Parenting Wisdom and
"Your website does make me feel I can do better, maybe even stop yelling if I can just get enough sleep. But here is my question. Does it really work? I love my kids, but staying patient when they act up is hard. That's not how I was raised. Maybe I can stay calm during a tantrum, but I'm no saint. If I do all this, will my kids really act nicer and listen better? Or will they just take advantage of me being nice, and act even worse? No offense, but it's easy to give advice. Mostly on your website people ask for advice and you give it but we don't hear whether it works. It would make my day if there are parents who try to do all this and it actually works."
Lindsey is right. Giving advice is easy.
Staying patient when our kids act up is hard. Empathizing with our child when we just want him to cooperate is hard. Breathing our way through a meltdown is hard. Managing our own emotions is really, really hard. And yes, it is so much harder if we're sleep deprived, as parents so often are.
But when we do the hard work--to stay patient, to see it from our child's point of view, to stay playful--we change.
And our child changes. And I know from personal and professional experience that we don't have to be saints. There's no way to be a perfect parent, and lots of ways to be a good one. We just have to try, and our intention makes a huge difference. Sometimes we have the internal fortitude to stay calm during a tantrum, which models emotional regulation for our child. Sometimes the best we can do is make amends, reconnect, and try again tomorrow. The miracle is, that's enough. Love actually works.
So will you help me make Lindsey's day? Will you write to me and tell me if doing this hard work has made a difference with your child?
It might be a recent incident in which you were able to stop your own meltdown and reconnect with your child. Or you got your child back on track by seeing things from his perspective. Maybe you allow feelings at your house now, and you noticed yesterday that your child is less rebellious. Or you saw your older child be empathic to your younger one. Or maybe you're better at taking care of yourself now, and you're enjoying parenting more. Maybe you're even like the mom I heard from at Thanksgiving, whose five year old said she was thankful for a mom who doesn't yell any more.
Whatever your story, large or small, it's a testament to your hard work. Please share it, the more specific the better. I'll post it here, as a gift to Lindsey and all the other parents who just need to know that all this hard work is worth it.
Thank you. For taking the time to support other parents. For your commitment to being the best parent you can be.
For making Lindsey's day. And for sharing your miracles, large and small.
Dr. Laura.....Thank you for putting this together - I am really looking forward to reading other parents responses to this! For me, this type of parenting is a daily journey and a daily choice. I feel that every morning I have to make a commitment not to yell, to stay calm, to chose love. And there is something very empowering about that. I've learned that when I apologize to my kids when I make mistakes and slip - I see that when they accept my apology, they feel empowerment and generosity of spirit. I see that this influences their behavior with each other - there are more kind words and gestures, more "I'm sorry" and more "Don't worry, I know it wasn't your fault" that they extend to each other, than before. There are days when things are a big struggle, but I really feel that something is changing deep within our hearts AND I feel us grow closer together when we chose love, and when in the middle of a tantrum I hug my child and genuinely tell him that I hear his pain and that I'll help him work through it. So I think the biggest thing is - more feeling of connection that I feel with my children and that I see them exhibit towards each other.
What Parents Have to Say
Dr. Laura's parenting advice completely changed my relationship with my daughter, improved her self-esteem, and transformed our lives. Providing my daughter with acknowledgement of her feelings and point of view reduced her oppositional behaviors and emotional meltdowns to nearly none. - Jodie Tokatlian
Dr. Laura, you have created miracles, large and small, in so many lives and our children thank you.
I have seen amazing improvement in my *very* angry 17 year-old son after acknowledging that there was a reason he was so angry and acting out. We have had several heartfelt conversations and I have seen a real change in how he treats his younger brother, and how he treats me.
I know that I am a better parent thanks to Dr. Laura's inspirational words and suggestions.
My daughter reacts so much better when I empathize and stay patient. And now I get to model that behavior instead of letting my frustration get the better of me.
Thank YOU so much for your encouraging weekly newsletters and your Facebook posts. Since I began following your approach, I have noticed a difference in the compassion I show to myself, and how much more that helps me connect with my kids. We are all feeling a lot more overall peace!
Thank you so much for this great advice! You give me ideas for how I can "do it better" and that lifts me up with hope and positivity too!
Yes. It works. And the more rest I get, the more patience I have. It makes a difference.
Dear Dr. Laura,
I have always tried to stay on the path of non-coercive parenting and striven to inspire cooperation rather than forcing it. The biggest challenge to my patience has always been when my three year old daughter seems to be willfully refusing to cooperate. I understand that this is her way of experimenting with her own independence, but I still had such a hard time not getting angry, especially when there was someplace we had to be and she would just not do anything to help get us out the door. Inspired by something in your newsletter or website - I don't even remember what it was - I decided to do an experiment. When she became defiant I simply went over to her and gave her a big hug and told her how much I love her, then repeated the request in a soft voice (repeat as needed). My idea was that this would
1) remind me not to be angry and
2) remind her of our connection and that she really did want to be helpful and not hurtful.
The effect that doing this had on my blood pressure was impressive, but the effect it had on her behavior was beyond belief. She went from defiant to eager to please in a single hug. This is just the most striking example of how applying the advice you give has strengthened our bond and smoothed our family life. I could give many more, but I hope this is enough to help make Lindsey's day. This is also very opposite to the way I was raised and it is so powerful! Thanks for all of the inspiration!
My transformation into being a parent has been very challenging. As they say, "I thought I was the greatest parent, then I had kids." I saw parts of me come up I never knew existed, mainly things that were taught to me by my father. I would take other peoples advice and it often didn't work and contradicted what I was feeling in my heart. My husband helped me to realize how my negativity was actually fueling my daughter's, like she was mirroring me. I would some times "lose it" and go off on her always feeling terrible later, but still angry and wanting her to "get it". Well, one day, I just lost it and got angry, yelling at her. I knew I was the one feeling bad inside, I didn't have a good day. So instead of going off and apologizing to her and feeling like poo. I went outside and breathed. I decided to be humble with myself and even started to cry. I had to forgive myself and know I was just doing the best I could. Do you know that my daughter, who was 4, came outside to see me and said with a hopeful smile, "are you feeling better?" I smiled and picked her up and gave her a hug. She knew what I needed. I can always help her so much better and our relationship is so much better when I have taken care of myself, spiritually, mentally and physically. It's a tough job being a parent. And I'm so grateful that our children really are forgiving to us when they see that we really are trying to be better for them and us.
"My boy is a wonder........yes of course, I am biased! And still it's not just me honest! I have virtual strangers complementing me on the spark he shares.....often! Of course some times he is cranky, distracted, ignorant, selfish, greedy, insensitive......and he is mostly present because he doesn't live in a fear state but in a love state. We've had some tough times.....I can be all of the above!!!...... I see the fluctuations.....but that's my basis for parenting these days. If I parent from love he has faith there is love in the world and inspires that love in those he meets and that reinforces his positive behaviour....for all of us have our 'imperfections' but what we focus our attention on and feed is what we experience so I know which way I want to face and which behaviour to feed....keep up the good work...be authentic.....love opens up more possibilities than fear I promise xxxx"
Yes, it is hard. Yes, it works. No, you can't be perfect and trying to be will surely be your downfall... I have very strong-willed four-year-old and since discovering Aha! parenting, I see differences in his ability to self-regulate and I feel like a kinder and more competent parent. I also worried that this approach might spoil my kids or cause more misbehavior, but it helps them to want to and to try to be better (notice the word here is better, not perfect)...
A specific example: My four-year-old son sometimes bursts into tears (with yelling) over seemingly ridiculous things. Last weekend, my son started crying and screaming at me over something I can't even remember now. I took a deep breath and resisted the urge to make him be respectful towards me and to basically tell him to get over it (my past usual reaction). I brought him to his room and held him on my lap and let him cry. I told him I understood why he wanted to do that and that it was hard not to be allowed to do things you want to do when you want to do them and that I bet he would do that all day long when he got bigger. He cried for maybe one minute, got up and said, "Okay, I'm done. Let's go to the park!"
In the past, these incidents would turn into major battles and end in my feeling exhausted and like a horrible parent because I didn't have the patience I needed. Sometimes, I still run out of patience and have to apologize. My son now apologizes to me too when he runs out of patience and explains to me that he was just frustrated but didn't mean it......
My eighteen-month old: Being my second child, he has the benefit of parents who have learned a bit from past mistakes. He does not have as many tantrums as my older son had at his age because I am more willing to let him explore his environment and don't have unrealistic expectations of how obedient he should be. He loves to play with water, so I let him stand on his little stool and splash around in the sink. If he gets too carried away, I redirect him. He accepts this redirection with less fuss because he is given more freedom to act like a toddler. My older son resisted me tremendously at that age because I put too many restrictions on the age-appropriate behaviors he exhibited!
I would say it definitely works...I would just share a recent incident(though there are quite a few more). It was my daughters 4th birthday and she had a school holiday. My elder son (6 yrs) had school. Everyone was calling up to wish my daughter well...I was busy with my son to send him to school. He generally never is fussy about geting ready for school...bit that day he was not eating his breakfast or taking a bath but was justwasting his time...I got irritated but then something within told me he must be feeling jealous. So I gave him a hug and asked if was feeling so he replied yes....then just for 5 minutes I took him in arms and told him that even I am feeling so...but its ok....that everyone has his own special day...and whether you believe it or not he was feeling better and went to school on time.... I was really happy that I could read his emotions and that I behaved in a proper manner. Thanks to you!
What I have noticed by practicing Dr. Laura's advice on empathizing with your child, is that it does dissipate the conflict. I am not always good at it....and at times catch myself retaliating in the temper tantrum ....but then I catch myself...and try to remember what it must be like for these little guys. I try REALLY hard to put myself in their shoes. It's tough, but when I do stop myself, take a deep breath and switch gears to a more empathetic self....a lot changes....not in seconds, but usually within 10 mins or so. Its tough b/c I have three little ones, so to get time to focus on one and sit down alone with him and work it out, well it can be a juggling act. My husband uses humor with the kids when things turn south. It ALWAYS works. I am not as good with using humor when I'm frustrated, but definitely using empathy works for me.
And when giving a time-out (so to speak), I now always go on the "time out" with him. If he is violent, I keep my distance, by closing the gate or door if needed...but I always keep the connection (as Laura suggested). This has made a huge difference. To let him know his feelings are ok and that I am right there with him as he is raging has made a world of difference.
My husband & I talk about how hard raising kids are almost daily. But I do agree with Laura, its better to lay the ground work down now, when they are young. To keep that bond an connection with your child. Because if you do not, you can not get it back. Its like creating a brick wall. With each disconnect experience they feel from you, another brick is getting placed on the wall. As the child gets older, it will be too hard for them to really feel close to the parent on a deeper level because their trust has been broken. I have first hand experience with this. My parents, who practiced the old fashion methods of discipline, & I are not very close. I pray, I do not repeat this cycle and am trying hard to practice Dr. Laura parenting style. So far I see it is working!
Your advice has definitely changed my life! For starters, keeping my cup full (and being aware of the reasons for doing so) has helped enormously. Using humor and play to diffuse situations almost always works. The tantrums are easier to get through. Two things you said that have stuck with me:
1) Remember the innocence
2) Every difficult moment between child/parent is an opportunity to connect...
These two things have been huge for me!!!!!! I'm not always "perfect" but I'm sooo much better! And my two-year-old daughter has started volunteering apologies after the tantrum has cooled and she's had a chance to process everything. Finally, your advice about slowing down the pace, and being more flexible with as much as possible has really helped me with my own expectations. Thank you, Dr. Markham. You help me create small miracles every day. You have changed our lives for good!
Thank you so much for everything you do.
After several rough days in a row with my toddler, I felt like I might explode. She was being so defiant, whining, destroying everything in her path like a wild, angry tornado. I kept admonishing her, telling her to settle down, disciplining her. I never stopped to ask myself what *her* perspective was, or if I was doing something to add to her frustration.
After two days, I spent a few hours reading Aha! Parenting after I put my daughter down to bed.
The next morning, frustrated again, she smacked me. A little part of me died. But instead of getting angry, I remembered what I'd read the night before. I told her it was okay for her to be mad at me, but that we never, ever hit. It's not allowed. I said it seemed like she'd had a rough couple of days. With her very limited language, she simply said, "Yeah."
I told her that I'd been very distracted and busy and that we hadn't had any fun for a few days.
"Yeah," she said.
Then I asked her if she'd like to have a start-over hug. She threw her arms around me and held on boa constrictor-tight for about five minutes. When she finally pulled away from me, she had the brightest, biggest smile. I dropped all my work (no task will ever be as important as giving this baby of mine every opportunity to thrive) and we just played. And played. And we are still playing.
IT DOES WORK!!!! even though I don't end up following through ALL the way, I believe it helps. Kids mirror our behavior. If we yell, they yell. If we hit, they hit. Often, when my kids are nasty to each other, I'll say: why are you doing this. You know what they say? "because you do it mommy". That really hurts, because it's true. So the advice does work, even if you don't manage to follow through all the way, whatever you can implement is good.
Yes. It works. It's not an overnight cure, but it works....My mother was a yeller,
and as hard as I tried, I couldn't stop yelling. ...I have been practicing approaching
my children in this new way, and although some days I get it right, other days
- especially if I'm tired - I just lose it. ...So you're absolutely right! Getting
sleep is important. For me, it usually means letting go of "time alone" in the
evening, and going to bed when the kids go to bed. But it's soooo worth it!
In the morning I'm rested, and when the moment comes that I feel overwhelmed by my own emotional response to their behaviors—I can pause. In that pause, all the things I've been practicing on the kids come to mind. Only this time, I'm using them on myself. ...I respond empathetically to myself first. And that empathy, connection, and soft response flows then on down to the kids.
One of my biggest triggers has been when I'm trying to make food for them, and they come at me, one after another, demanding, crying, whining. I KNOW they're just hungry. I KNOW they really want my attention, and I don't have any more hands. And they. are. so. persistent. And loud.
Any all my calmness usually goes right out the window I'm staring out. But the last couple of times, I've been able to take a deep breath, and start with repeating their request back to them, "oh, you really want to paint right now. That sounds like fun." And in the time it takes them to describe respond, I breathe, and look for the "YES." Or try asking them to help me get ingredients, or stir (even if it doesn't need stirring). Instead of yelling, I am finding a way to meet their need to connect, to be close. (silent cheering for myself!!) And my kids are so enjoyable at the dinner table! They help clear off the table, put food out, and are excited to sit down together. What a difference!
So absolutely try this!! Learning how to respond to needs without yelling will have rewards beyond the joy, peace & warmth you will feel toward your kids (and they for you). These tools have improved every relationship I have - including with myself.
Your site works for me. It's awesome!
My son said to me one day "pinky swear you won't yell anymore?" That broke my heart and made me realize that yelling only hurts everyone. Doesn't mean I am perfect, but it was a good reminder!
I began using Aha! parenting suggestions around the time my daughter was nearly two years old. This was shortly after an incident where I had flipped out on her after *trying* to listen to her tantrum, and then getting so roiled up inside that I ended up screaming at her, shaking her roughly by the shoulders, and slamming the door to her bedroom as I abandoned her. It's hard to forget that horrified, terrified look on a little person's face! Poor dear. I realize now that I needed to take better care of myself, create some good boundaries, and do some "heart" work to fix some of the parenting ideas I'd been given by my parents. Mind you, my parents were good parents, but they were the type to spank me, then yell at me to "stop crying or they'd give me something to cry about."
It took a lot of faith that what Dr Laura said would work, and so much of it went against conventional wisdom that I was afraid to be the laughing stock of my circle of friends. But having nothing else in my parenting bag to try, I went for it. It was pretty hard for the first month or two - hard mentally. I had to stop my reactions, first of all, which was the most difficult thing. Once I could slow my reactions down and see what I was doing, see how it affected my daughter, and realize my own personal pain that I was projecting onto her, it rapidly became easier. Each time I reminded myself that a tantrum was no emergency, that her feelings wouldn't hurt me, and that I could just stay separate but supportive during her outbursts, it was confidence building. The tantrums grew shorter - but I cannot lie and tell you that it wasn't painful to hear some seemingly UNENDING tantrums at first. But then, when the tantrum was done - it was DONE! No lingering whining, no continued begging for this or that, no hitting or kicking. It's like the whole issue just disappeared. *poof!* The magic really happens when I see how easily my little girl lets go of all the awful, even hurtful mistakes I make, and now that she's old enough, she will openly tell me what she is feeling. All I have to do is wait it out, let her have her feelings, and let her know that I'm on her side - even if I can't give her all she wants. My daughter just turned three, and I tell you that now I am NOT AFRAID of tantrums anymore because they don't have the power to make me want to fight or run from my daughter, and I don't feel out of control even when I am tired, because I know what to do, how to love her the best I can, and that it works!
Lindsey, if you're doubting -- all I can say is...the proof is in the pudding. It really, really works. Try for one day, then just one more day. It takes commitment to spend time with your child at inconvenient moments, and to see your own needs more clearly. Once you become fully aware of your own needs, it makes it much much easier to meet others'. Blessings! Praying for ya!
My son does NOT like it when I cook or do laundry or do the dishes. Why am I not paying attention to him? But I soon realized that he loves to help. He puts clothes in the washing machine, gathers potatoes to bring to the kitchen, brings me clothes hangers. And yes, it takes much longer than if I had done it all myself. But he actually squeals with delight at being given his next task. And I end up being much less frustrated.
I think it works. I try everyday with my 3 Year old and momma and P time has quickly become a favorite. I was committed to positive parenting from day one, and rebelliousness only appeared when I deviated from it, due in large to pressure from a long season spent around the grandparents. Like Lindsay, I wasn't brought up this way, and I have clear memories of my feelings as a preschooler and it still hurts to this day. The distance with my mother is big. So I know what doesn't work. I know I'll keep failing until I don't anymore, so I'm committed to positive parenting all the way. Thanks for your wonderful website, I'm hooked!!
It has taken LOTS of listening to you on "The Great Parenting Show," lots of reading your emails and other parenting information, and lots of hard work on my part. I just realized w/in the last 24 hrs. that I can do this if I take it one day at a time, sometimes one hr. at a time, one moment at a time. If I break it down like that it's so much more manageable. It's hard to change habits, and it doesn't happen overnight. I have learned to change my thinking to:
1. Put myself in my kids' shoes more often -- to try to see things through their eyes -- to try to imagine myself being 7 or 9 again (which they are).
2. I know I don't like being yelled at and who would? I am committed to trying to be yell-free, to have a calmer household. I see how upsetting it is for my children to be yelled at, and I don't want them to suffer that anymore.
3. I believe that taking care of myself has to be a big priority so I am rested, and present in the moment with my children.
Thank you, Dr. Laura, for all you are doing to help parents to be better parents for their children, and to change the world, one child at a time.
I thought I was already allowing feelings but I think I was sending my son the message that really, not ALL feelings were allowed. After lots of self-soothing (and a return to therapy), I'm trying harder.
Just today: We were driving home from the park. I had forgotten to bring a snack with us so my four year old son was tired and hungry. He started to say that he wanted to go a restaurant for dinner. Then he started to whine. Then he started to scream. I could feel my patience wearing thin as I was tired and hungry too. But I managed to stay calm and say soothing things like, I know you really want to eat at that restaurant for dinner. You're sad. You're yelling. now you're crying. You really really want to go there for dinner.
We got home and I felt immediate pressure to start the dinner we were both hungry for but instead, I sat with him in the car and told him I'd hold him as long as he wanted. Funny thing was, it didn't take that long. He cried and then let out a big sigh and said, I really did want to go to that restaurant and I was crying so much about it. Miraculously we were able to move into the house and get dinner started and I felt pretty connected to him throughout. the whole evening went well. I'm so grateful others are traveling this road with me and that you, Dr. Laura, are able to guide with the same compassion that we so need to have with our kids.
While I have read a number of really important books on good parenting in my time, it can be hard 2 hold onto that wisdom. And that's why I greatly appreciate Dr. Laura's emails. Arriving in my inbox & giving me the constant reminders of where I want 2 be. In regards to Lindsey - I really DO believe that these techniques work. In my experience it's the moments where I stop, check out of my own headspace & reconnect with the fact that I love my child & am ready to be there 4 them in this moment - that are the game-changers. My children feel the love, they feel validated & they feel heard. When I barrel on with my own mind full of "busy adult stuff" I make life so much harder for myself. & my child. That disconnect makes us all suffer. Good luck Lindsey. We're all on the path with you.
Yes yes yes, your advice works! You hit at the heart of why children misbehave: because of fear and because of problems with relationships. My husband and I always try to reconnect and focus on the relationship, rather than "punishing," and then we deal with the bad behavior. Then our daughter (just turned 4 years old) will open up about what was going on, and instead of having to insist on an apologize, she will give one naturally because she genuinely feels it. It's harder but works so much better, and as a parent, I am not left with feelings of guilt and shame for being mean to my child.
Here's a recent example. We are getting ready to move out of the country, and my daughter has been antsy and clingy. I was busy working at home and my daughter came up to get my attention. I explained that I was busy but I would play with her shortly. She came in for a hug and bit me in the stomach pretty hard! It really hurt, and I screamed, and she started laughing. I said, "I am very angry and have to come to talk to you in a few minutes." My husband took over with her for a minute, and then I came in and had her sit with me on the floor.
I told her, "I love you very much. Why did you bite me?" She was still laughing and started talking in a baby voice. I said, "Are you frustrated with mom for not taking time to play with you?" She shook her head yes. I said, "Are you sad because you want mom and I couldn't play?" She shook her head yes again (no more laughing).
I said, "How do you feel about our big move?" She said "I won't see my friends again and I might not see you again!"
Then she crawled up under my shirt and I rocked her, and comforted her that we were a family and families moved together and she would never be apart from me. When she climbed out of my shirt, I said, "I know you were frustrated, but we don't bite in our family. That really hurt me." She said, "I know Mom, I'm sorry" and she kissed me in the area where she had bit me. She really was sorry. That's it. We dealt with the root of the problem, rather than just slapping her down for bad behavior -- which would not have solved the underlying fear -- meaning that the bad behavior probably would have resurfaced and gotten worse. Our relationship was strengthened, not diminished, and I can feel good that my interactions with her were loving and positive AND firm. Personally, I wish you would write a book so I could buy it for everyone I know!
Yes, it does work. Yes, it's hard work. VERY HARD WORK sometimes. But it's like it makes you a "rational" parent. You'll never find yourself looking ridiculous in public screaming at your kid(s) like a maniac. LOL Looking calm and loving and your child responding the same way looks way better than the "nut-job of a mom" out of control trying to get control.
Trust me. I've been at this changing thing for a while. It's not easy. Some days I'm good at it and some days I just suck at it. Totally. And that is usually when I'm in a hurry; overworked and unbalanced. I like living the other way. So I'm making a change. A little at a time. And it does work. PERIOD. Hang in there, Lindsey!! YOU CAN DO IT. I realized my daughter deserved it. SO I CAN DO IT.
I never regret keeping my cool and am always immensely proud of myself when I make the effort to connect with my child. My kids always have a reason for acting up but I don't always have the patience to acknowledge their feelings. Conversely I always DEEPLY regret when I get upset and lose it (have a tantrum in other words).
So I am of two minds -- on most days I feel exactly like Lindsey describes: I almost never get enough sleep, certainly never get enough exercise or alone time, and being calm, patient, loving and understanding through all the behavior that gets thrown my way is incredibly hard. My kids never seem to get enough special time, enough play time or enough attention from me -- even when I try to give them all I've got. So -- given that this is so hard, I want some indication that this will really work. And I need that "proof" not only to motivate myself, but also to justify my parenting decisions to my spouse, to my parents, and to feel strong in my convictions in the face of general criticism.
And on many days, I see that even though I have been trying very hard, there are still tinges of sarcasm and criticism creeping into my communication with my children. I still get frustrated and yell when I feel like nothing else is working. I see that they are hurt by small remarks I make to correct behavior. I wonder if their outbursts or their self-doubts were caused by my inattention or separations. I feel responsible for their rigidity and poor behavior.
Then there are glimmers that it is the right path. After a bedtime ritual that included 45 minutes of screaming, kicking and pulling my hair, during which I remained calm, present and supportive most of the time, I get a day with happy, cooperative 6 year old. After a 2 hour session of undivided loving attention filled with laughter, hugs and silly games, my often wild 6 year old has a great day at school and gets compliments about being helpful, easy going and unusually cheerful and patient from the mother who hosted a playdate for him and her son. After 5 days of saying "sorry honey. We don't have screen time until Saturday. I know it is hard. I know you love video games. Our family rule is screen time only on Saturday and Sunday." at least 20 times every hour, he finally gets to watch his movie on Saturday. And when it is over, he turns it off and smiles as he hands me the remote. We go play outside instead of fighting about turning it off. And a few times in the last month he has said "I am so angry! I want to throw something at you! I hate you" instead of actually throwing something at me, or hitting me, or pounding on his brother. Or the tantrum that turned into a sobbing discussion about how hard it is to be the younger one who doesn't get to do the fun things, that he doesn't want to go to school, that everyone is mean. I listened for 30 minutes, sitting next to him while he sobbed into the couch, occasionally yelling or screaming that I didn't understand. And after 30 minutes I told him I couldn't listen anymore right now. I was going to make his lunch. I could listen more another time. I expected an explosion, or at least that he would run away and slam the door. Instead, after 2 minutes, he got up and offered to help make his lunch and told me he was excited to go to school. We held hands and skipped off to school.
So - I am hanging in there. It feels right to be connected, supportive, to listen to big feelings. And to stick with limits calmly, without a lot of justification or negotiation. I am trying to find time for me in the midst of doing all this very attentive time with each of my very demanding children. I am trying to reframe their endless need for me as a good thing, and one that is worthwhile trying to fulfill. And I'm reminding myself that we are all trying -- that we are all communicating, and we all love each other, and we are doing better today than last month, and we will figure it out.
Dr. M is right. Sometimes controlling our temper or reaction is easier than other times. I can't do it all the time, but when I get down on my knees and empathize with my 3.5 year old, it diffuses a tantrum and makes her feel loved. Sometimes she needs a tight squeeze, or to really push or fight against me, like head-butting a pillow. And sometimes the tantrums are insurmountable and seems like we'll never get through it. But she's starting to mirror my deep cleansing breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. And she says things like "Mommy, we don't yell, right?" Baby steps. As a single parent I still lose it, I still look to my friends and family for support, but when I see her taking deep breaths and trying not to have fits, I know it's making a difference. A little at a time. And I know we're BOTH way better with a full night's sleep.
On a recent evening my husband and I got home from work with our three year old son. It became immediately clear that he was having "one of those nights," where he will explode and throw stomping tantrums over every little thing. I'm talking about things like receiving his milk in the "wrong" color cup or not receiving the snack he requested quickly enough. (I do have to slice the cheese, dear, I don't keep pre-sliced cheese in my pocket.)
My standard reaction on a night like this, while I'm busily making dinner and dealing with breakfast dishes, would be to get into an angry argument with the boy. There would be yelling and telling him he's ungrateful, he's crazy, that his screaming will get him nothing and that I'm not going to engage until he calms down. The calming down sometimes never happens and it becomes a night of misery with my husband and I watching the clock as it ticks towards bedtime.
However, on this day I had just read an Aha! piece about staying calm and acknowledging his desires. So the screaming and stomping began and here is what happened:
1) I stopped what I was doing and sat down next to him;
2) I made eye contact, listened to his complaint for a minute and did not let the screaming anger me
3) I then calmly explained that I hear him and I agree. I know cheesy poofs (!) are so tasty and I love them too but he will have to wait until dinnertime in a half hour
4) He blubbered briefly, collapsed into my arms for a minute and then wandered off to play with his toys.
My husband, secretly watching from the hallway, met me in the kitchen to congratulate me on keeping my cool. And, the best part, it wasn't "one of those nights" because he was perfectly pleasant the rest of the evening. Wow. I'm waiting for another occasion to see if this works a second time!
I'm no saint either and am constantly reminding myself that I can do better. But small changes can make such a difference, and we are seeing the results every day. Just yesterday I was warning my almost 6-year-old that it was almost time to go to his afternoon activity, and there wasn't much time to play with a great new creation. He overflowed with anger and lashed out to punch me (this used to happen often, but less and less all the time). I said, taking hold of his hands, "Wow, you are really angry. This makes you so mad you want to hit me. It's okay to be mad, but it's not okay to hit me." He crumpled into tears and I continued to validate, "You came up with a really great idea, I can see you are super excited about it, and you really want to try it. There will be some time when we get home tonight to play for a while. And tomorrow afterschool we have nowhere to go, you can play all afternoon." He was more calm, but not convinced. I tried not to look at the clock and worry about how we were going to get out the door. Then I said cheerfully, "I have an idea - how about if you put on your shoes and coat [usually a major challenge], and you can play for *5* minutes while I get your brother dressed and load the car?"
That was enough to get him going, and he was able to stick to the limit, and we got to our activity on time. I'm sure that if I had submitted to my own anger, it would have been a terrible battle, and we might never have made it! I had started a habit of tuning out my 2 year old tantrums, even though I'd read long ago (when my oldest was small) about the importance of validating feelings. Now I'm doing this more and more and am really appreciating how effective it is. I hope we'll be able to keep it up and avoid a lot of the angry battles I experiences with child no. 1. Thanks and keep up the great work!
I always knew that I didn't want to be the kind of parent who spanks or yells or throws things at a child when upset at my child. My mom did those things to me. I have an anxiety disorder and also experienced major depression that are related to the abusive and authoritarian manner in which I was raised. The question was, though: what should I do instead? That's when I came across your site.
You continue to help me learn about child development and figure out the kind of parent I want to be. I parent my two-year-old son with the respect he deserves. I understand brain development better and what is developmentally appropriate as my son goes through different ages and stages.
I could give you many examples of how you've helped me, but I'll focus in on a major one: how to deal with tantrums. My son was banging his head on the ground or against my husband or me during tantrums. We wanted to keep our son safe and also help him deal with his feelings effectively. We followed exactly what you outlined in your article on an 18-month-old boy doing the same things. Following your advice has meant our son rarely has tantrums anymore, and when he does, we always react with compassion and love and give him words for his feelings while we hold him. The tantrum quickly dissipates. He neither hits his head nor us during tantrums anymore. Our relationship with our son is positive and based on respect and love. So for Lindsey and anyone else who is wondering: Dr. Laura's advice really works and makes being a parent (and a child, I'd say) much better. I don't pretend I am perfect all the time, but Aha! Parenting helps me to learn and do better by my son.
I have been doing this hard work since my oldest child was born (she's 3 1/2 now; my younger one is still a baby) but not as successfully as I have been since I started subscribing to your emails over the past few months. One of the pieces you provided that seemed to have been missing before was that I needed to help myself and give forgiveness and patience to myself as much as I was trying to do with my daughter. And I needed to learn, really internalize, that Kathleen's acting up was not a reflection on me or my parenting (at least in most cases!) but rather on how she was feeling and what her needs were at that moment.
I have stopped time-outs altogether and even consequences (unless they are a natural result of the behavior) and, not-coincidentally I suspect, have had very little need for "discipline." K is much more amenable to correction than she was before (and this is a high-need, high-intensity, willful child!). She rarely disobeys in public or in a group setting (saves most of her boldness for the the safe confines of home I guess). So... how has it worked?
Here are some things I've heard from K over the past few months:
When I have less patience and it's showing, she may very well say, "I think you're tired Mama."
When I knew she didn't wipe herself or flush the toilet after using it, and yet she insisted that she did, I told her that is called a lie and it is not okay to lie to your mother, etc., etc. She accepted this, then 10 minutes later, spontaneously: " I'm sorry for lying Mama."
After a tantrum or conflict with me: "Let's get back to love" or "I need a hug and kiss."
When I told her I needed her to be quiet while I was on the phone for the umpteenth time and in a stern voice, and then, while she was finally quiet, I patted her on the back, she looked up and said: "Thank you, Mama; I appreciate it." (moving in for a hug).
When I have run out of patience and stoop to yelling or lose my composure, she has had the courage and confidence (self esteem?) to say to me (quietly and peacefully): "Dont' talk to me that way. You hurt my feelings." I am so proud of her for this!!
Among her peer group, she has fewer tantrums and listens more attentively and is more amenable to correction than the others are, whose mothers use threats, time-outs, punishments, and ignore, sometimes literally walking away from, "ugly" feelings and behavior. This sort of treatment does seem to stop the unwanted behavior in the moment. But it always returns, it seems to me.
My own mother was very strict and yelled and even threw things around to vent her anger. It was often directed at us, her children. I loved my mother dearly, but I was afraid of her. To her dying day (less than two years ago; I am in my 40's) I was still afraid of saying the wrong thing or "getting in trouble," as much as I loved and needed her (and miss her so much). I vowed that my children, while respecting me, would NOT be afraid of me. I think I am succeeding, and it is thanks in no small part to what I have learned through the "attachment parenting" style and from teachers like you who support and encourage us to love our children, fully and wholly, instead of parenting from a place of fear and worry. It is hard. I still get afraid and worry sometimes; that she won't respect me, that I'm being a doormat, that she will manipulate me. But I try to recall that really my only job is to love my children and make sure they know it. The rest will take care of itself. Thank you for helping me remember this and live it every day!!!
I can tell you from my own experience that providing your child with a loving, compassionate, scream free, judgement free household has not just been a gift that I have given to my children, but it is a gift I have given to myself. I have grown by leaps and bounds not just as a parent, but as a person as well.
I have four kids ages 15, 12, 9 and 6, and I can tell you with all honesty that sometimes just thinking about how loving, compationate, capable, caring and happy they are, brings tears to my eyes. I know all parents love their children. I know all parents do their best. I also know that sometimes our best is not enough when we don't have the tools and guidance to get connected to our inner essence and parent from our heart and not from our fears. When my kids were younger, in everyone's eyes I was a good mom, but behind doors I would scream at my kids, belithle them, lecture, label, criticize, I even occasionally spanked them. I felt awful because when i was younger i had promised myself that if I ever had kids, I would never hit them. Fortunately, my friend shared the book How to talk to kids so they will listen and how to listen so they would talk. That was the first book that elicited real parenting transformation and ever since I have gotten my hand on really good parenting books and workshops.
I have done a lot of work on myself and I have learned the beauty of self love and self appreciation which is key in being the best parent that you can be. It has taking me a while to be the parent that I am today, but I can tell you proudly that I have not lay a finger on my kids in more than 6 years. I talk to them kindly and that is just what I get back. I used to have homework battles every night, now my kids are very responsible and the two oldest ones are high honor students, and they actually love math and science. they write poetry, they sing, they all have a love for piano and my house is more often than not filled with music and joy. My oldest discovered a love for pastels and is making delightful animal portraits. My middle schooler is a true gem. I went to a parent child conference for my third child today and the teacher told me that all of my kids have this "goodness" to them that is contagious. My six year old is helpfull, responsible and he listens to everything I say as long as I don't raise my voice. He showers me with hugs and kisses (I wonder where he learned that from.. Jajaja). Also my kids choose really good loving, creative, and supportive friends. I am just in love with the family I have created. I am not perfect, I do have some times were I still make mistakes, but my kids know that mistakes are just learning opportunities and we are all able to recover quickly and reconnect. I am so grateful for such inspiring people like Dr. Laura Markham who has been a shining light in my life. I hope you do choose to connect with what is true to your heart and celebrate and empower your children to become the best of who they already are.
My 3 year old daughter was going through a very difficult patch and was pulling my hair hard - it really hurt and hitting our cat and dog - it wasn't always when she was angry but sometimes when she was excited or frustrated or just out of the blue. I read a lot of articles and had a good think because I wasn't happy with how I was dealing with it. We tried a few things -
a calm down area with glitter jars and special books we could go together to spend time in,
suggesting my daughter high five me and then run away so i can chase her to recreate the physical hitting and the excitement of mummy stopping her
and taking time to talk about why she was doing this and what she could do instead.
The multi pronged effort seems to have really helped as she hasn't pulled my hair in weeks and attacks on the dog and cat are rare, short and less serious.
I also feel much more able to deal with any incidents as I know I have various tools to use instead and sometimes my daughter will suggest one herself!!
I am the parent of a two-year old toddler. Having been in corporate business for a long time, parenting was a new world to me. I didn't know where to begin. I had been raised in a traditional punitive household and wanted something different for my child. I knew I wanted to be loving, but exactly how to do that?
I found it in Aha Parenting and I follow Dr Laura's teachings each and every day. Dr. Laura takes philosophy and puts it into everyday, practical application. As a result, I have a child whose loving behaviour is commented on almost daily by others. I am told I am 'lucky' with my daughter. I am lucky, but I also believe her disposition is the result of following Dr. Laura's advice. I do not do Time Outs, I do not spank, in fact, I don't even raise my voice, let alone yell.
To provide an example yesterday when she was getting close to bedtime and subsequently was tired, she became upset by something that seemed inconsequential (the duck didn't float in her tub) and she was flailing about, yelling, throwing the duck. I told her I would not leave her alone with her big emotions and was there when she needed me. I reminded her we didn't throw things, gently put the duck back in the tub and in no time, we're talking about why the duck might not want to float- maybe the duck was also tired! I never would have used that language before Dr. Laura. She has given me the words to use and the mannerisms to put loving your child into daily action.
The more I read Laura's material and implement it into my everyday language, the easier it becomes. I'm certainly not perfect, but Dr. Laura gives us permission to be imperfect and try again. If someone has acted less than their best, we can always 'do over' - and that includes me. I volunteer in a community centre and I see the yelling, the time outs, the threats etc., and I note how they simply do not work. They might get short-term results, but I can see the child fuming, misunderstood, frustrated. The happy, content, well-'behaved', mannered toddler who I live with, has so much to do with what Dr. Laura teaches. I couldn't do without her and am grateful for her teachings every day.
Yesterday I was helping Miss Five make some dolls out of wooden pegs. We drew some faces, glued bits of fabric onto their bodies for dresses, and cut lengths of wool to stick on their heads for hair. I'd just finished the last one and then said to her, "Are you going to be OK for a few minutes? I need to go to the bathroom."
(This sounds ridiculous, but I really needed five minutes to shave my legs. You know how you just try and fit these things in around your every day activities?)
I had the electric razor on, and after a minute or two I could hear her yelling.
"Hang on! I'm nearly finished." I called out.
By the time I was done (which was literally about two and a half minutes), she was in pieces. The woollen hair had fallen off one of the dolls and she had been calling me to come and fix it. But I hadn't heard her over the noise of the razor.
"What's up??" I said.
She was livid. She got off her chair, her face red and tear-stained, and shrieked at me. "YOU! DIDN'T! COME! AND FIX! THE DOLL'S! HAIR! WHEN! I TOLD! YOU TO!!!" Stomping her foot and shaking her fists for punctuation.
Then she ran off into her room, sobbing.
I actually felt a bit shaken! It had been a while since she had chucked a wobbly like that.
I didn't follow her, I figured we both needed some time to regroup. I tried to process what just happened. Both kids had had a swimming lesson in the morning, so they were definitely tired. I probably shouldn't have upped and left her so suddenly at the end of the activity without giving her something else to do. And, since making an effort to see things from my kids' perspectives, I knew she was probably completely overwhelmed by her feelings in that moment and had no way to contain them.
After a few minutes she came back in and sat in the corner of the kitchen, curled up in a ball, head buried in her knees.
I went and sat next to her.
"Hey," I said softly. "Talk to me. Tell me what you're feeling."
"I can really see how angry you were. You were frustrated because I didn't come when you asked me to."
(I'm resisting the urge to say, "BUT - I couldn't hear you/you shouldn't speak to me like that/I was busy doing something, etc etc.")
A small nod.
"I'm sorry babe. I should have come when you asked me to. Shall we go and fix the doll's hair now?"
Another nod. "Come, mumma."
A small hand in mine.
NB #1: In the bad old days I probably would have shouted at her and then ignored her for the rest of the day. Because that's what my parents did to me. Awful, awful, awful.
NB #2: I would also like to point out that in the bad old days I was also completely overwhelmed by the parenting and my mental health was suffering. Mild anti-anxiety medication has given me a new lease on life. Don't be ashamed to admit that you're not coping. If you are unhappy, your children will fare just as badly. What price to pay for a happy household?
Thank you for reading. xxx
Your method works. It's just really hard sometimes. My daughter has a really hard time with transitions including waking up in the morning. She was waking up yelling and angry. I used to get upset and ask her (not empathetically) why we had to start our day like this? I then realized I was not giving love at a tough moment for her. I started snuggling with her for 5 min when she wakes up and we have turned the morning routine around. She now loves the close time and is ready to get up and happy/cooperative when the 5 min are up.
A year and a half ago, I was referred to your website by a mom I met randomly at the park who embraced attachment parenting and had sought advice through your website. I had never heard of it but realized, after doing some research, that I was practicing some elements of attachment but was missing out on the attachment to my older toddler. At the time I had a new baby and a very defiant almost three year old. With the sleep deprivation that comes along with a new baby and the severe behavior by my toddler, my patience had expired by 10am most days. It had gotten to the point of me not even liking my toddler. I groaned when she woke up in the morning because I knew from the time she woke up to the time she went to bed, it would be a non-stop battle of wills and both of us were determined to "win." I failed to see life from her point of view. I didn't understand how the new baby had affected her and her attachment to me. I simply saw her as experiencing "the terrible twos" and punished her defiant behavior with time outs, which, consequently, didn't work. I was at a loss of what to do.
Once I started browsing your website and subscribing to the newsletters, I started to learn how to change my own viewpoint and melt my own hardened heart. I instituted special time and was very intentional about playing chase and tickle, and as a result, my relationship with my oldest daughter started to improve. We no longer saw each other as enemies, but as counterparts. When she started speaking rudely to me or refused to do something I asked of her (like picking up her toys or brushing her teeth), I would try to turn a could-be-explosive situation into laughing by chasing or wrestling with her and then helping her to do what I asked.
I also learned what was really important for her to do and to let go of the things that didn't compromise her safety ("Yes, we always hold hands in the parking garage." "Yes, you can brush your teeth after we read a story."). I also give a lot of choices to make her feel as if she has control over most situations. Of course, the choices are always acceptable to me so whichever she chooses is fine with me (for example today we were at a large mall and I told her that she can either walk next to the stroller, hold my hand, or sit in the stroller. All choices were fine but the point is she gets to pick how she goes through the mall and that running ahead of Mommy is not a choice.).
So to answer Lindsey, yes, this advice really does work. Dr. Markham has probably saved me from a nervous breakdown and has given me the gift of enjoying my daughter again. This is not to say that I'm a perfect parent now or that my child always listens (had you been at our house yesterday....).
The turning point for me was when Dr. Markham talked about parenting with your own cup full. If we enter the day empty, we have nothing to give to our children. Finding ways to refresh my energy is vital, so I get up at 6AM every morning and go for a walk by myself. It helps me energize and focus so I'm ready to meet the day and the needs of my children. Having playdates with friends is also vital (I'm an extrovert living in the Frozen Tundra where everyone hibernates for four months a year) so I've joined some groups in my church and on MeetUp.com to ensure we all get the "friend time" we need.
I genuinely wish for families to experience the closeness that being connected with your children can bring. We need to see our children as the gifts they are; to stop fighting with them and start enjoying them. Start by examining your own self and beliefs about yourself and your children. When your heart is soft and teachable, your attitude will change for the better.
Thank you, Dr. Markham, for your website and your service to families. We are truly grateful!
In short, the hard work is worth it. I have a 7 yr old ds and a 10 yr old dd and they are super sensitive, high anxiety children. We (hubby and I) have had to do a lot of hard work, working with their meltdowns, honouring their emotions, helping them work through their challenges, and still allowing them to be who they are as people. It's been hard, it still is HARD!
But here are the kids I have. They both have amazing emotional insight. For instance, my dd is self aware when she needs alone time. If she is moody she tries to figure out why she is moody and makes a plan to help herself stop. My ds is a deep thinker that shows compassion and consideration way beyond his years. He calls me on my bs (politely!), and graciously accepts my apologies when I realize that he is right. I think I could wright a short novel about all the positive feedback I have received from teachers and friends about how amazing my children are in one way or another. They are amazing. There is still a lot of coaching to do and no doubt challenging years to come (teenagers) but I am confident that in the end, my children will be mentally healthy, happy adults who are clear about who they are. I feel confident about that because of how I have seen them blossom as little people over the last few years. It's worth it. With Love.
I am learning about parenting from Hand in Hand and got your newsletter. I was touched by your request to Make Lindsey's Day. I think we all need a little reminder that we are not perfect and need to keep trying. Every little success helps us keep trying. I know I had a recent success and the success makes me look back on all the things I did wrong raising my girls. Isn't it funny that a success can also make us wish we were better parents in the past! What is with that?
Anyway here is my story for Lindsey. My girls are both in college and came home for the Thanksgiving break. As we were leaving to do a fun event they got into an argument about who got to sit in the front seat! Amazing that this battle occurs at age 5 and 18. Anyway, I let it play out and then used the time after one refused to go and the other gloated to listen to them. I listened and listened and listened to each one separately. I found out that one daughter was feeling taken advantage of in many parts of her life, not just at home. She was able to talk about her life and the confusion around the feelings she was having. A few days later when a situation presented, she was able to notice she felt taken advantage of, and she was able to set a boundary that she felt was fair. I believe by her being able to off-load her feelings about being taken advantage of helped her set her boundary which then allowed her to have an awesome day. It turns out the person that was trying to take advantage of her flexibility also learned how he affected other people and grew from the experience.
It sounds like the trickle down affect, but it can start with sometime as simple as not getting mad when a fight begins. Listening to the emotion that arrises then allows the process of healing the hurt and thinking more logically about how to handle what happens next.
I hope this helps and to Lindsey, "Don't give up. You don't know how what you do today will affect what your child does tomorrow, but rest assured it will."
I work in an inpatient psychiatric environment with children & families who present with complex mental health issues. As you can imagine feeling expression, particularly anger, is something I deal with on a daily basis. In those moments when I use genuine empathy, a calm voice and actually listen to what the child or parent is telling me, it is often enough to defuse the situation. Of course sometimes it isn't, and in those moments I always stay with the child throughout the incident, process with them when their calm and spend time reconnecting. Those are the kids that are asking when I work next & that constantly seek me out, mostly just because they know I can keep them safe & because they know I'm on their side.Hope this helps answer Lindsey's questions! And thank you!!! I'm a big fan of your work!!
First, thanks so much for everything you do! I read "Unconditional Parenting" by Alfie Kohn when my son was first born, and was blown away by the ideas in it. But at that point, they were just ideas, and I wasn't completely sure how to put them into action. I spent a lot of time looking at others' websites and books, and I find yours to be the most helpful of any of seen. Despite Lindsey's comment, I find your advice to be very practical and easy to put into action.
The thing that strikes me about Lindsey's comment right away is that she is thinking of her children in a very traditional way. She is concerned that they will take advantage of her being nice, which presupposes a perspective on children that is fundamentally negative. So many people think that children are inherently "bad" and manipulative, and that the parent's job is to make sure they aren't taken advantage of. To be less than stern is to be permissive, which only sets one's children up for failure and worse. Behaviorism guides so much of that authoritarian parenting perspective, and parents are careful to punish the "bad" and reward the "good" and then wonder why their children aren't as easily trainable as puppies. They are afraid to show children love and affection when they misbehave, for fear that they're accidentally providing positive reinforcement. Children are smarter than puppies, though, and their brains don't operate that way. If only children understood that kind of logic! But they don't. Many adults don't, in my experience as a teacher.
The paragraph above describes exactly how I was raised. It pitted me against my parents, setting me up for tremendous rebellion in my teen years. My mother seemed to live in constant fear of losing our "respect". She was a single mom and thought that if she wasn't authoritarian, we would run all over her. She would never back down, never admit that she was wrong or apologize for an injustice. So what she did instead was push us away and insure that we ultimately did not respect her. Our teen years became about not getting caught, rather than about following the arbitrary rules my mom had in place. I had friends whose relationships with their parents were very different, and I was so jealous. I was jealous that they trusted their parents and felt they could talk to them about anything, and did. I wanted so badly to do things differently with my own child, which is why I started reading about other perspectives from his birth.
It hasn't been easy. As so many people (you, Naomi Aldort, Alfie Kohn, etc. etc.) write, a lot of this process is recognizing that I was greatly hurt by some of the choices my parents made, and to know that I can let those hurts go and make different choices. Parenting is a practice, in the same way that yoga is a practice. You start off fumbling and doing the best you can; you make mistakes; you stop and reflect on what you've learned from those mistakes; you apologize to your child; and you move on. Your child grows and changes, and so do you, and parenting from love instead of fear becomes more and more a part of who you are.
I think the biggest lesson that helped me early on was to stop, breathe, and think before I reacted to my child (in non-emergency situations, obviously). I would step back and ask myself, Where is my frustration and anger coming from? What is my child trying to communicate? Is my immediate response a reasonable one? Is it really about my child, or is it about me? Does it really matter if he does this thing? Is it hurting anyone? Can I join him in what he's doing and gently, playfully help him understand how to do it safely or why he shouldn't do it at all?
Stopping for just a few seconds was a hard habit to develop, but once it was there it made all the difference in the world. So many parents just react without thinking, and then justify their actions afterwards. Kids see right through this (I sure did!) and quickly become resentful that their parents didn't even stop to consider the child's perspective. The relationship is not about love and communication and understanding, but about power, who has it, and how to get more of it.
My son is almost 4, and we have an amazing relationship. He does everything other preschoolers do that many parents would view as "defiance" or "willfulness", but the difference is that I don't see him as defiant. I see him as trying to figure out how to be independent. He makes lots of mistakes along the way, as does anyone learning something, and my job as a parent is to help him back to his feet when he falls. He has limits and he knows what they are. He tests them frequently and finds that they are firm. He still tests them anyway, because that is what children do. That's okay!
I don't know if any of this would be helpful for Lindsey, but it felt good to write it all down. Thanks again!
"I think that sometimes we forget how much we actually love and adore our children. Ask any parent who has lost their child. If you keep in mind that your child is the world to you, if you remember all the times you woke up every half an hour at night, just to check if she's breathing, if you would keep in mind that time when someone yelled at your son and somehow your claws started to grow... There is no such thing we wouldn't do for our children, but we tend to forget that because of everyday stress. When you practise unconditional love, you can achieve anything :)"
Dr. Markham, I have been reading your emails for many months now and some days I feel like I am doing well making changes and other days I feel like I am back to Square One. But just yesterday I had one of my best moments yet with my kids. I took my two-year-old to pick my four-year-old up from preschool and when we got out to the parking lot they were distracted by some parents with a dog standing around talking. When I asked them to get into the car my four-year-old ran off, with the two-year-old right behind him. I called after them and followed but they laughed and ran even farther away. So I tried walking back to the car, saying I was leaving but they just kept running down the road toward a busy street. Now not only was I embarrassed that I was the only parent whose kids were running away like that from her in the parking lot where they are meant to hold my hands, but I was scared!
When I finally caught up to them I didn't yell but I was short and did not hide my anger. When I finally got them strapped into the car I told them I was going to take a time out because I was angry and needed to cool down. They had a few questions about that but they kept quiet for a few minutes so I could calm down. A little while later when we got out of the car when we got to where we were going they were still running, but were running circles around me, stopping to give me hugs "to help you feel better."
And then my four-year-old stopped, looked me in the eye, and with a big smile said, "Even when you're mad at us you still love us, right Mommy?" I was amazed that just my actions had sent that message to him, despite my anger.Thank you!!!
In a word, yes. It works. It really, really does. It isn't easy and takes a lot of practice and breathing to do it consistently (I'm still working on that, and also working on forgiving myself when I screw up), but the payoff goes way beyond just having kids that listen better.
When I started reading these emails about a year ago, I made a conscious effort to stop yelling and start empathizing. And when my son (who is 5 now) started feeling like I not only understood what he was feeling, but I cared about those feelings, our connection deepened. A lot. He stopped seeing me as someone who was unfair, trying to impose my will on him, and started to feel heard. Even when he can't have his way,if I at least demonstrate that I know it's hard, and help him to name his feelings, he feels respected.
It made me realize that my words are so important, but so is my tone of voice, my body posture, and my facial expressions... As adults, we want people to tell us how they feel and what they expect, but we want them to do it in a kind, tactful way. Kids are the same. They want our help and our limits and our boundaries, but they really want our love and kindness and respect too. And when we respect them, they respect us so much more.
I found Dr. Laura's website right around the same time that I found the book (and accompanying website with videos), called The Explosive Child by Ross Greene. Although I've never cared for the title of the book, the content is invaluable. The strategies in the book combined with Dr. Laura's insight were amazing and I can honestly say, changed the way I interact with my children. Give it a try - the connectedness you will feel with your children and the pride you will feel in yourself for staying calm with ripple out to every aspect of your life.
One more thing with regard to your comment "that's not how I was raised". I think you hit the nail right on the head as to why it's so hard for so many of us to get into the swing of staying calm and responding instead of reacting. Most of us were not raised that way. But wouldn't it have been great if we had been? Wouldn't it be great if our generation of parents chose to parent differently? Imagine the generation of kind, compassionate, empathetic people that could come from that! We have to do some work as we reflect on our own pasts, figure out what was missing for us, heal old wounds and then unlearn what has been layed down in our psyches. That work is not easy either. But it is healing. It can heal relationships with parents and siblings and help us to heal - and alter the course of - the relationships we have with our own children.
Good luck to you, and here is a sweet quote to help you on your journey.
"Promise me you'll always remember: You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think." ~ Christopher Robin to Pooh
I was just telling my husband last night that when or just before our almost 4 year old has a tantrum and is completely overwhelmed, she hasn't been kicking and hitting and completely melting down... instead, she says, "I just need a hug"!!! Such a good reminder about helping our children with regulating emotions. They need our help. I'm surprised she has figured out that this is what she needs AND has been asking for them! And I adore the extra hugs we get to share. :)
I have two children ages 11 and 13. I am constantly reading Dr. Laura's parenting tips and I believe they help. Changes may not be noticed immediately but over time if you are consistent with educating yourself and putting the effort into being a better person, your kids will become better with you. I loved the Thanksgiving gratitude exercises that Dr. Laura suggested we practice daily. It made me instantly feel inspired to be a better parent. Learning one little thing wont help but all the little things combined can create big differences in ourselves and our children. I'm grateful for the daily emails I have sent to my blackberry that force me to take one moment of time to devote to investing in my relationship with my children. So, read your daily newsletters! It could be the message you need to get you through those difficult days!
Mindful parenting, Aha Parenting--for me this was new--I was raised in a yelling household--and I fell into that when my girl was a toddler. I did not envision myself parenting that way, but found myself, almost uncontrollably, yelling at my child for things big or small that happened. For me it had to do with recognizing when my "reptile brain" kicks in and shifting that to empathy and long range thinking. I have seen a huge difference--I used to have a girl that did not want to be comforted or touched when tantrumming (when she was young) or upset and now I have a girl who reaches out when she feels low or angry--who expresses herself and her emotions in a healthy way and who shows empathy routinely. Of course she has her moments and so do I. I still yell sometimes. What is different is that should I do it, I immediately apologize for that behavior (which is simply a mommy tantrum and is detrimental to our relationship and her well-being) and that makes a big difference as well. I say, "I am so, so sorry for losing my temper and yelling--you don't deserve that and I am going to find another way to express myself about this". I think that each time you see a positive interaction with your kid when the situation is "negative" in some way and the cumulative benefit of these individual incidents, you feel so good that you are making the choices you do and it shows in your child and yourself.
Absolutely, this hard work in parenting has made our lives better. I am struck by it many times as I parent. These techniques help me understand my daughter better, and more importantly give me permission to take the time to understand my daughter. Taking the time to understand her diffuses her anger, and I can see her physically relax as she understands she is being understood. We also enjoy each other more. The other weekend, I asked her on Sunday if she had had a good weekend, and she said "Yes, we had fun and you were very calm." I thanked her for noticing. I said mama was working on it.
The best part of your email was, "sometimes the best we can do is make amends, reconnect, and try again later." I highly value attachment parenting and utilize attachment theory in my work as a couples therapist. However even the most trained and intentional people make mistakes. The key I have found for me personally (in adult relationships) and with my daughter is who I will be in the mistakes, will I seek to repair and restore connection or just let my loved ones deal with my mistakes on their own.
Last night, my 4 year old came to my bed 4 times waking me up just as I entered my deep sleep. I was so tired from a long day of work and just couldn't handle it. I ended up snapping at her and sending her back to her bed. I off course couldn't sleep any more and felt horrible. A few hours later, when sun broke, I went up to her and apologized for my behavior. I told her I loved her so much and asked if we could work together on how she comes into our bed in the middle of the night. Her response just brings tears to my eyes, "It's okay mama, I forgive you, (kiss and hug) I love you to. Lets go play now" That is the miracle of making a repair, restored connection with my daughter.
So Lindsey, I was not trained to be calm and connect to myself or my child on an emotional level. And it does take work to breath and empathize and manage your own emotions, but it really does work in the long haul and what you are teaching your kids about relationships is huge. I see so many people in my office that are disconnected from their emotional world, and do not know how to regulate their emotions because no one ever validated it and taught them how. Now as adults they emotionally stunted and they are stuck feeling disconnected from themselves and their partners. Dr. Laura's advice really does work in the short term and the long haul for me, it always helps me to vision what type of adult do I want my daughter to be? Then consider what type of parent do you have to be now to get those results.
Frankly, I have found I do not want to help create a sole compliant and obedient adult. I want to help create a woman who is emotionally aware, able to regulate her emotions, empathize with other's emotions, remain connected to important people even through difficult emotions and learn that she can both make apologies and accept apologies. Dr. Laura, your parenting tips help me daily with my goals and I am so grateful to you.
I know how hard it is to wake up each day having barely slept, and the longer it lasts the harder it is to be patient, creative or just keep up with life's daily tasks. You are not alone, it has to get better, right?!
My three year old has had a very hard time with the transition to becoming a big sister. Her behavior has escalated from being clingy to several night wakings with screaming fits when my husband goes to her, to throwing toys, and occasionally she lashes out with physical aggression towards her little brother. Our home environment went from vibrant to a toxic level of stress for everyone.
My husband and I come from polar opposite approaches to raising children. His parents were permissive, mine authoritarian. Although we are a team we struggle with how to parent our children, to raise them to be happy, well adjusted, respectful people with high self esteem. Lately the enormity of this job seems overwhelming.
The first thing we did was to change our perspective on what causes our daughter's behavior. Then came the hard part (that we are still struggling with) which is no yelling, and no punishing her for how she expresses her feelings. Every day I do the 10 minutes of child directed play, and when my husband is home he does too, so some days she gets 20 minutes of undivided attention. This has been the key for us. 10 minutes is doable on little sleep. Immediately after our play time my daughter is more cooperative, wiling to listen and less upset.
The more often I connect with her -on her terms- the more I see my happy, cooperative, confident, respectful and loving daughter. She even shares her toys with her brother after we play with her. For us it worked like a light switch, the trick is keeping up the play time and working on our emotional regulation when things aren't easy. Connection, connection, connection. It's worth it!!!
"There's no perfect formula -- we as parents are first and foremost human. We bring our own biases and assumptions and leftover angst or whatever from the way we were raised. We lose our temper. Staying calm can be hard. But if you are always approaching your child with love and from a loving standpoint, even when you aren't perfect (who is) you can still make them feel loved and valued and not make them shut down and make discipline that much harder. And Lindsey mentioned something else -- SLEEP. Not sure why she's not getting enough but that needs to change now. (Naps? Earlier bedtime? I'm talking for mom.) I went through a period of sleep deprivation and it was hard to be a decent human, let alone a great parent, during that time."
Since getting these emails I have tried, emphasis on tried, to go from the explosive, yelling, taking it personally mother of a 2 1/2 year old to an understanding his point of view, dealing with temper tantrums in an understanding way, giving choices type of mother. Not to say this has gone perfectly, I've got a long way to go, but in 4 short weeks I have seen a HUGE change in my son. When I don't escalate the situation instead turning things into a game or joke, but let him still know what he's done is not OK, but that I love him so much and that'll never change, he's had much less frequent tantrums, has started regulating his own emotions better, takes "no" better and just basically is a much happier, sweeter kid (and he was always pretty sweet). Now if I can only get my husband on board...
Almost all of the advice from AHA has worked in helping me with my eldest (now five years old). The trick is to follow the advice exactly.
My son aged 6 has developmental delays which include communication. This results in him having difficulty expressing frustration. As his safe place/person, I have been the victim of his hitting and kicking.
Thanks to your advice and those of others, such as hand in hand, I have been encouraged to talk about my frustration with it outside of the moment with another adult who can just listen without judgment. I have maintained an openness in my heart realizing that this is his way of releasing his big feelings. I have been encouraged to play with him in ways that allow him to take on a more powerful role instead of feeling helpless in all of his life.
Because I've been reminded that each child/person has his own individual styles, I have realized that methods I have encouraged my son to try that didn't work for him were not failures on my part or his. I KNOW that my son is not a bad kid. I KNOW that my son does not wish to hurt me. I have been encouraged to be genuine with my son without exploding. I do tell him that his hitting hurts me and I do not like it but I also reassure him that I am not leaving him to handle his big emotions on his own. I remind him that we are in this together. I have been encouraged to create an environment to decrease these frustrations by preparing him for what's coming and discussing alternatives for hitting outside the moment of frustration. We are still actively working on this issue.
But recently, we had a breakthrough where I asked him if he could tell me with words what was wrong. I asked if he could say I'm frustrated. He said I'm fwushterated. So for now, that's our thing, I prepare him ahead of time as much as I can for roadblocks in his day and I encourage during those moments of frustration to try saying "I'm frustrated." This is no miracle cure.
This is no gimmick. This is about having a relationship with my son. I am rewarded everyday in the closeness that we have. Is he the best behaved kid you ever saw? No, he is not. I do know that his intentions are good and that he has his own thoughts and plans and that he is his own person. I sincerely hope that knowing and nurturing that now will result in a continued close relationship as he ages.
It is hard work. I was raised with yelling and adult temper tantrums and it sometimes still casts a shadow on my relationship with my parents. I don't want to continue that cycle. My kids (4 and 6) know that I want to stop yelling, so that gives us an opening to talk about feelings and frustrations from both sides. When I take the time to listen and empathize I see the kids make an effort to do the same for me. My 6 year old son has *asked* for more ways to help me with chores around the house. It's like we're all recognizing each other as fully human. I'm still working on my emotional intelligence (there is till some yelling), but I'm convinced that all of the deep breaths and reflecting of feelings is helpful for me personally and helps to keep our family close.
It really does work! I wasn't raised this way either, but my husband was. First off, he is much better at handling his own emotions in every day life than I am. When our daughter was about 2, I noticed that she behaved better for him than she did for me and so I began to watch how he interacted with her. He was always patient, he always got down on her level and actually talked to her. Whereas I easily became frustrated when she wasn't cooperating (as if a toddler is supposed to cooperate!) and then I would talk at her. I began to tweak my behavior and actions and try and have a more cooperative approach and make it fun. I try and see things from her perspective. Its her job to play and explore; not to try and get dressed and out the door to day care. I remind myself that it is her first time around and I'm here to help guide her and build a good foundation.
This isn't to say that on days when I'm running late to work that I still don't get frustrated, but I take a slow deep breath and ask myself how I'd like to be treated if the tables were turned.
Well, she'll be 4 years old next month, and I have to tell you that the change has been remarkable; she's extremely reasonable, and cooperative. We still have tough days, but the tantrums are gone! I figure that if she's upset about something, she's entitled to her feelings -- I'd rather step back (take a deep breath) and have her cry for 5 minutes and then crawl in my lap and we give each other a hug and move on with our day. It takes about the same amount of time as a full blown tantrum, but its far less stressful and we don't walk away feeling angry and resentful!
My son struggles in noisy environments. In the past I have felt resentful when I have had to leave because of him. Reading your emails has not only made me see it from his point of view but also to make me more grounded and in control of my own emotions. It means that he is able to cope in a wider range of environments because I am relaxed. On many occasions we are also able to leave for a while, regulate together and then go back with a plan of how we'll cope. We can now try new environments knowing that if we do have to leave we will do so in good humour! There have been many other changes but this is the one that has made me feel so much better about my parenting.
I see a lot of difference in my children. I have wanted to raise them respectfully instead of by belittling them or keeping score all the time. I validate feelings. I hug tight through tantrums. My 2 year old is hitting and pulling hair a lot less, and he is saying he is sorry instead of saying no and running away. My 4 year old is often able to understand feelings. When I'm upset about something, he notices. If I screw up, I apologize and they get that.
Some of this little kid stuff is developmental. It will happen no matter what. So you can either get through it by yelling and disrespecting and punishing and resenting your child, or you can create a positive and respectful environment and address individual behaviors as they happen by modeling the correct ones.
I think this website is wonderful and I enjoy the encouraging things to do with your children. I have four boys and sometimes I get so frustrated with their wild behavior but I am remembering that they don't need a perfect mom just one that is doing the best she can. I have become more playful with them which they love.
I have been reading your emails religiously as do the other mom's in our AP Real life parenting group. For the last 8 months or so-- my younger daughter has been really challenging for me. She just turned 5 a couple weeks ago. She was stubborn and would cut off her nose to spite her face. She'd RAGE and tantrum and hit. She's said horrible things to me.
It's been a huge challenge (and I try to tell myself every day that it's a gift that she's making me learn something new) for me to keep my patience and I don't always win that battle but I'm committed to gentle and positive parenting and decided that if I just kept it up to the best of my ability-- it must pay off.
I've lost faith and cried but didn't know what else to do. Yelling didn't work anyway and made things worse- so did time outs. I did a lot of crying and taking turns with my husband and you know what--- I'm seeing a change in her. She seems to be more able to control her anger and rages and accept disappointment with more ease. I've remembered to empathize with her feelings, to respect her autonomy, to set limits (and she is accepting these more easily in the last month), to use humor.
Dr Laura, your column has inspired me, even when it's not always possible to follow all the advice due to time constraints or other issues. Hang in there and remember the age-old mama mantra "this too shall pass". It's not about making IT work - it's about developing a relationship and working together. I will re-read this many times in the months to come to remind myself- I'm sure. You are a great mama.
If a parent takes the perspective that they are "trying techniques" or even setting limits on their own behavior with their children, then it would be easy to feel like a failure every time they "accidentally" forget to do what they promised to change. Parents are only humans like everyone else and we only want the best for the little humans who we've been entrusted with- especially if you are taking active steps to be the best you can be, which you obviously are by seeking advice for improvement. The shift in oneself is realizing that every interaction - whether it is a "winning" or "losing" moment - is a perfect opportunity for growth; not only as a parent, but as a person. That's one of the most amazing aspects of parenting; its the perfect opportunity to "fine-tune" who we want to be.
It's not about "acting perfect" or doing things a certain way - the "right" way. It's about coming from a space of love and understanding. It's not about avoiding emotions that we think of as scary and unpleasant. It's not about learning how to side-step tantrums. Its about opening, expanding, and creating a safe landing spot for our children- every part of them. It's about recognizing that under whatever they are doing or saying, is a vulnerable being in desperate need of connection. It's about loving yourself and trusting yourself in this journey as a mother and allowing your child to bask in the sun of that blessing.
The single most valuable concept I have personally taken away from your emails and website is simply remembering all any one of us ever really needs is love. It seems so simple, but I know firsthand how hard that can be to see through in every heat of the moment that may occur. Since becoming familiar with your work, I have started repeating back to my 2 year old son what it is that he is saying (needing or wanting - or simply just sharing or expressing). Whether I know I am willing to meet this external desire/request or not - whatever it may be - I know I am meeting a critical internal need: a need to feel heard and validated. For him, sometimes knowing that I hear is enough. Sometimes what he is wanting becomes something he forgets about the next moment, because we are able to connect through that validation...and as it turns out, connecting with me was really all he needed.
Hi Lindsay! I have an 18 month who should be living in temper tantrum city right about now. She was an extremely active baby, crawling and walking fairly early~ running & climbing insanely early. I could have had a meltdown every 5 seconds for the panic and fear of her hitting her head, diving face first from our bed to the floor but I've been followng Dr. Laura since she was about 5 months old. We had a lot of upheaval in our lives (my husband lost his job, we moved a thousand miles home, we had to stay with relatives for several months, my daughter felt all that stress and tension I am sure). I had post partum and breastfed so I chose natural means to rebalance my emotions (so tremendously difficult). Needless to say, she was independant, super curious and born with a strong personality. We could either make our lives (all of them) more stressful by yelling and screaming at each other and her or find a method that works!!! It really does!!!
Don't get me wrong ... it is hard, very hard sometimes to keep a level head and to not freak out. It didn't help to have lived with relatives and have lots of other nosey relatives & friends who felt she should be raised as we all were... but I am a head strong person myself and I had to find a way to make us all happy and feeling the love.
I look at it this way~ would you like to be screamed and hollered at (or worse smacked and told to go away) when you are having an internal crisis? Well, neither would your children! They don't expect you to be perfect, they expect you to show them love and guide them to the best of your ability. Our babies love us more than anything in the world during their childhood and they won't remember all the times you messed up or had a bad day if you were always there for them, guiding them gently, listening to them and showing them how much you love them! My daughter's "temper tantrums" (which started btw at 10 months) are few and far between short lived because I take the time to bend down to her level and talk her through it. It's not a perfect science but it works!!!!
I've been reading Dr. Laura Markham's emails and from her website for a couple of months now. My son just turned 3 and I also have a 9 month old. I'm still a work in progress, but I'm managing my own emotions better and speaking more kindly. Part of what I've realized is that no matter what my son's behavior is like, it's important for me to set an example of how big people treat little people. I'm the one with the power, and I choose to use it with benevolence. It's done wonders for my self-esteem to watch myself become a better person. My son is no saint- there are days when he whines, or hits his baby brother, or can't remember to say please and thank you. Those are the days I try to cut him some slack and remember that he's a work in progress like me. I remind him of the rules, I stay close by to prevent further incidents and I carve out more special time for him. I don't expect his behavior to get better overnight, nor do I expect it to ever be perfect. Both of us are going to misbehave at times, but the important part is forgiveness, always trying to be a good example to him and to never give up.
I wanted to start my sharing by thanking you for your commitment in helping us with our parenting journey. I am a subscriber to your website at the suggestion of my Parenting Coach, who is promoting the same parenting philosophy as yours.
It has been almost two years since I made the paradigm shift and I have countless stories to share. However, this recent story has the kind of immediate impact that people look for and even I was caught by surprise.
I have two boys, ages 10 and 13. They both love music and have been taking guitar lessons (at their request) since the summer. A few weeks ago, my oldest son T discovered lacrosse and seems to like it a great deal. We are fortunate in that we could sign him up for two Skill and Scrimmage sessions at a local club. Obviously, this new found interest takes up some time so he decided that he wants to take a break from guitar lessons.
His guitar teacher usually comes to our house but T had a make up lesson left so he agreed to let him come to his house for that. I was going to drop him off so I could go pick up a cake for my husband's birthday. Well, that idea was scrubbed when we told Mr. S about T's plan. He got a little visibly upset and said that "there is no break in learning!". Either T stays with the lessons or quits. And if he quits, there's no guaranty that he can get his spot back since he has a list of people waiting to take lessons from him.
Both T and I were taken aback by Mr. S's reaction. He is usually a laid back individual but he definitely feels very strongly about this issue. I explained to him that T really enjoys music and only wants some time off so he can try out a new sport. I trust that hd knows what he's doing and in the end he will make the right decision in terms of what he wants to do. Mr. S said that sometimes 13 year olds thinks they know it all but T really doesn't so it's up to me to decide. I asked for another time option to get out of the now "this isn't going anywhere conversation" status and he reluctantly agreed to give T a different time for his lessons, if he wishes to continue.
I could tell that T was not comfortable at all with what was happening so I decided to stay. As soon as we got in the car he let out a big sigh and said "thank you mom for staying! That was very awkward". We talked a little bit more about Mr. S's reaction and went to pick up the cake.
Usually when it's dinner time, both my husband and I would ask the kids to set up the table. And usually there would be some bickering going on between the boys as to who's done it last and who needs to do it now and who needs to do what. So imagine how wonderful it was for me to see T buzzing around the kitchen, getting plates, silverware, water glasses, napkins, and whatever else we were needing for dinner! He even got out our Birthday Plate and Cup (which are stored in the highest shelf in the butler pantry) for his dad. (This is a tradition we have at our house which everyone enjoys).
I couldn't help but thought of the correlation of what took place at Mr. S's house, my response to him and the trust I place in T for allowing him to make his own choice. T responded positively to my support of him was proof that providing loving empathy to our children yields cooperation. Sometimes more than we expect!
When my daughter was born, we hadn't thought a lot about positive parenting with my 2-year old son. We knew we didn't want to spank, and we had read some books on other ways to get kids to do what you want without punishment, but we weren't above time outs or physically forcing him to do something. However, things weren't that bad. Then, after the baby was born, my son's behavior took a turn for the worse. EVERYTHING became a struggle - changing clothes, getting in the carseat, staying in bed. We faced each day with dread, knowing that we'd have at least 20 battles of the will in one day.
In search of something other than threats and spanking, I started reading positive parenting blogs. One link led to another, and I gratefully found myself inhaling Dr. Laura's advice and ideas. When I commented on a post once, and was at the end of my rope, she sent me a lifeline. I was so relieved.
One of the first things we had to do was learn to set empathic limits, and hold our son while he cried (and screamed, and flailed). I remember the first time we did this as a particular turning point. It was early in the morning (5:15 or so), and he had come into our room again. I said, "It's still sleeping time. Let's go back to your bed," and he fell apart in tears and screaming. My husband and I got out of bed (made sure the baby was still sleeping), and held him, told him we loved him and he could be as mad and sad as he wanted, through about 30 minutes of one of the worst meltdowns we had seen. At the end, we held his little tired body as he snuggled into my husband. That day, he was a different child. He was loving and cooperative. That showed us right then that positive parenting and connecting with our kids was the best way to parent.
Since then, we have made physical play a daily part of our lives (if we don't remember, he will always ask for it). I constantly tell him that I'll love him forever, no matter what and that he'll always be my baby. I've pasted mantras all over our house (like "Choose love" and "Solve the problem, don't punish the child"). We still have struggles, and I still lose it. But, I know how to ask for forgiveness and a do over (which is something he always is happy to give me). Our lives have become much more peaceful and enjoyable. Before, I used to be sick with dread when my husband left in the morning and I was alone with both kids. Now I truly look forward to it.
Please, for the sake of your family and your kids, commit to this. See it through the hard parts of taking a breath and empathizing when it's SO SO hard. The joy from your transformed kids will give you more and more hope, and more energy to keep going.
PS - For more encouragement, like Aha!Parenting on Facebook and read the wall. Other readers constantly comment about success they've had with different techniques.
Dr. Laura: this turned into an essay I'm afraid... Hope it helps. Felt cathartic writing it. It works. Absolutely. Specifically, I felt that I needed my 2 yr old daughter to nap during nap time. She was obviously tired, and I NEEDED that time when she slept. I felt like she was tormenting me.It threw off my whole day, week, month... It went on for almost a year I guess. Actually, Im still 'recovering. 'Those precious hours to myself to finish my chores and make a phone call were gone! And I had other children to care for too. I was stern. I was absolute. I was not going to let her 'win'. Her older brother didn't act like this, and I wasn't going to put up with it now. It got worse. Not only was my entire 'nap time' spent reinforcing my absolute rule, the fuss was beginning to disrupt other children's naps. Everyday middle of the day was loud torturous crazy time instead of peace an quiet I was accustomed to. Many friends, family, and parent websites suggested she may be ready to give up napping. Possible, yes. But...intuition and observation said otherwise.
Determined to at least keep her in her room (as friends and neighbors suggested) I tried baby gates, blockades, locks, charts, routines, rewards, physically blocking the door, camping out by the door with a book (which I never got to read!), and then ...yelling, shouting; ;finally, though I'm ashamed to admit it, spanking. This was my rock bottom. I spanked my little girl. Because..... At the time it seemed reasonable, fair, and my only choice. Now, I'm about to get sarcastic: Everyone agrees its wrong to 'hit' 'smack' or 'abuse' children; but 'spanking', well, 'spanking' is different. It's ok once in a while. When the child just won't listen to reason, and it's for their own good to learn to 'behave'. That's how I was raised and I believes this one instance warranted such action.
By the time my husband got home at night, I had no patience for him or anything he had to say, and generally passed out on one of my children's bed while reading them a bedtime story (at some point even the precious bedtime story became a 'maybe') Id then wake up at some point in the middle of the night; and since I 'couldn't get back to sleep' I'd do whatever chores I could do without waking anyone else and head back to bed a couple of hours before dawn. I was probably getting 4-5 hours sleep a day for a year or two...
I thought that was enough...its the same amount as most of my friends. But I wasn't happy. In fact I started to feel like I was 'going crazy'. I thought,redundantly, ' If I can just 'take back naptime' then everything will be ok again.' I subscribed to Dr. Laura's daily inspirations for some suggestions to help me stay on my 'absolute' path. I knew I was right. And my intuition told me my daughter was overtired.
Desperate, I gave Dr. Laura's 'cup full idea' a try. I started to focus more on my bedtime. I realized I wasn't drinking any water during the day...I was TIRED and DEHYDRATED. Finally, after sleeping and drinking more, (nothing else had changed in my life) for about a week or two ....I realized I WAS going crazy. I was blaming my daughter's 'inability to nap' for the fact that I felt tormented; blaming a 2.5 yr old for the fact my life was less than perfect. I realized I was not myself. I am a reasonable person. Yet I had let my children's behavior dictate mine. I realized I was the one who needed a nap in the middle of the day. I just didn't feel like I could keep up with my growing family, and its demands on me. I was keeping myself up at night with anxiety and worry. I'd convinced myself that spanking once in a while, for well thought out reasons, was ok.
Now the change: so I just kept sleeping, drinking (H20), and thinking more for another week. (again, not much else had changed yet). I noticed I didn't care so much about the fact the day wasn't going as I had planned. I used my new, cool head to make new plans. Used some if my extra energy to prepare for the next day. The kids (not just my daughter, whom I'd blamed for everything) all started to listen to me and follow directions better. I became less absolute, less stern. Since I wasn't passing out w/ kids I had time to watch a show or chat with my husband. He had no idea what my days were like. None. He started to help (a little) more. Which I'm so grateful for, because to be honest, I have no idea what his days are like and I'm sure it's more stressful than I think. I realized I was going to have to let the nap thing go.
With a clear mind, I thought about my problem reasonably. What I really wanted was peace and quiet for an hour or two each day, this used to be nap time. I also needed time to myself , and time to do chores without worrying about my 2 year old grabbing the bleach bottle I'm trying to clean the toilet with. I just re-arranged my schedule. I planned on cleaning in evenings, and eventually set up a playdate once a week so I could clean then. On days the kids were quiet during nap (by miracle or because I asked nicely, I'll need know), I rewarded their behavior by letting them watch an (educational) show during snack time. Wouldn't you know, over time, it got quieter again.
One day, when the house was quiet, I had nothing weighing on my mind, and I was reading stories to my little girl, she told me she was tired...no joke...went into her room, laid down,... Fell asleep. By herself. That was about 4-5 months ago. She started napping again, about every other day. I don't mind if she stays awake. And if I start to mind, I know that's a warning sign for me to get more sleep. Time to myself? I have plenty. Grocery trips, preschool days, hop in bed early (right after tuck in kids). I don't count on 'nap time ' for anything, though. I try to keep it quiet, calm. Sometimes we have somewhere we have to be... That's ok. Perspective makes it all ok. I'm back to my reasonable self and my kids' way of behaving is reasonable too.
My daughter took a nap. Not because I made her; not because I was stern or nice; because she was tired. It works.
I have only been reading your email posts for a few months, but I have already gained so much knowledge and insight from them. I especially appreciate your empathy approach to parenting. When I feel frustrated with my four-year-old son, I think... what would Dr. Laura suggest that I do?
The first thing that comes to my mind is to get down to my son's level and to figure out what the underlying feeling is behind his actions. I have learned from your posts that when he hits or says mean things, it is usually because he is frightened. I would have never thought of that without having read your posts! Now that I have this new perspective it helps me to empathize with all of the scary feelings that my son might be experiencing. Rather than telling him "No, don't do that!" I can instead talk out the situation with my son, saying, "Wow, you seem really angry. This is a big disappointment for you, isn't it?" or whatever seems most appropriate for the situation.
One of the biggest lessons I've learned from you, Dr. Laura, is that I can always be my child's advocate, or at least an advocate for his feelings. As soon as I start operating like we are on the "same team," my son picks up on my attitude shift and often immediately softens his behaviors and is ready to compromise. When the response is not immediate and my son still kicks and screams (or whatever he happens to be doing), I keep your advice in mind and try to remain calm --modeling that calm for my son -- and to stay present with him, knowing that he will come out of the bad mood eventually.
The tough thing is that these approaches require time and patience. When I can take my time to really sit down with my son to probe into his feelings, it is amazing how well he responds. The problem is when we are in a rush or going from place to place in a loud, public setting (or when I am just plain short of patience) that it is not possible to take the time to discern my son's feelings or to talk them out with him. I have to hope that I've laid a foundation of trust with my son that we can problem-solve quickly in rushed or tense situations. Otherwise, we just have to deal with it however we can and then talk about it together once we are home and in calmer moods. Such difficult times, including those in which I may not have parented as I would have liked, can actually create very productive conversations after the fact. You have taught me that I should never expect perfection from myself. Thank you for teaching me to forgive myself. This has truly liberated me to think of myself as a good parent... thereby leading me to make better and more loving parenting decisions!
I learn new insights from every email post I receive. Thank you for the time and dedication you offer to all of your parent followers!
I tell everyone I know and even strangers about your conscience form of parenting. I love this approach, the challenge of staying on top of your own emotions (which is extremely difficult but so worth the work), really getting at the root of the problem your child is having, slowing down to allow the connection to be full and true with your child(ren), deep breaths, and lots of love. It is incredible the transformation that has occurred in my family. I am such a believer in this approach and feel so fortunate to have found your website and constant reminders through your daily and weekly blog posts. They continue to teach me and encourage me to strive for a loving connection over giving in to my emotions which then blind me from my children's fears and needs. This approach is so powerful and has been life changing for me.
The best part about it is that you don't have to be perfect. You have to be real, honest and able to say you were wrong. Instead of creating blow up moments in your day you are creating connections, loving times and sharing your real emotions with your children. These real moments teach our children how to be the best they can be, not perfect, just real.<
There are so many moments over the past 6-8 months that I have been implementing this approach in our family that have blown my mind in how fantastic they work and how quickly the connection has been restored for our family. It is really hard to chose one...but I think one of the most profound for me was when we were at the park one evening.
I never take phone calls at the park (my boys immediately take it as a signal to act out) but I was waiting to hear back from a doctor about something and it was an urgent call. The phone rang very soon after we got to the park. My older son (who is 4) was playing on the swings, there were a lot of other kids around and the park was rather chaotic which is a challenge for him anyway. I was on the phone for less than 5 min. but it was enough time for my son to get really worked up about it. Just as I was about to get off the phone he came over to me with a HUGE stick and was lifting it in the air and playing very rough and unsafe with it. He started jabbing it towards me and I immediately got off the phone. There were plenty of parents around checking out what I was going to do about this situation.
Something clicked in me, I was able to stay ahead of my emotions, realize that my son was wanting to play with me at the park and didn't like that I was on the phone. So, I held the stick away from us so it wouldn't hurt us. I told him in a stern voice to drop the stick and he did. I said " are you upset that I was on the phone?" He said "yes". I said "did you want to play with mama at the park?" He said "yes". I told him he was playing rough and unsafe with the stick and we needed to take it somewhere it wouldn't be in the way of all the kids playing. We did that together and then I suggested we play hide and seek. His face immediately turned from sour to SO HAPPY and we played together for a few minutes. He was running, laughing, hugging me when he found me and thrilled to be at the park.
In the past I would have flown off the handle at that behavior, yelled, told him we were leaving immediately and have stormed away from the park and still been upset when we got home. I couldn't believe how much just validating his feelings, sharing a task together and playing changed his mood and behavior instantly.
It was incredible. Thank you Dr. Laura Markham for bringing so much knowledge and love to parenting. I am so happy to have your wealth of knowledge at my fingertips and continued support for doing this REALLY difficult job of raising loving, happy, well adjusted, strong, enjoyable boys. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your hard work and dedication to helping families find a conscience path of parenting!
I came from a family with lots of yelling and I'm still recovering from it. I see my sisters yell at their kids and it breaks my heart to see my nieces and nephews shut down and look hurt and humiliated. That style of parenting is all about asserting authority over the child. I wouldn't treat anyone else in my life like that (family, friends, even strangers) so I never understood why we do that to our children. I was determined to not yell, but I didn't know what to do instead so I've been plastering a smile on my face every day and sneaking off to another room so my 2-year-old son wouldn't see me cry every time I break down.
I had my "aha parenting" moment a few weeks ago when I finally yelled out in anguish, "I can't take it any more! I just need you to lay down so I can put a diaper on you!!" He just laid down with a look that said, "Gee, I didn't realize it was so important to you." Then I realized that just plastering a smile on my face wasn't getting the point across. My son needs to see all of my emotions, not just the happy ones, to understand me and to understand how emotions work. I wasn't being honest with him or myself. I've learned so much from your emails about how to interact positively with my son instead of having just "not yelling" as my only parenting tool. Now I can be firm without being angry and find humor in just about everything he does because I'm not tied up in a need to control his actions. It definitely helps to be well rested and to slow life down as much as possible. When we don't have to rush everywhere he has time to explore everything he wants/needs to and I can enjoy watching him see the world for the first time.
Absolutely, this hard work in parenting has made our lives better. I am struck by it many times as I parent. These techniques help me understand my daughter better, and more importantly give me permission to take the time to understand my daughter. Taking the time to understand her diffuses her anger, and I can see her physically relax as she understands she is being understood. We also enjoy each other more. The other weekend, I asked her on Sunday if she had had a good weekend, and she said "Yes, we had fun and you were very calm." I thanked her for noticing. I said mama was working on it .
I didn't know anything about attachment parenting or positive discipline or gentle discipline when my son was born. I was raised very much in a "do as I say, you're gonna like it, you're gonna tell your friends you like it" sort of fashion with lots of punitive treatment. Naturally, that's the way I went with my son. Punishments, spanking, sending him to his room when he was being unpleasant. None of that, and I really mean none of it, worked. Tantrums got longer and louder. I thought to myself, there's got to be a better way.
When he was 5, I was introduced to a much gentler style of parenting, one which stressed respect and empathy and right sized expectations for children. I began to connect with my son when he was tantruming. When he was acting out.
He's seven and a half now. We haven't seen a tantrum in a couple of years. My relationship with him is forever changed. We're no longer punitive, and we don't need to be.
Recently, he's gotten into a couple of tussles at school. There is a girl there that seems to just set him off. This is the first time we've ever had contact with the principal and he's in second grade. The principal was absolutely astonished by how honest and calm my son was, telling the truth about what happened, knowing that it was inappropriate, and not being afraid to address it with an authority figure.
Despite the fact that his behavior (the fighting) is undesirable, I am proud of his response to it. He *is* still a child, and while that's not an excuse for fighting, I know he has many situations to go through that will be learning experiences for all of us..... We had great discussions about it at home too, because we approached the situation from a blameless perspective with "can you tell me what happened today?" Instead of "what did you do!" ......It served as a great jumping off point to review how to handle ourselves in those situations. By relating our own strategies for staying calm (which are proven tried and true in dealing with our own kids), we hope to have assisted him in some coping strategies of his own.
The bonus is that I get to raise my 7 month old daughter in this fashion from birth. It was hard to open up to my son and say, I have been going about this in an ineffective way, I've made mistakes, I'm sorry, let's try another way. .....When you've been raised in an authoritative manner, you want to keep that authority, and it's humbling to admit to your own children that you realize the error of your ways, but it sets up a whole new dynamic that is easier, more sustainable, and feels a lot better to both parent and child.
It's simple, but it's not easy, and it requires addressing one's own childhood, which is messy, hard work. I would be more than willing to assist anyone VIA email, share war stories, things that have worked, and things that haven't. We are a real family dealing with real day to day life.
I write all the way from Down Under, to let you know that this method of parenting IS hard, but it IS worth the effort to make the change because it DOES make a difference. Maybe one cannot see the difference straight away, but I do feel it deep down in my heart , that it will make a difference in your connection with your child; and when your child matures.
Trying to remain calm and patient and compose yourself whilst your child's behaviour is driving you up the wall/around the bed is very hard, and yes, some times, we manage to stay in control and not lose it, and calmly handle the situation. And we should give ourselves a pat on the back. And yes, there are other times, when one or more of us is tired/has dangerously low blood sugar levels/utterly sleep deprived/despairing that it feels like groundhog day, etc. etc. and so we lose it... But then we realise we are human after all, and we make up/apologise/explain and re-connect with our child and it works. I find myself always amazed at how children are so forgiving and accepting of us. I can see how my child gets upset and continues to be unsettled when we have not re-connected. After we have had our 'time-in' it feels so much better.
And yes, the child naturally has unsettled periods due to development etc., but see how quickly he is able to return to a calmer state after the storm? And that has made such a difference to me. To me, it is not all about 'avoiding' or 'not having/preventing' these emotional explosions, rather, it is about how we help them (and in that process, ourselves) understand their emotions and through the distress. As a child, it is comforting and secure to know that I could have a meltdown with my parent there to guide me and be with me as I feel so confused.
I was a child brought up with a totally different parenting philosophy (read: caning, children-to-be-seen-not-heard), I can feel already how different it is to have this 'connection/closeness/strong bond' with my own children. I would rather my children behave out of their own volition and understanding, and not out of the fear that we might yell at them.I think when you consider how you would feel, as an adult, if your partner or boss, or co-worker or someone else yells at you; then imagine how your child who looks up to you as their biggest role-model and caregiver would feel when you yell at them?
I can honestly say, I do see a difference in my children - the way they interact with us, with one another and with others. My almost 6 understands that sometimes I do get angry and lose the plot, and need some time to calm down and is able to give me that space, and then later when we re-connect, he asks me, "Mummy, are you feeling better now?" This blows me away sometimes, to think a child can do that - feels secure enough to be able to do that. My children are no saints either, because we are all human and conflict is normal. It's just how we re-connect after the conflict, that is important I think.
Changing your mindset is not easy - it's like changing a habit - you have to keep putting it into practice. But after some time, it DOES become a habit - a good one! And I do know how seductive it is, when you see other parents with kids who are 'rigorously disciplined' seem to be able to 'behave' after just 'one look' from their parents, and you question yourself, 'is this worth it? am i doing this right? how come the other way or parenting seems to give you more instant results'?" How easy is it to despair at times like this - the quickfix method looks so good and tempting! But then you ask yourself, bottom line - do you want your children to respect and love you, or fear you instead? And you know the answer to this, I think.
You won't see results overnight, but it will happen. Knowing that you are not in this alone - this always gives me hope during the tough and difficult moments. And that's when supportive and encouraging networks like AhaParenting, etc. give you that little bit of a lift to carry on... To steal an advertising line from L'Oreal, you do this 'because you and your child are worth it'! And thank you, Laura, for all this amazing support and encouragement you keep giving us - to parent for a better and more peaceful generation!
Okay, seriously, whoever set up this Aha! Parenting blog is a lifesaver and should feel really good about what they are doing. This is the first time I've been to this site and I think my life and my family has just been influenced in a way I can't pay back. But, hopefully, parenting better will just have an awesome, positive impact on the world as a pay it forward. This perspective seems so balanced, well founded, compassionate, and practical. Thank you a million times! <3
How do you react when your kids act up? Dr. Markham says the number one best thing a parent can do is control her emotions. We're the grown-ups, she reminds parents, and the kids are usually just acting like kids. This book addresses parents who want to stop yelling and stop relying on drastic discipline. It's written for families who want to strengthen their connections and increase their respect for one another. Basically, we want our kids to do what we ask without all of the drama.
She tailors her advice for parents who have babies, toddlers, preschoolers and elementary age children. The tone throughout is warm and fuzzy, but I know that her compassionate parenting ideas work. My husband is a master of these techniques, and I'm still learning.
This website is gold!! Just what I needed. None of the other methods of "disciplining" are working for my 4 year old son. These articles are really helping me understand what he needs and what he's not getting! And the way it it gives specific actions to take, with suggested words!! I often find myself thinking when reading about parenting "but how exactly do I implement that????" I feel like I'm left hanging. This website does NOT leave me hanging. Thank you!!!! We all want to be awesome parents we just don't know how....I know these methods will work for my son :-)
I subscribe to your posts that come a few times a week, and have either been practicing the methods or for those that I have not tried, started using the methods. One of the many that have worked for me is acknowledging their feelings, hugging them while they are having a tantrum and just saying "mommy's here, it's okay, mommy's here..." My child who is 4Â½ stopped crying within a few minutes and we were able to talk about what was bothering her and how we can make it better. Parenting is hard and even harder with lack of sleep and/or the stress from the world. Children emulate the adults in their lives. My philosophy has always been, If we lead by example our children will emulate our positive ways. Thank you for your help and daily newsletters on how I can be a better parent.
I read your messages every day and I can actually feel my brain being rewired. I sense myself making continual progress towards the mother I want to be. Yes, I still have set-backs. Yes, I still yell and lose control of my emotions in ways I'd rather not. But I apologize to my son each time. I take ownership for my own behavior. I don't beat myself up over it, either, because I'm learning to love myself unconditionally along the way, too. I don't have to be a perfect mother all the time, just like my son doesn't have to be perfectly behaved all the time. All I have to do is make the commitment each and every day to try harder and to keep working at it (breathing through it, being patient, managing myself). And it DOES get easier. Many of Dr. Laura's suggestions ARE really hard to put into practice...because they aren't habits YET. One day they will be. One day there will be fewer set-backs, fewer apologies, fewer reactions and much, much more compassionate interactions. I already see it happening!
Children are not the enemy. During a terrible period of stress - deaths, financial disasters, family problems - my wonderful relationship with my wonderful four-year-old daughter was eroded by my crazed exhaustion, work pressures and stress. She reacted to my tension by having difficulty going to sleep, and I started smacking her bottom out of sheer, exhausted rage. One night, I started smacking her legs, furious at her for making even more demands on me, and then, seeing the terror on her face - I was frenzied - I suddenly stopped. What had I become? My hideous mother? I actually prayed for help - I never pray - went online, and found this website. On reading it, I cried and cried. The next day, I told my daughter I would never hit her again. It's been six months, and our relationship is back to where it was: magic.