March ’18 Q&A – Getting Choices to Work, Getting a Spouse On Board and Swearing

Getting Choices to Work

Q. What is the next step after saying, “You can either pick up that toy you threw and put it in the box or hand it to me. Which do you choose?” and the child refuses to choose or states they refuse to do either? I frequently find this with my 3 year old daughter. We either end up in a power struggle or I end up letting it go and the toy is left or I pick it up. 

A. I would add, “If you can’t make the choice right now, let’s take a break and do something else and then come back to it.” If you put it to her the moment she has thrown the toy it is too soon because she is deep in her anger. Next time give it time for her emotions and yours to calm. I might also start with “Do you want to…” instead of “You can either…” which sounds a little more threatening. If your anger is behind your words, she will definitely not respond. Take a break, do some calming down activity, then acknowledge the anger that made her throw the toy – “You were very angry when I asked you to put your toys away. You didn’t want to do that so you threw one of them because you felt mad.” You then normalize her feelings and let her know she is okay. Then say, “Are you ready now to make a choice? Do you want to bring it to me or put it in the box?” Once feelings are calmed, she is more likely to want to make amends.

If you suspect that a choice like that will meet with resistance, try instead, “Do you want to pick up the toy you threw and put it in the box or have me put it away for awhile? If it’s too hard for you to choose, I will choose for you and put it away.” The trick to stay out of the power struggle is to remain calm. That is the only way you are able to hand over power to her to make the choice. If you get into a power struggle it means that you are fighting to make her do it your way, which she will naturally resist.

If you see that she is struggling and having a hard time coping with her emotions instead of being disobedient, then you will feel compassion for her. It will then be easier to allow her time to get through her struggle — maybe with a hug, a walk outside, reading a book, whatever she needs that will help her calm down and get out of her stuck place. When the power struggle ends because you do not engage in it, she will be more cooperative. Her age means she is mostly impulsive and also has learned that she is her own person and can resist you. If her temperament is strong-willed, you will not get anywhere by forcing her to do it your way. And it’s not the end of the world if you see how hard she is struggling and you pick it up for her. But know that it doesn’t have to be dealt with immediately. Give her time.


Getting a Spouse On Board

Q. I am a mother of toddler twin boys. My natural parenting style is to parent connectively, and I have found your books refreshing and reaffirming. However, my husband feels that I should be a little “strong” when it comes to discipline. We have a wonderful relationship, and he is a great father. But I would like for us to be on the same page when it comes to disciplining the boys. He just doesn’t have the time to read your books, and I never seem to be able to quite convince him without feeling that I am telling him what to do. Do you have any suggestions for how to share connective parenting concisely with someone who isn’t able to spend the time reading? Are there things you use in your workshops to help convince the nay-sayers without making them feel “wrong”?

A. I often say to parents that you don’t have to be on the same page as long as you’re in the same book. If your goals and philosophies are pretty much the same, HOW you carry it out can be quite different — and that’s okay. Two parents come from completely different backgrounds, often different cultures. It’s no wonder it’s hard to come together to co-parent. When you disagree with each others’ styles, make a vow that you will not undermine each other in the moment but that you will talk about it preferably before the day is over.

Then talk from your own point of view, owning your own feelings about the situation rather than lecturing the other about what “should” have been done. Nobody wants to be told what to do — just like your child! We all want others to do it our way. It’s only human and we all have egos we are trying to feed. Give each other the opportunity to share your points of view about how you did or would handle the situation.

I would talk with your husband about how you can balance each other rather than parent just like each other (this is using connection with him). It’s kind of agreeing to disagree. He can be the “strong” one if that is what he believes is important. It’s actually best for both of you to be strong. I wonder if you mean he wants you to be harder/tougher, to punish, give consequences, etc. You can suggest he read these pages “What is Connective Parenting?” and “The Reasons I am a Connective Parent” which will give him my reasons for connective parenting and these pages “The Story of a Family” and “A Connected Relationship with Your Kids” that are written by parents who have gained from connective parenting. On any of the article pages you will see a list of many other articles down the right side.

Also he may do better with audio books so he can listen in the car or working out, etc. They are available here.


Q. I love your book “When Your Kids Push Your Buttons.” I have been practicing and many things are better and I am calmer. I have a question about swearing. My 10 yo son is wonderful — polite, sensitive, thoughtful. He has a temper like mine, which flares up fast but burns out fast (when I engage and fuel his fire it takes longer. I have been working on not engaging). Along these lines, he really wants to swear when he is angry. He knows we do not want that language spoken in our house is usually good at mutating the words, but he will push. I can say he has a right to be angry, but I won’t do what he wants if he uses that language. But, does that make him feel rejected because he is angry? If I just sit quietly with him, does that mean that I am condoning the language which is a slippery slope of disrespect? I have waited until he is calm and rational to talk about it, and he says that he understands. But it does not change next time…

A. The key lies in your words, “the slippery slope of disrespect”. As long as you hold the assumption that his swear words means disrespect, you cannot allow them. Whenever you forbid anything/hold a zero tolerance rule, you are at risk of getting exactly what you are working hard to avoid. What you forbid becomes a loaded weapon to your child. In moments of anger or frustration, the mutated words feel pointless to him. And from his point of view, they are an expression of his anger and have nothing to do with disrespect of you — unless he gets so frustrated that he swears at you. This is the risk when you forbid.

I would suggest that you look at the fact that swear words are just that…words. The expression of them has nothing to do with disrespect unless they are directed at someone. You have said he is a polite boy so likely have little to worry about in that area. If you try to control the words he uses, you will lose control if he directs any toward you in the future. And if you forbid them at home, they will crop up at school, on the playground, etc.

Do you ever swear? If so, you cannot get away with a double standard. If neither you nor your husband swear, then you have a right to tell him how offensive the words are to you. Make sure you stay focused on how YOU feel about them rather than ordering him never to use them, to hold your same perception of them. If you stay with your values and feelings about them, he is more likely to have consideration for you. And your modeling will be the very best teaching you can do.

My advice is to acknowledge how tempting it is to use swear words when he is angry. Allow him certain use at home as long as they are never directed at a person. Once you give permission, then you have leverage around their use and can create parameters that he will be more likely to cooperate with.

Let him know that the reason you feel so strongly about swearing is that so many people are offended by it, including you. So if you allow him to OCCASIONALLY use a swear word at home, you can insist that they are never used in front of relatives, strangers, or anywhere in public. And let him know that you will feel offended just by the sound of them. Tell him why you don’t swear, what it means to you and acknowledge that it might not mean the same to him. Stay strong on how they must never be directed at anyone or used disrespectfully. This is what we did with our kids and they always remained respectful. It’s a matter of how we look at the power of words. When words lose their importance (especially their importance to you), they become just words.

The most important value to teach is not to never swear but to have respect for all and especially mutual respect at home. Simply the use of swear words is not disrespectful. If you forbid, you are at risk of encouraging disrespect from your son. If you allow them but stay strong on your values of WHY swear words are offensive to you, then you are more likely to encourage respect.

To submit a question, email me at with your short question and I will answer you within a few days. It may appear in the newsletter at a later date.


When Your Kids Push Buttons BookWe punish our children in an attempt to keep them from pushing our buttons, often escalating the original problem into a cycle of anger and blame. When Your Kids Push Your Buttons is not about what to do to your kids to get them to stop pushing your buttons. This book is about how to be the parent you wish you could be-the parent that only you are holding yourself back from.



Related Links:

The Dos and Don’ts of Power Struggles

A Connected Relationship with Your Kids

December ’17 Q&A – Anger Management, Stealing and Mutual Respect