Gentle parenting is a paradigm shift from control-based parenting to connection-based parenting.
It's also quite the buzzword these days. While it's great that there's so much more awareness of gentle parenting than there used to be, there's a risk: not everything that goes by that name actually brings any greater sense of peace to the home. There's a lot of false advertising out there.
How can you tell what gentle parenting really is -- and what it isn't?
This section covers what gentle parenting will look like in action, and what parenting styles directly oppose it.
Some adults will justify anything -- including spanking -- if they feel it's done under the guise of gentle parenting, such as when they're no longer upset or if someone other than the offended parent inflicts the punishment. This is clearly not the real deal.
Not only is this form of punishment the opposite of empathy, respect, and any form of positive discipline no matter how the adult is feeling; it's also directly linked to significant harmful effects to the child, such as lifelong trauma and developmental delays.
These are all forms of authoritarian parenting, which is linked to negative outcomes for children. (source)
These methods may "work" to the extent that they often gain temporary and perceived obedience. However, this relationship is based on parental control and manipulation. Here, parents raise children who fear them. The child will bear the emotional collateral of being raised this way.
At the opposite end of the parenting spectrum is permissive parenting, where the adult embodies little to no competent leadership. They may be more concerned about pleasing the child than leading the child with loving boundaries. In fact, healthy boundaries may be severely lacking or missing entirely. This approach, too -- while on the surface may seem gentle and respectful -- harms the child in the long run. (source)
A lack of healthy boundaries may lead kids to look beyond their family to find guidance wherever they can get it -- peers, social media, or really anyone who's willing to tell them the "rules of life." The risk, of course, is that these "rules" may be highly dangerous to the child.
Although parenting books won't recommend this style, parents who fail to use any form of discipline, including positive and respectful discipline, may feel that their family is conflict-free. They may believe that a family who doesn't talk about conflict is happy.
This false assumption poses two problems:
Related mini-course: Anger Management for Kids: Helpful Strategies for Before, During & After the Upset
These parenting styles are not at all helpful in supporting the child's development. To the contrary, these principles directly oppose the spirit of gentle parenting.
Gentle parenting, as done within the context of authoritative parenting and widely agreed to be the most beneficial for children, is neither authoritarian nor permissive (source).
It's based on connection.
The adult knows that they can't simply parent the child's behavior, even though that's what they live with outwardly. Rather, the child's behavior is always a reflection of what's going on emotionally for them. If the child is "doing well," they're likely thriving inside. If the child is exhibiting troubling or problematic behavior, the child is struggling inside.
It's rather like when a car breaks down: we don't just take it to a car wash to make it look better. We need to get under the hood and repair what's on the inside.
Gentle parenting is parenting from the inside out. It's about going beneath the surface and seeing the child fully.
It's about parent and child doing well for one another because they want to; because the foundation of their very co-existence is mutual respect and trust.
Some people assume that gentle parenting is the same as attachment parenting. Although there certainly can be varying degrees of overlap with attachment parenting, the real answer to whether they're synonymous is this: it depends.
Attachment parenting, a term originally coined by Dr. William Sears, is a gentle parenting style that encompasses the following parenting methods geared towards parenting small children. They're sometimes called the seven B's (source). Each is scientifically supported as noted below.
This refers to immediate and continuous contact between parent and child directly after birth. (scientific validation)
Here, the mother provides the most natural and most readily available solution to respond to baby's hunger. (scientific validation)
This means keeping baby close in a soft carrier, usually keeping the wearer's hands free. It's a key to having a calm and happy baby, and helps form a secure attachment between parent and child. (scientific validation)
The AAP recommends safe room sharing where a healthy and sober parent or parents sleep near baby throughout the first year of life. (scientific validation)
Dr. Sears suggests that baby will never cry for "no reason" and their emotions are every bit as valid as adults'. It's the parent's job to respond with presence, respect, and patience. (scientific validation)
This guidance is to avoid any so-called parenting expert who gives or sells advice to make baby sleep. Sleep comes naturally as part of development rather than training. Sears advocates that we should listen and respond to baby's cues day and night. (scientific validation)
Here, we accept that mothers and fathers still matter; there's no need to lose a sense of self or jeopardize the relationship by devoting all our energy to our kids. (scientific validation)
Individually and collectively, research shows that each of these tools can have positive outcomes for children.
A gentle parent doesn't have to do all these things to love their children and raise wonderful, securely attached kids. Let's look at an example:
A single mom is raising twin baby girls. She loves them dearly. She's also a nurse who works third shift. Her children spend their nights at home with Grandma. They attend daycare a few hours each day while mom sleeps. When mom is with her children, she's present, loving, and fully devoted to them. However, she can't room share with them at night because she's working, and Grandma has said no to a shared room. Although mom pumps milk when she can, she usually supplements with formula. When she's off work, she's too tired to baby wear, although she does hold her babies often.
Can this woman form a secure attachment with her children? Absolutely. Parents can embody gentle parenting without it mirroring Sears' definition.
Although it sounds simple (albeit, perhaps, a bit perplexing), what matters most is that she delights in her children, and that they feel her delight (source). Her presence, kindness, and empathy for their feelings when they're together show her girls the depth of her love.
She's mindful of their time together and, most of the time, stays calm and peaceful despite her own stressors. She models self-care by taking them for walks and spending time in nature. She models gentle parenting in every possible interaction with them.
Conversely, if a parent is going through the motions of attachment parenting but is emotionally spent and has no joy to offer their family, this is not the recipe for raising children who feel particularly special.
Gentle parenting isn't just about making children feel special, of course. Much more, research points to it being about open and ongoing communication that nurtures the relationship between parent and child.
All that said, if the parent chooses behaviour in line with the principles of attachment parenting and they feel delight in this parenting style, then it's a bonus.
You likely noticed that all the components of attachment parenting above apply to young children, where secure attachment is established (or not) in the first years of life (source).
What about older kids? Certainly gentle parenting doesn't end there. Indeed, it doesn't.
Gentle parenting isn't just for babies, of course. What does it look like for older children, as well? These benchmarks help us know for sure that we're using the real deal.
Gentle parenting incorporates the child's perspective when setting "rules" for the family. These rules are different than those of
the authoritarian parent, however: they're not there to control the child.
Gentle parenting isn't about sticker charts as a key to cooperation around boundaries. Gentle parenting isn't defined by rewards and other extrinsic motivation any more than it is by punishments. Instead, the adult will listen to the child, respect their perspective, and work to find win/win scenarios and boundaries that are mutually acceptable.
Gentle parenting models these attributes, even when parents are struggling or facing their children's challenging behaviour. Parents view their kids as allies. Problems are external issues to be solved, rather than internal issues that reflect the state of the relationship.
When problems arise, gentle parents pause and ask themselves, "How do I want my child to see me respond?" They realize that co-regulation is a powerful tool in gentle parenting and a sign of a healthy bond. Once parents and children find their calm together, they can create mutually acceptable solutions.
Gentle parents embody not only the "Golden Rule" -- treating others as they'd like to be treated -- but also another version, the "Platinum Rule" -- do to others what they'd want done to them.
The gentle parent realizes that it's much healthier for a child to release their feelings than keep them pent up inside. Although not all behavior is acceptable, gentle parenting works to encourage healthy expression of emotions.
Gentle parents encourage children to share what they feel, even if they're upset with each other -- and even if it's sometimes uncomfortable. Here, it's emotionally safe to do so because they work to genuinely understand the other's perspective.
It's helpful for many parents to set intentions about the specific ways they want to model respect for their kids. Some begin each morning with a prayer or meditation about specifically how they want to be peaceful that day. This approach can help tremendously.
The final important component to note about gentle parenting is that no person in the world is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. When gentle parents mess up, they model healthy repair and work to make things right with their children. In doing so, they raise children who know that modeling accountability for one's actions, and allowing grace for mistakes, is an integral part of healthy connections.
Although gentle parenting may feel daunting to those who haven't practiced it before, please know that it's not a race to perfection. No one would expect that of you. Just take that one next step. As they say, Rome wasn't built in a day (and no one's asking you to build Rome).
Choose one small way to connect with your child, and you're already on your way.
Many people think of spanking, also known as corporal punishment, as being an "old fashioned" way for parents to discipline their children. Perhaps surprisingly, however, it's still much more common than many realize.
Despite guidance against corporal punishment from the American Academy of Pediatrics, half of parents in the United States have used spanking to address perceived behavior problems within the past year. One-third have used corporal punishment within the past week (source). Rather than being an outdated form of physical discipline, it seems to be alive and well.
What's going on? Doesn't "discipline" mean to teach, and isn't teaching supposed to be benevolent?
Before I say anything further, I want you to know this: if you use spanking as a form of discipline for your kids, I'm not here to judge you. I'm here to help you find another way, with your consent. If you need to, take time to process this information. Spanking can legitimately be a hard habit to break.
My goal isn't to shame you, but to show you a path forward, if you're willing. I acknowledge that almost all parents truly and deeply love their children.
This article covers why people spank their children -- and what to do about it.
For some parents, spanking was one of the consequences they endured as children. As with many patterns they learned in childhood, they simply didn't learn another way. Perhaps they rarely experienced positive reinforcement, connection-based parenting, and discipline strategies that are in line with what we now know best supports child development.
More compelling, perhaps, is that they believe spanking "works." After all, it can change behavior. Isn't changed behavior what we want?
In The Body Keeps the Score (afflinks), Bessel van der Kolk discusses the role of intergenerational trauma on the patterns and choices we make in our own lives. Some of these patterns "show up" without much conscious effort on our part; we simply do what we do because it's what our brains have learned to do as an automatic or near-automatic response.
Change and healing are possible, however.
The tricky part is that the adult children who were spanked by their parents when they were little, still craved connection with their parents despite the spankings. They're hardwired to stick up for their parents because, in addition being the source of spanking, those same parents also took care of them and likely truly loved them.
By virtue of being raised by the person who spanked them and wanting an ongoing connection, they often justify the adult's behavior. Perhaps now, as an adult themselves, they say spanking taught them something useful, or believe that they somehow deserved physical punishment.
They may believe that, at least some of the time, they were too "naughty" for anything less than spanking. Further, they may believe that the world is tough, so it's important to have been "toughened up" by their parents -- and they hold onto that belief for their children.
Indeed, it can be confusing for a growing child's nervous system to be both hurt and protected by the same person. Among other consequences, it can result in what's called an insecure attachment (source); in more extreme cases, it can cause trauma bonding (source). The child will work to "close the gap" and be more connected to those they love, even if there's a steep price for that connection (source 1, source 2).
In short, they're willing to look away from the short- and long-term pain that corporal punishment caused in order to emotionally save the relationship, no matter the impact on their sense of self-worth as a child.
Additionally, many parents feel awful after spanking their children. It's a no-win situation, but they often feel they have no choice.
Research shows that when parents work to make sense of their own childhood, otherwise known as their attachment history -- and form what's called a coherent narrative around it -- they can better separate the behavior of their own parents from the behavior they want to model with their children. A coherent narrative simply means the ability to tell a story that makes sense (here's how it works).
Although forming a coherent narrative can reach far beyond spanking (or, alternatively, not include corporal punishment all), it certainly can be part of the healing process for people who've endured corporal punishment. They can learn that spanking is not the only way, and that healing is possible for them and for their children.
Fortunately for the relationship, adults who choose to give up spanking don't necessarily have to vilify their own caregivers in the process. With empathy, they can separate the act of having been spanked from the human they loved who inflicted the action. They can separate the painful parts of their upbringing from the joyful ones, and not holistically judge their caregivers' discipline strategies as a reflection of the relationship overall.
Part of this work may include what's referred to as "re-parenting" themselves. That entails finding gentleness and compassion for their inner child. It can involve seeing their younger self as worthy of love and support despite the circumstances. It embraces that child as having done the best they could with the emotional tools they had at the time. It's a softening themselves to receive unconditional love.
Indeed, when adults who were spanked do this work, it can sometimes make waves between their parents and them. It may cause resentment; it may bring up pain from childhood. Adults recovering from corporal punishment often benefit from receiving professional support. They may be able to find ways to love their own parents as much as they ever did, yet have a healthier mental framework around the discipline that was used when they were little.
Choosing a new path does not have to mean a permanent rupture in the family. Healing is absolutely possible.
With that support, parents can decide that their history does not necessarily need to become their destiny with their own children. They can choose a new parenting path without being untrue to their roots unless they consciously choose to depart from them. They can, in fact, view their "roots" as still being intact, but choose to grow their parenting choices along a new branch of the same otherwise loving tree.
Some parents may be triggered by what they perceive as their child's attention-seeking behavior and not realizing that every behavior, even suboptimal behavior, is simply the child's best attempt to connect with them. They may not understand that even when, behaviorally, it looks nothing like a "best" attempt, the child is simply doing what they can -- even if to get negative attention.
With the best of underlying intentions, kids will do almost anything to help their parents "see" them.
Furthermore, some adults are of the opinion that whenever "nothing else works" to address their kids' behavior, their only option is to become more harsh rather than more gentle. It's a novel idea to them that the most direct way to lead a child, and naturally engage them in cooperative behavior, is through connection. It can seem counterintuitive especially when they're mad. Why would they want to "reward" misbehavior?
Sometimes, this belief system stems from the idea that children aren't "whole" or worthy of respect until they're older; that they must earn respect by learning and living up to adults' ideals.
It can be an incredible paradigm shift for parents to see their children as being inherently worthy of respect. When this is their point of view, it's often, once again, linked to beliefs from their family of origin. It can be beneficial to consider questions like these:
As for the belief that "nothing else besides spanking works," it's worth exploring whether the parent has genuinely attempted connection-based positive parenting approaches. Many children thrive and cooperate best with playful parenting, for example. Other children need other tools and guidance, such as storytelling and more time in "time-in" rather than "time-out" to co-regulate.
Despite what some people think, consequences do exist in peaceful parenting. The difference is that, while still being effective, these consequences do no harm.
Physical punishment, including spanking, does not need to be anywhere in the picture; it is not a "last resort" and doesn't have to be. There's always another, gentler option.
To be sure, it can be life changing for parents to learn about child development. Children aren't miniature adults; it'll take their brains until approximately age 25 to develop the reasoning and decision-making skills that most adults have (source). As such, they'll get plenty "wrong" until their brains are developmentally ready to meet adult-level expectations.
Understanding what's developmentally normal can be a path to incredible healing for both parent and child.
Some other religions do condone spanking, but many don't. The focus on Christianity in this article is because 78% of the U.S. population identifies as Christian (source).
If you've heard, "Spare the rod, spoil the child," odds are good that you (like many parents) attribute that quote to the Bible.
It didn't come from the Bible. It came from a 17th-century writer named Samuel Butler in a work called Hudibras. Interestingly and perhaps even scandalously, the quote has nothing to do with spanking a child. It's spoken by a man who wants his lover to engage in a certain type of sexual play.
For older children, roughly age 12 and above, it was recommended only in very specific circumstances as governed by the law at the time, not by Biblical teaching.
Samuel Martin (quite different from Samuel Butler) discusses spanking in Biblical times, and the specifics of how Christian parenting calls Christians to act towards their children in modern times. Watch his free expert interview.
References to "the rod" in the Bible are worth exploring in and of themselves. If we harken back to the days of shepherds using rods to guide their sheep, there's a critical distinction in how they use their rods. They did not use them to hit or harm their sheep. They used them to gently guide their sheep; to keep them from wandering off and getting hurt. That's an incredible paradigm shift.
As an example of where the rod is mentioned, in Proverbs 13:24, the Bible says, "Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them." Another word worth defining here is "discipline." It means to teach, not to punish. Even Jesus' disciples (same root word as discipline) were responsible for teaching. The "rod" (gentle guidance) was used to "discipline" (to teach).
They did not bring people to Jesus by being his "punishers" around the world. That certainly would not have been an effective approach!
Gentle guidance -- discipline -- is what modern-day parents, Christian or otherwise, would call healthy and loving boundaries. That's a far cry from spanking. Spanking and physical punishment of young children has no place in Biblical parenting, and the Bible itself confirms that. Christianity and spanking should be mutually exclusive.
Knowing that such a large percentage of the U.S. identifies as Christian, this section is written to encourage Christians. If you're not a Christian but know Christians who are using their faith to justify spanking, I invite you to have an open discussion with them and help change the narrative around corporal punishment.
The central theme of the Bible, and particularly of the New Testament, is forgiveness through Jesus. In fact, modeling Christ's loving compassion and forgiveness is literally the perfect model to follow for parenting.
If you will, look away from the "Christians" causing pain in any form, and towards those who are living gently and lovingly, as Jesus did.
Some verses to study and reflect on for parenting include these, among others:
If more Christians truly did model Christ's unconditional love, forgiveness, and compassion, perhaps fewer would stray from the church. If this was your reasoning for spanking, please know that if it fits within your belief system, forgiveness awaits.
A growing body of research is showing us that spanking is an ineffective way to address behavior problems, both short-term and long-term. Furthermore, perhaps surprisingly to some, spanking may have some of the same outcomes as more severe forms of child abuse. A child's nervous system simply does not have a way to differentiate between spanking and other forms of violence. What kids know is that their trusted adult is hurting them.
According to a recent study by Harvard University,
"...corporal punishment has been linked to the development of mental health issues, anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and substance use disorders." (source)
Further, the American Academy of Pediatrics states this about spanking:
"The Academy released a revised policy statement today that reiterates its opposition to corporal punishment, citing new evidence linking this form of discipline to an increased risk of negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial and emotional outcomes for children. The policy also addresses the harm associated with verbal punishment, such as shaming and humiliation. The AAP recommends that parents do not spank, hit, slap, threaten, insult, humiliate or shame to discipline their children. Research has shown that striking children, yelling at them or shaming can elevate stress hormones and lead to changes in the brain’s architecture. Harsh verbal abuse also is linked to mental health problems in preteens and adolescents." (source)
Perhaps of particular note about spanking is that it literally stunts some of the child's brain growth and can result in a lower IQ. Specifically, the part of the brain that is often damaged by corporal punishment is the very part that helps the child learn empathy for others (source). This very much plays into the vicious cycle of people who've been spanked as children continuing to rely on spanking for their own children. Lower empathy "grows" lower empathy.
If there's any encouraging news, it's that it's never too late to learn and increase empathy (source). The tricky part is that to do it, the adult has to very consciously and actively work on it. New neural pathways can grow to help the adult behave differently with their child. After enough practice, the new patterns can become habit (source). It won't happen on its own, however. The adult needs to work on it.
"...Evidence that spanking and adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs—which include measures of physical and emotional abuse, neglect, intimate partner violence, parental mental health problems, parental substance use, parental incarceration and parental death—have statistically indistinguishable effects on externalizing behavior problems in early childhood" (source)
"In the meta-analysis, researchers Elizabeth Gershoff and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor of the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan, respectively, evaluated 75 published studies on the relation between spanking by parents and various behavioral, emotional, cognitive and physical outcomes among their kids. They found that spanking was associated with 13 out of a total of 17 negative outcomes they assessed, including increased aggression, behavioral and mental health problems, and reduced cognitive ability and self-esteem." (source)
Spanking is currently still legal in every one of the United States, including in many schools. Most of the rest of the world has banned it, however, in the spirit of promoting gentler discipline methods. In fact, this map was updated in 2009 -- more than a decade ago. Spanking is even less tolerated now than it was then, with 59 countries now forbidding it by law. Japan is the most recent country to banish it, as of 2020 (source).
Perhaps the most important point to consider is that -- true, corporal punishment does inflict enough pain on a child that it may deter their behavior. However, nothing about spanking tells the child what they should do; how they should behave. Indeed, the parent might tell the child what to do, but living what to do is much more impactful.
The core of discipline is, indeed, teaching. What if we redirected the energy parents spend on spanking into gently guiding their children; teaching them how to thrive, connect, and collaborate peacefully with others? What if we model how to be gentle even amidst conflict? What if we show kids how to act towards others because they've seen us modeling it for them -- and they know what it feels like to receive their benevolent teaching?
Finally, what if we gave ourselves permission to break free from the patterns that no longer serve us?
Additional resources can be found on the pinned post on Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting's Facebook page.
Below is Part 3 from my recent interview with Dr. Tina Payne-Bryson about her incredible new book, The Bottom Line for Baby. In this segment, she talks about the myth of self-soothing -- and how co-regulation is key to helping nurture our children's developing brains.
You have given me goosebumps no fewer than 15 times as you're talking about all of these wonderful things that resonate so strongly with me. I'm sure they will with many, many parents who will be watching this.
You did touch on something that I would love to explore a little bit more. You talked about co-regulation versus self-soothing.
Self-soothing is certainly one of the myths that has perpetuated our society globally for more years than it should have at this point.
Can you talk a little bit about that? And what we should be doing instead?
Yeah, I love that. You know, it's funny. We use this term self-soothing and we all have different preferences about how we handle our own personal distress.
When something is upsetting to me -- when I'm anxious, when I'm angry, when I'm fearful, when I'm sad or disappointed -- I might want to be alone for a little while, but what I need most is to be connected to people. So the whole idea of self-soothing...even when I'm by myself, I'm with a self that has internalized all these relational experiences.
I can hear my mom's voice saying, "Just breathe, baby."
I can hear my husband saying, "I'm here if you need me." You know, all of those things. There is no "self."
We can get our super philosophical -- but we are held captive to one another's nervous systems.
I mean, if I go to take a drink -- I lift my sparkling water to take a drink and you're watching me, Sarah -- your mirror neurons are firing as if you were taking a drink as well.
So the whole idea of a separate self is kind of a silly idea, in one way, because the way our brains and our personalities and our souls and our spirits have developed have been in the context of relationship.
So I'm going to start with that [as it relates to co-regulation].
It's really, really ridiculous when we think about asking a baby with a super immature nervous system to self-soothe. - Tina Payne Bryson
It's such a ridiculous idea from a brain perspective and from a development perspective.
And when I talked about the idea of co-regulation -- what I mean by that is when the other person is falling apart, obviously, this could be your spouse or your sister or something too -- but we'll talk about [co-regulation] in terms of children.
Your child is having a tantrum. Or they're freaking out about something, or they're complaining about something and making a big deal about something you think is ridiculous; all of those moments are opportunities for you to build your child's brain through co-regulation.
Co-regulation looks like this: my kid's falling apart. They're super angry or they're super anxious, and I show up in that moment with empathy and also boundaries. We can talk about that, too.
I say, "You're so upset." "You're so angry" or "You're afraid." "I'm right here with you. How can I help? How can I comfort you? That's the Seen and Soothed part of the four Ss.
So my son's in the tub. He's upset about bath time being over. He's overtired and I say, "Hey, it's time to get out" and he says, "I'm not getting out."
He's about four at the time.
He says, "I'm not getting out. This isn't even a bathtub. So you can't make me get out of it."
He's just not even being, you know, I don't even know what he's saying, but I don't know how to argue with that.
Some of the biggest questions I get when I talk about soothing our children, and co-regulation with our children, are these:
Here's why it's not.
In that moment. I say to him, "It's time to get out. You can either get out or I will help you get out." I set a boundary, and boundaries help kids feel safe.
So, this is not at all permissiveness.
And by the way, the whole point of discipline is to teach and build skills so that children become self-disciplined.
The way they learn the most -- the time they're most receptive to learning -- is when they are regulated. - Tina Payne Bryson
So in the name of discipline, and by that, I mean teaching, what I need to do, #1, is to get my kid regulated so that he can listen and be open and receptive to addressing the behavior.
The quickest way and the best way to get your kid to listen and be receptive and to be an effective disciplinarian is to get them regulated first.
So in this moment, I say to my little guy who just walked by, who's 14 tomorrow and at least six inches taller than I am -- and I have permission to tell this story -- is I say, "It's time to get out. Or you can get out."
And he says, "I'm not getting out."
So, I say as gently as I can, "I will lift you out of the tub."
So I'm predictable.
I tell him what's happening as I'm lifting him out, and he is screaming and kicking and losing his mind.
I say, "You're so mad that you have to get out. You were having fun and you're really mad you have to get out of the tub. Is that right?"
He's screaming and yelling. He's not even really listening to me.
But he's hearing the empathy and my voice, he's feeling the calm I have in my body, because I have to make sure I get centered. - Tina Payne Bryson
[For co-regulation], we have to make sure we're calm first. If we're not, we need to not touch our children's bodies or open our mouths.
We need to say, "I need a minute to calm down" and to regulate ourselves first, because if we want to be the haven in the storm, we can't be the storm. So we have to calm our internal storm first.
As I'm lifting him out, I'm saying, "You're so mad bath time is over."
I wrap the towel around him and I say, "You can cry if you need to cry. It's okay to have big feelings and be upset. I'm right here with you."
So, basically I'm giving him the opposite message of what we do a lot in our culture, which is to say, "You go calm down and when you're ready to be nice, I will be in relationship with you." - Tina Payne Bryson
I want my kids to know from repeated experience that at their worst, that is when they need me the most. And I will be there for them at their worst.
That's what I want in my relationships.
I want my husband to say, "At your worst, I will still show up for you."
That's what we all need. In that moment, my son is crying I'm saying "no" to a behavior. "You can't stay in the bathtub." But I'm saying "yes" to whatever you feel and however you're going to express it.
And I can handle your big feelings. I'm going to help you get regulated again. I'm going to co-regulate with you. Then, you're going to learn that you can handle your big feelings. And, you're going to learn how to calm your own nervous system by reaching out to someone else, or if you're alone, how to do it.
And here's why. Here's the science. Just like muscles, if I lift weights over and over, if I do reps, my muscles get stronger. That's how the brain works when it comes to regulation.
So what happens, is if we give our kids multiple repeated experiences of going from a falling apart, dysregulated state back into a regulated, calm receptive "Yes Brain" state, then their brain learns how to do it for themselves.
Co-regulation is what teaches kids how to self-regulate. - Tina Payne Bryson
We cannot spoil our kids with too much attention, too much affection, too much co-regulation, too much love.
What gets in the way is if we don't have good boundaries.
I would say that firm boundaries, high expectations that we clearly communicate to our kids -- and there are 60 years of research that support this -- that having firm and good boundaries and expectations, and being completely loving and present and nurturing and comforting should go together.
If you're just about boundaries and expectations, and rules and discipline, they're not going to be as receptive to learning.
The way we get them to embrace those things and learn how to say "no" and how to put their brakes on, is by having them in receptive states that come from those connections and that co-regulation.
Stay tuned for our next segment, where Tina Payne Bryson talks about the scientific support for gentle parenting.
Additional recommended reading by Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. and Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.:
Below is Part 4 from my recent interview with Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. about her incredible new book, The Bottom Line for Baby. In this segment, she talks about the scientific support for gentle parenting.
You talked about gentle parenting and attachment parenting early on, and said how it certainly can be linked to secure attachment, but not necessarily. Some of the biggest pushback we get for gentle parenting sounds like this:
So, for the parent who wants to breastfeed, possibly even do extended breastfeeding; for the parent who wants to baby wear; for the parent who wants to sleep with their child safely in the same room; and practice all of these crunchy / positive / conscious / gentle parenting (or whatever you want to call it) -- practice THIS way of parenting versus the mainstream alternative:
I love that you ask this because we do, especially from family members, get a lot of pushback about this kind of parenting.
I remember a time when I had a one-year-old son, and my other son was four. My four-year-old was having a really hard time, and my one year old was also crying.
I crouched down low and I was saying, "You're having a really hard time. What is your body saying it needs right now?" And while I'm doing all of this reflective dialogue, my grandmother started criticizing me.
We used baby sign language, you know, which was phenomenal. I'm a huge fan. My kids, before they had the motor capacity to talk, could tell me if they were hurt. They could tell me if they needed comfort.
It was just phenomenal. I loved it, and [my family] was like, "They're never going to talk. You're raising Coco the ape, you know. They're never going to talk."
And of course they were early talkers. They were just fine.
But when [my family] would see me parenting and getting down and all the stuff, at first they were like, "You just need to smack him and tell him, you know..." They were just...they didn't get it.
They were worried that I was being really indulgent.
As my kids got older, I remember -- I'm feeling the emotion of this right now too. It's okay if I get a little emotional.
I remember my grandma saying, "I can't believe how amazing your kids are and how much facility they have in handling themselves. They're so well-behaved."
She was shocked because she thought they were going to be little monsters.
And she added, "They're so well-behaved. I wish I had known about what you know. How I wish I had parented that way." - Tina Payne Bryson, talking about the transition her extended family made to supporting gentle parenting
It was so amazing because this was a grandmother who had significantly avoidant attachment that she passed down to my dad, and my dad also parented me in that way.
So, for her to see it, it just felt like such good affirmation.
What the science tells us -- and this is what's so great about The Bottom Line for Baby -- is you can turn to the discipline entry, and you can be like, "Here, mother-in-law, read this -- read the science [on gentle parenting] and then we can talk about it."
The the science is super clear that when we push kids to be independent or to be well-behaved, where we're just focusing on the behavior; if we push them to do those things without our support, it actually backfires. - Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.
It actually makes them either more dependent because they developmentally weren't ready for [the task] without our support. Or, they actually learn not to share their distress with you. So, they just stay uncomfortable.
They just sit with those alone feelings.
What the research shows is that when you are a safe haven, and you practice positive, respectful, gentle parenting, you really focus on those 4 Ss -- Safe, Seen, Soothed, Secure -- it promotes better behavior.
They're always my answer for every situation.
What the research says is that [gentle parenting] actually promotes independence; [gentle parenting] promotes better behavior. All of these things.
The science is on our side with [gentle parenting], you know, including extended breastfeeding.
No one knows your child like you do. You are the expert on your child. Get informed. Yes, read books. Read about what the science says, but you can't follow every single thing that the science says.
Some of them are even [contradictory], like one says be a really well-rested parent and the other one says breastfeed your child on demand.
You can't be both. You can't follow both of those.
Every child is unique. Follow the lead of your child. - Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.
Around this gentle parenting, what we're doing is we're giving kids reps [like exercise that builds muscles] for using their prefrontal cortex by saying, "Hmmm. I'm noticing this. How do you think we can solve that problem?" instead of saying, "Get over there and sit down."
And what we know from the science, too, is that parents who do [this gentle parenting approach] instead of a more command-and-demand authoritarian type of parenting -- it doesn't change their children's behavior.
Their children learn to hide their behaviors and when they're adolescents. The science says they don't go to their parents when they're in tricky situations. They go to their peers.
When our children come to us with bad behavior, it is often a symptom of a dysregulated nervous system. They're saying, "I need help right now."
When we respond to them, we need to show up for them. Even when they say something like, "I wanted popcorn. Why won't you give me popcorn?" And you're like, "Really? Because I'm taking you to the movies and you're going to say that?" You know, you get so upset about your child being "spoiled."
In that moment, if you respond that way, our child is like, "I just shared how I felt with them. I'm really disappointed and I shared that and I feel criticized -- and that didn't feel good."
When our children communicate with us and we respond in ways that don't feel good to them, they will stop sharing with us.
When we say, "I don't want to hear it," they internalize that. So that doesn't mean I give them the popcorn. I can say, "I know you're so disappointed. You wanted the popcorn. We're not buying it today. And I know it's disappointing. It's hard to feel disappointed."
So, it's not about the boundary. I'm going to hold the boundary, but it's really about saying "yes" to our children's internal experiences, showing up for them -- and the science has our backs on this. - Tina Payne Bryson on the importance of respectful, gentle parenting
Extended breastfeeding is supported by every health organization around the world...If that works for you and your family and it feels right -- do it.
I want to empower you. You know your child. Trust your child. Trust your instincts.
If anybody's criticizing you, listen, they might have a point. But don't let it rule your life.
Absolutely, and if they need the best reference book that I have found to date on why we do what we do for babies -- your new book is it. I will unequivocally recommend it to every new parent, every existing parent -- even if they already have a child, or two, or 15.
There's just so much great, compelling information in here and the world needs to know that there is some really smart gentle parenting advice that we know to be smart because we have the science to prove it.
We don't necessarily have to repeat these generational patterns that even you, and so many of the rest of us, have had. We can choose to do what works for our family.
Science has our backs when we make what seem to be different decisions from so many around us. Your book provides exactly the kind of validation that we need as we go into gentle parenting.
So thank you so much for writing it, for writing all the other books you've written, for existing. Thank you, also, for being a resource for people around the world who really just need to know "I can figure this out. This child might just make it to day 3 and day 4 and beyond, because it all feels new sometimes."
And you know I think, too, we have to remember everybody's kid is different. What works for one kid doesn't work for the next. I think it's important that we really follow our children's lead.
And I want to say to you to parents, if you don't have time to sit and read -- and I'm actually writing an article right now for parents never who find time to read -- all of my books are in audio form.
I post on Instagram all the time, just helpful little snippets and resources, so you can find me there as well.
But I want to say one final thing if it's alright, Sarah, and then I'll let you close this out.
Parents, I just want to say to you -- you sacrifice so much for your children. I know you do. If you're listening to this podcast, you're a parent who is really intentional, and we're so good at sacrificing and giving to our children.
But I want to say to you that you matter, too. And we need to really, really -- and I'm so I'm such a hypocrite; I was terrible at this when my kids were younger and I'm better at it now -- but you really do matter. Your children, what they need most from you, is you. And for you to be present.
In order to do that, you really do have to take care of yourself. It's one of the best things you can do for your kids.
That is an important gift and an important takeaway, so thank you for that. I will do my best to implement that personally, and encourage the other parent seeing this to do that as well.
We've got to keep working on it.
Exactly. Thank you so much, Tina.
Additional recommended reading by Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. and Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.:
This is an excerpt of an interview with Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., where she
discusses her incredible new book, The Bottom Line for Baby -- along with several game-changing parenting tips. You can find the full interview here. Or, here's Part 1 of our discussion if you missed it.
In this segment, we discuss the question, "Why don't we remember being babies?" We also cover how baby memory and memory function work, and how baby memory relates to children's growth and development.
So let me get straight to some brain science with you.
Former baby here. I confess. I used to be a baby. [laughter]
I don't remember much of it at all. My daughter, on the other hand, claims she remembers the womb. I don't personally remember the womb and anything after it for a good long time.
So, if we don't really remember our earliest months our earliest year on Earth, how do we know that any of it matters? Why don't we remember being babies?
That's such a great question. Actually, most of us have what's called childhood amnesia until about age 5, where we don't really remember much.
We may have one or two memories from before age 5 or 6, but they typically tend to be something that was a huge change.
I have an early, early memory around age three, when I had to be taken to the hospital to get stitches on my head. I remember being in my 70s purple poncho with the little palms in my dad's arms and I remember the parking lot.
I remember some things about it, but that's the only thing I remember from that age.
That's really typical for most of us not to remember. However, when we say we don't remember, we're actually talking about something called explicit memory. Dan and I write about this in The Whole-Brain Child.
That memory is where you remember something and it has the feel of remembering. You know you're remembering.
If I were to say to you, "What did you have for breakfast this morning?" You could tell me. You would know you are remembering that fact, but there's also something called implicit memory.
Implicit memory is where you are remembering but you don't know you're remembering. It doesn't have the feel of that.
An example of that is what's called a type of implicit memory is called procedural memory.
When you get in your car and you drive you're able to do that because you remember all of the the motor activity and attentional resources and all the things you need to do in order to drive your car.
But when you get in, and you put your seatbelt on, and you put your car in reverse, and you start backing up, you're not thinking "I am now remembering how to drive a car." You just know how to do it.
Memory is association. That's really all memory is.
When I say "Drinking hot chocolate that's too hot, or coffee, that's too hot, you all know the physical sensation of when you burn your mouth and it feels like sandpaper. All of those are associations with those experiences.
That's the implicit memory.
We believe that implicit memory may even start in the womb.
-Tina Payne Bryson on Why Don't We Remember Being Babies and Baby Memory
So, when people say "Don't worry about this medical procedure, don't worry about this trauma that happened to your child because they won't remember it," they mean they won't remember it explicitly.
But the body keeps the score. That's Bessel Van der Kolk's title of his book about trauma, that I love. Our implicit memory remembers that, and it's important because the purpose of our memory is to keep us safe.
My son had a kind of traumatic swimming lesson experience when he was about four. He didn't really "remember it" remember it, but later when it was time to go to swimming lessons, even though he could already swim,
and he loved swimming with his friends, when I said the words "swimming lessons," he was immediately like, "Do I have to go?"
His brain remembered whatever that is, is a bad idea.
So, you know when we touch something hot, it's painful. Our brain remembers that so we don't do it again.
Even in those early first five or six years, that is when the brain has the most changes happening, most of them happening between zero to three. It's the period of the most connections and brain change.
The second period of the most brain changes is during adolescence.
So let me say it this way, Sarah. What happens to us in our early months and years matters tremendously, but it doesn't mean that it's that our history is always our destiny.
- Tina Payne Bryson on Why Don't We Remember Being Babies?
So if we do have difficult things that happen to us in our early years, they are important, but it doesn't mean that there's no hope.
So, the brain is plastic [neuroplasticity] and we can make changes or process difficult things that happened.
One of the things I'll say related to the science of this is [the existence of] regulatory circuitry, which is really the part of the brain that helps us regulate our emotions and regulate our attention and regulate our bodily states.
It's the part of our brain that allows us to really be grounded and get back to baseline when we have challenges or adversity. The regulatory circuits of the brain are set up in the first 18 months.
So those early, early months, the way we respond to our infants by helping them feel safe, by helping them build trust that their needs will be seen in responded to -- that we help regulate their bodily states and their emotions and their attention -- by us doing that with them, we are actually setting up the regulatory circuits of the brain so that they have a greater capacity to regulate themselves better for the rest of their living years.
-Tina Payne Bryson on Why Don't We Remember Being Babies and Baby Memory
That is a fantastically clear explanation of baby memory [and why don't we remember being babies] -- something that is, you know worth of volumes of encyclopedia materials. Thank you for that.
In Part 3 of our interview series, we'll discuss co-regulation versus self-soothing -- and the best way to help our children develop executive functioning skills. Stay tuned!
This is an excerpt from an interview between Sarah R. Moore of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., New York Times best-selling author. In this segment, we discuss the genesis of her incredible book, The Bottom Line for Baby. (afflinks)
Watch the full interview here, where Tina Payne Bryson discusses the book in more detail, along with brain science and the "why" behind the decisions we make about raising our babies. Below is an excerpt: the first in a series that I'll be publishing in the coming days.
At the bottom of this page, I'll share my critical review of the book. Make sure to read why this book belongs in every home.
I'm here with Dr. Tina Payne Bryson to talk to you today about her fantastic new book, The Bottom Line for Baby. As many of you know, I am a huge
fan of her work.
She has co-written, with Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, so many books that have substantially influenced the way that I parent my own child and the recommendations and the advice that I give to my clients.
The Whole-Brain Child was the first one I read. I've also loved The Power of Showing Up, The Yes Brain, and No-Drama Discipline, which I happen to have in moving boxes because we have just moved house (but I would hold them up on video here if I could find them, along with my missing silverware). You have now written what I'm guessing will soon be another best-selling book, The Bottom Line for Baby.
How did you make the shift from older kids back to babies?
Thank you so much for talking with me about The Bottom Line for Baby. I'm so excited about this book.
This was the first book I had a longing for as a parent, myself.
As a new parent, I'm someone who really likes information. I feel more safe and secure when I've got good information.
With my first, I felt like every decision I was making was so important and so paramount. So, I would read about it or I would ask people for their advice. It seemed like for every answer I got, there was a competing additional answer.
There was so much competing information. I felt really paralyzed oftentimes about how do I make this decision? What can I trust, you know? Who can I trust?
Then at other times, I was getting unsolicited advice that I thought was not great advice, and I didn't really know how to refute it because I was so inexperienced.
The Bottom Line for Baby is the book I wanted and needed myself as a parent.
I'm so honored and have loved writing books with Dan. We will be writing more together down the road.
I'm excited about this being my first solo book. It's going to help inform parents.
The Bottom Line for Baby has over 60 topics. They're the ones we get the most conflicting information about. It covers co-sleeping; sleep training; circumcision, baby-led weaning; can we drink alcohol if we're nursing; is it okay to have my young kid in front of a screen; all of those kinds of questions.
- Tina Payne Bryson
Plus, it's alphabetical, so you can just flip to the topic you want. It's laid out like this: What are the main perspectives or arguments on this topic? Then, what does the science say?
So I have reviewed the science on each of these topics, and that leads to the bottom line.
Each section has a "bottom line" that explains when the science is really clear about the topic. It says, "here's what is recommended." Or, "There's not good science on this, but here are two things to think about for what works for your family."
In about a third of the entries, I give a little note from me that really talks about what I did, or what I didn't do, or what I wish I had known, or something personal like that.
What I love so much about this book, too, is that no matter what decision you make on any of these topics, you will not feel judged because every child is different; every family is different. And you know, there are very few absolute universals and have-to's, and every decision we make impacts all the other decisions we make.
So, we can't really ever tell someone that they should or shouldn't do anything in particular, unless it's a basic safety thing because there are there are lots and lots and lots of ways to be really good parents.
My hope is that The Bottom Line for Baby will inform parents and give them a quick way to get the best scientific, up-to-date information on many topics. I hope parents will feel not judged, but rather, empowered to follow their baby's lead, to trust themselves, and to do what works best for their families.
- Tina Payne Bryson
I guess, too, my hope is that for all of those decisions that feel so heavy, that I can help parents go, "Okay, no matter what I decide on this, my kid's going to be great."
It doesn't matter as much as it feels like it matters, so take a little bit of the pressure and weight off. That's what I'm really thrilled to share with parents.
Those are precisely the things that I love about reading this book. It has been oh, I don't know, probably since I was in grad school a thousand years ago that I finished a book in two nights. I finished your book in two nights because it was compelling. I wanted to know what the research said.
My child isn't a baby anymore, but I wondered, "How'd I do?"
It's beautifully organized and it's so logical. As you mentioned, this is not the "how-to" book.
For me, this is the WHY book. Why do we do things the way that we do? And that alone made me want to keep reading.
Again, the organization and the personal touches -- oh my goodness, reading it for your Diaper Genie story alone would have been worthwhile for me. So let me just put that out there.
It's the most embarrassing, mortifying story that I still can't believe I put in print. It's just one of those new mom moments where you realize you did something really stupid.
The fact that you humanize this book throughout makes it not just the science, but about the real people that we all are, because we all have those mortifying moments. Believe me. I have plenty.
Thank you for being so real. These stories and your research make your book so easy to read.
And now, former baby here. I confess. I used to be a baby. I don't remember much of it at all.
My daughter, on the other hand, claims she remembers the womb. I don't personally remember the womb and anything after it for a good long time.
So, if we don't really remember our earliest months our earliest year on Earth, how do we know that any of it matters?
That's such a great question.
Stay tuned for the rest of the interview, where Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., continues the conversation about the "whys" of parenting for connection.
Or, you can see our entire conversation now in the full video.
You may also like this blog post: Attention-Seeking Behavior: 3 Important Reasons Not to Ignore It (and What to Do Instead).
Tina Payne Bryson is no stranger to writing straightforward, easy-to-understand, and best of all, easy-to-implement parenting strategies. Her writing simply makes sense: it's not only logical, but it also speaks to the hearts of parents who want to do well for their kids. It's the perfect balance.
As we discussed, this isn't simply a "how to" book. Many of her other books with co-author Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., provide proven, connection-based approaches to handling many everyday parenting scenarios.
Instead of "how to," this is the WHY book. This book gives us the science we need to feel confident that no matter who challenges our parenting decisions in our personal lives, we have the science at our fingertips to validate our choices. I can think of few tools more practical or empowering.
Even more, it helps us quiet our inner voices that may make us question how we're parenting our babies.
Just as What To Expect When You're Expecting was the recommended "must-read" for many years, this book should be not only on the shelves, but also in the hands, of all expectant and new parents. It's the book we all need now. We need it today, in this age of parenting. Every page of The Bottom Line for Baby is relevant.
It's empowering. It's practical. It's -- dare I say -- downright entertaining as Tina Payne Bryson humanizes it throughout with her own personal anecdotes. It's easy to turn the pages for the sheer enjoyment of her writing, while learning and absorbing all the practical science along the way.
She shares the science in a way that doesn't leave you wondering why you should make the choices you do; it reads nothing like a textbook.
It "translates" science into heart-understanding. When I read it, it felt as if I were holding the wisdom of some scientifically sage and gifted grandmother, guiding me through all the things my new parent-brain yearned to know.
Tina Payne Bryson, in The Bottom Line for Baby, gives us not only the science to make smart decisions, but also the sense of peace we need to trust the book as the go-to resource we need on topics that might otherwise feel overwhelming.
Perhaps what I love most about Tina Payne Bryson's approach, and specifically The Bottom Line for Baby, are that everything she writes about is from the framework of connection. Attachment science is her guidepost; her recommendations help foster secure attachment in our babies and children.
From what better perspective could she possibly write?
Additional recommended reading by Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. and Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.:
The quiet child: how can we help them thrive in an extroverted world?
When my daughter was two, I had to schedule at least two hours when we'd go to the grocery store because, being the new talker that she was then, she insisted that we stop and talk to every single person we passed in every single aisle. I'd go in for one tomato and leave with 25 new friends.
She didn't stay that way, though. Over time, some kids, like mine, change to become a more of a quiet child than they were before, while others become more of the extrovert they always were.
Many adults assume, however, that all kids crave BIG attention—the brighter, bolder, and louder, the better. However, some children need space to build trust before they'll delve into conversation or even basic play. And for some of us, giving a quiet child space is a hard concept to grasp—particularly those of us who really want to
connect and who might not be "wired to wait" the same way the child is.
In fact, half the people in the world are introverts. That can leave the other half wondering what to do to
connect with them. So, what can you do when the quiet child you're trying to engage shies away from your attempts? Hint: don't try harder.
I'll admit that for several reasons, I felt odd giving friends who hadn't met my quiet child, who's now solidly introverted, this advice. However, it's proven to be the most helpful tip I've found so far. Bear with me:
Pretend the quiet child is a cat. I mean that in the most respectful of ways. Bear with me.
If you'll forgive the analogy and the generalization, the way to engage puppies—unlike cats—is typically to run, throw balls, pick them up, and roughhouse.
Conversely, a cat typically responds better if you simply find a peaceful place to sit where she can check you out from afar, perhaps come and sniff an outstretched hand, and decide whether to snuggle up or play with a toy you're dangling. If you move too quickly, though, she's likely out of there. She doesn't want you to pursue her.
A quiet child may want to observe her trusted adult's interactions with you before engaging with you directly. If Mom or Dad seems relaxed and happy with you and is following the steps in Supporting the Introverted Child, she can follow her adult's cues and let her guard down when she's ready.
That said, even if you're truly hilarious and other kids burst out in giggles when you surprise them with a "Boo!" they weren't expecting, quiet children often need an entirely different approach.
Here's what to try, instead:
In every single case where my friends trusted the "cat suggestion" I gave them privately before meeting my quiet child, it worked. By the time we parted ways, my girl had signaled her comfort by reaching out and holding my friends' hands as we walked together. By the look on my friends' faces, suffice it to say she'd melted their hearts with her subtle connection.
Channel Depeche Mode (am I dating myself?) and enjoy the silence. Keep the loud games, TV, music, and
general distractions off. Some (but not all) introverted children are easily overwhelmed in new situations and have trouble connecting to new people when there's too much chaos to "compete" with their trust-building mechanisms.
If you can find a quiet activity the child enjoys, all the better. Read a children's book alone if you need to. The child can choose whether to engage with you, but it's a good way to establish common ground. Let the child come to you.
Respect the pace, the space, and the child as a whole. Aunt Pat might've expected a hug from you when you were little, even when you hadn't seen her for 1000 years. If you really want a relationship with this child, though, it's less important to recall what was "polite" or expected when you were little, and more important to connect to the child in a way he feels emotionally safe. Consent matters.
This can be tough since it may require you to reevaluate your thinking, but it's important. Let go of who you think he "ought" to be. And by all means, if this child's sensitivity or introversion is cute or otherw
ise funny, don't laugh at him.
Say no more about a quiet child's shyness or quietness to him than you would about a loud child being loud (in other words, say nothing). Although there shouldn't be, there's sometimes a certain stigma to being "shy," and most introverts don't like people labeling them that way. Remember that buildin
g trust is the name of the game. Genuine kindness goes such a long way for all of us.
Most of all, don't give up. It's not personal. Just like we do as adults, kids want authentic connections—particularly kids who aren't naturally the life of the party.
Once you do connect, it can be the most wonderful and genuine reward.
Parenting is hard sometimes. Even the most seasoned and consistently gentle parents have their moments (translate: days, weeks, or longer) that sometimes feel insurmountably difficult.
Just this evening, for example, I managed to really upset my daughter. We've been in a tough "season" for a little while.
As background, we just spent two days driving 800 miles part way across the United States. We didn't plan to do it for a lighthearted vacation in the middle of a pandemic; rather, we left our home rather urgently when we found out it needed some major repair work that would take at least a few weeks to complete.
Given that there IS a pandemic going on, we couldn't just go hang out with friends for that amount of time.
So, with a car full of "stuff" (including enough sandwiches to last us two days and a toddler-sized travel toilet so we wouldn't have to stop and use any public restrooms), we drove to Colorado. Unexpectedly. Unpreparedly. Optimistically, albeit somewhat nervously.
This part of parenting is hard for me -- staying centered when nearly everything we've ever known as "normal life" is up in the air. Picking up and leaving everything on short notice is exhausting and stressful. Especially amidst everything else that's going on in the world.
With exhaustion nipping at our heels, I upset my daughter tonight. In my tiredness, I was rushing her to wash her hands so we could have dinner in our temporary rental home.
She never likes being rushed, especially when she's adjusting to something new.
Although I know better, I pressured her to go faster. I was walking behind her and guiding her little body by the shoulders toward the sink.
In that moment, along with a "Stop rushing me!" her leg flew backwards and kicked me in the shin.
Given the angle -- and how out of character it was for her -- I wasn't sure if she'd meant to do it. It hurt surprisingly much given her size. Of course, it also caught me off guard emotionally.
I know better than to ask a young child why they did something they aren't supposed to do. Fortunately, I also remembered the wonderful advice an early childhood educator gave me long ago: "Don't get mad, get curious."
So, I kneeled down behind my daughter and said her name. I remarked as calmly and neutrally as possible, "I noticed that your leg just hit my leg. I'm curious. Did you mean to do that or was it an accident?"
She paused for a second and replied honestly, "I kicked you on purpose."
I took a breath. Then, I said, "You must've been really mad. I won't let you hurt my body; kicking hurts. At the same time, your feelings are valid. It's absolutely okay to be mad. I know you don't like being rushed, and we're both tired and hungry. I love you and I know you love me, too. Let's work through your anger together. No matter what, we're on the same team. Even when things are hard and we get angry, we always make it through them together. Let's find a better way."
We've had plenty of opportunities to discuss rupture and repair together. This is one more for that proverbial bucket.
She nodded. She started to cry and asked for a tissue. We reconnected.
In that moment, our exchange confirmed two important things that all the gentle parenting science talks about:
I don't punish her anyway, but this was further validation of that decision. Her tears showed me that she already felt all the remorse that she needed to feel. Her own moral compass is in fine working order; I never need to add guilt or shame to that.
What good would those things serve?
Her own feelings about what she'd done were a far more powerful teacher than anything I'd have added.
My job was to stay peaceful, set a clear boundary, and help her process the experience in a healthy way. Later, when we were calmer (and fed!), we could brainstorm healthy ways to manage anger.
Was it great that she kicked me? Of course not.
But when she did, she felt safe enough that she owned up to what she'd done -- without fear of backlash. She was honest (you might already know my suggestion for raising honest kids). Even when parenting is hard, my child knew I'm still her safe place -- not because of what transpired tonight, but because she has enough life experience with me to know that she can be honest no matter what.
These connections that are "wiring together" in her brain are the same ones that will help her come to me when she's older and the "event" is more than a kick in the shin. We all make choices that we wish we hadn't made; we all follow our impulses sometimes.
If she learns now that she can be honest with me, that's an important message she can carry with her forever.
Am I a perfect parent? No, I'm far from it. In moments like these, though, when parenting is hard but I see how things are supposed to go -- I remember that we're all just doing the best we can. Our kids are, too.
Sarah R. Moore is an internationally published writer and the founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. She’s currently worldschooling her family. Her glass is half full.
Many kids have an inherent panic response when Mom or Dad starts counting, "1...2...3..."---the three most fearsome numbers of childhood. Although the consequences differ from household to household, counting is often code for imminent trouble. Peaceful, positive parenting can change that. Rather than counting to three as a threat (suggesting punishment that's rarely effective anyway), counting can be a useful parenting tool for you. Here's how.
For those brief seconds, recall a tender moment when your little one was a baby. Remember the feeling of those tiny fingers wrapped around yours. Alternatively, imagine your "baby" being older and moving out of your home. Picturing either extreme will automatically ground you and help you remember how fleeting this moment is. Part of positive parenting can include using mindfulness techniques like this one.
Does that mean you agree to every request or throw your boundaries out the window? Of course not. However, you can reevaluate whether you can say yes more often (you'll find some practical ideas of how to do that here).
Walking past a playground recently on our way somewhere else, my daughter wanted to stop and swing on the swings. We really didn't have time. I could tell by looking at her, though, that it was important to her. So, I said, "Yes, you may swing for three seconds before we keep walking. I'll start counting as soon as you get on the swing, and when I get to three, it'll be time to go." She agreed.
She shed no tears; she didn't negotiate for more time (aside from my agreeing that it was reasonable for her swing to slow down before she hopped off). Part of her lack of desire to negotiate in situations like this is that she's learned she'll often get a "yes"---even if just a brief one.
These little "yeses" can go so far in supporting connection with your child. Some might argue that their child wouldn't get off the swing so easily, but I wonder if they'd consider the time they'd lose in managing their child's disappointment, and the missed opportunity to connect.
It's easy to say yes more often once you practice, and once you build trust with your child that it's what your answer will often be. The "forbidden fruit" they're seeking will feel less forbidden, and therefore be less of a draw, if they feel you're on their side.
This approach also makes your parenting approach easier for your kids because they learn when "no" really needs to happen. They trust it's not arbitrary.
In our house when my child was younger, this "counting to three" took the form of "Would you like to go put on your shoes now, or would you like me to hold you while I count to three so you'll have some time to prepare?" It worked amazingly well. It's as if my child really needed that count of three to ready herself for whatever was coming next, even if the task was as mundane (in adult eyes) as brushing teeth or walking to the car.
Three seconds to adjust is often just enough time to connect and make the transition easier for both of you.
It can be a "yes space" for both of you, child and parent, where you ground yourselves for a better interaction and greater connection. And it can be as easy as 1, 2...well, you know.
Go here to find more of our favorite positive parenting books. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. Your purchases help us support important charities.
I recall one afternoon shortly after my own daughter turned two. She looked at me and announced ever so confidently, "Park. No pants." Hold the phone---when did she learn to say "park?" And was she actually
requesting to go there without any pants on? (She was. We went; her, without pants, and me, fully clothed. It was warm. No one batted an eye.) I realized at that moment that the baby I'd just figured out, suddenly wasn't that person anymore. She was evolving before my eyes.
So, true. We do need to adjust our parenting at this milestone age.
Whereas before we had a child who was likely happy to be carried much of the time, we now have someone who wants to walk. (And by walk, I mean sprint precariously forward, and usually with turbo speed when stairs or vehicles are present.) Suddenly, we need to sprint after a fully functioning human body, and that's new to us.
Whereas before we could talk to our little person and he'd smile or babble in response, we now have someone who's forging his own opinions about things. Suddenly, we need to navigate a new opinion in the house, and that's new to us.
The human brain will never again grow as fast as it's growing right now in these first few years of childhood. As much as it is for us---the adults---to process, it's even more overwhelming for the little people to whom this "growing up" thing is happening. Sometimes, it manifests in what adults perceive as suboptimal behavior, such as tantrums.
One important thing to note is that throwing a tantrum isn't about disobedience; it's a little one's way of saying, "This is pretty overwhelming right now! Can you please support me?" Unfortunately, two year olds often lack the verbal skills, not to mention the development in the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that controls impulses) to help them do anything other than exactly what they're doing. Some quick brain science: the prefrontal cortex doesn't fully develop until around age 25.
I realize that when a child throws a temper tantrum at the grocery store or on the playground, it's inconvenient. Sometimes, it's downright embarrassing. If situations like that irk you, please know you're not alone. Remain calm; practice deep breathing.
If I had a single piece of advice around your child's big feelings, I'd suggest that you let go completely about what other people think and simply connect to your child. This connection is going to get you through age two, and all of the other years that follow. Now is a great time to practice.
And here's the crazy thing---most "terrible twos" spend very little time upset. In my personal and professional experience, two year olds are incredibly delightful most of the time. The amount of time they spend being curious, giggly, and affectionate far outweighs anything else.
Surprise people with your ability to see the joy at your child's newfound mobility and freedom, because it's new to him. We can learn to run faster.
Surprise people with your gentle support of your child's awesome new ways to show you "This is who I am and what I like," because advocating for herself is new to her. (And how freeing it must be to clearly know your boundaries like little kids do. What a gift they have this way!) We can learn to help our child navigate communication.
Surprise people with your flexibility around forced sleep times; we all sleep when we're tired enough, and this incredible desire to play with you every waking hour is new to your child, too. We can learn to adapt.
Part of respectful parenting means we learn to work with the child in front of us, even when it requires that we, ourselves, grow in our abilities. Additionally, it means we're intentional about the ways we describe our children to others. Our words matter and our kids are listening. Do we like them? Do we want to foster a positive connection based on mutual trust? As parents, we're called not only to be kind to them, but also to reflect that kindness in the words we use about them.
When someone mentions the "terrible twos" to me, I often reply with a shrug and respond, "Huh. I've always called them the 'terrific twos.'" 'Nuff said. One person at a time, we can change perception---because after all, our perception is our reality, isn't it?
Your two-year-old child is wonderfully fine, and more often than not, perfectly terrific.