    Thanks for your generous heart in offering wisdom! I was curious on how to respond to my 4 year old son. My husband and I have a lot of tension . There is not typically yelling in front of the kids but there is tension and disagreeing and at times arguing. We are getting help with this, but it takes time. My son often says “don’t argue”. Sometimes it is not even when we are arguing but when we are discussing something such as which plants are weeds and which are flowers to pull up etc. Roght now, if we are about to interact like I’ll say, “ hey will you come look at the garden and I’ll show you which plants to weed eat around?” My son will automatically say “guys, just don’t argue.” I hate this dynamic because I do not want him to feel he has to be a peacemaker. I was one in my own family between my mom and dad and want to handle and validate the tension he feels somehow because it is present and I feel it too, however let him know that even when we argue, it is our thing that we are responsible for and we can handle it and it’s not his job. Can you let me know how you would handle that? Thank you!

    1. My pleasure, Leanna!

      Sounds like your son has become sensitive to any rise in intensity between you and his dad. So, I would acknowledge that in the moment.. notice it, maybe ask, “Did you feel a bit of temperature rising when I asked Dad about the garden? I’ve noticed you are sensitive to that, my dear.” Not feeling sorry for him, not even being apologetic (unless you are actually arguing, then I would try to apologize), but always welcoming and noticing his point of view.

      Studies show that if you do argue, the best thing you can do is resolve it together in front of your child. And then I might add, “Ah, sorry you had to witness that argument. I know that’s uncomfortable for you when we disagree.” You might also add, “I think we’re all feeling a little more sensitive than usual these days.” So, fearless in joining him and including him and welcoming him to share whatever he feels.

  7. Hi Janet!
    My husband and I love your parenting philosophy and always try to ask “what would Janet do?” When we are confused or in a new situation. This quarantine has been hard for a lot of families. Personally, I rely on our public library and community programs to get my 15 month old out of the house and playing/discovering with other toddlers. My question is what can I do to break our day up and make it not seem like we’re just relaxing at home all day long? Also how can I reinvigorate his tiny play space without buying new toys?

    Thank you so much!
    Melissa

    1. HA! I am honored, Melissa!

      Do you have a way for him to be outdoors at home? If so, I would do all you can to develop that space, making it as safe for him and comfy for you to hang out nearby as possible.

      Beyond that, please know that quiet days at home are EXACTLY what toddlers need. If you are stir-crazy, that’s understandable, but your child will be absolutely fine with the quiet “sameness.” Toddlers are absorbing every detail of their surroundings and less is always more. Maybe there’s a way that you can connect with other parents and watch each other’s children’s self-directed play. We can learn SO much from observing the choices children make… the explorations they choose.

      1. Thank you for your reply! We do have a backyard with plenty of space for him to run around. I guess I just need to get used to the fact that he CAN run around now!!

        Will try to get him outside as much as possible now that the weather is getting warmer. Thank you!!!

  8. Hi Janet,
    We have an almost 3yo (beginning of June), and a baby coming (also in June). Our house is having some work done, thanks to a leaky dishwasher back in January. We’ve pulled our 3yo out of preschool, even though they’re open and it would bring some normalcy to his life if he could go there. We need him to be able to spend time at his grandparents during some of the construction, and didn’t feel it was responsible to have him go both places. All of this on top of the social isolation going on in the world. This is a lot for an almost 3 yo! He asks lots of thoughtful questions about all of these things. (Examples: When will the baby come out? Are workers coming over today? Is this the old tile? When will we get the new tile? When can we go to the grocery store? Why can we not go to the playground?) He’s become very sensitive, and sometimes easily frustrated. That’s hard, but we’re able to make it work.
    The thing that’s really getting us is that he won’t get in bed at bedtime. If he wakes up in the night, he won’t go back to bed. He just wants to be held! I can’t blame him, with everything going on. If I was little, I’d want to be held too! But it means we’re all not sleeping. Sometimes we can get him in his bed if he falls asleep in our arms. Sometimes he wakes up and the cycle starts over again. This can go on for hours. I would love some suggestions on how we can either approach the bedtime problem, or ways to talk about ALL THE THINGS that are happening, beyond answering his questions.
    Thanks so much for reading, and for any insight you might have.

    1. Hi Shira – I do not consider myself a sleep consultant, but I do know that sleep is about the whole day, so you are correct that ALL THE THINGS go together.

      Answer all these questions bravely, honestly, directly: When will the baby come out? Are workers coming over today? Is this the old tile? When will we get the new tile? When can we go to the grocery store? Why can we not go to the playground?

      One of the many wonderful things about young children is that they put it all out there. They are curious and trying to get a handle on the situation as best they can. Mostly, these questions are not fraught with worry as WE might worry that they are. They are objective and direct.

      The more you welcome any frustration or other emotion that comes up for him, the more clear and settled he will feel at nighttime. Children sleep better when our policy is to let feelings be and maintain an all-feelings-allowed environment.

      For more on sleep I recommend Eileen Henry who offers free 30 minute consultations: http://compassionatesleepsolutions.com/

  9. Hi Janet,
    Like many posters here, I am really struggling with my three year old. Over the past few weeks, he has completely changed. (He also has a ten month old sister as well). He is whiny, clingy, cries and gets angry at the drop of a hat, refuses any of our ideas for fun (taking walks, playing in the yard), and is extremely difficult to deal with. He cries at every single transition time and resists all of them (mealtimes, naps, bedtime, bath). Our happy go lucky little boy is nowhere to be found. We were working on potty training, and he now refuses. He is also begging to be a “baby” like his sister – cries for a pacifier (he never used one even as a baby), wants a bottle, wants to be held, waking in the middle of the night, etc. He is also hitting us and his sister much more frequently. His daycare is closed, and I know he misses his school and routine. This is also the most time he’s probably spent one on one with his sister (that sounds sad reading it, but it’s true). I am so overwhelmed with his behavior and worried that he won’t come through this. He is having such a hard time. I’m not sure what to do besides react in the moment – can/should we be talking more about what’s bothering him? I feel the list is long and I feel so bad that this is so hard for him. I’m worried that this will change our little boy if we don’t deal with this correctly. Thanks for your help.

    1. Hi Ali – “…can/should we be talking more about what’s bothering him?” I would mention these things, but understand that he will actually express and heal those feelings through the emotional behavior he’s currently displaying. Trust this processing! That doesn’t mean giving into having him cling to you when you need to separate. Hold those boundaries while welcoming him to be upset about them.

      Regarding potty training, you may not like my answer because I don’t recommend potty training. Here’s my approach: https://www.janetlansbury.com/2014/08/3-reasons-kids-dont-need-toilet-training-and-what-to-do-instead/

      It makes perfect sense that he is not able to take big developmental strides at this time. And that he’s asking for babying and nurturing. I can relate to him! 🙂 So, I would definitely not judge him… I would have compassion for his wish to be babied, etc, but not give into it when it doesn’t work for me.

      It really is safe for children to feel their feelings at this, and any, time. Take care.

  10. avatar Shannon Hautman says:

    Hi Janet!
    Thanks for offering your replies here as a resource! I have one child: 3.5 yo boy. He is really feeling the loss of school, friends, and regular routine. I’ve noticed in the past few weeks that he is audibly grinding his teeth throughout the day. I’m upset because I can see how his front teeth are shifting due to this, and he is clearly stressed. I’ve tried to have calm conversations with him about doing something else silly when he feels like grinding his teeth (make a fart noise!), but his coping mechanism for difficult moments or conversations is to run away or shut down. His teachers also noted this form of coping in the classroom and reported that when they ask him to make a different choice, he interprets it as being in trouble. I don’t want him to feel as if he is in trouble for simply feeling the stress and change of these crazy times we live in – – or just coping with the ups and downs of regular life once that returns — and I’m not sure how to talk to him about this without the “shutdown” occurring, which seems to breed more stress for him.

    We talk about our feelings a lot in our home, and endeavor to have a very supportive and accepting environment. We’ve learned a lot from you! Thanks very much.

    1. Hi Shannon! I’d be careful not to bring more attention to this behavior. Trying to limit it or even distract can actually make it into more of a “thing” for him. What I would do is notice when this is coming up for him… gently notice and encourage him to share the feeling by acknowledging something like, “Ah, yes, you’re feeling all grindy right now. That’s uncomfortable, isn’t it?” I would also take a look at whether you may be unwittingly discouraging certain feelings (like we all tend to do), that don’t make sense to you, like if he says something like, “I don’t like this kind of milk… ” and you reply reasonably, “That’s the same milk we always have!” It’s better to remember to lean in: “Ah, you don’t like that today?” That doesn’t mean you fix the situation at all, but you let the feeling be. You welcome the feelings in all their forms.

      And yes, if you are hesitant to explain the situation to him in simple honest terms, that can create stress for him. It’s like when we know something’s terribly wrong with someone but they aren’t saying that. It’s more disconcerting than the plain truth. There’s a podcast I added to my post (above) with Susan Stiffelman in which we suggest how to talk to a child about this situation.

      1. avatar Shannon Hautman says:

        Thank you so much for the advice! This morning, my son was grinding his teeth and I said to him, “You seem really grindy right now. What’s up?” He said, “I’m really mad!” I asked him if he wanted to tell me why, and he said no, but he was ready to go outside and play. That really seemed to help him express his feelings and move on. I can see now that recognizing the action and finding out the feeling behind it – without judgement – is WAY more helpful than distracting him or calling attention to it in an unintentionally negative way. Thank you so much!

  11. Hello Janet, thank you for offefing your knowledge during this times. My boy is 1.7 and when he gets mad, he doesn’t like to be touch or held, and of course he is not listening to anything I say, so it’s hard for me to connect, but it’s specially hard to soothe him. What I normally do is that I stay close to him, I sit on the floor, I tell him things like “I understand you are upset, I know it’s hard to… Bla, bla” but even though I’m being loving and patient, he only calms down after some time, and he stays mad at me for a while. What strategies for soothing and connection do you recommend with kids like my baby?

    1. Hi Erika – I recommend doing even less and this is science supported… It doesn’t help and can make matters worse when we try to hold or speak to a child in the middle of a meltdown or tantrum. As you’re noticing the storm eventually passes. Be present and accepting and trusting and let it pass. The more effort you put into soothing, the less accepted your child will feel for his feelings. This section of my website may be helpful as there are many posts and podcasts about responding to tantrums:https://www.janetlansbury.com/tag/crying-tantrums/

  12. Hi Janet,

    My son is just about to turn five and my daughter three. Your podcast and books have been great. But right now my husband and I are both trying to work at home and my kids are doing a lot more pushing/pulling each other. I’ve tried physically separating them without judgement and listening to feelings (which generally works), but they seem to get into a mode where nothing is working. Any advice? I really appreciate your podcast! Thank you.

    1. Hi Ris – Thanks for your kind words! Based on the info you’ve given me, I’m wondering if they actually WISH to be in conflict, and to work through these conflicts. That’s a major exploration that many siblings engage in and they learn a lot from it. Maybe trusting and staying out of it even a bit more would help?

  13. Hi Janet,
    My 21 month old daughter whines, cries and tantrums almost all day long. She is just so miserable all the time. I know you say to “let feelings be” but it’s really hard for me to not let it affect me. I stay calm as much as possible, but deep down I am miserable, anxious and depressed because she cries so much. Is it truly possible for a mother to be happy when their child is not?

    1. Hi Megan – I see a big difference between “happy” and “accepting.” What I would try to be is accepting, because the best possible thing children (or any of us) can do is release the feelings they have inside. The alternative to that is stuffing or repressing them. What do you think is setting her off? What are these feelings about for her?

  14. Hi Janet – my husband and I loved your book and I listen to your podcast regularly. We have implemented a lot of your teachings with out 20 month old and have seen great results. However, we are really struggling to keep our heads above water during this time. We both work full time (now from home) and since our daughters school is closed, she is home with us. We are trying to balance parenting, meeting work deadlines and continuing ‘school’ for our daughter. It feels like too much and I can’t be the attentive parent that I usually am given work demands. What advice do you have for working parents with small children during this time?

    1. Hi Jess – My advice is first and foremost, the last thing a 20 month old needs is school! so i would take that off of your list of responsibilities. Infants, toddlers and preschoolers are self-learners and learning happens through their self-directed play. So I recommend creating a family rhythm — a routine so that your child knows what to expect in regard to your attention to her. Fully connect with her during meals and other caregiving activities and, the rest of the time, allow her to play independently in a 100% safe space with some open-ended toys and objects, like these:https://www.janetlansbury.com/2013/11/6-gifts-that-encourage-child-directed-play/

      If you have not cultivated play up until now, start with small doses, telling your child what you will do and when you will be back with her, but not dictating what she does during that time. Those choices need to be up to her.

  15. My daughter is almost 3 and likes using her pacifier. It used to just be in the mornings and evenings because she didn’t use it while at daycare. Now that she’s home all day, she wants to use it all the time. We have been trying to make a clear distinction between paci time (ie winding down for naps and bedtime) and no paci time (ie when we’re doing activities during the day) but it just turns into a fight every day. We have tried reward charts and colour coded daily routine checklists but it’s still a battle. Any suggestions on how to limit (or eliminate) paci time?

    1. Hi Corinne – I know this may feel more challenging, but if you are limiting the pacifier, I would do it honestly and then give her full permission to share her feelings. Children use pacifiers to repress feelings, so “a fight every day” may be what she needs to express. But don’t battle with her or use tactics. Instead, hold strong to your boundaries, with love, and let her express these feelings she’s been repressing with the pacifier.

  16. Hi Janet,
    I recently gave birth to a baby boy on the same day my toddler became ill (she’s 2). We now have to keep them apart as a precaution. I am tending to baby boy while husband tends to toddler so as to minimize exposure as well. I miss her so much! She wants to hold him so bad but can’t. It’s heartbreaking. How can we explain this situation to her so she doesn’t feel left out?

    1. Hi Alex – Congratulations on your baby boy! Does your daughter have the coronavirus? Regardless, I would let go of trying to prevent her from feeling left out. I would not try to protect her from her feelings. It really needs to be okay for her to feel whatever she feels and then express those feelings (which children this age usually do indirectly through behavior, whining, repeatedly asking to hold the baby, etc.). Hold the space with love. Know that feelings are healing. And she has a right. This too shall pass. Take care.

  17. Hi, Janet –
    Thank you for doing this! One thing we have been struggling with since we’ve all been home is huge overreactions from our almost-7-year-old daughter. For example, if something doesn’t go perfectly the way she wants, she will blow up, run away with a fake cry, and yell things like “That’s it, I hate this!” “Leave me alone!” and “I don’t like any of you!” She is able to soothe herself eventually, but it is quite intense in the moment and we are seeing several of these blow-ups a day. Do you have any advice for how we might help her with this?

    1. Hi Leigh – My pleasure! She sounds like an intense girl. Is it common for her to react intensely when she is struggling? Regardless, I would trust these moods of hers and allow them to blow over without trying to calm her down. Stay on her side, be her safe person, but allow her to blow her top. Many of these words, particularly “I don’t like any of you!” she doesn’t mean. I think we can all relate to that kind of hyperbolic reaction. I feel that way sometimes! If you can remain calm and accepting and not get drawn into these outbursts, she will move through them. Hope that helps!

  18. Hi Janet! Thank you for shaming your wisdom with us. Warming: I’m not a native English speaker.
    I have a very sensitive, intelligent and intense 7yo daughter. Due to circumstances during pregnancy and the first few years after that, she is not as securely attached as one hopes for. She’s never been cuddly, but the last year she seeks more proximity. I on the other hand have been parenting myself away for almost 8 years now and I feel like I need to get in touch with myself again. I need space, peace and quiet.
    With the current isolation, we are home (DH and I, 3 children) all together. Working from home, helping out with schoolwork and parenting 24/7 as many people are. I feel like I am ‘on’ all the time. My daughter on the other hand is having more nightmares and trouble sleeping, which I think is absolutely normal these days. She needs more attention than ever but I don’t know how to give it to her: she always wants more and more and more and I don’t know how to give what she needs without neglecting my 2 younger children, my work and my own limits. What I am giving to her at the moment currently isn’t enough, but how can I make things beter?

    1. Hi Ava Ava – It’s wonderful that you have this perspective: “My daughter on the other hand is having more nightmares and trouble sleeping, which I think is absolutely normal these days.” Yes, it is normal for this to be a deeply emotional time for children… a time to process emotions. That is actually healthy. I would carry your understanding of the nightmares into understanding these feelings as well: “she always wants more and more and more…” I can relate to that feeling. We don’t feel right. We are uncomfortable on many different levels. We want to fill the space with more… something. So, I would not see this as a “need,” but a desire. A want. The true need is for her to be able to express her longing for more, her dissatisfaction. So, as always, I would be the leader with confident boundaries, putting your oxygen mask on first and then deciding where your energy is needed most at any given time. I would not get drawn in to feeling guilty for not giving her what she wishes. I would encourage her to share this dissatisfaction with you, always from a place a confidence in your choices. It needs to be okay for her to be “mad” at you or express any other feeling she has. That’s how she will heal and process and eventually move on.

  19. Hello Janet,

    Thank you for offering to answer questions here! I have a 20 month old and an almost 3.5 year old. Do you have any tips on how to explain to my 3 year old daughter why she cannot have playdates with her friends? She sees her neighbor friends out the window and told me the other day she was very sad because she couldn’t see her friends and she misses them. We have done virtual playdates but she really misses the face-to-face interactions. Any tips? Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Michelle – My pleasure! A positive development that will come from this situation is our children learning that it’s okay to miss friends, be sad, feel a sense of loss. These feelings are appropriate and, yes, they are uncomfortable, but survivable. As hard as it can be for us to allow our children to feel anything other than contentment, they need to experience their full range of emotions to know, deep down, that they can handle them.

      So I would approach these conversations without fear. I would be direct and honest. “We can’t see friends now because there is an illness going around and we need to keep everyone safe.” Then, acknowledge and welcome the thoughts and feelings she expresses to you. “Ah, yes, it’s so disappointing that we can’t arrange a playdate with your friend. You really miss her.”

  20. Hi Janet! My question is about handling technology and toddlers during this time of social distancing. My 2 year old needs very firm boundaries set around screens – they overstimulate him and any use of a phone or iPad usually results in a meltdown. This boundary is easy for us to set in normal life (obviously toddlers don’t need to be on technology!) but we are struggling with how to stay in touch with grandparents and other family members who want to FaceTime or Zoom chat. I want him to see their faces and know that they are still part of his life, and they are desperate to see him, but I just hate knowing that I am signing up for a power struggle (when I don’t let him touch the buttons on the phone/computer) and then a huge release of emotions after the call is over. It feels not worth the emotional disregulation for him, but I know his grandparents really appreciate hearing from him.

    1. Hi Laura! Ah, this is a tough one, because it requires you to weigh the pros and cons and decide for yourself if the trade off is worth it. While I wouldn’t perceive his feelings around the technology as something to avoid (as if it is unsafe for him to have meltdowns around this, etc. — it’s not), I would not want to have to deal with this on a daily basis. Perhaps doing it a little less often might be a good compromise.

      1. Thanks, Janet! That perspective helps.

  21. Dear Janet,
    My 5.5 year old is shy at first but very intelligent and social with friends she knows. Unfortunately she is not enjoying her TK Zoom classes and has no interest in FaceTiming with friends (who she would normally love to have a play date with). I have a 20 month old daughter as well and they do play pretty well together. (Normal squabbles but overall good). Should I be concerned or push these newer social activities? Her friends are FaceTiming regularly with each other but she says no when I / they ask. She fights the zoom classes and seems to feel like it’s an invasion of her space. She’s complained that it’s too distracting and that when she was in regular school (TK) she could concentrate on the teacher but can’t on the computer. She says she’d just rather watch a show if she’s going to use a screen. How hard do you think I need to push these activities? She is required to do 2 zoom classes a week by the school but they hold class 5 days a week. And do you think the FaceTiming with friends is necessary at this age? Otherwise she’s just with her toddler sister and my husband and I. I don’t want her to lose the social confidence that she has. Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Ann – I would trust your daughter on this. No, FaceTiming is not necessary and it’s totally understandable that a child would find it undesirable. Also, personally, I would not insist that a Kindergartner takes Zoom classes. Most schools are understanding that children don’t learn well that way and that parents shouldn’t be wasting precious energy coaxing kids to do schoolwork. Again, sounds like your daughter has good instincts and I would trust them.

  22. Hi Janet, thank you for doing this at the midst of what’s going on around the world. I think my most burning question is… how is this affect the social development of children at a young age when they are learning so much also from seeing other children play, imitating what other do, and learning to engage and negotiate in social play. And what can we do… to help?

    1. Hi Ice – My pleasure. Several have asked me your question and I would love to ease parents’ minds: children are learning social skills through us every moment. Peer play is wonderful, but not necessary. There’s so much children can learn from us at this time about empathy for all human beings, staying in the now (which children already do better than we do!), handling challenges, loss, sadness, fear, boredom… the list goes on. I have the feeling that as long as their parents are okay, children will develop an enormous amount of emotional intelligence at this time.

  23. Hi Janet,

    What do you do after the hitting, pushing, defiant behavior occurs and you couldn’t get there quick enough to prevent it? 29 month old and now 9 month old beginning to retaliate (when toys are taken etc). Breaks/creating space seem to help and we try to name the feelings that triggered behavior but it crushes me to watch my son intentionally hurt my daughter. Also, how do I hold the space for him, allow him to have his feelings and instantly discuss it while simultaneously needing to comfort or care for my daughter who has been pushed over. A few months ago we created more safe spaces for her and boundaries for him but they also seem to enjoy “playing together” and in an instant he is lying on top of her crushing her.

    No Bad Kids saved me when I was at a loss the few months after she was born. I listen to the si king chapter often. Babies came naturally to me but toddler discipline/boundaries was something I never thought about. My son was the most loving, mild mannered child before his sister came into the world. His behavior ebbs and flows every few months, we also are fortunate to have involved grandparents but there are various adults “in charge” and I know I cannot control everything.

    1. Hi Jennifer – Why do you imagine he does this? “…it crushes me to watch my son intentionally hurt my daughter. ” These behaviors stem from very uncomfortable feelings your son has. So to change this behavior we have to help him to feel better, safer, not judged, but accepted and understood. My book (thank you for reading!) is all about how to do that, as are my podcasts and blog posts. Here are some quick steps:
      1. Prevention– safe places for them to play separately when you are not in attendance.
      2. Your perception of this as extremely uncomfortable for him and mostly out of his conscious control.
      3. Providing calm and safety, which begins and ends with your safe, helpful (hopefully un-triggered) presence.
      Safety and acceptance mean not going over the behavior that he is already aware is wrong. It also means not swooping in to “over”- rescue the baby. Be there to check if she’s okay, etc., and accept any feelings, but picking her up at that time is seldom necessary. And it adds to the uncomfortable messaging your boy is receiving about being blamed, etc.

      This also sticks out for me because it should assure you that your boy is not acting in a mind-present manner, but out of emotions: “My son was the most loving, mild mannered child before his sister came into the world.”

      He needs to feel safe and accepted and unconditionally loved by you as you help him stay safe.

  24. Firstly, thank you so much for doing this and everything else you do for all of our families.

    My son is nearly 3. I stay at home full-time. The main changes are that my husband is working from home now and we cannot go out in general (grocery store, zoo, park, etc). He definitely misses socializing with friends and family. He has me play acting with his stuffed bunny all day just so he can hang out with someone else. 😉 He potty trained in the second week of quarantine. Accidents on the first day, none since and seems happy and proud to do it himself. However we are struggling with multiple meltdowns a day, basically since the beginning of isolation. He’s hitting, kicking and throwing toys when upset. He is in that contradiction cycle where his immediate response to every question or suggestion is “no.” Offering choices results in “no” to both. I take him in his room when he gets upset. I stay in the room while he lets out his feelings. I stop him from hitting and kicking and try to stay on the other side of the room so he can get out his feelings and come back to me when he’s calm and ready for comfort or reconciliation. This morning he came into our room to wake us up, so it appears he needs to move to a toddler bed. Tips for handling all these transitions during isolation? Do you see a pattern with the meltdowns during this time of isolation and how can I help him with any stress he’s experiencing during this time? Thank you.

  25. Dear Janet,
    When is the best time to explain to our 2 year old that his daddy won’t be able to hug and kiss him when he starts working in the ER? And when is it not a good time?

  26. Hi Janet you are wonderful thank you for your wise words and taking the time to do this. I just got your book no bad kids! I have a 3y old and 5m old and have been following you for about 6 months. I’m wondering what to tell myself when I learn something and realize I’ve been doing it « wrong » for X amount of time? I am left feeling angry at myself… More importantly, how do I communicate an apology to my toddler not so much for the past but in the moment?

    What I mean by this is…I am learning gentle parenting too, growing in patience (so much during social isolation too and I’m actually loving it and thinking of not putting her back in daycare) but I will admit some days I’ve felt « rage » from wanting her to do things a certain way and fast like « rockie let’s go, I want to get dressed so we can go downstairs » « I’m going to lose it » (yes I’m working on slowing down and remaining calm with coping mechanisms and healthy anxiety reducers). She gets sad I can see it in her face like I’ve shammed her or sometimes cries and my heart aches even writing this…I feel like I’ve completely failed…she is so precious how can I communicate to her an apology? When I’ve tried to explain and apologize she says sorry back to me!

    I want to make sure I can properly reflect on what’s already happened to remove the guilt, catch myself before it happens (working on that as best as possible) and if it happens as we are learning together have a way to properly apologize. Does this make sense?

    PS we have had massive wins with your philosophies too, no more spitting, tantrums are decreasing and I’ve been giving her space that always ends in a loving hug

  27. avatar Genevieve says:

    Hi Janet,

    I have 4 year old twins and this morning my girls were talking about returning to school once the shelter in place orders are lifted. One of my girls started to get noticeably upset and when I started to ask questions about how she was feeling, she revealed that sometimes she feels left out because her sister doesn’t want to play with her. They have been very bonded since birth, but I am sensing that they are starting to explore their lives as individuals. What’s your stance on excluding during play? I want my other daughter to feel it is ok to play with other children and feel free to explore those relationships independently, but it breaks my heart to have my “excluded” daughter feel left out and distressed as a result. Would love to hear your thoughts.

  28. Hi Janet,
    Thank you so much for all you do! Your advice has helped so much. We have two daughters. The eldest turned 3 in January and the younger is 18 months. I work part-time from home, so our daily routine has not been disturbed as most. My question, like many here, is about our 3 year old.
    Our 3 year old plays very well independently and likes to play pretend. She often assigns roles to the rest of the family, but doesn’t always expect participation. This all goes well for most of the time, except when she seems to have almost gone too far into imagining. She’ll be deep in imaginative play and something will set her off like the blanket cape won’t stay up, or it is dinner time and she doesn’t want to get out of character. This last couple weeks this has led to super intense tantrums.

    I can tell when she is nearing a spiral, so I often I try to offer her a break to something new. I always give here multiple notices for transition times. I just wonder If I can help her transition back to the real world from imagination, or is this just a way to process feelings and let everything out?
    THANK YOU!

  29. avatar Amy Vitale says:

    Hi Janet,
    Please help! Since lockdown/moving bedroom (at the same time) my toilet trained 3 year old is holding wees and poos and gets upset at even the mention of the toilet, usually saying he needs to go at the last moment, resulting in an accident. He even holds wees for 3hrs after waking in the morning and being dry all night, despite clearly needing to go (lots of squirming). He gets so upset and refuses to sit on the toilet until bursting, and even gets upset if I want to use the toilet.
    He’s always been anxious around BMs, only going every 2-3 days in places he feels comfortable (home or daycare) but now will go 4 days before pooping.
    He picked up toilet training really well in January using a sticker chart, positive reinforcement and sometimes an alarm reminder. We’ve gone back to basics trying all of these to no avail. We’re trying to remain calm and not put pressure on him but it’s stressing us out, I worry about him getting a urine infection during lockdown as our GP’s clinic is closed.

  30. Hi Janet,

    Thank you so much for all of your wisdom! I so greatly appreciate it.

    If you have the time (and I completely understand if not), I would love to get your perspective on a challenge that we have been facing at home with our 3.5 year old boy, and how we might be able to help him better while he’s at home and not at school… For context, he has a 20 month old younger brother.

    His biggest challenge is his refusing to persist in activities that are harder for him (and they’re hard mostly because he hasn’t done them before or hasn’t done them repetitively). When he tries something that is difficult for him and can’t get the hang of it right away, he gives up and reverts to playing with activities that are “comfortable” for him. In terms of these “comfort” activities, he hasn’t really progressed in the way he plays, which is a bit concerning to me.

    School has been so good for him because he would see other kids doing things that weren’t as comfortable for him, and he would try them and persist a little more in them. Any ideas for how to help him with this while he’s at home?

    Thank you again for all that you do!

  31. avatar Amy Vitale says:

    Please help! My 3 year old, who toilet trained really well in February and even uses undies at night, has regressed since we went into lockdown here in New Zealand 2 weeks ago. He’s always been an anxious pooper, only going at home or daycare, but we’re home all the time now and he will hold wees and poos far too long. He’ll stay dry overnight then hold it 4 hours after waking – today he weed at 9am and hasn’t been since, it’s now 3pm. It can be 4 days between poos. We use Lactulose and try to be a relaxed, no pressure environment.
    With initial training we used a sticker chart, positive reinforcement and a small treat for poos. He’s not interested in any of those things now and even resists hand washing regardless of the reason.
    I’m reluctant to go back to nappies, I gave ours away when he was trained and as were in lockdown don’t really want to have to keep buying them. I worry about UTIs, all the doctors clinics are closed, hospitals only open.
    If we even suggest casually going to the toilet he gets really upset, will drag us away and yell. It’s getting stressful and hard to remain calm, please help!

  32. Hi Janet! Thank you so much for doing this!

    I have two questions, and I will try to keep them short because I know you are super busy!
    Before quarantine, it was me, my daughter, and my mom at home together during the week and then 2 of my siblings and my dad home on the weekends. Now, it’s me, my mom, my daughter, and then 4 of my siblings home all day everyday. I can definitely see that my daughter is feeling overwhelmed with all of the people and noise that is in her life now. When more than a couple of us are in a room together, she starts climbing on things, being very demanding and clingy, and tests limits like crazy. I expected this, of course, and am trying my best to be calm and help her, but I find myself getting increasingly annoyed. I can’t even look away from her for a second without her climbing on the coffee table or throwing a toy. I used to be able to be constantly by her side to help her when she felt these impulses, but now it’s so hectic that I can’t seem to get there quick enough. I don’t know what to do about it. I try to have quiet times where it it just me and her, but I don’t think it’s enough.

    And real quick, I just listened to your podcast about repeating yourself, which was super helpful! What do I do when the behavior she is showing is not geared towards an object I can just block or take away? For example, a mud puddle outside in the back yard? I let her play in puddles sometimes, but I don’t want to have to change her and clean her up every time we go outside. I try to block her from the puddle while saying something like “oh it looks like you want to play with the puddle but I’m not going to let you do that right now”, but it ends up becoming a game of sorts with her lunging between my legs to touch it. Do I just take her inside? She loves her outside time, so I don’t want to take it away, but i’m not sure how to handle it.

  33. Hi Janet,

    Love your work. Thank you! I have a question about how to work from home. My 13-month old will often play independently happily in my home office. Sometimes, though, she comes over while I am sitting at my desk and wants me to pick her up. I will do this sometimes while on phone calls, but other times where I need to be typing it is not possible to have her on my lap. I tell her calmly that I need to work on something and that it is ok to be frustrated that I cannot pick her up. Sometimes she will then move on and play, but often she quickly returns wanting to be picked up. She also often has a glint in her eye like she is testing whether if she makes enough of a fuss I will pick her up. I am concerned that I am not being consistent and making things worse. My questions are: 1. Is it too confusing if she is allowed on my lap sometimes (when on a phone call) but not other times (when I need to be typing? 2. Should I just be letting her cry when I cannot pick her up? 3. Is it confusing when after I finish what I am doing I pick her up while she is still crying? I know this is the first of many similar situations we will encounter over the next couple of years, so I want to develop good habits for all of us. Thanks!

  34. avatar Maggie Viers says:

    I have 4 kids under 4 (including newborn). I have a difficult time keeping my anxiety in check. I am unable to prevent all the hitting, throwing, etc. how do I ensure safety and balance and keep my own emotions in check

  35. Hi Janet, thank you SO much for doing this. Two questions:
    1) My 2yo has a pacifier – I discovered RIE and thumbsucking when he was a few months old.. I have always allowed it only for sleep bc he is less engaged in play when he has it and bc I don’t want it to replace his ability to develop his own emotional regulation. In the past few weeks he has wanted it ALL the time. I am wondering if this is just a need with everything going on and if I should go with it or stick to out original clear boundary.
    2) I would really appreciate if you could address setting boundaries with other children when we are out near the house. It has happened a few times that another unsupervised child comes over and wants to play with my kids (4yo and 2yo). I have struggled to find a way to set a boundary in a way that will not hurt the child’s feelings or raise anxiety in my children- my 4yo is highly sensitive and very tuned in to any emotionally loaded messages. I have seen what you posted by Tina Payne Bryson but find it much easier to word things in more clear-cut situations with my own kids than with other children.
    Again, thank you so much for this generous and kind source of support.

  36. Hi Janet, not sure if this will reach you but I have a question for my 5 year old who is the older brother of a 3 year old girl and a 6 month old boy. I was wondering what your suggestions might be in terms of helping him become comfortable expressing, identifying, verbalizing his emotions. My 3 year old daughter is very face value meaning it’s easy to interact with her and know what she’s feeling. She is comfortable saying “I am tired” or “I am angry” or even when she doesn’t know or isn’t in the mental space to be able to think about all of that, if we wait for the storm to pass and give her a suggestion of how she might be feeling she will agree (or not). Again, this isn’t all the time but overall you see what you get and your methods seems to work great with her. In contrast—My son, is a much harder child to read and verbalize with. Often times he may be smiling and goofing around and seem fine but could be angry. For example, he has a tendency to act out, tease his sister, bother her, or have more attitude when he is clearly tired or hasn’t had enough sleep. When we calmly stop the behavior and suggest to him that he might be tired, he angrily replies, “no! I’m not tired!” Or the other day he fell off the stool (nothing serious) and my husband lightly laughed about it, my son did not appreciate it and just completely changed his mood. When I said to my son “You fell off the stool. Dad laughed. you didn’t like when dad laughed” he just replied with “no! No!” And then my husband apologized to him but he was still saying no to feeling embarrassed or just being okay with the completely understandable fact that he didn’t like being laughed at. There are many examples but just this overall denial of anything we suggest in terms of trying to help him try to identify. Not sure if these are the right words, but he either deflects (by acting like he’s fine or not bothered as we may suggest) or seems defensive as if it is not okay to “be tired” or “be angry” or “Left out” (if there was some consequence involved)…just an overall denial. I’m not sure how much of this is just the natural stage of development of a 5 year old, how much of it is having younger siblings, or how much of it is personality. I’m guessing the best course of action is to be patient and trust him to naturally grow to expressing his needs but at the same time I’m wondering if there is anything I should be doing (or not doing) in order to help him be more comfortable with his feelings. Even just thoughts about where kids are at emotionally and psychologically at 5 years might be helpful. My husband and I have definitely noticed a shift out of the toddler years for him.

  37. avatar Lili Trueba says:

    Hi Janet, greetings from the Dominican Republic! I’m a big fan of your podcasts and have been a fervent believer in the RIE approach, Magda Gerber, and Emmi Pikler since my early days of studying Child Psychology and Play Therapy. I’m a mother of two girls: the eldest is seven years old and the youngest will be turning three in August. I’d love to hear your take on a challenge my husband and I are facing with the girls. Whenever our eldest seems bored, restless, or has nothing to do, she entertains herself by constantly nagging her younger sister. She might pass by and pinch her, hug her firmly, or scare her by making a loud “boo” sound, she might also take her favorite toy and “play” with it knowing she’ll in turn get upset. Our youngest has learned to defend herself by hitting back, screaming, and even bitting. She’s even begun to give her eldest sister a taste of her own medicine. This is really tiring. We’ve tried different strategies (having them work it out by themselves, intervening whenever we feel they’re being hurtful, and reflecting with our eldest on the situation), but we’re out of ideas. The situation has definitely intensified and exacerbated because we’ve been practicing isolation for the past four weeks (the DR government has established a nationwide quarantine and a daily curfew from 5pm to 8am). I know you’ve mentioned that this behavior is very common, and that older siblings tend to assert this dominance to compensate for the loss of control they feel around the existence of their younger sibling. I would love to hear your take on this. We’re in need of strategies for managing this behavior.

    Thanks!

  38. Hi Janet,

    I am needing advice on helping my already-anxious 5 year old daughter cope with everything that is going on right now. She is very sensitive and always has been, since she was a newborn, as well as very smart and advanced for her age (she started reading on her own at 4 and has a natural inclination for language and numbers). We are trying our best to support her by honoring and acknowledging her feelings and upholding boundaries, as well as establishing a daily routine to give her stability. I am struggling with balancing my own self-care needs with supporting her (she has become very anxious about being alone and we are having a hard time getting her to play by herself or even be by herself, for a minute). We’re seeing regression in her toilet use (she will not poop on her potty, only pull ups; this has stemmed in part from a history of constipation that we’ve been working on with her pediatrician), and a lot of old fears are cropping up again (she is suddenly terrified of flying insects and therefore doesn’t want to play outside or go on walks). We are trying our best to acknowledge her fears; I am at a loss on how to help her move past this. Thank you for your posts.

  39. Hi Janet,
    I’m really enjoying reading through your answers to everyone here. Thank you so much for this and everything else that you do.
    I have 3 girls: 4y2m, 2y7m, 8m so we’re a busy family! During quarantine this has become much more of an apparent issue and I’m trying to work on it. My 4 year old has always been competitive and controlling – it’s part of who she is! But I’m wondering how to find the balance between being a confident leader and giving her the space to grow and be her own person. For example when to allow her to choose vs when to choose for her. Like tonight, when she was having big feelings and decided she didn’t want her bath towel, she wanted mine. Was I wrong for giving her mine? Then when she refuses to put her underwear/pants on before I braid her hair, so I gave in. Or other times when she is saving face after a meltdown and she asks me to “help her” walk because her “legs hurt”. Or when she doesn’t want the spoon I gave her and so she wants another one. (Actually at this point I never dare to bring her a spoon, I ask her to come pick it on her own) I really do walk on egg shells a lot with her and that’s why I’ve been trying to take away a lot of her decisions from her, letting her have big feelings about that And hoping I’m making the right choice. But In my mind lots of times, I’m respecting her and what she wants like I would
    Do for any adult, and it doesn’t bother me. How do I know when it’s right and when it’s wrong to “give in” and when I need to relieve her of too much control for her age.

    Thank you so much!!!

  40. Hi Janet,
    My husband usually works, and I stay home with our 14 month old. Since Daddy’s been home, my normally sweet baby wants nothing to do with me. It’s almost not exaggerating to say the only time she wants me is for nursing. She wants her Dad constantly, and if I come near her to try to console her when she’s upset, or check her diaper, almost anything she screams and cries for her Dad. I know she’s baby and this doesn’t mean she doesn’t love me, but it’s hard to not resent her, and it’s hard for me to be positive and authentic when this is the dynamic. I try to just do the things that need to be done, I tell her, “I know you want your Dad, but your diaper is dirty, and we’re going to change it, then you can go see Daddy.” She screams and arches her back when I pick her up. It’s just so disheartening. Any words of wisdom?

  41. Hi Janet, thank you so much for this forum. To start let me explain my situation; both my husband and I are police officers. While we have done everything we can during this health crisis to avoid what we both knew was probable I suddenly became ill five days ago and tested positive for Covid. I am in isolation out of the home in a facility set up for Officers who get the virus to quarantine away from their families. My husband and my daughter are in self quarantine in our home for two weeks. This has taken a serious tole on our family obviously but most specifically our three year old daughter. I am trying to FaceTime her as much as possible as well as relatives to keep her feeling connected. The beginning of this was probably traumatic for a toddler as suddenly I could not come out of my room and then I was gone. She knows I am sick, and she knows about the virus. She has an understanding of what is happening but is struggling.
    Normally she is extremely smart three year old with the vocabulary of most adults. She has always been very independent and knows what she wants she is well behaved but tests limits. She is acting out now with just my husband providing care. For example this morning she went up to our puppy said she was going to punch him and then did. She will also begin to spit in my husbands face and hit. These are behaviors we have seen before when she is stressed because they are all things I have reacted very negatively to in the past. Do you have any recommendations for me from far away or for my husband of how to react? I want to give her as much grace as possible for what she is going through, I can’t imagine being three and having my mother suddenly taken away. But I also don’t want her to think it’s ok or worse make the animals scared of her. Thank you.

  42. Hi Janet, Thanks for putting this together! I’m really enjoying reading the comments and your books are awesome! No bad kids has helped me understand discipline from my child’s perspective. I wanted to ask about my 3.5 yrs  strong willed child that sometimes gets to rough with her little baby sister. She is sweet but something squeezes or pushes baby too hard or for no reason. At times I say that’s not nice can you need to say sorry or I ask her to go to her room (door open) and think about it and let me know when you’re ready to say sorry.  At times I will ask where’s gentle hands? That’s what we do at school. Overall I feel she is getting enough attention – both parents are super affectionate. I Just feel like nothing is clicking she doesn’t understand that we have to be more gentle with baby. Thanks again!

  43. avatar Courtney King says:

    Janet,

    How would you approach inviting your children to prep and cook with you in the kitchen? Sometimes it seems tricky to balance the aspects of food prep with child-led involvement.

    Also, this is a different topic. I have a 26 month old and a 4 year old. Sometimes when my youngest gets really upset or is melting down, my 4 year old begins to shout louder in her own meltdown and then our dog howls too. It almost seems comical except my husband who works nights needs sleep. I acknowledge and usually just let it be. Let them all meltdown. My 4 year old seems really bothered by her brother’s strong emotions. I dont want to create any distance and I dont want to have to leave the room with my 2 year old. Sometimes it all gets really strong and my 2 year seems to get even more upset. Kind of seems like a lot stress from oldest and a bit strong for my youngest. Almost like her wrath is coming out. And she does generally direct lots of harsh attitudes and angry words towards him, even a few names like “stinky poo.” Came from a book we read, “Too Small for Honey Cake.” I try to let them work out as much as safely possible without rescuing or creating more stress. I do feel however her behavior can get a little too stressful around her brother. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Janet,

      I have really been struggling, like many others I’m sure, with the changes due to isolation. We moved to a new country days before going into full 24hr lockdown and have nothing except what we could fit into 4 suitcases. My 2 year old therefore has only a handful of toys (the rest are stuck en route) and cannot interact with anyone except myself and husband. He can only go in our tiny patio area and we have very little to keep him occupied. He used to be so busy and sociable, and loved going outside. I feel terrible that we have nothing decent to occupy him with and worried this will affect his social development going forward. I’ve noticed he’s been having regular tantrums which I’m sure must be linked to a lack of positive stimulation. Is there anything I can do to help him during this difficult time?

  44. avatar Lisa Snow says:

    Help! Our three and a half year old granddaughter has suddenly started reverting back after being completely potty trained. I feel that the uncertainty we are all living in is probably the issue but my daughter is at her wits end.
    Her little one will just stand in the middle of the room and urinate and then look at her mom and say “Sorry, Mommy”.

  45. .Hi Janet. Thank you so much for offering your wisdom. No words can express how thankful I am to have found you.
    My question is as follows:
    My daughter is 4yo. About a year ago I fell into the habit of feeding her while telling her a story. And that was the only way she may eat. Lately, I encouraged her to eat independently. It worked but she insisted on the story. There’s a BIG FUSS every day about the story. Sometimes I am ready and happy to tell a story but other times I feel very pressured to do so as she will never stop nagging and whining. She also wants me to keep telling stories until she is full (I don’t put pressure on her to finish her plate). She is very strong willed and her nagging and yelling are consuming. Any insight on that? Do I just acknowledge her feelings? Is it enough? Or do you think that she’s expressing a need that should be met in some way?

  46. Hi Janet,

    I’m ending my fifth week of working from home while being a full time mom. My husband works outside the house so it’s just my 2.5 year old daughter and I during the day. I have been trying to allow my daughter independent play while I work but at the end of the week she seems to have hit her limit and I can’t get work done or phone calls made without struggle. If I need quiet for a phone call or to focus the only thing that works is the tv which I don’t like. My inability to spend time with her while I’m home is now causing me guilt because I know she is confused. She’s doing amazing considering the circumstances but I’m struggling to balance work and momming. Quite honestly, I’m fried.

    How can I support her better when I can’t spend the time with her that she wants?

    Do you have any suggestions for getting through work and phone calls when she’s expressing her displeasure at my lack of attention? I acknowledge her feelings and spend uninterrupted mealtimes with her as well as carve out some additional time during the day or evening to do something with her (dance/cook/read). By week’s end I’m sitting at a lack of patience and I don’t like it.

    Thank you,

    1. Hi there. I’m with you! I would love to know Janet’s response.

  47. avatar Danya Porter says:

    Hi Janet, this question is about my 2.5 very active, intense, determined boy. This is our 6th week in isolation in a small apartment, we spend most of the time indoors. It has become difficult to go outside so most of the days we stay in. Both my husband and I are working from home. My stepson (12) just recently joined this household’s lockdown. He also spends most of his day doing school work as well so the evenings are the only time he is able to play with the little one. My husband and I alternate between meetings to spend time with him and avoid TV as much as we can.

    My 2.5 years old has been doing pretty well given the circumstances. The issue we have is in the afternoons / evenings he becomes a maniac running around screaming, not listening jumping up and down. And it it’s extremely hard to control him specially because some times he is jumping on places I don’t feel safe with. He simply doesn’t listen during this time, giving him choices doesn’t work. It also happens at time where we are all exhausted and have limited patience and the last thing we need is a screaming child.
    One thing to note this in general is a behavior he exhibits whenever his Stepbrother, who he adores, comes and stays with us. He also started acting this way when we try to FaceTime anyone whether he is part of the call or not. He will start jumping in the background on the sofa or whatever and screaming or laughing really loud. Jumping on top of us etc. I try to stop him but he is a very strong child.

    My question is what should we be doing during these “episodes”? How do we handle this?

    Thanks

  48. Hi Janet,
    Our 3.5 year old has had some major adjustments as of late. We had a baby 2.5 months ago and he’s now home from school (due to COVID) after being in full time daycare/preschool since he was 7 months old. So this has been a time of change for him to say the least and we are seeing some changes in his behaviour. He has always been a very happy, easy going and well adjusted boy.
    One issue adding to this is that he has refused to take naps over the last few weeks. He previously used to nap every day for 2 hours. Every time we try putting him for a nap he comes out numerous times and just laughs when we walk him back to his room. It’s become a real struggle and he is definitely picking up on and feeding off our frustration (I sometimes lose my superhero cape!). In concept, I have no problem with him dropping a nap and I know it’s age appropriate to do that, but he seems to get really tired as the day goes on and we see that reflected in his mood. He at times even tells us that he should have had a nap today and can we remind him to nap tomorrow. We sometimes get a similar response from him when we ask to (for example) not jump on the coffee table. We tell him that we can’t let him jump on the coffee table and sit between him and the table, but he just laughs and tries to run around us. I’m sure this behaviour is all related to the changes in his life.
    Is napping something that we should let him regulate himself or is this something we can and should insist on? If so, what are some tools you can suggest to encourage him to have some rest?
    We have tried giving him the choice of napping or reading books/other quiet activities in his room but he insists that he doesn’t want quiet time.
    Thank you so much for your advice. We often refer to your guidance in our approach to parenting.

    1. I have a similar question about my 2.5 year old (posted below) and can’t wait to see Janet’s response. Following!

  49. Hi Janet,
    I’m a single mom to an almost 4 year old. I am working from home full-time in a relationally demanding field. We also lost our home suddenly last fall and were finally settling back into a regulated place when the pandemic hit. It didn’t take long to get back to where we were but worse.
    We are in a terrible holding pattern right now. She’s caught in a lot of big feelings (I understand this) but they often manifest in limit-testing all day, everyday. I can see that my constant redirection is hurting her and making her feel unanchored in our relationship. She feels rejected by my inability to accept her play on her terms. She is intense, deeply smart, and has big and important ideas about how her play should look but finds the farthest limit and just pushes it repeatedly. Redirecting gently or positively is not working. I can see her dig her heels in further and she won’t budge to different terms which then causes her to spin out and fall apart. I can do this cycle with peace a few times but by noon, I am so beat that I start to lose patience and grow tart and angry in response. I’m feeling a lot of shame about this. I also feel it’s proving her right, that if she pushes hard enough, I end up cracking and then ‘prove’ to not be as dependable and unruffled as she needs me to be. HELP! How do we break this cycle? I’m too tired to improve much from creativity alone.

  50. Hi Janet. I have been meaning to leave a comment and question here for some time but haven’t had a moment to do so! I have been listening to your podcast for about a year now and have a 2.5 year old daughter and a baby girl on the way (due end of June). My husband and I are both working from home and our daughter’s preschool is closed. We co-slept until March of this year (before SIP) when we moved our daughter into her own bed. I also was still nursing at night and have since night-weaned as well. As a final transition before the new baby comes, my husband has started taking on more responsibilities with our daughter, such as the bath and bedtime routines and helping her to sleep. That being said, we’ve recently had a LOT of trouble with her sleep – she is fighting sleep, and resists napping. If she does end up taking a nap, she fights sleep and resists going to bed at her usual bedtime (7:30pm). It sometimes takes her over an hour to go to sleep at night AND she is playing around the whole time. The past few nights she has become physical, kicking and squirming in bed which has accidentally resulted in a kick or hit coming my way and often at my big pregnant belly (which is obviously not ok). I restrain her, tell her I’m not going to let her kick me, and then she actually tries to kick me. We do this dance until I threaten to leave, she cries, and then relaxes – but this takes over an hour. If she doesn’t nap, she falls apart at 5pm and needs to shut down, but we’re usually not ready for dinner by then so the rest of the night is a challenge for everyone. How to I help support her nap/bedtime routine? On a final note, she is also very upset about having her father do ANYTHING for her. She constantly says “I don’t want Dada.” “Don’t touch me Dada” and cries and screams for me. Usually her dad works a lot and it is mostly me doing everything with her. Before SIP, if he were to do the bedtime routine it would be b/c I left the house. Now I’m here, all of the time, and he needs to help with something (bedtime, bath time, keeping her out of our room so I can take a work call), but she just screams, cries, asks for me, yells at the door (which is very distracting…). Eventually it stops, and she moves on, but it could be a 20min + protest. How do we help support this transition to be a little more smooth?

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