Mean Words, Aggressive Behavior, Stalling, and Other Signs Kids Need Our Help

Janet responds to several messages from parents who feel stumped as to how to respond effectively to their children’s behaviors. A 4-year-old has been lashing out at his mom and schoolmates. A kindergartner calls her brother “stupid.” Another kindergartner can’t pull herself together to get to school on time without her mother doing 95% of the work. Janet offers general guidelines for responding to unsettled children and, more specifically, how her suggestions can be applied to easing the behavior issues in each of these scenarios.

Transcript of “Mean Words, Aggressive Behaviors, Stalling, and Other Signs Kids Need Our Help”

Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled.

Those of you that listen here regularly know that I like to cover several emails or questions that share a similar theme together in one podcast, because I want to try to be as helpful to as many people as possible. In this case, I actually have two categories that all these parent questions fall into: One of them is back-to-school, issues surrounding or that happen around going back to school. The second one, probably more important, is ways that children show us that they’re uncomfortable on some level and what can we do to help them. I’m looking forward to getting into this.

All of these notes I’m going to read are about children showing signs of discomfort, different ways that children do that. But before I read any of these, I’m going to share two ways that I recommend helping our children when they’re uncomfortable. And then I’m going to talk about how these two points apply and how they look in each of these situations.

So the first way to help is by not taking it personally. That means recognizing that this is a sign of my child’s discomfort. They’re not doing this at me, even if it seems like it’s at us. They’re showing their immaturity, as young children, in the ways that they manage stress. These are about our child, not us. They’re not our fault.

And yes, this is easier said than done because we are people in this relationship with our children and we care so much. We’re trying so hard, it is hard not to take offense or take it personally. But the problem is, when we’re not recognizing what’s going on with our child as their discomfort or their discomfort is making us uncomfortable, our child has to then reflect back our feelings, our discomfort, which can obviously exacerbate everything. So not only is it about our child being uncomfortable, but now it’s about us being uncomfortable and that making our child more uncomfortable. It can become a vicious cycle.

So that’s number one: working at that separation between us and our child that will help us to see them more clearly. When they’re babies, we can do this by practicing observing them, taking that little step back to try to see them with a little more objectivity. We’re never going to be completely objective observers, we’re always going to be inclined to project. That’s okay. And as children get older, of course it’s harder for us to just sit there and observe them like we can a baby, so it’s more of a mental challenge to separate ourselves. To see them as people going through their own stuff that’s not our fault.

And the second way that we can help children is to do something else that’s kind of counterintuitive for most of us: encouraging our kids to keep expressing it, sharing it, getting it off their chest, offloading it, however we want to look at that. Sharing these feelings with us their way, in their way and time. It’s seldom going to happen that we can say, “Hey, tell me more. What’s going on with you?” And our two-year-old is going to say, “Well, actually, I feel like this and that, and this is why I’m acting like this.” I mean, they don’t know themselves what’s going on with them more often than not, and even if they do, they struggle to articulate it, especially in the moment. They’re just feeling it, they’re just reacting, they’re just processing it. So this can’t be encouraging them to express it to us our way. It’s got to be encouraging their way, which is, as I often say, letting feelings be. And anyway, I’m going to explain how that looks in each of these cases.

Oftentimes, too, part of this encouraging is for us to say those quiet parts out loud. And I know that expression is often used as a negative, that people are sharing ugly thoughts out loud. But in this case, it’s very, very positive and healing when we can say those things that maybe we’re afraid to say because we feel worried that’s going to somehow make things worse. The opposite is true: The more we speak to the truth of what’s going on, the more helpful it is for our child as they’re offloading and processing these feelings.

So, (1) not taking it personally, and (2) encouraging kids to keep expressing it.

Alright, the first note I’m going to share is actually a little success story. It came as a comment on another podcast episode called “My Child Is So Mean to Me” and here’s the comment:

Yes! I’ve just been going through this with my extremely strong-willed four-year-old. [And she put a sad face.] Janet, your podcast was so timely. Today, my son wanted absolutely nothing to do with me, and acted as if he truly despised me. It was really hard not to take it personally, and if I’m honest, my heart was aching. I looked at him through your lens, before bedtime, and it completely shifted my perspective. Turns out he was upset that I can’t go into his preschool class with him (it is only three hours twice a week), and also upset that I’m smiling more at his three-month-old brother than at him (mostly because he’s been so hurtful and defiant). He even demonstrated my “half smile,” and said that it’s not a real smile. I thanked him for telling me, and reassured him that I love him, and that he makes me very happy. So thank you, thank you very much for your insight.

This is an example of the difference it makes when we put on that lens that it’s not a reflection on us, that we’re not taking it personally. I love her honesty here, that her heart was aching and that she felt despised by him. How easily we can fall into that, even as big, mature adults. So we can imagine even right there how challenging it is for a child when we are angry or annoyed or frustrated with them. Always normal to feel, but it can help even then for us to share those quiet thoughts out loud: “You’ve noticed I’ve been so short with you.” Or, in this case: “I haven’t been smiling at you all the way and I’ve been smiling at your brother more. That’s because I’ve been hurt by some stuff that you said and I’ve been taking it personally. But I realize that’s not what it’s about. It’s about you starting this preschool class and you want me to be there with you and here I am, home with the baby while you’re gone. That doesn’t feel nice, right?”

I’m not saying to say that in the moment when he’s saying something unkind to us or pushing us away, but at some point when you are more settled, that could be a very reassuring thing for him to hear. Oh, I’m not imagining this half smile. I don’t have to worry about that, that that half smile means I’m not loved. Putting it out there. And also recognizing that these kinds of behavior —when children reject us, when they’re defiant, they’re acting out to get our attention— all of those are very typical signs of discomfort. And because this child is four, he could really express himself, which is wonderful, right? A younger child can’t even do that much, so it can take more reflection to figure out what’s going on. It’s not going to be as easy as with an articulate four-year-old.

Okay, so now here’s a question. And this first one is, on the scale of discomfort, this is a more minor one:

Your books and podcasts have helped me tremendously in the past years as a new parent. I have a question regarding upbringing. We’ve tried as much as possible to practice respectful parenting, allowing my kids to have their emotions, let them grow and learn at their own pace, without being judgmental. This has really worked well and we saw our kids, especially the elder one who’s currently turning six, blossoming into a confident child. Sincere thanks from us.

However, we really found it challenging when my daughter started attending kindergarten when the teachers are using a more traditional approach and making fast and judgmental comments on kids. We were able to balance it initially and use it as an opportunity to teach her and see this as a different environment, therefore, good exposure for her. This was until the English teacher was changed, and she often uses very harsh words on kids. She will call her student stupid, etc. She’s shouted at kids, she would complain and lament a lot in front of the kids. Unfortunately, we are in the graduating year and changing school isn’t an option.

My daughter has started using the word “stupid” on her younger brother. May we please seek your advice on how to handle this? Thanks in advance.

And this note comes from a parent in Malaysia.

So the child is showing signs of discomfort by saying this word to her younger brother, she’s now calling him stupid. And the discomfort here is easy to understand, right? Even when we’re not on the receiving end of a teacher’s judgmental comments and yelling, it’s very disconcerting. This whole atmosphere of being judged is uncomfortable for any of us, especially a child.

Now, the reason I said this isn’t one of the bigger kinds of discomforts is that it’s not coming from the parents, it’s coming from a teacher. Which is still going to be uncomfortable, but not to the level of discomfort of having her parent yelling at home and being judgmental. We have the most powerful influence, so that can be reassuring—that our child is processing something, we can help them do that, and it’s easier for us to see here that this is not about us. So, easier to understand.

This parent doesn’t say what she’s doing about it, but her daughter is actually doing the perfect thing, which is she’s offloading what’s going on by bringing it home. Unfortunately, on to her brother. I don’t know exactly how this parent is reacting, but a normal reaction that we would have to this is, “Don’t talk to your brother like that. Come on, you can’t say that to him.” We push back on it, we get a little alarmed by that. We’ve got to make sure to let her know that’s not okay. But the thing is, she already knows that, she already senses that. She’s just trying to get this out of her system. And children do this when they’re exposed to uncomfortable things, they bring it home and they process it out. Whether that’s some kind of media they were exposed to or they observed something scary happening somewhere. Their job and our job, if we’re up for it, is for them to offload it with us.

So this is actually a great opportunity for this parent. She already did a lot of the work by explaining that this is a different environment. “You’re noticing that this teacher’s very judgmental and she has a short temper. Yeah, it doesn’t feel good, right? It doesn’t feel safe to be around that.” Instead of following that reflex that we all have to say, “Hey, don’t call him stupid, he’s not stupid,” or “Poor guy. You don’t want to be called stupid, do you?” Oftentimes children do know that it’s just a word, but we kind of fuel it with more, without meaning to, because we get offended for our child. Children, they’re so intuitive, they tend to see through it.

Which doesn’t mean it’s okay for her to call her younger brother stupid, though. In the moment, when her daughter says stupid on her younger brother, here’s how I would recommend intervening: “Hmm, now you want to call him stupid because you hear that kind of stuff at school from your teacher. I can’t let you do that with him. But I get that, I get you wanting to call everybody stupid. And it feels icky, right? That your teacher’s doing that kind of thing.” So, we can remind our child that something’s not okay while still holding them close to us. I don’t mean physically holding them close to us in this instance, but that idea of, I see you. I know why you’re doing this. I want you to do this, but don’t want your brother to be on the receiving end, if possible. But I’m not going to make a big deal out of it because then you and I are going to get stuck in a thing. I understand where this is coming from and why you’re doing this and it makes sense. I’m not saying to say all this to her, not all those words, but that kind of attitude. It’s okay, she’s doing the job, she’s doing what she’s supposed to do, bringing it home to us. So I would try to see this as very positive, a good sign.

Okay, here’s another one:

Hi, Janet-

I listen to your podcasts on a daily basis while I’m driving my kids to and from school, and it honestly has changed my whole perspective on all things parenting, and I truly believe I have become a better mum because of you.

There is one sticking point, however, that I’m finding myself in with my eldest daughter, who is six years old, and we can’t seem to move past it. She seems to lack any sort of intrinsic motivation when it comes to getting herself ready to leave the house. She’s more than capable of doing it all, but always needs me to ask her more than a handful of times and to keep reminding her: “It’s time to brush your teeth. It’s time to wear your clothes now. We will be late for school if we don’t get ready soon.” And she’s constantly getting distracted by her toys and wants to play while she should be getting ready.

I listened to your podcast with William Stixrud and I have also read his book, The Self-Driven Child, and I believe that I have perhaps been too involved and thus my daughter believes that it’s my job to do all these tasks for her or to at least be the one pushing her to do them. I was giving 95% and she would only give 5%. So this morning I tried taking a small step back and telling her that I trust that she knows what she has to do and I trust that she doesn’t want to be late for school. I told her I’m here if she needs me for the tricky parts.

She ended up moving so slowly and spent most of the time playing with her toy cars, so much so that she ended up being 15 minutes late to school. I am at my wit’s end and I’m really at a loss with what I can do to help her motivate herself.

I responded back to this parent via email:

Thank you for all your kind words and support. I’m thinking of responding via a podcast episode if that’s okay, but I have a couple of questions: One, how many children do you have and what are their ages? Two, can you describe in detail what you mean by doing 95% of her school preparation, her 5%? I would love to try to help.

And she replied:

Hi, Janet-

Thank you so much for your fast response. That honestly would be amazing if you could, it would help so much to get your take on this and some advice. I have two daughters. One is two years and the eldest is six years.

When I say I am giving 95% and she’s giving 5%, I mean this in regards to the amount of effort that is put in during the morning. I’m also referring to when William Stixrud explained in his book that the more effort we put into something they should be doing, the less they tend to put in. So I find in the morning, I’m the one that’s reminding her to brush her teeth, use the toilet, get dressed, and generally try to speed her along so we can get to school on time, and she doesn’t seem to have any intrinsic motivation to do this for herself. It’s a tricky situation as school, of course, is a non-negotiable and we can’t be late on a regular basis, but at the same time I really want this motivation to get dressed and get there on time to come from her.

Thank you so much for your reply.

So this is also kind of minor discomfort, I would say. Her daughter’s showing that she’s having a tough time in the transition of getting out the door in the morning. Very common area in which to be uncomfortable, especially for young children, in those transitions. And she has a two-year-old sibling who, I forgot to ask that, but who may be staying home with her parents. So she’s got to go off to this school, maybe it’s a new class. For whatever reason, she’s having a hard time and she has been for a while, I guess, and her mother’s been on her, on her, on her.

Now that can be just a frustrating waste of our energy when we do that. And yes, our children can get, as William Stixrud points out, they can get used to their parent being on their back for things. William Stixrud talks a lot in his book about homework and how kids really need us to stay out of that, which I totally agree with, not be the one having to nag them to do homework. And with this as well, it would be nice to encourage her more to do this on her own. But I think what might be getting this parent a little stuck is that she is now kind of, I guess you could say, taking it personally. She’s feeling like she did something wrong, and this is a sign that she did something wrong, and uh-oh now she’s got to fix it. She’s taking this on herself. When, in fact, there are a lot of six-year-olds who aren’t used to their parents nagging them to get ready that have a hard time, for a lot of different reasons.

And that’s what I would focus on here, for this parent. I would just notice, My child is having a tough time with the morning transition, very normal, instead of kind of wasting all that energy trying to nag her and push her. I don’t know about anybody else, but that’s the stuff I like least about parenting. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to repeat myself, nag, and I kind of refuse to. It’s much easier and more helpful to her if we just step in and give her a helping hand, instead of trying to get her to do something. So even with intrinsic motivation, we can’t make that happen. We can step back and encourage it, but it’s not going to be an overnight process. There’s going to be a transitional period. And it seems like this parent maybe felt, Oh, I’ve got to change this and I’m just going to change it all and let her do everything. And she’s showing that she actually does need help, because she’s getting distracted, she’s maybe kind of stalling, she’s getting stuck.

So instead of seeing this as, Uh-oh, I’ve got to do a different job here, I would take that in, that prompting her and prompting her isn’t helping her. But I would still help her. I would just say, “Oh, you know what? You’re playing with your toy. Come on, we’re going to go put your clothes on now. You can play with that toy when you get home. We’re not going to do that now.” Very lovingly, just give her a helping hand. And use this time to give her some of that physical care that she may be missing as the older sibling. Maybe we help choose her clothes if she’s getting stuck there and we help her, “Let’s put your arms up. We’re going to put this over your head.” And we set out a little time to do this. Not letting her stall. “Looks like, yeah, of course you want to play this now, I get it, but this isn’t the time. If you get all dressed and I’m here to help, maybe there’ll be time, but no, I’m not going to let you do that.”

So, very loving limits and what I’ve often called “confident momentum.” Which isn’t fast, it’s not pushy, it’s just noticing where our children are getting stuck. And when she does that, when she welcomes it, she’s helping her do it. I believe that is what will help her feel that connection that she needs, in a tough time, to move through. And this doesn’t take that much more time, it probably takes less time than trying to prompt somebody repeatedly. And it’s certainly less stressful for us when we kind of give in to somebody needing a helping hand.

And then, while we’re helping her, that’s when she’s probably going to express the feelings that she has around these transitions, and maybe it’s about her sibling too, or things she’s worried about that are going on at school. Not that she’ll necessarily articulate them straight out, but she’ll say, “No, I want to play. I want to play.” “Yeah, I know, it’s so disappointing. It’s frustrating! But, you know, this isn’t the time.” So even if it seems like the most ridiculous feeling, that she shouldn’t have at this point in her life, usher it in, welcome it in, while you’re giving her the help that she needs. And from there she will feel more motivated because she’s not being nagged to, she’s doing it because she wants to, because she feels that she doesn’t have to, and it’s a choice that she’s making. And we’re not going to give her the option of missing school or having to show up late, because that’s much harder for her too, to show up late.

But this is different from doing homework, which I really would leave between her and her teacher. Hopefully she doesn’t have it yet, in kindergarten. But when she does, I wouldn’t sit down and do it with her. That I would let go of. But this is really a typical time when children do need our help: in a transition. I hope that helps a little bit.

Here’s another one:

Hi, Janet-

I’m writing today about my almost four-year-old. He is a deeply observant and emotional child, always filled with questions, bringing things up from conversations he’s overheard us having. Meltdowns are always welcomed, and I can see the visible relief they bring to him afterwards.

Lately though, it feels as if his feelings are “stuck” inside of him, leaving him in this state of dysregulation where he may hit or push his sister out of the blue, destroy something randomly, pull things off of shelves and walk away, throw toys aggressively, or even try to bite me. When I try to address him, he looks at me blankly, far from his usually sweet countenance, and I struggle to help him move past the state he’s in. I acknowledge the feelings, hold firm boundaries, and I’m ready for a meltdown, but rather, the feelings just seem to remain.

A big issue we’ve been dealing with for quite a while comes at preschool pickup. For almost a year now, he’s attended a wonderful small, primarily outdoor-based preschool led by a loving teacher who also practices your principles. When I arrive, his face grows very serious. I immediately acknowledge him and ask about his day and offer a hug, but while I try to speak with his teacher, he usually takes to suddenly taking a toy from one of his classmates or trying to destroy something in the garden or knocking something down. These behaviors had only been restricted to this moment, he wouldn’t behave like this during the day, but recently he scratched a classmate during the day. When I later asked why he would do this, he stated it was because she wasn’t nice. He randomly pushed a boy at the playground recently —so uncharacteristic— and he claimed the same thing, that he wasn’t nice.

I’m truly at a loss for how to help him past whatever it is that’s causing all of this, and my best efforts don’t seem to be giving him what he needs. My patience is definitely wearing thin, particularly as he’s started to harm other children.

I will add I’m newly pregnant, seven weeks, but definitely having a hard time physically, which I’m sure he can see. I have to figure there’s a correlation between this and what behavior we’re seeing. We haven’t told him or his sister that I’m expecting yet. We’re hoping to wait for the first ultrasound so we can have the picture to show them, but that isn’t for another month.

The sister is two years old, by the way. Okay, so I wrote back:

Thanks so much for your kind words, I would love to try to help. I have a couple of questions for you if you don’t mind. Can you describe what you mean by addressing him at preschool and how you are responding when he hits or pushes or throws toys, etc., with his sister and at preschool? Thanks.

And she wrote back:

When I arrive at preschool, I come up to him and get down at his eye level, ask him how he is, and offer a hug and tell him it’s good to see him. If I then try to speak with his teacher, this is when he typically takes to doing something destructive to the space or even harmful to a classmate. Up until this last week, he never behaved like this during the school day itself, the teacher reported he was always very go-with-the-flow and cooperative.

In calm moments, I’ve tried to come up with a way for him to communicate with me that he’s having a hard time at pickup— coming to hold my hand, putting a hand on my leg, etc., but nothing has stuck. When he tries to hit, throw, etc., I try to block or stop what he’s doing and typically get down to his eye level and express that I can tell he’s having a difficult time and that I’m going to prevent him from hurting himself, his sister, or breaking our things. Lately, he’s taken to biting me more and I’ve had to more strongly hold him back to prevent him, while I express to him that I’m going to keep him and I safe. But he’s growing stronger and I’m growing more tired. In moments where I’ve missed being able to stop him, if, for instance, he’s hit his sister, I check on his sister and issue her an apology and then offer him the chance to apologize, which he rarely takes, and then we try to move on.

I feel myself losing so much of the patience and calm I once had with him, and I’m yelling more, feeling disappointed in myself and very out of touch with my son. One other thing that has become a major sticking point: he has taken to unbuckling his car seatbelt while we are driving as well and refuses to put it back on. We’ve tried every approach to this: ignoring, calmly asking, regularly stopping to rebuckle him, I’ve yelled—but it continues to happen. I know he is absolutely leaning into my discomfort around this.

Yes, so another very perceptive parent with, as she describes, “a deeply observant and emotional child.” And here’s where I think this parent may be getting stuck in kind of taking this personally, taking this on herself. She notices that when he can have a full meltdown, that he feels better, but he’s not having a full meltdown here. He’s getting stuck in an angry, aggressive, defensive mode. And she’s trying to help him out of that, help him through this. She says, “I struggle to help him move past the state he’s in.” Well, that can’t be our job, helping him move past the state he’s in. He has to move past the state he’s in, and the way that he can do that is if, instead of this parent trying to make something happen here, and I understand she’s alarmed, right? It’s alarming when our children are suddenly acting in an uncharacteristic manner and hurting other children. It’s alarming and it’s a very, very common sign of discomfort.

And what could he be uncomfortable about? Her deeply observant and emotional child is noticing, as she says, she’s “newly pregnant, but definitely having a hard time physically, which I’m sure he can see.” So imagine a sensitive, emotional child, very observant. Something’s wrong. It’s clear, something’s wrong with his mother. What is this about? He can’t get a handle on it. And because he can’t get a handle on it, it becomes huge inside of him. Disconcerting, to put it mildly. Scary. Maybe I’ve done something. What’s going on? What have I lost here? I lost the way my mom used to feel, the way she used to be around me, the kind of energy that she had for me. So when we can stop trying to manage or help with the behavior, which is, I mean, this parent has wonderful instinct, obviously very attuned to her son, but not feeling her best. So it’s kind of the perfect storm for her to get stuck when she’s alarmed by his newer behaviors. But all of these are about him and his discomfort. And in this case, it seems pretty clear that he’s uncomfortable about her not sharing what’s going on with her.

So a couple of things here. Not taking it personally. Noticing, Wow, this guy’s really out of sorts. And when we note our child is going through something or we see that they’re uncomfortable, their behavior’s showing that loud and clear, maybe then we would choose not to talk to the teacher right then because he’s uncomfortable. And this is also an end-of-the-day transition, when children are the most tired. And now here he sees his mother, she says, “his face becomes quite serious,” like, There she is, and there’s something going on with her and she’s not telling me. And I’m scared, I’m filled with dread. It reminds me of everything that I’m feeling. So one thing I would consider doing is not leaving him then, helping him through this transition. When she stops to say hello, be ready for him to have a hard time. Help him get to the car and just help him out of there. Help him through that transition with confident momentum, but giving him what he needs at this time, which is her, her full presence.

She doesn’t have to talk about the pregnancy yet if she’s not ready. We get to decide that as parents. However, I would say the part out loud that you haven’t said maybe, which is: “You’ve noticed that I’m really tired these days. I get a little sick to my stomach. You notice that, right? It’s nothing to do with you. It’s something I’m going through. I’ll be back to myself again soon. But yeah, I should have told you this before, because I know you know me so well.” It will help him so much to know. Just as when we’re going through anything in our own lives with our relatives that’s affecting us, our children feel that. And if they don’t understand what’s going on, it becomes a big issue to them, a big, uncomfortable, scary thing. So clarify that for him. That will help a lot.

And then, instead of wanting him to have the meltdown and trying to get him there or trying to get him to come through this, I would try to receive the feelings as they’re coming. “Oh, that makes you want to hit. You want to bite, you just want to lash out right now. I’m here to stop you.” When I ask this parent what she does, she says she tries to block or stop what he’s doing. Yes, that’s what I recommend. “Typically get down to his eye level.” When possible, but he’s a four-year-old guy and she can look down to him sometimes too. “Express that I can tell he’s having a difficult time and that I’m going to prevent him from hurting himself, his sister, or breaking our things.” That, especially with a child this age, I would show more than tell. Not make a whole big deal out of it, just be like, “Oops, there it came back again.” Maybe you even end up having a little nickname together about the impulse. “There’s that upset guy again. I’m here to help you, I’m here to stop you.”

We don’t have to get into the whole I can’t let you do this to your sister and all that. I mean, because he does know that. So really just helping him in the moment instead of trying to make a bigger lesson about it. That’s often what we’re trying to do when we think about why we’re saying a lot of words around behavior. Just seeing it, welcoming the impulse without welcoming the behavior. And as with the other parent or all the parents, holding him close, figuratively, instead of being alarmed by it. Which we can only do when we see this is him, going through something, and what does he need? It’s not our job to fix, it’s just our job to welcome him to share it while helping him not do the behaviors that are harmful.

And with unbuckling the carseat, obviously there’s not a lot we can do about that, but his overall sense of, I see you. I’m here to help you. I’m not judging you, your behavior. I really get it. That will help him stop doing that too. And in the moment you could say something like, “Oops, I see that you wanted to unbuckle your buckle. You’re showing me something there, aren’t you? You’re really not comfortable with what’s going on. I want to know more about that when we get home, but for now, can you please put your buckle on?” I mean, there’s ways that we can deescalate the tension around that because it’s the tension that kind of feeds the behavior.

And maybe he won’t do it right then, but he will eventually. He won’t need to demonstrate this rebellion when he feels that you welcome his rebellion, you welcome all these feelings, in the way that they’re coming up. What gets us to yelling, which never feels good, is that we’re trying to manage behavior in a way that we really don’t have the power to manage it. But we do have the power to help him feel seen and be able to express what’s going on with him in the ways that he can, the ways that he’s doing it.

I really hope some of this helps all these parents. And thank you all so much for sending in your notes and trusting me to give you feedback. It’s an honor.

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 my books, No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame, and Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting, you can get them in paperback at Amazon and in ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and

Thanks so much 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. I needed this. This is exactly like my six-year-old son. He would have these big meltdowns to vent and release big feelings, then, be good to go. Now, he holds on to these feelings more and is more aggressive when he expresses frustration or anger. I know that I need to give him the space to resolve these on his own timetable and it’s hard to step back and trust him. Also, walking the line of welcoming the big feelings while containing the behavior (throwing, hitting, pinching, etc.), without making too big of a deal of it as this is now a daily occurrence. I know that this too will pass and am just trying to focus on maintaining my relationship with him while he’s going through this.

  2. Lilyana Tsonin says:

    Hi, Janet! Thank you for your work, I’ve relied so much on your guidance throughout my parenthood journey… Still wondering daily if as a parent I’m getting it more “right” than “wrong” … but I am hoping that even not being “perfect”, the effort and intention to do better and be better daily is what makes us good parents at the end of the journey. As, of course, we love those creatures with our whole heart and we want the best for them, including the best parents 🙂
    So my question here is related to the part of the article where you discuss the six-years-old using the word “stupid”. I’ve also read through other articles on siblings relationship, and what I would really appreciate having more insight on, is when interfering is appropriate when kids are getting rough in the language? I get the idea that conflict is good and healthy and I try to let it be as much as possible. I also get the idea that a point for interference is where someone might get physically hurt. However when they are in the middle of a heated dialog, I am always wondering to what extend is it considered a healthy way to vent out their emotions and learn from conflict and when is it getting too much and the parents should intervene? My kids are 5 y.o. (boy) and 2.6 y.o. (girl). They are very sensitive, smart, vocal, loud and wonderful 🙂 Both of them are quite elaborate for their respective ages, language and talking has always been one of their strong sides. They do express themselves quite well. When they fight, the older one gets into screaming/shouting at his little sister quite fast. He is like that with us as well, a bit more careful with his tone with friends. He doesn’t often say mean things to her, mostly that she is “a baby”, but sometimes he says she is “stupid”. To be honest, often she is the one who says first that he is “stupid” and “bad”. And I wonder do I mention anything about his tone (shouting at her/us) or just let it be and self regulate with age? I’ve told him on some occasions I really don’t like when people talk to me like that and he has said “I’m sorry” but it really doesn’t change afterwards, it seems indeed it is something he cannot control right now. And as for my daughter – do I tell her not to call her brother “stupid” or let her explore that (in fact I’ve told her she shouldn’t call him “stupid” and of course nothing changed 🙂 ). I get that she is still young and probably just noticed that when she says those words, she gets a reaction. So she is very fast in saying her brother is “stupid” and “bad” when fighting. Then he would say it in return too, seldom he is the first to do it. My question is do I do anything about that? Is it just a healthy situation that is safe to go on or I should intervene? And asking that I do realise that these are not the worst words to say, but maybe I am also looking for a guidance for the life ahead of us 🙂 because I am sure vocabulary will get better and things we hear will be worse 🙂 So Janet, please please give us more wise words on what to do in similar situations? I would be so grateful if you can elaborate on this side of sibling conflict more! The physical part is more or less covered, I believe, in several articles and podcasts. But for the vocal part … I couldn’t find anything to point me to the direction that would give me confidence as their loving leader 🙂 Thanks a lot for reading me! I love your work and the love and calm you give to the world of parents!
    Lily from Bulgaria

  3. Thank you for this and all your podcasts. I love your work and it has been immensely helpful for my own parenting journey.

    I have a minor nitpicky kind of question about something you say in this episode. In response to the girl calling her sibling stupid, you suggest saying “I can’t let you say that.” This seems strange to me because we can’t really control what our kids say or don’t say. Do you mean there should be some kind of consequence or action we should take if the behavior continues? I understand that what we say is less important than our attitude when we say it, but “I can’t let you say that” still feels like an empty threat to me, or even a challenge. I think if I said that to my child, he would call his brother stupid more just to see what I would do about it!

    I don’t mean this as a criticism, I am just generally confused by the right approach in theae situations, and I would appreciate any insight you have on this topic.

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