How to Raise Decent Children without Spankings or Time-Outs

Problem solving fine motor games, like matching bolts and nuts, develops patience and tenacity when things get tough.

Long before I became a mother, before I entered the world of early childhood education, I had long conversations with friends about raising children, specifically, how to raise decent ones.  Conversations like these were usually sparked by some horrendous spectacle at a restaurant, or shopping mall, or while walking down the sidewalk, and always came around to the conclusion that no matter what I did, my eventual children would never do or be anything less than I wanted them to be. Period.  Anything else was a failure of parenting.

Oh, naive and ignorant younger me.  Somewhere along the journey from that former self to where I am now, I came into a marvelous collection of books, resources, and amazing mentors in the field of early childhood education who shared a secret with me.  To be successful as a parent, raising children who will grow up to be compassionate, capable, integrated souls, I needed entirely different methods: no physical punishments, no coercion cloaked as emotional management.  I needed to teach my children how to get their needs met.  As they grew clearer about how to meet their needs in pro-social ways, we would all be better off.

Here is a short account of how I came to reconsider spanking and time-outs.  Spanking teaches a child to manage strong emotions through physical force.  Even if you “tame” the spanking – providing space between the infraction so the parent calmly and coolly delivers the punishment, you still teach a child that mistakes of the social sort deserve to be punished through physical force.  And then there’s the domesticated version of spankings: the humble time-out.  Defenders will vouch for the strong benefits of a cooling-off-period as an emotional management tool.  And they’re right!  Cooling off is a powerful tool.  But being forced to cool off does not result in cooling off – it results in a person who is angrier, more vindictive, and sneaky.  Time-out is not an emotional management tool, no matter how it masquerades: it is a punishment used as a consequence for misbehavior.  If you want cooling off, develop a peaceful centering space, where children can go voluntarily to regain their emotional wits.  (I even take time in the centering area from time to time!)  But sending a child away to time-out communicates conditional love: you have to behave like this, otherwise I (with my almighty power) can remove you from my presence.  And then we wonder why children use conditions when they are with their friends: “You have to give me that toy, otherwise I won’t play with you.”  There are a host of other reason why time-out is an ineffective teaching tool…but the most convincing argument to me went along these lines: you don’t teach a child pro-social behavior in anti-social ways.  End of story.

Keeping cool in the heat – helping to prevent unnecessary melt-downs due to heat exhaustion!

So, I had moved from naive-yet-confident to thoughtful-yet-clueless.  I was ready to give up the use of punishments to achieve a desired end result, but I still wanted to raise children who were would be pleasant dinner companions, make friends in school, volunteer their time, contribute to society, and advocate for the needs of others.  So I read every book I could get my hands on.  I talked to every early childhood professional who was well educated in methods of guidance (as opposed to discipline).  I attended every class that I could to learn how to teach children pro-social ways of meeting their needs.  The key is not permissiveness.  Throwing out spankings and time-outs does not mean that children run wild.  If they did, we would be failing them as much as if we were using coercive methods to force behavior.  I began to move out of thoughtful-yet-clueless to present-and-intentional, keeping a close eye on the emotional state of the children I am with to provide helpful, sensitive guidance – teaching children how to exist in a community where everyone’s needs are met.

What to do Instead

Guidance revolves around prevention, instruction, and remaining cool in the moment, insisting that children’s anti-social behaviors are needs in disguise. If we can get to the bottom of the need, and teach a new method for getting that need met, we have done our job.

Problem Solving: Not enough hands? Try a bag!

1.  Centering.  (To read about centering in more detail, read this article.) When we human beings are feeling strongly (angry, sad, frustrated) we lose contact with the problem solving area of our brain.  All those magnificent lectures we give to children after an incident don’t do any good.  It is unethical and ineffective to try and teach a child how to solve their problems if they are still uncentered.  Children need to learn the signs that they are “uncentered” and the tools to help reconnect with their problem solving brain.  I teach centering skills at gathering times of the day — for us, over meals and at story time before naps.  Children need to learn:

a.  signs that their bodies are uncentered: feeling hot, teeth clenched, hands making a fist, feeling “strong”
b.  what to do when they are uncentered: washing hands (water helps to relax), sitting alone in a centering space, sitting with a friend, screaming into a pillow, throwing a soft ball, ripping paper, playing with dough
c.  how to recognize “uncentered” in a friend

Here is how a typical exchange might go: “Tekoa, I saw you take that truck from your friend. I can’t let you take toys.  When you are centered again, we can figure out how you can get it, but now, what would help you center?”

It seems so counter-intuitive to “give” a child something when they have acted inappropriately.  (You just pushed Cadence…let’s go rip paper.)  In truth, this is the only way to be helpful.  Once a child has access to her problem solving brain, she can learn how to get her needs met, make amends for any wrongs caused when she was uncentered, and work to form a strategy so that it doesn’t happen again.  Centering is to the emotional development of a child as driving with fully inflated tires is for gas mileage.

2.  Setting clear limits.  We must be very clear with children when it comes to limits and boundaries.  There is nothing punitive about enforcing boundaries, but keeping the lines of yes and no consistently in the same place helps children learn the rules.  Children feel safe when limits are explicit and consistent.  Here are some examples:

a. “We sit to eat.  When you stand up, mealtime is over.”  After one reminder, the meal is done.  “I see you are all finished.”  If the child protests, we simply say, “It sounds like you were not finished.  Next time, you can sit in your seat until your tummy is full.  We will eat snack in 2 hours.”
b.  “You must have shoes on to go outside.”  If a child protests, we can say, “I can see you would like to be out without shoes. I understand.  We keep shoes on to protect our feet.  I will sit here with you while you put them on.”
c.  “It sounds like you are very angry because your friend took your toy.  That would make me mad, too.  I won’t let you kick her.  You can kick this pillow to help you recenter.  When you are centered, we can figure out how to solve it.  While you center, I will keep your truck safe.”

Problem Solving: Here, Tekoa is pulling Cadence’s bike with a cable. The two had a conflict over the single bike, and resolved it this way. They are both involved. Needs met!

3.  Problem solve.  When children are in the middle of an argument (over a toy, about what game to play next), we walk them through a scripted problem solving process.  With the older ones in my crew who are very experienced, I simply enter the argument to remind them of what to do.  “It sounds like you are having a disagreement over what to do.  I will hold this toy right here while you solve it.  Let me know when you came up with a plan.”  For younger children, I follow the steps I wrote about in this article.

4.  Meet the physical needs.  Extenuating needs limit a child’s ability to deal helpfully with a situation.  Think about the role of hunger, fatigue, temperature, outside emotional experiences (like a death in the family, a new baby, or moving).  When children are at their end, our best plan is to move quickly into meeting the pressing need and solving the problem later.  More than once, I have had a house full of cranky bodies, only to sit down at a meal and have the entire mood lighten.

5. Take care of your needs.  I am unable to help children effectively if I am not on my game.  It is so easy to take out our own stress on children, and we have to be particularly alert to our emotional state.

A few scenarios:
Child A take a toy from child B.  B bites A.  I put my hand on the toy to neutralize it while reaching a hand towards the A.  A is crying.  Both children are three years old.
Me: “Teeth hurt.  B, let’s ask what would be helpful.  A? What would be helpful?”
A: “My blanket and a band-aid.”
Me: “B, let’s go get the blanket and band-aid.”  (when we return)  “B, would you like to offer to put the band-aid on?”
B: “Would you like the band-aid?”
A: “Yes.”
The children calm, and I begin to process the experience.
Me: “A, you really wanted that toy.”
A: “Yes.”
Me: “You took it.”
A: “Yes.  I didn’t have any.”
Me: “I see. You were sad because you didn’t have any.”
A: “Yes”
Me: “B, it sounds like A would like a toy, too.”
B: “A, I can get you a toy.”
A: “I want that one.”
Me: “Maybe you can offer a turn when you are finished?”
B: “Would you like to use it next?”


Child C is angry because Child D doesn’t want to build with blocks. Child C throws a block across the room.

Me: “I see you are very angry. I won’t let you throw blocks, because they might hurt someone. You can throw this ball, or you can do something else to recenter, and then I can help you get what you need.”
C: “I’m angry.”
Me: “I can see. Do you want to play with D?”
C: “Yes, but she won’t build towers with me.”
Me: “Oh. You want to build with blocks.”
C: “Yes.”
Me:  “You can invite D to build, or you can ask to play D’s game with her.”
C: “D? Do you want to build with me?”
D: “No. I’m coloring right now.”
C: “Ugh!  No one wants to play with me!”
Me: “You wish D would build with you.”
C: “Yes!”
Me: “You can tell her that. Maybe ask if she would like to play when she’s done coloring?”
C: “Would you play with me when you’re done coloring?”
D: “Yes.”
Me: “What do you want to do while you wait? Would you like to ask D if you can color with her while you wait?”



Categories: Emotional Development, Negotiating, Respect, Social Development | Tags: , , , , | 95 Comments

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95 thoughts on “How to Raise Decent Children without Spankings or Time-Outs

  1. Pingback: 9 Parenting Words To Live By

  2. It’s a very helpful article..
    got how to call your child’s attention at once… when he is playing, he’s watching tv, or watching peppa pig on youtube, and i called him to eat or brush teeth or to clean up, i used to call hi name to the nth time before he listens to me.. tendency, i get irritated… (i threaten him that if he won’t come soon i’ll turn off the tv or take away his toys)…. especially if I have other things to do.. or when I want him to hurry up so he won’t be late for school/daycare.. my son’s 4 years old.. i know i have to be patient enough but there are really times i easily get irritated…😦

  3. Laura

    I like the verbiage you used about mealtimes, and sitting at the table. My 2.5-year-old son likes to throw food on the floor during mealtime, and I can easily apply your verbiage to that situation. However, he’s on the low end of the weight scale and he eats dinner right before bedtime (because he’s never hungry when he wakes up, his meal schedule gets pushed back considerably). I worry that taking away his food before he has finished will leave him hungry, and he will wake up during the night. What should I do in that case?

  4. Pingback: Why I Don’t Spank, Punish or Bribe My Kids - Respectful Parent

  5. Destiny

    I have a 3 year old son who pinches. He will pinch kids at the playground, my mom, me, his cousin. .and it’s aggressive when he does it because he will clench his teeth and get a mean look on his face as he’s doing it. It isn’t just when he’s angry, though. He can be playing, eating, cuddling, going to sleep, taking a bath, watching a movie, being read a book. . Just anytime..and I feel I’ve tried everything, time out, taking away toys, leaving the room, pinching back, spanking, fake crying, yelling, saying no, explaining why he shouldn’t do it, pow powing his hand. .it’s been 5 months of this and I just can’t get him to stop! Any suggestions? I’m at a loss

  6. It feels affirming & helpful to read your posts. Thank you. I have a 2-&-a-1/2-year-old who has been throwing plates on the floor and breaking them when he’s done eating, and throwing in general, as well as screaming. I’m mainly a SAHM and got a serious cancer diagnosis a few months ago and am undergoing chemotherapy and surgeries. In the last few weeks that these behaviors started, our little one hasn’t always gotten the level of engagement and presence he’s used to. Doing our best to get the support we’d like as a family, but of course it will fall short sometimes with so many important priorities and the culture/economy we live in. As I’m writing its occurring to me that letting him know we wish we had more times of deep presence and playful engagement to offer him would probably help (he’s super verbal). Any ideas you have would be most appreciated. Heading into open surgery in a week, after which I won’t be able to lift more than 5 lbs for 6 weeks!! Seeking support of course. Stressful time trying to piece together support plan as best we can. Thank you for offering your insights to us all in this forum!

  7. kassie


    I have a 4 year old daughter diagnosed high functioning ASD and she’s very hyperactive. I also recently had a baby girl, 7 weeks old now, and my oldest just loves and dotes on her. However there’s been a lot of change and I’m less able to spend quality time. It is also summer break so no consistency has been maintained. She has been especially testy, intentionally hurting animals and behaving in ways she knows is not appropriate. I like to think I have set limits quite well, but she grins and does exactly what’s she’s asked not to, refuses to do as she’s asked, says no, calls me stupid, spits, kicks, hits. Everything is a fight, from brushing teeth, getting dressed, she screams and refuses, tries to hurt or annoy other people and animals, then runs away laughing. I do not have the energy as I have a newborn, but know if I don’t have limits and get her to learn to be self sufficient, respectful, and capable I am failing her. I also encourage her to use her words, or make sure she is well rested and fed to avoid outbursts but I have only found her hyperactivity and harmful behaviors to increase. I have gone to parenting classes, read books (love & logic and nurtured heart approach), blogs, and talked to other parents who are strongly authoritarian style. Something I don’t agree with. Please help, I feel like I’m nagging and disciplining her constantly and pushing her away.

    Thank you,


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  9. Amy

    I have a student who calls his classmates names, or will say mean things to them, like “You are ugly” “I don’t want to play with you” or “you can’t draw/color! Your picture is ugly like you, He also takes toys from the other students and runs away with them laughing. When they are able to get the toy back, he will hit or punch them. I also have noticed that he will shout out/screech or scream to see what type of reaction he will get from others. It would be great if you could give me some advice on how to handle this behavior and help this student. Thank you!

    • Hi Amy – I have a few follow up questions. How old is the child? Is the behavior happening at predictable times or following predictable events? Often, strong behavior indicates a need for connection or a need for power, so these tend to be my starting points. Does this child have a close friend in the class? Does the child feel included/excluded from the group? The hard part is that children who most need connection with peers often demonstrate that need in very ostracizing ways, which is what it sounds like he is doing. I would come alongside him in these moments (hopefully at the beginning, before things escalate) and say, “You’re feeling strongly. Strong words like that can make other people feel unwelcome or unloved. Do you want to have space/privacy? Then say, ‘I want to be alone.’ I will help others give you space, but I can’t let you use words that hurt other people.” When he is taking the toys, he is likely (ironically) asking to play. It is his poor attempt at engaging in play. Again, come alongside him and say, “Do you want to play? Taking toys won’t work, because that makes other kids feel worried to have you play. Instead say, ‘How can i play?'” Model with him what it means to observe peers and look for a natural entry into other kids’ play. For a group playing doctor, model what it looks like to arrive at the doctor’s office with a broken leg by pretending to be a patient. Or, take the child by the the hand and say, “Doctors! Come quick! I have a patient who broke his leg and needs a cast!” Does this sound like any of it might help? You need to interrupt his anti-social behaviors with friends by getting at the heart of what is wrong. Hope that helps!

  10. Ruchi singh

    I have 8 heard old daughter and 8 mth old son. Very hard time.

    She is a good girl, but she started stealing things couple of time. And I reacted very badly. I am tired and sleep deprived, not actually spending any quality time with her, I end up shouting all the time.

    Any ideas how to start over again with my sweet girl before I ruin everything.

    Appreciate your help.


  11. jess

    How can you claim to have such good advice when you punish your kid by withholding food? I wouldn’t even do that to a dog. I can’t understand why you think that’s okay. Kid stand get over it! Good lord their bodies are not as mature as an adults. Even these so called gentle parents treat their kids badly. One warning and your food is gone. I’ve lost all respect for your page

    • Sorry, but a one time spank isn’t going to sever a child’s mental state! IT GETS THEIR ATTENTION!! Time out do not always work. We need to get back to the 50’s when kid’s were disciplined and properly punished! Look at how disrespectful kids are now. Parents give in too easily! Or worse, ignore them when they are having a tantrum in public!! Then your kid thinks you don’t care what they do and grow up whiny, angry teens who do REALLY bad stuff! I thank my parents for the whoops on the butt I got (there wasn’t very many! I learned to behave!) Too many parents have followed this new age advice of not punishing the kid. It isn’t working for all kids. You are the parent and need to the authoritve figure. The kid needs to learn to respect you, and NEVER have control over you. They will thank you later in life for being a bit hard on em!:)

  12. jess

    Making your child go hungry for standing up is beyond abusive. That actually really makes me sick

  13. Wit's End Mommy

    I found your ideas so hope-giving. I’m at my wit’s end. My 6-year-old is beyond strong-willed and passionate. I do not want to break her spirit. I LOVE her spirit. I need tools though to get through to her. She has hysterical tantrums and gets angry when things don’t go her way. It’s always, “but I want…” Or “but I don’t want…” I wind up shouting, and then she’s shouting…popping her behind was not an option. I just don’t believe in it. I try time outs. You’re right. She gets angrier and vindictive and sneaky. Especially with her little brother. What can I do since she’s already six? I’m broken hearted that all of her responses are now permanent. I know I can’t undo. But can I redo? Is there still time to change her responses if I change mine? What if she is incredibly defiant? What if she refuses everything I say or ask. Our power struggles are the problem. Please share any advice you have!!!

    • Hi Wit’s End Mommy! Sorry for the delay – I have just moved my family from the US to Switzerland…I haven’t been able to keep up. I’ll reply in the next few days with more thoughts, but for now…all hope is NOT lost! (And I think your 6yo and my 6yo could be friends. :)

    • Diane

      Have you heard of the book Raising Your Spirited Child?… well worth a read, I just got hold of it for my son of 7… I’m taking the ‘its never too late’ stance😉

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  15. Clare

    This seems to me like an effective way to parent, but not an effective way to run a classroom, especially a classroom with only one teacher. I cannot stop circle time every sixty seconds to have a whole conversation about how we will solve the problem of keeping our hands to ourselves or talking while the teacher is reading, especially not when it’s the same child every single time. By the time we’ve talked it out, our activity is derailed and I have to get the whole class refocused. The same goes when I’m serving lunch, applying a band-aid, cleaning up a potty accident… Teachers often have their hands too full for this kind of thing. It’s much more effective to use something like 1-2-3 Magic in a situation like that.

  16. April

    In my opinion most of this style of teaching is ridicules! So when exactly does the child learn that there are consequences for negative behavior? One of the best parts was the example of one child biting the other, did you all notice there was no consequence?? That’s great because in the real world im pretty sure there is! When they hit out of anger when they are older I know the cops are not going to say “ok, lets get centered, we can talk this out!” What a load of crap, you are not fully setting theses children up to live in the real world, I realize you think you are, but they will not always have you present to mediate their disagreements, and like I said in the “real world” there are severe consequences!

    • I totally agree! They need to start learning that they will be punished, there are consequences for their actions and they can’t always get what they want by screaming like a rabid monkey! It is good for them to be afraid of being punished, and as I said before, a one time spank on the rear has always worked, been that way for for eons. Sometimes the old way is the best way!

      • Unah

        Would you stop making this comment. A “one time spank on the rear” does not always work. If it always worked then nobody would have parenting issues. Spanking does not work for my boys. It has never permanently corrected any of their behavior, and they become immune to it. They don’t care if I give them a spank on the rear after it happens a couple of times. I would end up having to spank harder, and for longer, and I’m not going to do that. In the 50s kids got beat with belts, not little smacks on the rear, and my parents did it to me in the 80s. I’m not going to do that to my kids. I need other tools. Please stop being critical of parents who are looking for other tools, and methods for disciplining their children. Your comments are not helpful.

    • Becks

      The correcting of behavior in a child in thepath way described in the post is useful in the real world. For one, the child bit the other child for a reason and was at an age of impulsive. The child at the age spoken of is generally unable to think before acting since the conscious is not yet fully formed. If the child needs are not being met, the child will react in such ways and “punishment” is not helpful to a child whose ability to reason is not fully formed. We punish criminals but then release them back out to the world and they act in the same pattern s again and again upon release until they get caught. Generally grownups make fully informed and reasoned choices. Children need to learn how to socially interact and a moral code. Punishment is not going to address the concern of a child who acts out to meet needs. We must meet those needs in constructive ways and come back to the group. A child who feels good about themselves can then act good to others. We have boundaries to help the child learn to self-reason and self-control. The limits set can help create fairness and trust in the adult in charge. This trust build relationships that the child can learn in and from. By the time the child is at the age of reason and full grown, the “real” world has punishments and boundaries too but it is made for those who know better.

  17. ZenBaby

    Thanks for this great post. I really connect with and agree with most of what you write. However, I am concerned with the idea of hitting pillows to “recenter”. Doesn’t that teach children that violent and physical acting out is a valid and constructive way to deal with emotions? I know this is a common thing that enlightened and thoughtful parents teach their kids, but it seems at odds with the underlying lessons of compassion and emotional intelligence. Would love to hear yours and others thoughts on this. Thank you

  18. Pingback: Positive parenting: on toddler tantrums, doing chores together, and some more | My little, green family

  19. Abigail

    Hi Emily,

    My midwife posted a link to this post on fbook this morning, so I’ve just discovered you. I feel like it is just in the nick of time, too, because I have a very challenging 3 year old boy. I struggle with feeling like he has no regard for anything I (this all goes for my husband, too) say or ask of him. We have been doing time-outs, but they do not work. If I tell him I need him to be quiet and read a book so that I can nurse his baby brother and put him down for a nap, he will come screaming into the bedroom, banging the door on the wall, etc. I don’t know what to do. At times like that, I feel like there needs to be some consequence for his action. (It’s hard to get one’s mind away from the action-consequence model of discipline.) Or if I need him to behave and stay by me in a store and he runs and starts pulling things off of a display, what do I do? Sometimes, I will ask him to do something, like throw away a yogurt container once he’s finished eating, and he just says no or ignores me and goes and does what he wants. I have the feeling that my voice has no weight with him; I’m starting to feel like he’s running the show. I often lose patience with him, especially on weekday evenings. My husband works at night and I have taught 4th grade all day, after being up every few hours with a baby the night before, so by the time I get them from the sitter and get home and take care of all the things I need to take care of, I’m done. I struggle with being patient with him. Honestly, after work, even though I feel like I should want nothing more than to spend time with my kids, I just feel like I don’t want to see anyone for a while. Obviously, that is not my life, so I don’t have that option, but it would be nice to feel centered myself before dealing with a difficult 3 year old all evening. But, I digress. The bottom line is that I don’t want to be a scary dictator parent in his eyes, I just want to be able to say, “Please throw away your wrapper,” and have him do it. Or, “Please wait quietly while I put the baby to sleep and then we will play together,” and have him wait quietly. Should there be a consequence for not doing what I ask or do I let him ignore/defy me? I have explored your blog quite a bit this morning, but I still don’t know where this fits in to your philosophy. Do I try to find what need is not being met for him? Am I being inconsistent, so that he feels that he never has to do anything I ask? Should I have a consistent consequence for when he doesn’t listen or follow directions? Should I just let him be in charge?😉

    Any insight you may have would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you,

    • You may not agree with me, but this is where you need to be much more authoritve in teaching him proper behaviour, and respecting others. My mom would give me the eagle eye stare and a stern tone of voice if I acted that way! At three, they are old enough to really start learning how to behave. If he didn’t stop doing the bad behaviour, then yes, a little smack on the rear will work. He will cry, but then ask him why he did what he did, he should know, and tell him he will get it again if it happens again. Good luck!

  20. Reblogged this on Sonni Side Up and commented:
    Very informative!

  21. Janabai

    I have 16 month old twin boys who love to take toys from each other. Sometimes because the toy is interesting or sometimes to provoke a chase. They don’t yet have words and I don’t want to take the toy as that perpetuates the taking . We confront this issue all day long. Sometimes trading works or distracting. I would love some advice on how to handle this at this age. Thank you!

  22. Katie

    Hi! I just started following your blog and I am so happy that I found it. My daughter is 3 1/2, is smart, incredibly sweet, but also very sensitive and intense. As a child I was spanked (although not often and not severely- nothing I really remember), but I know that I really, really do not want to spank. Not that it’s ever a good discipline strategy, but I think it’s an espcially bad fit given my daughter’s sensitive personality. Here’s where I am struggling though… The majority of the time DD is quite rational and “mature” for her age… But when she melts down- oh boy!! Tonight was an example. I let her stay up an extra 15 min so we could play a game, but clearly this back fired as she was just too tired for the “privilege”… So this was my fault; I realize I set her up for failure. But when it came time for a quick shower and bedtime routine, she completely melted- hitting me, spitting, kicking me, try to hit my pregnant belly, yelling “no, no, no! I want you to go away!!” you get the picture. I try telling her I statements, such as “I won’t let you hit me; it hurts.” she just looks me straight in the eye and kicks or spits. Completely defying me and pushing her boundaries- trying to get a reaction. So then I hold her hands so she can’t hit me, and she kicks me instead… It goes on and on. I can feel myself getting angry and I really don’t want to lash out because that’s not the type of parent I want to be, but a part of me thinks “ok she clearly is not respecting you… You would have never done this to your mom… What’s the only difference? You would have gotten a wack!” ok, but I don’t want to repeat these parenting choices, so I tell her to cool off in her room, while I go done the hall, but she will often times just keep coming out of her room to continue the tantrum! Once she’s gone to that point, there is almost no return… And I am out of ideas. Do I just ignore, let her hit me and kick me as I get her ready, and then put her to bed while she cries herself to sleep??

    Is this normal?! I feel like her tantrums are far less frequent than my friends’ children but they’re far more intense?

    Any guidance would be greatly appreciated!
    Thank you!

    • Hi Katie,

      I’m sending you a hug! I have experience with a particularly intense child of my own who can really push me!! Transition times are particularly difficult for my own daughter – I wonder if they are hard for your sensitive/intense one? It sounds like you have a major life transition happening (pregnancy), as well as the immediate transition of bedtime. At bedtime, children anticipate losing their connection to us, so it isn’t surprising to get some really strong behavior at bedtime as children as asking us, “Are you still here for me? What if I am my worst possible self? What about then??” Children ask these questions a LOT when transitions happen – particularly the biggies.

      You already know that sometimes our own choices backfire: the 15 minutes of staying up late becomes a meltdown at bedtime. That’s just the reality. We make choices all the time that are (intentionally or unintentionally) going to get in the way of our kids’ schedules. Obviously, it’s important with a sensitive child to keep the day as predictable as possible. Here are a few other things to try:

      – A “Getting ready for bed” book where you write down (with pictures) exactly what happens at bedtime. For my daughter, we used index cards and laminated them, and put them on rings. She carried it with her as she got ready for bed. It helped her be independent with the process and find security in the predictability.

      – You can do the same with signs in the bathroom or in her bedroom.

      – For me, it helps to have a point of connection that the kids anticipate right before bedtime (a book or a special song that we sing right as we are leaving).

      But, in the moment of that intensity, it is important that you demonstrate to your child that you can assert your personal need for safety. When she begins to hit you, I would step back. “I won’t let you hurt me.” is exactly what I would say. If she continues to flail, I would say, “When you are calm, I can continue to get you ready for bed.” If she doesn’t calm down, “We can continue getting ready for bed when you are calm” – and move her to her bedroom. If she never relaxes, she can go to bed without the normal routine and you can try again tomorrow.

      When we model self-care, our kids learn that they can stand up for their own bodies, which is SO important.

      GOOD LUCK!!:) Also, remember, while it feels SO overwhelming right now, she will soften as life settles a bit and she gains more emotional skills.

    • Margarita

      Hi Katie,
      Wow! As I read your post it was like reading about my life with my daughter! (Except I’m not pregnant) Thank you for sharing and I will try Emily’s advice to you as well. Most days it feels like I’m all alone in this parenting battle with tantrums, so it’s good to hear from others who also have same issues. Hope things get better for you and your 3 1/2 year old.:-)

    • devona

      I have a daughter like that, I read the book The Highly Sensitive Child. It helped so much!

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  25. Alisa

    Hi there, thank you for the excellent article!!:-)

    I have a highly spirited 6yo girl. I tried to follow these approaches from the earliest age. However, my daughter never responds in the way that you and your peers describe. For example, she was a profoundly articulate toddler and would simply argue as to why my safety concern was unfounded etc. In your example, if I followed your script from above about shoes when she was small, my daughter would say “I don’t need to protect my feet because I’m sensible and I wouldn’t stand on anything that could hurt my feet” and I might say, “Well, you can’t necessarily see everything dangerous in the grass. It is much safer with shoes and that way you don’t need to be so careful while you are running.What if a bee flew under your foot and stung you?” and she would reply “I have really good eyesight. You don’t need to worry”. So I might say, “Well, I do worry so let’s put on your shoes otherwise is there something you’d like to play inside barefoot?” And she would say “No, I will play outside barefoot and it’s not your decision to make”. She could go on like this for hours. I would explain that I know she is frustrated but that adults do know much more about the dangers and our job is to protect our children from hurt and the reason we make rules is out of love to help keep our children safe and happy. I used lots of praise for cooperation and good decision making. Eventually, I became fearful as she was so confident of her own judgement that I feared for her safety. At four she asked me, “Are you the emperor? Are you the queen? No? Then you have no right to set rules for me”. Another time, not wanting to leave a playdate, she adopted an alternative persona and as we tried to leave, she yelled into the street that we were not her parents and we were taking her from her house and she didn’t know us. She kept the act up for nearly 40 minutes; we told her very firmly that someone could call the police and this was serious and she needed to stop straight away, but she simply said, “I don’t know you, take me back to my parents”. In the end, we started using firmer techniques – withdrawal of privileges, time in the corner. This worked well but she became very self critical and I felt it was affecting her self esteem. We are trying to return to the gentler techniques but really struggling. The other day, she got into a temper as she didn’t want to bath or shower but didn’t want to go to bed dirty. I tried to help her centre in every way I could think of but she couldn’t. After over an hour of kicking and yelling, my husband took away screen privileges for the next day. She calmed down really quickly and was perfectly happy. She explained that daddy was the only person who could help her calm down because she needed the shock to get her out of her mood and I was being too nice and it didn’t help her when she was in a “silly pickle state” as she called it. I would welcome your thoughts on my slightly unusual little girl!

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  27. Khong Ten

    Kate, I love your methods and examples. I need your guidance. How do I teach confidence to my son? My twin sons A and B were average boys. B is slightly bigger and stronger. A is shy but cunning. At age 3, B developed a disability. It’s visible so kids would say he looks weird. His disability also prevented him from processing movements and things in his surrounding so he became anti-social. He also had trouble reading and balancing and catching. He was easily tired because of this. We didn’t really understand the depth of his disability at that time…age 3. My husband/his father was very hard on B especially since his only comparison is A who’s mentally and physically quick. At age 6 now, it turns out that other parents are saying that A is definitely athelitically better than the average 8-9 yo. B not only struggles with his limitations and not being able to process things around him, but he then compares himself to A and gets yelled at by his father for not doing things to his father’s expectations. Luckily, my husband who loves his 3 children more than life realized his own bad behavior. B went through specific therapy for his disability and he’s overcome amazing obstacles. His disability is less visible and he can do things like an average as if he’s never been disabled. Not only that but he can do certain sports/activities and academics better than A. I thought that some of these success would make B more confident and more social. Instead, he had learned from age 3 to adapt to negative things by holding it in and beats himself up for everything bad…even if he’s not being bad or it’s not even about him. For example, from a distance, we saw a classmate play with B and A. Classmate told B to hit himself in the face while classmate counts to 20. We intentionally didn’t interfere, then my husband went over and asked if it’s B’s turn to tell classmate what to do. Classmate says jovially..”this is how we play with B. We tell him what to do and he always does it.” Next day, neighbor boy had playdate with twins. Neighbor boy grabs B’s face with both hands and squeezes and shakes. it doesn’t appear mean but B’s body language indicates he didnt really like it but he wasn’t going to fight him. I told B in private that if he doesn’t like that, then he should do what the taekwondo instructor taught him…which is to firmly push the hands away (not hit), look at boy in the eyes and say strongly “stop, I don’t like you grabbing me like that.” B’s response to me was…”but that would be mean to him and I’m told not to be mean”

    Ugh, from many situations and responses from B, I’ve come to the conclusion that B still fears rejection from others and hasn’t found the courage to act differently or to love himself. Instead, he uses excuses of what he was “taught” to contradict other things that we teach him for different situations. I don’t know how to get to the core of what he feels. He freezes up literally when I talk to him and then he behaves like a victim. For example, he’ll say kids are mean to him and don’t play with him. When we were at playland and an old friend from daycare said hi to B, B stared at him then kept playing without a word. I didn’t want to make a scene so I said “oh look B, is this your buddy from daycare?” B shrugged his shoulder so I had to ask the boy, “how do you know B?” I tried to keep the words flowing until B finally said hi to the boy. Internally I was mad that B was alienating the boy. Then there are other times where B is being completely alienated at Birthday parties and such so I taught him that sometimes kids don’t hear each other so he should just jump in and play whatever they are playing. Now I fear he’s taken it to the extreme of “following the leader” and being the group’s punching bag just to be accepted.

    I know all of this takes time and things will come together with continuous and consistent love, support, and teaching from me and my husband…but I still like asking for feedback from others to see if there’s anything else I can do or say to help B gain confidence, love himself, and be “brave” with others.

    • Khong Ten, thank you for taking the time to share! It sounds like you have a very specific and challenging situation on your hands. And it sounds like B is in over his head. He needs to hear over and over that no one else has the right to do anything to him that he doesn’t like. He needs to know that if his words alone aren’t effective, that he can get help from a nearby adult. I would agree that giving B specific words/actions to do in order to get his peers to stop something that is unwelcome is a necessary step. Perhaps checking in nightly – “how did the day go?” and helping him process any challenges – he needs to know that being picked on by other kids is not okay.

      As to your other concerns – acting like a victim, freezing up, not knowing how to play with others — it sounds like he needs some direct social instruction. What he is doing now is serving to meet some need he has – does he need more protection? Acting like a victim would facilitate his nurture from you, which may be part of what he is asking for.

      Outside of the specific story, I can’t provide much advice. It sounds as if he is taking a fair amount of physcial/emotional abuse, and he needs more protection. Too much, and you will limit his developing voice, but not enough, and he could continue to exist in a negative pattern where he can’t get his needs met. Is he at a school where some teachers would be helpful? Is there a particular child that it involved? It sounds like the whole community of B’s peers need a little more help developing empathy. I’m sorry – I don’t have much more to offer. It sounds like it may be time to access some further interventions for him.

      I think you should speak to someone closer to the situation – a pediatrician, a counselor, a teacher at school – someone who knows your family and the specific problems who could offer some better advice.

      Best! Emily

      • Khong

        So sorry if I made it sound like he’s being abused. He’s not. He’s facing normal kid play. At this age his peers don’t know that their words or actions can hurt. B emotionally reacts and bottles those emotions instead of letting us help. We are doing a lot to help him use his words and he’s come a long way already. I shared this in hopes of still finding more ways to improve what we are already doing…not to say that there’s been no hope for B. again sorry for the misunderstanding.

        Thanks for your response!

      • I misread some of the anecdotes you provided as much more serious than they are. If you are not concerned about the seriousness of the play, then I would move forward with specific teaching about how to play. “When friends say hello, it’s polite and friendly to look at them in the eyes and say hello in return.” The most important part of this type of teaching is that it has to happen outside of the moment. If you give him this kind of social instruction while his friends are watching, he will be embarrassed, and it will backfire.

        I hope this helps! It sounds like you are working so hard to be intentional with your children. I wish you the best.


      • Khong

        Thank you!! This and all of your posts are invaluable. I especially love the real examples and how to respond.

    • sdcbear

      Hi Khong, I’m so sorry to hear about your son’s struggle. I wondered if you have done any play with stuffed animals or other figures to act out what’s happening, and also to give him an avenue to do so. Not sure if he already does this, but often kids can process something better when playing in this way. Perhaps sitting with him, with a few stuffed animal friends and acting out specific situations, and how to positively react would help? I know this has really been beneficial with our children. I’d also consider a therapist or social worker, perhaps even a very relaxed social skills kid’s group to work on some of these things. I wish you all the best!

  28. Dee R.

    My 6yo gets frustrated and so do I when we visit with another boy the same age and he has another friend there. When that happens the boy in question often tells my son that he cannot be on his team or play with him. But when they are alone together they play well usually. I find it hurtful too. Any suggestions on this?

    • Hi Dee,

      This type of exclusionary behavior can be so difficult to watch, and hard for children to manage. I highly recommend Heather Shumaker’s book, “It’s OK NOT to Share” which has two excellent chapters on exclusionary play. Basically, she reminds readers about the developmental processes that are going on during a child’s early years. The parties on both sides of the excluding need help – both the excluder and the excluded. The excluder may need help protecting play that is designed for a single second player, in which case, s/he needs language like, “I’m playing with Susan right now, but you and I are still friends.” The excluder might need help protecting the nature of the game. “I’m worried if you play, you will try to change what we are doing.” (this is especially the case with a child who is a particularly strong visionary/leader attempts to enter play with other children).

      The excluded needs help learning to manage the inherent risk of friendships and handle the disappointment of being excluded. “You really wanted to play. I can see you are disappointed. Sometimes friends need time to play with other people.” If the exclusion is chronic, than teaching new play-entry skills to the excluded might be helpful. “Sometimes, when you want to play with someone, it’s helpful to observe for a bit to find out what game they are playing, and to find a way in. Sometimes, offering a material they need is helpful.” Help the child watch. “See? They are playing doctor. Doctors need bandages. Perhaps if you said, ‘Can I play too? Do you need a nurse? I have extra bandages.’ They might be interested.”

      If the exclusionary play is chronic, there might be something else going on with the excluder — they lack power in their lives and are finding a way to get it, or they are introverted, and playing in larger groups than two children feels overwhelming, or lots of other reasons. Not sure how close you are to the other child to hypothesize about some of those reasons.

      At the end of the day, your child might be encouraged to find more friends so he has someone to play with. Chronic exclusion can be discouraging.

      Can I use our conversation on my blog as a new post? This is a really important issue for lots of families, and they might benefit from reading it.


  29. Carol A

    My 11 year old is constantly pestering. He wants to be held, hugged, etc. 24/7. When you try to hold or hug he hits and licks and bites. He was physically abused by an older foster sibling. He is a birth child. I can’t allow myself to be abused but want to meet his needs. He escalates quickly and is very mean when I try to set limits.

  30. Mandy

    Not sure if you are still responding to comments, but I am desperately trying to end the use of time outs at my house. I have a 4 year old and a 19 mo old. My problem comes that when my 4 yr old is having a hard time/melting down, he very often will hit me in response. How do I respond or handle that without forcing some physical separation like time out? If I am able to embrace him, it helps at times, but often, I am holding my daughter to console her (because he hit her or something). Tips?

  31. Dana

    Reading the article most of your points do make sense and I agree with most of them. Also they do not apply with every child but does make sense in a utopic situation.
    But in the scenario listed here I am truly dissipointed , I would not want you as my daughter educator … What about telling to the child that is not ok and aloud to bite someone , set some boundaries , we do not bite or use force to get a toy , we use our words asking politely … This I expect from an educator with common sense . Second of you do not know telling them ” shearing is carring” it works. Also second scenario , encouraging a child at that age to throw stuff I think is very wrong this just teaches them violence for later , every time they don’t get their way will start breaking and throwing stuff . Îts a no no if you expect like you said to raise nice, polite , good table maners kids. Teach them to use their words when they don’t get their way and to respect and accept others children’s feelings and wishes . I am not an educator and I was raised old country European style , with we’ll deserved time outs and occasional spanking … I do not spank my kid but I try to use common sense in raising her. Still I am perfectly happy how I was raised and I love my parents very much and I did something with my life because of them. We all have different needs we can not generalize one method fits all but the core principle of educating a child is common sense , be good , nice, polite, respect everybody , be humble, … and have straight A…

  32. alesha

    Hello, I need some advice. I just read this site and it gave me a lot to think about. My husband and I are at a point where spankings and timeouts do not work for our 3 year old. He has soMe speech delays so communication is hard. He dosent listen, he hits and bits occasionaly but I think it might be something he is needing but cant communicat
    . Any ideas?

    • With speech delays, but no cognitive impairment, try learning sign language, or at least some basic signs. If your kid can make his wants and needs understood, then he may not get frustrated to the point of biting. SIgn communication does not hinder, but in fact helps progress language development.

  33. Starfish

    I think my difficulty with some of this is that it seems to minimize the effect when children hurt someone else. Where you don’t want to “punish” them with a time-out. However – if they are being dangerous and hurting other people, isn’t that a punishment to the other children to continue to risk injury? If a child bites (like in the example above) and in the end – they get exactly what they wanted – a toy they didn’t have access to. What does that teach them? Does it teach them that “teeth hurt” or does it teach them – if I bite, I’ll have a “talking to” and then get what I want anyway? How many times can someone bite and be asked to “recenter” before they are removed from the situation?

    I’m not sure that really is a positive thing to learn that if you throw things or hit people, others will just allow you to damage more property (ripping paper or punching things) until you feel better. And that in essence, there are no consequences. As much as people want to say there are no forced time-outs in the adult world when people’s misbehave there is …. jail. And I’d have the concern that if you learn that you can hurt people, there’s no real consequences, and you expect to be able to be destructive until you “feel centered” that mindset might lead right there.

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  36. sarah

    I have problems with my sons behaviour he is 2.5. His speech and language are excellent so communication is not an issue but his behaviour seems immature compared to others his age. He will not sit still for a meal. He wipes food on table or on other children. At playgroup last week he walked in.and threw all the table top activities that had been set up on the floor and ran off. He throws things round room and never lustens when i ask him to tidy up i feel i have tried all that i know. What now? I find myself yelling lately and that is not a road I want to.go down

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  39. Garrett Wilkin

    I agree with a lot of the concepts here regarding proactively attending to the child’s needs and also discussing the emotional context of a struggle or confrontation. At the same time, I don’t know what I would do without timeouts. I use them sparingly when my daughter, who is almost three, just cannot listen to what is being asked of her. We make a point to explain the reasoning for all consequences, including timeouts. I imagine that timeouts will not be necessary past the age of four or five.

    • Amanda

      I agree you do need time outs also. While this article has some great points it is too good to be true. Every child is different. You can use the concepts here along with other disciplinary techniques that have worked for you already. Easy to say, harder to do!

    • Veronica

      I agree, some children do need a place away from other kids and adults to cool down and that does mean time outs sometimes…when children are all riled up and screaming in the middle of a trantrum they do NOt reason let alone hear what you are saying..children are in the moment.

      • Storm

        Well, I think her “recenter” thing, like ripping up paper, kicking a pillow, functions as a time out. I hated time outs when I was little. I believe sitting with nothing but your thoughts just gives more time for the anger, resentment, or sadness to fester. That’s what it did for me, anyways.

      • I think the key is allowing a child to maintain a sense of agency and choice in the situation. Being forced to take a break (rip paper, punch boxes, even eat ice cream!) will only magnify the anger and resentment.

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  47. Stacia

    Managing a three year old’s tantrum while trying to comfort a screaming one year old who has either been hurt, had her toy stolen, or is just plain freaked out by her older brother’s screaming. Lol. This is a several times a day scenario. Any tips welcome!

    • Hi Stacia,

      So tricky to manage simultaneous needs! The key is to remain focused (easier said than done!) – both the “tantrum-er” and the victim have strong needs for your connection. If the youngest one is injured, I speak to the oldest, saying “You are feeling so strongly. I can help. I need a band aid for your brother. Do you want to help get it?” If the youngest is not physically injured, often it is the tantrum-er who is showing the strongest need. It can be so hard to keep our composure. After all, our sense of injustice has been ignited with such a strong action towards and “innocent bystander”. I know I (more than once) have reacted towards the older one, which only makes it worse. If the older one is having repeated tantrums, there is an underlying need that isn’t being met – a need for attention, connection, power, autonomy, private space…and the sooner you can find a way to honor that need, the sooner the tantrums will subside. The younger one needs to grow up with a voice to say “stop” and learn that this voice will be respected. In our house, we have a rule: “Stop is an automatic stop.” I help to make sure this is a limit we all support. You can say to the younger one, “I see your sister took your truck. Tell her to stop. I will help you get it back. She can ask for a turn when you are done.” I hope this helps!! Best of luck! The game should change a little as your younger one finds more of a voice, and the way you honor the strong emotions now will pave the way for respectful sibling interactions later on!


  48. Hi Kate-
    I just found your article and have started following you on Twitter! I’m so impressed with your work, and I truly love this article!! I’m a speech pathologist/feeding specialist and I work with children with a variety of behavioral concerns. Trying to share a philosophy such as yours (which I completely agree with) can be really challenging at times, as I feel like many parents aren’t necessarily interested in taking the time to address a behavior directly and are instead looking for a “quick fix” so to speak. It’s definitely a challenge!! Again, I’m so pleased to read your philosophies, and I look forward to reading more about your work!:)

  49. I needed this post today.

    One of my struggles is when I have gotten to the point that I do not WANT to recenter or reconnect. And then I have the other internal voice berating me for my hard heart, which only makes the restimulated part dig in its heels harder. I am working on trying to be more mindful — to notice and accept whatever is actually going on, even in myself.

    Another struggle is when I feel I’m doing everything I can as well as I can, and I meet with resistance. Or when, just by being myself, I hurt people or upset them or make them uncomfortable.

    • I really resonate with the internal struggle when connecting is hard! The need for autonomy is so strong, that when we are pushed beyond our limits as human beings, connecting is nearly impossible! Honoring our own emotional needs must come before we honor our children’s. If we don’t honor our own needs, we will begin to view our own children with resentment because they take energy away from us that we don’t have to give. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts! Best, Emily

      • That’s exactly it — even though I don’t like it when I get so upset, I can’t will myself out of it — I *have* to give myself some compassion and let myself be upset and listen to myself. And I had better do it without rolling my eyes at myself!

      • I wish you so much success with this!! Such a hard task – to parent without feeling guilty about every mis-step and every eye roll! Be compassionate on yourself! Children learn what is modeled — self care and acceptance is no exception.

  50. My biggest issue is when I have gotten too far uncentered myself, and have no desire whatsoever to recenter myself, AND feel an immense and scornful and condemning guilt trying to make me do what’s right anyway. Obviously it’s all related to my own past experience.

    My other biggest issue is when my dd seems to deliberately resist every effort I make to help her, even when I am quite calm and warm and patient. I follow listening tools… I am sure that the times when I am not grounded and really calm, and not really seeking connection but too task- or goal-oriented, do not help me, and that just feeds the guilt.

    On the one hand, I am glad my dd has a strong fire belly and stands up for herself, yelling right back at us — on the other hand, it’s not a behavior that helps me (or her dad) to seek re-centering for ourselves. I hate that powerlessness feeling when she always manages to have the last word and seems oblivious to our side of the story. I’m also aware that in reality she probably feels just as powerless and that we’re just as oblivious! Relationship and emotional health are such complicated things.

  51. Rane A. Daigle

    Hi Kate… Oh boy??? For starters I thank all who care enough to pursue positive change for children. I was personaly abused on a criminal level even by human rights standards during the 1970s. The most important piece of your article to me was, the point you brought about concerning a parent keeping themselves mentally, spiritually and physically centered. From there I have a chance to review what was so painful to me as a child in order possibly correct the issues for my children. The list of things I do to keep centered is long and continues to grow. Here are some of the things I have identified that hurt more than the physical horror I experienced: Consistancy and structure; there was none, Love, the kind that puts a bandaid on a child that does something foolish; there was none of that, Time, the kind that reads a story at bed time or plays catch in the back yard or teaches a child to sew, none of that for me, Mentorship, how many times did I do something wrong, get punished and never once did a parent spend time with me to help correct and foster a positive outcome for the next time; never… Needless to say I as a child was deprived of all basic needs of a child minus basic food and shelter which believe me was bare minimum. People in my life tell me I try to hard to be a perfect Dad, they are correct. As a parent I seek feedback to keep centered. My children have their basic needs met I am sure! As a result I believe we as a family are less prone to tenuous moments. With that said, another piece of your article that I find crucial in parenting is STUDYING children!!! Example: My youngest at the age of 3 began displaying behaviors consistant with mild Autism or Asburgers. When he melted down, hide the fine china. Discussions with his pediatrician and countless others revieled that we as parents were over stimulating him. These melt downs consisted of wide range of cicumstances ( all with the same root issue of over stimulation ) but ended with me having to remove him from the family goings on and restrain him from hurting himself, or any of us. I don’t know if any persons reading this believe in God and it does not matter because I do. I would immediately pray for help to God prior to having to restrain my beautiful son. I am currently in tears because it was tough,scary and I felt powerless. I was able to calmly restrain him, rub his forehead, and repeat over and over as he struggled and screamed with sweat pouring off his beat red face; Andrew, you are ok, Daddy is here and Daddy Loves you. Will my son grow up and be afraid he will be restrained every time he feels off centered. That I can’t answere. What I can say is that he had a mentally, physically, spiritually fit Parent to provide Love and security to him in his time of crisis that I inadvertantly helped create. I am not overly educated by way of College Degree’s and by no means believe that to be a requirement for successful parenting or successful children. So many factors in and out of our homes are destroying our children. I only have control on a personal basic level. I slow my self down, (center) study my children, humble myself to ask experienced people for help, above all I leave them out of my internal struggles. My children are not sheltered from the world and are allowed to be kids. On my children’s journey to Yale or Jail, they will have parent in their life that will continue to Love them and seek their best interest. What more could a child ask for, really?

    • Wow! Thank you so much for your response. It sounds like you had a truly terrible childhood but somehow you have the insight to recognize the cycles of abuse in order to prevent them from transmitting to your children. That is an incredibly difficult cycle to break because our brains were literally hard-wired with gut responses that are so difficult to control when we get emotional. It sounds like your son is really fortunate to have you as his father. I wish you the best in your parenting journey. Thank you for taking the time to share your story. Best, Emily

    • “My youngest at the age of 3 began displaying behaviors consistent with mild Autism or Asburgers.”

      PLEASE try a few things: Chiropractor, you would be amazed how much better a child will feel after having an adjustment. Bones can be slightly out of place and pushing on nerves causing behavioral issues. I have gone since I was a baby, and both my daughters went straight from the hospital at one day old before even coming home.

      I highly suggest going as Gluten free and Organic as possible. Also GMO free, no artificial colors, flavors, sugars, carrageenan, processed foods, nitrates, soda, fast food. We also switched to Almond Milk (no cows milk at all). Silk is a brand that does not have carrageenen and is GMO Free. Carrageenen is in a lot of products. Annie’s also makes a lot of Organic foods. Target carries a lot of their products now. From fruit snacks, bars, pasta, cookies, crackers etc… A lot of the above ingredients can cause autistic/adhd symptoms, when you remove them, it can make a HUGE difference!

      Please feel free to e-mail me and I would be happy to talk more about this.

    • Khong Ten

      This is a beautiful touching story that will help me as a parent. Thank you so much for sharing!

      • Khong Ten

        This is a response to Rane A. Daigle’s story.

  52. I like the article and am glad you included scenarios. I will keep trying but even with the suggested method for the scenario, the child has to want to agree. In the A bites B, in my place A has a very hard time calming himself and wont even consider doing anything to help B until he’s finished whatever it was he was doing. They are sometimes C & D too. Much of the time they can be redirected etc, but not always. We are working on the centering but it’s slow and I’m their most common punching bag (literally and physically).
    I’ve never spanked and so far there there have been 2 time outs (only one of them has gotten to that stage). But the time out is a cross between a centering place (we tried it, didn’t work) and a time out. They can have a book, their lovies, coloring or whatever they need, stomping, storming and screaming are also allowed. But they need to be away from the situation. I’ll try some more of your ideas now.

    • I hope they’re helpful! Every situation is so unique, and yes – child willingness and buy-in is critical! I do so much teaching out-of-the-moment. We talk at length about how important it is for everyone in our community to have access to their problem solving brains and how we can work together to help make sure everyone has a chance to recenter. Best to you! Emily

  53. Katie

    I love this article. One thing I struggle with is how to get through the day when my daughter is inevitably “un-centered”. She has a health issue that leads to tummy discomfort and often spends a day or two each week off-kilter. I do what I can to make her comfortable, try to keep our day low key, and avoid situations that are likely to lead to trouble but it’s so difficult for both her and I. We are working with medical specialists to resolve the issue but it’s a slow process and I foresee continuing trouble over the next year at least. Any suggestions?

    • Poor thing! I had a day a few weeks ago where my head pounded the whole day, and I recognized my grouchiness! If it is tough for us adults – with several decades ahead of our children – to manage our emotions amidst discomfort, how much harder for children! You have your hands full. And you sound so wise to be aware of the situation and do what you can to minimize external demands on those days when she is off.

      I have a whole collection of “In Case of Emergency” types of starting-over practices. For those days when everything seems to be “off-kilter” you almost need a reset button. It will depend largely on how old your daughter is…some of these ideas will do nothing to help depending on her age. I have found that a shower or bath for the child does wonders. My four-year-old is old enough now to take a shower by herself. (I don’t trust her to come out clean necessarily!), so I will often have her take a shower, and that helps her reset. A period of wrestling will often help a child reconnect. We have several ground rules around wrestling so that the child remains in control of the situation. Stop means stop, no tickling without asking, and typically, I let the child do most of the rough play, and I serve as the horse or the mountain, etc. Sensory play of any kind usually helps – play dough, spray bottles, soapy water, sand, glitter and glue, cutting. My daughter loves to take a flashlight to her room and look at books on her bed in the dark. She often ends up shining the flashlight through the holes in her blanket to make “stars” on the ceiling. I take a bowl of snacks for her if she’s in there for long, and I always stop by to ask her how she’s doing.

      I don’t know if I’ve given you anything new! It must feel scary for your daughter to have the unpredictability of a chronic tummy issue. Any experience that reinforces routine and connection with you would probably help. I am sending you my best thoughts for a very centered day for her (and you!). Which reminds me…I hope you are getting some time to make sure you are staying centered. Keep me posted if anything helps! Best, Emily

  54. Curtis

    Hey Emily,

    I really enjoyed reading the article and I echo that this approach to helping children work through difficult emotional and relational issues will in all likelihood lay a strong foundation for healthy relationships throughout their lives. I am deeply committed to the development of our children’s emotional wellbeing and always enjoy your posts.

    However, as a child who was raised by parents who did on occasion choose to use spankings as a mean of lets say behavioral modification… I have trouble agreeing with the idea that children who are spanked will later resort to physical force in order to manage strong emotions. In fact, physical force is completely against my nature… as a libertarian, I hate the idea of anyone forcing anyone else to do what someone else wants. ;o) Even as a young person, I don’t ever remember thinking that physical altercations would solve my interpersonal problems. I’ve never resorted to hitting inanimate objects to work off aggression either.

    According to research conducted by Robert E. Larzelere and Diana Baumrind (2010) seven longitudinal studies investigated whether customary spanking of children younger than thirteen predicted subsequent antisocial behavior or aggression after controlling statistically for initial levels of those outcomes. These studies showed nonsignificant, small, or mixed effects of customary spanking on subsequent antisocial behavior or aggression.

    If you have found other studies that causally connect spanking (mild of course, not outright “abusive”) to future acts of aggression, I would be very interested in reading these. I have mostly found “philosophical” arguments for non-spanking (which are very persuasive) but no “hard evidence” for their claims. Bear in mind that it would not take much evidence to win me over, as I am not prone to the use of physical force to manage strong emotions… even though I was spanked as a child. ;o)

    To end on a more positive note, Bryan Caplan wrote a book called “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids”. Using research on identical twin studies, he determined that parents don’t really account for much of the long-term outcomes of children. As long as parents demonstrate kindness and provide for kids physical needs, nature will largely take care of the rest. He says that research indicates that parents should not think of children as lumps of clay for parents to mold, they should think of them as plastic that flexes in response to pressure—and pops back to its original shape once the pressure is released. He also says that happy, well-adjusted parents will by and large have children that turn out the same regardless of specific parenting “styles”.

    • Easy going? Not prone to physical aggression? Libertarian? You? Nah! (Okay, kidding of course!! :))
      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I wish we could be chatting in person with all of our kiddos on your awesome water slide!!:)

      To answer your question, I would point you here:, and, and It’s hard to know if these studies specifically get to your question of casual, occasional spankings – though I question the style of parenting that teaches physical punishment as a valid option to getting my way. Parenting models a power relationship for children, and if parenting teaches kids that those in power can use physical force to get what they want from those who don’t have power, I think that’s problematic. I would put the most mild spanking (like you’re talking about) in the same category with all punishments. Coercion teaches children that they need to use coercion to find their way in the world. It removes their ability to work together to solve a problem, and that seems to run against what I want in my children as they grow up. Alfie Kohn’s books (Unconditional Parenting and Punished by Rewards) have been very influential to me. Rewards and punishments are two sides of a manipulative coin where your behavior is more important than your needs, and that seems to me to be a dangerous game to play with children.

      Marshall Rosenberg (Center for Nonviolent Communication), writes about the protective use of force – clearly, there are times with children when we have to step in and do something drastic to alter their behavior for the sake of safety. A child is about to touch a hot stove, for example, and we get in a pull them back to stop them from getting hurt. There’s no time for negotiating in that sense. But mostly, I think parents tend to misuse their power because they don’t have a model for anything else.

      My thoughts! I’d love to hear what you have to say. Along with Alfie Kohn, Hiam Ginott’s book “Between Parent and Child” gave me a new look at how to parent *with* children. I hope you are well! Hug your family for us! Emily

  55. Josh Loftis

    My only question is what I would call the (excuse the language) “damnit doll” approach of letting a child throw an object (be it a ball or whatever) or kick something (like a ball or even a pillow) in order to refrain from throwing something or kicking someone etc….my question is this: wouldn’t that teach a child that it’s still okay to throw things or kick things as long as its not necessarily the object of their aggrevation? I can see bad things coming from that if that is what the child resorts to when trying to “center” as you call it. No, they will not be throwing something at or kicking at the object of their aggrevation, but they might find other things to target that are just as inappropriate. I dunno, I am not well educated in early childhood development. I don’t even have kids of my own but it would appear to me that if being calm, cool, collected, and centered is the ultimate goal then appropriate behaviors to that end should be encouraged and NO form of aggresive physical behavior should be tolerated. Know what I mean?

    • Hi Josh! Thanks for your comments. You are addressing a really important issue. To be clear, I don’t believe that being “calm, cool, collected, and centered” is the ultimate goal. We have to be centered to think constructively. When we are highly emotional, we lose connection with our problem solving brain. But, honoring a person’s emotional self requires providing an outlet for that emotional energy. Doing this communicates: “It is okay to feel strongly. Let’s feel strongly in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone else…physically or emotionally. And when your body feels connected again, we can find a solution.” Children are capable of distinguishing between one situation from another: I can kick a ball, I can’t kick a friend. I can bite food, I can’t bite a friend. They do this when they aren’t emotionally invested. When their emotional triggers go off, we have to help them remember their categories. If it helps expend the emotional energy to throw something, kick something, bite something, I think it is imperative on us as the adults to honor that and provide an outlet for it. Otherwise, we risk communicating to the child “Your desires/needs around strong emotions can’t be trusted” and that feels scary for kids. I am hesitant to provide a doll as an outlet for some of the reasons you describe. Kids blend the lines between reality and fantasy, and harming a baby doll might get confusing because they believe those dolls are real and have real thoughts/feelings/etc. So I tend to stick with things like throwing balls or kicking a pillow – not dolls. Some early childhood folks have different opinions about that particular issue and don’t have a problem with using a doll to help a child vent emotions. I think if we don’t allow an outlet for aggression, it will come out in inappropriate ways. Thanks for your comments! Emily

  56. Wow!! What a great article! I completely resonate with your discussion of moving from a place where one realizes that spanking and time-outs are ineffective (and model the wrong behavior, and try to accomplish an end with the opposite means) but feeling ignorant as to what methods to use. I also love how you help the children to identify what they are feeling and give voice to it. That seems like it would not only help them solve the issue, but also become more self-aware. Thanks again!

  57. Kate Quirk

    I love your posts and the thoughtful approach you bring. My problem is what to do when the same behavior, that the kids know is clearly off-limits, is repeated again and again. I can be patient the first 10 or 20 or maybe even 50 times, but when the cookie has been taken without asking ten minutes before dinner yet again, I feel like they should know better already. My kids are 6 and 7, so not toddlers any more. Thanks!

    • Hi Kate…thank you so much! I can certainly resonate with the frustration of a repeated behavior. My thought would be that the behavior is signaling a need that isn’t being met. Perhaps repeatedly taking a cookie is your child’s way of asking for some power over when to eat and what to eat? Perhaps it might be time for a family meeting of sorts? I envision sitting at the table with everyone present, and saying something to this effect: “I am frustrated. I work hard to make dinner full of things our bodies need, and when you eat cookies before dinner, your body does not get to fill up on the things it needs to stay healthy. (or however you talk about sweets vs. non sweets). At 6 and 7, you can try pulling them into the problem solving process. “Do you have ideas about how to protect our time around the table for the food that I prepare?” Possibly they could decide when throughout the day they get to enjoy their allotted cookie (before dinner or not). Perhaps giving them a voice in the matter might aid in the situation. What do you think? I hope this is helpful!

      • Leslie

        Hi Kate,
        I was wondering if your kids potentially need some “mom time”/attention during this time of day? If this is the case, maybe they could help you in the kitchen. They will be with you and also feel important. They could wash vegetables (get the sensory benefits of water too), cut something, mix… My 6 year olds often get cranky/needy in the pre-dinner hour. If I am centered enough for it, they do love to help me (more so with food prep than setting the table…unless they get to choose the placemats and napkins). Sometimes I’ll put some markers and paper out on the table in our eat-in kitchen so we can still be together. Oftentimes I do need a little time to myself and I’ll either set them up with their own music and books/Legos or I let them watch a half an hour of PBS.
        Just had another thought…you could preface a conversation like Emily suggested by putting a bunch of carrot sticks in the cookie jar. It would be a light-hearted way to discuss the cookie conundrum. =)

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