Posts tagged gentle parenting
Your Parenting Journey

Boisterous or clingy, shrieky or shy, our toddlers give us the wildest ride of our lives and win our hearts forever.

Your parenting journey, just like your toddler’s personality, is unique.

In this excerpt from the Introduction of Toddler Discipline for Every Age and Stage, you can get a glimpse of my own pathway toward compassionate, gentle discipline.


Excerpt from Toddler Discipline for Every Age and Stage

He glares at me from across the kitchen, eyes squinting in fury, face reddening as he holds his breath. Headfirst and full force, he runs toward my belly, and upon contact, mashes himself against me. His arms are flailing, and I can’t tell if he’s actively trying to hit me or if he’s just out of control. My biceps are still stronger than his so I use them to hold him at bay without hurting him. He screeches in protest and reaches for my waist. I can see tears forming in the corners of his eyes. I feel awful inside.

In my head, I am running through all the discipline strategies I know and I’m second-guessing all of my decisions. Did I make the wrong choice by setting a limit? Was I too harsh or unsympathetic? Am I a pushover? And the worst thought of all—am I failing as a parent?

I give up fighting him. Heart pounding, I reverse the energy flow and hug him tightly instead. I yell, “You’re mad at me! You’re really, really mad! I’m sorry we’re fighting. I don’t want to fight. I love you. I love you so much!” His body goes rag-doll limp. He takes a shaky breath and lets out a sob. We melt to the floor together, a tangle of bent knees and bowed heads. I still don’t know if the way I handled the situation would seem right or wrong in anyone else’s eyes, but my own uniquely impulsive and intensely emotional child accepts the cuddle. I rock us back and forth for a long time, whispering, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Every time we interact with our children, we have the opportunity to coach them on how to manage their own emotions and behave appropriately in social situations. It isn’t easy; our own personalities and insecurities greatly influence how we address a challenging behavior in our children.

As the daughter of a Montessori preschool teacher and a psychologist, child development was a frequent dinner table topic. By the time I was thirteen, I was completely hooked. My childhood heroes were Alfie Kohn and Madelyn Swift, two fierce proponents of a more positive, compassionate approach to discipline. I also became aware that I was being raised differently from many of my peers: While my friends and cousins were spanked or grounded, I was counseled. But it wasn’t exactly easy to come clean and reveal my emotions and mutually agree upon solutions, and sometimes being punished seemed like the easy way out! Still, I grew up with a heavy appreciation of the time my parents spent with me to offer their guidance, and the fair and respectful treatment of children became the golden, wrapped-up package in my soul.

After several years of teaching kindergarteners and a whole lot more personal research on disciplinary techniques and strategies to handle defiance, effective parenting seemed so easy. When I saw a child having a tantrum in the grocery store, I assumed that if the parent had been proactive in the right way, the whole embarrassing conflict could have been avoided. In the words of Bob Dylan, “Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that, now.”

The first time I had to handle a tantrum from my own child, I was knocked flat off my feet! All the strategies I had learned by heart now had to be implemented in practice, not just preached. The complete lack of objectivity had rendered me a newbie in the field. What I had learned to be true from the books now had to be learned all over again from experience. And so, my children set about teaching me the right way to parent them.


Now, as a parent coach and educational consultant, I listen to the concerns and anxieties of many parents in the thick of those tough toddler years, and my heart aches in remembrance. Parenting is a humbling experience. Children pass through such a quickly progressing succession of developmental stages during the first few years of life that it’s hard for us to keep up with their current needs, much less anticipate what changes will occur next. As my mama always said with a bit of cheekiness, “If you don’t like your child’s behavior, just wait a few weeks for a new developmental stage. By then, you’ll have an entirely different problem to figure out!”

In addition, most of us have no real memories of what it felt like to be a toddler. We can only imagine the intensity of their emotions as they push toward independence and simultaneously demand the safety and comfort that can only be provided by a parent.

You, like your child, are on a path of becoming. Your quest: to nurture your child’s potential, and while doing so, learn how to become a stronger and more compassionate human being yourself. Every day, you bravely face the possibility of tantrums and acts of defiance, obstacles that would ruffle even the most heroic among us. Yet you are never alone in these woods.

Unlike a fairy tale, there is no magic wand or spell that can skip to the happily-ever-after; however, what I can offer you is a map that reveals your child’s natural developmental path. I can also help fill the backpack for this journey with discipline strategies to pick and choose from as you learn what works best for you and your child. I can give you a heads up about the issues parents commonly face during each year so that you know what to look for. And I can reassure you that there is no such thing as perfection. We all make mistakes and learn from them. Our children’s capacity for forgiveness and acceptance of our faults is unfathomable. As long as you are meeting your child’s basic needs for health, safety, and love, you will walk right out of these dark woods into the sunlight. I promise.

Ending the Neverending Bedtime Battles

A letter…

“Hi, Aubrey! We are struggling at bedtime. My son’s bedtime routine is dinner, playtime, bath, and books. We read 5 books after bath and usually one story after.

I’m happy to stay with him after that until he falls asleep; he can be in my bed if he wants, but as soon as the story is over, he demands more, and if I say no he starts to be very loud waking his baby brother, he suddenly needs to get a drink, go to the toilet, or anything to make it longer.

Sometimes he runs back downstairs. I do not know how to reinforce the routine in a gentle and respectful way.

We tried letting him stay up in his room but he will stay up for hours, frequently coming back downstairs until I go back and read again. Then he is tired and miserable the next day. Any advice please? Thank you.”

- Teri, mama to 4 year old Teddy

I hear you, mama…

If only we could just create a consistent bedtime routine and be done with the battles! The age-old wisdom is correct: routines are important. You are already one step ahead by thinking through and implementing calming, consistent just-before-bed habits to help him wind-down.

Physically, you know that his body is prepped for sleep.

A full belly, an engaged mind, some warm, muscle-relaxing water therapy, and a good cuddle should do it. You’ve got the physical needs covered.

If anything, I’m wondering how long this routine takes. If you’re completely exhausted by the time “sleep” is supposed to be happening, consider shortening it or starting the whole thing a little bit earlier to allow for more flexibility (and emotional capacity) on your end.

Empathy and Exhaustion

I can tell by your descriptive words to me -- “I’m happy to stay with him” and “if he wants” that these are also empathetic words you use with him. Gentle, respectful parenting is important to you, and you work hard at it. I can also tell that you are feeling exasperated by the time bedtime rolls around.

The words “demands” and “miserable” speak volumes, even though you are talking about your child and not yourself. These are not easy times!

Empathetic as you are, emotionally, your child is obviously still struggling internally, and it likely has nothing to do with what you are or are not doing. This one is not on you.

Developmental Changes

Four-year-olds are going through a pretty big developmental transformation that can greatly interfere with sleep. While they can, if they choose, be quite amicable, they are also prone to engaging in power struggles, even when you are giving them no real “reason” for one.

New fears often emerge at this age - of scary noises in the dark, worrying about being lost or alone, thinking about what would happen to him if you died, the uncomfortableness of the transition from awake to asleep.

What if a terrible event occurred while he was helplessly asleep, or even worse...what if something amazingly exciting happened and he wasn’t awake to witness it?

Friendships are especially exciting and anxiety-inducing at this age as well. If he couldn’t figure out how to properly join a game of tag at the park the other day or had a disagreement with a good friend, it may take a little while for him to sort out his feelings.

These thoughts are often swimming around inside the typical four year old’s head, and it’s new and different for him. None of this entered his consciousness last year at all!


Finding Solutions

Because four-year-olds are good at communicating the lack of desire to go to bed but not actually so good at communicating those deeper worries, you will need to be a detective. How are you to know what’s actually bugging him just before bedtime? You can’t see into his mind, and you may never know exactly what the issue is. Chances are good that it will resolve itself as he processes and adjusts.

Don’t go changing up his routine again too much. You’ve got the basis already, and consistency is still important at this age. I wonder if you might be able to have some heart-to-heart discussions with him about why bedtime is so hard right now. I’d recommend that you do it during the day and not in the middle of a bedtime battle.

See if the two of you can find some time to talk about the problem. If you do, you should make sure you are not in a chastising type of mood. This is not a lecture. For some children, it works best if you are deep in a snuggle after reading a story - whether on your couch under a blanket or in your bed. For other children, it could work best while their hands are engaged in an activity they love and find comforting, such as playing with legos.

You really want him to open up and talk to you and help you find a solution. “I am concerned about how bedtime is going recently. I’ve noticed that sometimes you have a hard time getting to sleep, even when I lay with you. We read our stories, and then it seems like you’re getting up a lot. Will you talk to me about that? You used to go right to sleep. What’s going on at night?”

He doesn’t have to answer you verbally. He may be answering inside his head, and if there is silence after a bit of wait-time, you should move on to possible solutions.

First, remind him of the rules (four-year-olds are absolutely still comforted by family policies and consistent boundaries). “Our family rule is that after 5 stories, we go to sleep. What can we do to help you do that?”

You can also offer some child-friendly suggestions, such as…

  1. You could choose a stuffed animal to cuddle with us.

  2. We can stop after 3 stories and go to the toilet one more time and then read the other 2.

  3. We can put a water bottle next to the bed so we can drink some water.

Either way, with enough love and patience, you can get these bedtime battles and your responses to them under control with the gentle, respectful way you are aspiring for.


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You can find more effective strategies to tame tantrums, overcome challenges, and help your child grow in my book, Toddler Discipline for Every Age and Stage.

There is no degree in parenting. But there's this.
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I loved my mother so much I wanted to grow up and be just like her. I can close my eyes and I still see my five-year-old rosy cheeks and pigtails in the mirror. The answer to the age-old whaddya wanna be when ya grow up question was suddenly clear as day.

I looked right into my own hazel eyes and announced the epiphany out loud. “I’m going to be a mom!” My voice echoed off the old olive-green tiles. I whispered it again for good measure. And then I went into my backyard and twirled in the sun, happy and fulfilled, secure in my future career. I wonder how many other children had a similar adorably innocent moment.

Unlike other life-altering career decisions, like my own foray into classroom teaching, there is no degree to obtain in parenting. There are no certifications to pile up. No professional development hours to accrue and turn in. No one hires you or fires you. No one gives you a to-do list or evaluates your performance.

You can read about the right way to discipline children and even study child development before you give birth to or adopt one. These formal studies can certainly get you philosophically centered and ready to face challenges head on, but in the end, as new parents, we are all more or less on the same playing field. Newbies mucking about together, hoping for the best.

Parenting well takes constant introspection and empathy - for when we learn to see the world through the eyes of our children, we start to understand why they behave the way they do. And then we can modify our reactions to meet their deepest needs.

If we are trying our best to parent with compassion, with respect, with loving guidance, with gentle encouragement, with supportive limits, and with a good deal of humility, I truly believe we are all on the right path.

Even so grounded, many parents have come to me over the years and asked me for specific strategies to try when their toddlers and young preschoolers are throwing tantrums, refusing to cooperate, throwing toys, hitting, or biting, among other behavioral difficulties.

I’m happy to share the wisdom I’ve learned along the way - from reading books, chatting with my mama friends, and by watching my husband work his own parenting magic - but it is impossible disregard information about the development of the child in lieu of a specific method. They are both essential to solving a problem.

In my new book, Toddler Discipline for Every Age and Stage, you’ll find practical strategies for overcoming common issues faced by parents of 1-4 year olds right alongside insight into your child’s developmental stage. It was a genuine thrill to write and brought back so many memories of my own children when they were little!

You are the perfect parent for your own child - just as you are. You know that, right? I hope you do.

I know you might not always feel like one. Most of us struggle with periods of self-doubt and even cry about it in the bathroom or get unreasonably cranky. Recently, I re-watched the animated film Tangled again and was struck by how much I identified with the evil witch (“mother”) when she fell back into her chair in exasperation after yelling and said in regret, “Great. Now I’m the bad guy!” Oh, how many times have I been that bad guy, goaded into losing control of my own emotions!

All of the fretting, the exhaustion, and for some of you (myself included) even the yelling…this is life handing you an opportunity for learning. Every good story has an internal struggle. It wouldn’t be a story without one!

But with dedication to learning and the willingness to embrace the ups and the downs, your child will respect how hard you tried and may even look in the mirror and decide to one day take the journey, too.

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