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.

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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.

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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.