Category Archives: tantrums

Basic Trust: Seeing All that Glorious Light
New Parents

As I sit blissfully holding my infant grandson, I am struck by his fragility and vulnerability. He is dependent on us, his caregivers. And we in turn look to every possible behavioral sign to determine what needs caring for. Is he hungry, tired, does he have an internal pain, does he need a burp, a suck, a bounce, a diaper change? We rotate through the possibilities hoping to land on the right one, thrilled when we do, worried when we don’t. 

When he’s content, he coos and looks around curious about all he sees. When something is wrong, he makes a pained face and cries. We answer those cries. We will do so for a good long time to come. 

Caregivers must pay attention to behavior that signals a problem the child is having—a need that must be met. As he grows, his cries turn to whines, hurts to frustration and anger. Sensations of discomfort, pain, and hunger get complicated with jealousy, confusion, shame, fear, embarrassment, anger. As he learns he is a separate entity, he understands that he can be left alone, yelled at, and made to feel bad. He learns he can be a problem to those he loves and needs the most.

read more
9 Signs Your Defiant Kid is Actually an Integrity Child
Family Fighting

Are you exhausted and overwhelmed by your clever little manipulator who fights you every step of the way, won’t take no for an answer and will not be told what to do? Do the words stubborn, demanding, disrespectful, disobedient, and argumentative come to mind? My guess is you have an Integrity Child* as opposed to that delightfully easy Harmony Child* who makes you feel like the best parent in the world.

In my humble opinion, understanding your Integrity child could be the most important job you will ever do. Orchids* (1 in 5 children)—my term is Integrity to incorporate a broader range—have the potential of becoming the brilliant revolutionaries of the world when given the nurturing their extremely sensitive natures require. When misunderstood and pressured to be different, they can become burdens on society as the very troubled and often addicted young people we fear raising.

As I see it, your Integrity child is born with an internal core of a sense of rightness and justice that drives his every mood and behavior. These kids try our very souls. And while we think they will never learn and we fear for their futures, what they are doing is demanding our personal responsibility and integrity. But it’s hard to see that from the trenches of daily battles.

read more
Connecting with a Child’s Negative Self-Talk
Sad child sitting on windowsill

Q. My son will make a negative statement about anything and then immediately follow it by a more extreme version, e.g. “I want to die…I have wanted to die since I was born!” OR “No, I don’t know that you love me…I have NEVER known that you love me.” I don’t know how to react to these statements – they take me by surprise. Is it just his way of expressing the magnitude of his feelings?

A. Yes—and his words are also telling you that you are not listening to him.

read more
The Lessons of Stress

Ever notice that when things are going really well and you feel balanced, you are patient, flexible, empathic, and fun-loving with your children? And when you feel generally crummy, stressed, tired and hungry, your focus turns in on yourself and you get quite controlling? It’s natural when something triggers you and you feel out of control of something (a world-wide pandemic perhaps), you grab something in your reach that you think you can control. Your children are easily grabbable.

So if this happens to you under stress, what do you think might be going on with your child when you react to his behavior thinking, He’s trying to control me?

He’s not trying to control you. He’s stressed. And it doesn’t take much to stress out a young child. The younger they are, the less control of their lives and the fewer coping mechanisms they have to manage that stress. Whenever a naturally egocentric child is not getting what he wants, he experiences stress. So he grabs for control wherever he can—grabbing things, grabbing attention, grabbing you or a sibling.

read more
Don’t Take It Personally

What happens to you when your child behaves less than perfectly? When he ignores you or she screams, “I don’t have to listen to you.” Some of you can respond effectively by changing your behavior and addressing whatever the situation is from a different or calmer place, with a different attitude, tone or posture. But probably many of you get your button pushed, think your child is out to get you and yell back behaving just the way you don’t want your child to behave.

The difference is the parent who takes it personally and the parent who doesn’t. So what makes the difference?

When I’m working with parents on this, I often describe the cartoon in my book “When Your Kids Push Your Buttons” on p.86. The mother is trying her hardest to deflect those oncoming critical remarks with a shield, but the onslaught catches her off guard, and she doesn’t get her shield up in time, so the remarks hit her hard. This perfectly illustrates taking it personally. Once those remarks, attitudes, behaviors are allowed to get past your shield (your boundary), it’s next to impossible to respond neutrally and effectively.

read more
Mar. ’19 Q&A – Being Your Child’s Friend and Parent, Angry Behavior and When the Coach is a Bully

Being Your Child’s Friend and Parent

Q. I do welcome your advice and think you speak a lot of sense, but I am not sure about your advice to be your child’s friend in one of your articles. What is wrong with being a mum? I am the only person who can officially be regarded as mum in my daughter’s life and I feel very proud to be so. I am not sure being a friend is possible as the friendship is automatically unbalanced. I have a number of very good friends, some long term and we have quite balanced relationships, involving give and take. I do not regard my relationship with my daughter as balanced, and she does not seem to understand give and take. I would also say she is a very high maintenance friend, and therefore I would go out of my way not to be her friend if she wasn’t my daughter. I don’t think she is like that with her peers though – I think their relationship is balanced. When choosing activities, we try to pick nice things to do and see, and we get a lot of resistance from her until we get her there and then she loves it. We also get resistance around food and most things at the moment – she is quite selfish and does not seem to understand the notion of helping out, and she wants things from shops all the time, which is wearing.

read more

When Do I Draw the Line?

Parents who want to leave the reward and punishment methods behind often have a hard time letting go fully and embracing a truly connective relationship with their children.

When my child won’t do what has to be done, I have to draw the line, don’t I?
I try to be empathic and listen, but where do I draw the line?

What does “Drawing the line” mean? Making your child stop? Not being empathic anymore? Maintaining your authority as a parent? I think it’s worth figuring out what this phrase means as it runs endlessly in the minds of well-intentioned parents trying their best to change old ways.

“Drawing the line” is one of the last bastions of the reward and punishment mindset. It comes out of the frustrated parent dealing with a defiant or resistant child. But what do you do when you draw the line? Is this line similar to a “line in the sand” beyond which one cannot cross? Does that mean you and your child are separated by a line preventing both of you from getting to each other? Is it a boundary mark that determines the end of your attempt at connection and the beginning of punitive measures?

“Drawing the line” probably happens when you don’t know what to do next. Perhaps you’re thinking, He’s got to learn; She can’t get away with this; I will not tolerate that kind of talk; He’s becoming a video addict. Your resources are used up, patience is thin, and you fall back on old standards. You take away privileges, you threaten, you yell, you lose control. And the cycle starts all over.

Of course, you get frustrated and don’t know what to do. No parent alive has ever avoided this state of mind. The problem is you think you should never have to feel this way and should know what to do to make sure your child never pushes you to this point. So if he does, he’s got to learn who’s boss.

But when he plays by whatever method of drawing the line you use, he’s back into anger: feeling revengeful, misunderstood, powerless, wrong. Then his behavior accelerates, and you get to that line-drawing place more and more often.

So instead of “drawing a line”, what do you do when that moment hits when your child is behaving unacceptably and you don’t know what to do?


This is the moment to drop into Being instead of focusing on Doing.

The state of Being means that you expect to enter that zone of not knowing what to do when your child seems to have the upper hand. The state of Being means that you accept yourself and also accept your child for pushing you to try to get what he wants — after all that is his job.

But for many parents this unknowing place is unacceptable. You must Do something right now to stop this. It feels as if your child is walking all over you and you are her doormat. That is only true if you remain on the floor.

When you don’t know what to do, do nothing. Of course, if there is hitting, throwing, some kind of violent behavior, that must be stopped. But stopping it means restraint or getting between two angry people. It does not mean lecturing about how many times you have told him blah, blah. It does not mean yelling at your child, which indicates you have lost control and become more of a target for an angry child. It does not mean using coercive tactics to make your child wrong.

Much of the time, the behavior that pushes you over the edge into not knowing what to do is resistance or refusal to do something you have asked, throwing jabs or punches at you or a sibling, calling names. None of this is okay. But instead of thinking I have to draw the line, think I need to create a boundary.


A boundary is a psychological protection for both you and your child.

Holding a strong boundary means that no one is allowed to abuse you in any form and that your wishes are as important as anyone else’s. You take care of you instead of using your power to control your child and prevent him from doing something (although sometimes you need to use restraint to keep yourself from being hit). A boundary means, I take care of myself and insure that I am okay — exactly what you want to teach your child to do.

A boundary means you can say:

   This is not okay with me.

            I will not allow anyone to hit me (and I hope you never allow anyone to hit you).

            I don’t like it when this happens.

You work out problems with you child through relationship. In a relationship you do not exert your power over another. Nor do you ever need to do that with your child in order to gain cooperation.

What do you do if a friend, co-worker or spouse does something unacceptable to you? You probably don’t take away a privilege. Yelling never accomplishes anything worthwhile, and letting it pass sends the message you are okay with it. The relationship is what is at risk. That is what needs tending — if you want to maintain the relationship.

Most often you are caught off-guard by your child’s offending behavior. Your emotions flood your brain and you go into reactive mode. But reacting in that mode means defensive, retaliatory behavior that only breaks connection and will never lead to cooperation. IT IS ALWAYS BEST TO DO NOTHING.

Stop, breathe, and wait until your emotions are cooled and your thinking brain comes back online — when you can be rational again.

Go back to your child, own your part of the situation, name the problem, and work it out.

“You really hated what I asked you to do. I probably said it with a frustrated tone. I do have a problem here that I need your help with. It is my job as your parent to get you to bed on time. I get very frustrated and impatient especially when I’m tired at the end of the day and want things to go smoothly. And of course you don’t want to go to bed. You want to keep playing. So we have to work this out so we are both okay with it. Is there something you can think of that would help getting to bed easier so we don’t have to fight about it every night?”

This re-do of the situation is considerate of your child’s agenda, it accepts your child’s natural desires at her stage of development, it shows responsibility by owning your part, and it acknowledges your job and desire. When your child does not feel blamed, she is far more likely to cooperate with you because she doesn’t have to defend herself against your blame. When you own what is yours—in this case it is your desire to get your child to bed—your child feels more understood and is more willing to work it out.

You do not need to go into this every night, but if you take the time to invest in your relationship, and you can be trusted not to flip back to “drawing a line”, you will rarely have to have this type of conversation with your child. But when new stages of development arise, when your child is thinking differently, when you are particularly needy, going back to the problem-solving drawing board is always the best way to preserve a strong, loving relationship.

read more

Taming Your Gremlin ®*

We all say and do things we don’t mean. How many times have you screamed or slammed a door or hit a child and moments later regretted it. You knew better, right? So how come you didn’t do what you wished you had in the moment? Because your fears and assumptions got the better of you, provoked your emotions, and your reactions were automatic.

Most of us get our buttons pushed. Maybe we forgive ourselves, maybe we don’t. So if we react more often than we’d like, why don’t we cut our children some slack? Children don’t have the benefit of adult reasoning or self-control. Wouldn’t it be smart to expect that your children will behave impulsively, even when they know better?

Of course you want to guide your child toward gaining self-control. Here is one method to reign in impulsivity with no more blame and lecturing.

Ask your child to tame his gremlin

Begin by asking your child if he ever thinks there is something inside him that makes him do things he doesn’t mean to do, i.e. hitting, kicking, screaming, throwing…. Something that takes control of him. If he doesn’t seem to know what you’re talking about or is not interested, let it go. Try another time with different words. If he says, Yes, continue.

Tell your child that everybody has a little gremlin inside that wants to take charge and do what it wants to do to run the show. Use an example from a time you said or did something you didn’t mean.

Now call on your child’s wonderful imagination and creativity wild with these suggestions:
  • Ask him where inside his body his gremlin lives.
  • Tell him to reach inside to that place and touch it.
  • Ask: Is it hard or soft? Does it have a shape? Is it smooth or prickly, cold or hot, slimmy or sticky…. Suggest as many attributes as you can think of.
  • Tell him to grab a hold of it and pull it out.
  • Ask: What does it look like? What color is it? What shape? Does it have eyes, nose, etc? Does it have hair or is it bald? Etc.
  • Ask him to hold it up to his ear … then his nose. Does it rattle or gurgle? What does it smell like?
  • Ask him to give it a name. Use this name from now on.
  • Ask if he will draw a picture of it so you can see what it looks like.
  • Ask him what sort of things it says to him when it wants to do what it wants. (Could be the voice of anxiety and fear as well)
  • read more

    January ’18 Q&A – Sharing & Hogging, School Resistance and The Dark Side

    Sharing and Hogging

    Q. My three-year-old has a very big issue with sharing and hogging. She has an 18 mo. old sister who is not allowed to touch anything. I understand that my daughter still is having a hard time with her arrival, she has to share me, she doesn’t get to have me all to herself, she doesn’t even get to read books alone with me and on top of it all I am three times as tired, have to do a lot more chores, can’t play with her at the drop of the hat, and she doesn’t get to have all of my adoration just for her. I still feel really guilty about that. At first I thought, fair enough the toys were hers, so I opted to buy my youngest toys for herself. I told my eldest and explained before we bought anything that I was buying for her sister so she doesn’t have to touch hers. She agreed but once the toy is bought she wants to have it and play with it. She gets so angry and hits me when I try to give the toy back to her sister.

    read more

    The Bossy Child

    Bossy child

    Do you have a bossy child? One who tells others what to do, how to play the game, what to say? A child who throws a fit if things don’t go her way?

    “Bossy” is a word that gets our dander up. “Bossy” typically translates for a frustrated parent as mean, rude, know-it-all, bully, show-off, controller—basically a child who will wind up with no friends. With labels and images like this swirling inside, the parent of a “bossy” child typically becomes controlling in reaction in order to stop the bossy behavior and turn it into socially acceptable behavior.

    The problem with that: You are reacting to assumed ideas and predictions. Whether it’s from past experience or from witnessing other children not wanting to play with your child, you react to those fears—what you think is the truth. And fears interfere with the connection your child desperately needs from you.

    In order to eliminate those fears and perceive your child differently, you must pay attention to what your mind is telling you and understand that this is not necessarily the truth. When you can be open, you are more able to reframe your assumptions and adjust your unrealistic expectations to ones your child can be successful meeting. Let’s break it down.

    Why is my child bossy?

  • She is a persistent, assertive leader and knows how she wants things to go.
  • She gets very frustrated when others don’t see it her way.
  • Her sense of personal integrity is very strong and still immature.
  • She feels thwarted in her efforts to maintain control and uses her assertiveness to try to get what she wants. All developmentally normal.
  • Her immaturity means that she will not be considering how someone else feels, and she will not be able to take into consideration why the other child wants to do something different. This awareness comes with maturity.
  • When her efforts to be heard and understood by her parents are met with controlling tactics to get her to change, she gets the message she is wrong and fights back. Her “bossiness” may then turn to rudeness, bragging, or cruelty.
  • A naturally assertive temperament will become exaggerated when the child is tired, hungry or stressed in any way. When you see the aspects of this personality trait that shows itself when your child is doing fine, that is the direction in which your child is developing.
  • read more