Here are some questions about parenting dilemmas with answers from a peaceful parenting perspective.


"Why is 3 so hard?!"

QUESTION: My son just recently turned 3 years old. A lot has happened over the course of 4 months. From moving back to our home state, to my husband starting a sea tour with the Navy and going out, to a recent miscarriage.

Our 3 year old is constantly spitting, throwing things. If I tell him he can’t do something or try to re-direct he spits, he spits on us, the dogs, random things. He takes toys and throws them, hits the tv and dogs with things. We are at our wits end and don’t know how to correct this awful behavior.

ANSWER: My goodness! You guys have been through some big changes! Any single one of those changes would be a challenge for the most well-adjusted adult to handle without having some kind of release mechanism (which could be a good friend who knows how to listen, regular exercise, journal writing, meditation, etc.).

That’s a lot to handle for a 3-year-old, who is feeling not only his own stress around these changes but also is feeling your stress.

Often, when children behave badly, parents ask “What is wrong with this child?” To find the best solution to the problem, a better question might be “What is hurting this child?”

Children do as well as they can, and they WANT to do well. If they cannot do well, then we have to ask what is going on in this child’s life that he needs help with. In your son’s case, he is bearing a large load of change and stress, and he is having a hard time dealing with it. Anyone of any age would have a hard time dealing with those kinds of changes. But, little children have very limited skills to express their grief, their fear, their discomfort. He needs the assistance and support of the adults around him to be able to release his emotional pain and grief.

So, how can you help? Well, there are certain positive things that you can do that will help.

1. Do not take his behavior personally. When he misbehaves, remind yourself that he is trying his best to communicate that he is either hurting or needs more connection with you.

2. Do not punish him by hitting or putting him in a time-out or revoking privileges. He needs more of you, not less of you. So, pretend that your child has a cold, stop everything else and make him the priority. Be willing to listen to him, give him lots of affection, and ramp up the fun as much as you can.

3. Validate his feelings. When he spits or hits, it’s OK for you to say, “Wow! Looks like you’re feeling really angry (or whatever feeling you think he is feeling) right now! It’s hard to have to leave the playground! (or whatever you think he’s angry about) It’s OK to feel angry, and I am willing to listen to you. You may not spit or hit, but you may (rip old newspaper, punch a pillow, jump on the trampoline).” These activities are appropriate ways for him to release his intense feelings, which he must do before you guys can problem solve.

4. Also, bear in mind that you need to take care of YOU to be able to take care of him. Make sure that you are finding appropriate ways of dealing with your own stress and grief. It’s OK for you to model for your son how you deal with stress. When things are too much for you to handle, you can announce, “I am feeling really stressed right now! I’m going to take a little time out and do some deep breathing to help myself calm down right now.”

Remember that when children misbehave, it’s a sign that they need our help, not our punishment.

Thank you for this great question! I hope this has been helpful! If you need any more help, visit the contact page or use the form below.

What about grounding?

QUESTION: “I think it’s a pretty natural/logical consequence for older kids that are gaining some independence and building trust to be out on their own, but if they are breaking curfew or other infractions, I’d certainly rather see a kid get grounded or TV taken away rather than getting hit. “

ANSWER: “Fortunately we are not limited to only two choices (grounding or revoking privileges OR getting hit).

”I feel the same way about grounding as I do about spanking, yelling, revoking privileges, rewards (bribery), and punishing in general. All of these are lousy solutions; they are humiliating, disrespectful, and do not help children learn better behavior. When parents don’t have better tools, they resort to polarizing options, which harden hearts, cause disconnection, and encourage children to lie, cheat, rebel and get sneaky. These things, in turn, undermine children’s opinions of themselves which creates further problems.

”I’m not saying that peaceful parenting is *easy*. There’s a lot of work to be done. But, dealing with the behaviors that are caused by disconnection is a lot of work, too, and gets harder and harder. At least with peaceful parenting, it’s a lot of work, but things get easier and easier.”

QUESTION: “But, what if you have a tween or teen that you are letting go out with their friends on their own, and they continually come home late, don’t call when they’re supposed to or whatever, then what do you do.... just talk about it let them go out the door the next day as if nothing happened? And what happens if they do the same thing the next day, and the next day, and the next day...”

ANSWER: “When a child cannot live up to his commitments, then, YES, there’s a problem, and there needs to be a conversation. What is interfering with the child’s ability to live up to his commitments? Sort that out and solve whatever problems he is having so he can see himself as a person who does what he says he’s going to do.”

QUESTION: “Yes of course it should be talked about and try to get to the root of the problem, but what if they do the same thing the next day, and the next day, and the next day regardless of the talk, then what? No consequences for disobeying ever?”

ANSWER: “If the parent and the child have talked about it, and the behavior has continued, then they have not found the root of the problem. At that point, I advise that they go back to the drawing board to find a solution they can both live with.

”Also, it’s a LOT easier for a kid to ‘break the rules,’ do the time, and then go on as if nothing has happened. But, NOTHING is learned! No progress is made.

”In collaborative problem solving (the work that Ross Greene writes about), the two parties (parent and child) work TOGETHER (emphasis on WORK and TOGETHER) to find the solution to END THE PROBLEM.”

QUESTION: “What if there isn’t a really deep-seated problem per se, maybe in the moment they are just having fun and don’t have the forethought or they’re living in the moment and just don’t like your rule and think you’re making them come home too early so they just decide they will stay out till whenever they want just because they can.... To me that just shows that maybe you don’t have the capability to handle the responsibility of that much freedom and independence yet, and we can try again at a later time.”

ANSWER: “If a child is not keeping his commitments FOR WHATEVER REASON, then there is a problem. There is something that is interfering with his ability to get home or call when he says he’s going to. If it’s just that he’s having fun, that’s an easy problem to solve, and a solution will be an easy one to craft that will HELP him live up to his word.”

QUESTION: “ I guess we disagree in the semantics. If they do have actual work that needs to be done on finding solutions, maybe even a written outline or plan, I think a perfect time to get that done would be while they are stuck in the house for a while grounded.

”To use the example of breaking curfew because you’re having too much fun... I would say a natural/logical consequence is a little bit of no fun for a while so that you appreciate the fun while you have it within the time limits that you are allotted.”

ANSWER: “No. I think it’s way more than semantics. This isn’t SCHOOL; this is life.

”If my child cannot live up to his commitments, then he has a problem. Or, rather, WE have a problem. My long-term goal for my child is to turn out someone who can keep his word and solve problems when he cannot. An unnatural consequence, like grounding or revoking privileges, as I said earlier, only hardens his heart, causes him to feel unjustly dealt with, and encourages him to develop sneakier ways of going around Mom.

”If my son says he’ll be home at midnight and rolls in at 3, then we figure out what interfered and come up with a solution, and if that solution isn’t sustainable, then we go back to the drawing board. Believe me, if there is a good connection between us, if there is already trust in the relationship, then the solution we find *will* work. Maybe not the first solution. Maybe it’ll be the third solution.

”But, what must exist first is connection and mutual trust. From that place all else flows.

”And, to your point, the problem may be that he is not ready to be out like that. If so, we’ll arrive at that conclusion together. And, we’ll arrive at a solution together, too. And the solution we mutually come up with will take that into account, and we’ll proceed from there.

”When we learn to interpret ‘misbehavior’ as a child’s inability to communicate effectively, then our position shifts from authoritarian (which is a polarizing position) to someone who is helping our children navigate a very confusing and often difficult world. We help them build better communications skills, and we do that with respect and with empathy. That’s one way to build a strong, trusting relationship with a teen or ‘tween.’ But, it starts early.

”Pam Leo wrote that it’s never too late to build a connected relationship; it’s only too late to do it easily.

”Here’s an example. My son used to have sleep-over parties with several of his buddies, and they would go pretty late into the night. I would tell him, respectfully, that his dad needed to get up at 5:30 in the morning, so I needed them to be quiet after a certain hour. And, I’d ask him to let me know if he needed any help whatsoever with helping his friends remember. We never had a problem.”

QUESTION: “But, hypothetically, what if the opposite happened, and every time he had a sleepover they disregarded your request and were loud all night long over and over again, and woke up your husband on more than one occasion at 2 a.m. Would you just keep letting him have the sleepovers, or would you take a break from them for a few weeks?”

ANSWER: “But, what good would a break for a few weeks do?

”If a parent came to me with the scenario you described: Kids having late parties and not respecting parents’ need for sleep. I would advise that the parents or parent and kid sit down and talk about it using a collaborative problem-solving approach.

”First, get the child’s side or perspective of the ‘problem.’ Next, once the parent fully understands the child’s perspective, parent adds into the mix her perspective. Then, together, they craft a solution. Now, the solution *might* be ‘Let’s hold off on the sleepovers for a while.’ Or, the solution might be ‘Mom, can you let us know when we’re going too loud.’ Or, the solution might be something else.

”My point is that the solution is arrived at together, and everyone is invested in its success. Because, success is more than just the sleepover versus a good night’s sleep. The end result means deeper connection, more trust, more self-awareness, better community. It goes on and on and on.

”The kind of relationship I am talking about is one in which parents HELP their kids navigate the world so that they can be successful. Punishing children leads to disconnection, leads to lying, leads to sneaking, etc. When we break trust with our children by meting out punishment, we lose their trust. Then, they do not have the advantage of a wise parent to talk to, to get help from.

”Kids NEED their parents. In order for kids to trust their parents, their parents need to be trustworthy. We become trustworthy by the way we help our kids navigate difficult situations.”

An argumentative child:

QUESTION: My 5-, almost 6-year-old argues EVERYTHING. He argues with us, his friends, his brother, strangers...everyone. Doesn’t matter what a person says, he argues. When I ask him why he is arguing he says that he thinks his answer is right or he doesn’t know why. I’m sure he is just trying to figure it all out, but it can become very obnoxious to the point that other kids just stop talking because they don’t know what to say to him. Any advice, peaceful solutions, or opinions as to how to teach him his opinions matter but arguing is frustrating to all parties involved?”

ANSWER: This is SUCH a great question!!!!

Sounds to me like your son has a strongly analytical mind and he questions everything. I do, too!! I like to see if I can poke holes in commonly held beliefs. I know that I am being kind of obnoxious sometimes and may be “ruining” things for other people. So, I try to resist the urge to peek behind the curtain all the time.

However, I think that your son’s argumentativeness is a VERY strong quality to have! (And, I’m not saying that because I question everything too, even though that’s kinda what it looks like!)

Here’s one thing you could try: How about honoring your son’s questioning? You could help him be questioning in ways that are easier to take, and even support his questioning by, perhaps, anticipating it and exploring things with him.

One way to guide yourself through this would be to ask yourself, “If this were an adult questioning everything, how would I respond to him?” You would probably be respectful and take him seriously, right? Can you do that for your son, even though he is so little? The more you model respectfulness, the more he will mirror that (eventually, eventually).

In the meanwhile, rather than ask him why he is like that (and, I’m impressed he was able to come up with an answer at all ~ most of us can’t answer “why” questions so well), consider having a friendly discussion with him at a friendly time. It could go something like this:

”I love how inquisitive you are!! It shows me how curious you are about the world, and sometimes you really make me think! I really appreciate that! Sometimes, folks have a tough time with being questioned a lot. I wonder if we can come up with some ideas ~ maybe a code word or something ~ so that you can still be inquisitive and yet not upset folks. Do you have any ideas?”

My suggestion to you, Dear Mama, is that you have some ideas ready. Make sure that these ideas honor him and help guide him toward more acceptable questioning.

I sure hope that this has been helpful! Sounds like you have an exciting future with this young-un!!! :-)

When nothing peaceful is working (2- and 4-year-old children):

QUESTION: Oh my heavens!! I’m about to throw everything peaceful parenting out the window!! I’m usually pretty chill, but I’m sick and have needed some relax time today, and have gotten nothing but whining, complaining, tattling, making a disaster out of what I just cleaned, yelling at me, fighting with each other, hitting me. I’m so about done with this peaceful parent stuff. I’m not a spanker, but I’m about to be. Nothing peaceful is working. Not sure what I’m doing wrong. Seems we have more days of fighting, screaming at each other than we do calm, mind our own business, and play nicely days.

What am I doing wrong!?

ANSWER: When you’re not feeling well, it can be so difficult to remain centered, which is what you need to be to support your little ones.

I can’t possibly know, because I don’t know you or them or exactly what is going on, but I would guess that they may be picking up on your frustration and your desperation to have peace and calm, and that can be a trigger for their behavior.

One way of seeing it is like a dance, where you are actually the leader and they are following you. So, the calmer and more accepting you can be, the more they can relax and feel less frantic.

So...what would it take to get to that space? It starts with breathing. Taking deep cleansing breaths. Then, letting go of everything that is not crucially important. And, that may include letting go of the need for complete order and neatness. The mess will wait until you’re feeling better and able to take care of it.

The other thing that is helpful, incredibly so, is humor. The ability to laugh at yourself, the ability to appreciate the goof-ups, how crazy we might look to our kids.

And, when all else fails. just holding your child and loving them in the midst of the craziness. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but that internal shift may be just what you need to change the external energy and restore a joyful mood.

Two and 4 years of age ~ they are *really* young, and they are *really* tuned into you and your frame of mind. You’ll be amazed at how quickly things shift when you shift.

SHE RESPONDED: I think, too, it may be the hormones of new pregnancy as well, and they’re feeling odd (although they’re ecstatic for new baby and want it now), but they’re not allowed to jump on me to wake me up in the mornings and I’m kinda sluggish at getting them some things. I’d like to get them to the point of getting a chair and getting things down themselves, so I guide them, but they get frustrated, so I give up. I figured it will come later.

Today the whole clean up thing was that I had to navigate through their room to put their clothes away, and it was our cleaning day to clean their room. Usually I help a little, and I did way more than I usually do today, but the whole time they cried and hit and screamed and just fought with each other. Usually it’s about 5 small fights a day. Today it was just one really long one. I tried to get to the root of it but it was always someone else’s fault, and it just ended in me being more frustrated than anything. So I told them that they have to talk it out and figure it out themselves. I know they’re too young for that, but I didn’t know what else to do. My 4yr old is very sensitive and will tattle on anything. And, if I ask to clean or pick just something up, it’s “I can’t” and “You’re mean” and “You’re hurting my feelings” and “I’m tired.” I don’t know how to get around it, so I always end up doing it. So they’re probably spoiled because very seldom do they have “chores.”

ANSWER: I’m detecting some overwhelm on your part. That along with some perhaps unrealistic expectations may be the genesis of your frustration, and theirs!

I noticed that some of the things you’re saying, like that they’re “probably spoiled,” holding an expectation that they should be doing “chores,” holding an expectation that they would be able to figure a struggle out for themselves, “tattling”...all this language indicates a certain way that you feel about them, and they would very likely pick up on that on a deeper level and “act out” accordingly.

The changes that you are going through may be a little unsettling for them. They may long for the old Mommy who could do everything.

One thing that can be very helpful is to pay attention to your underlying beliefs. I noticed that you said, “Today the whole clean up thing was that i had to navigate through their room to put their clothes away and it was our cleaning day to clean their room.” Whenever someone says “had to” or “have to,” this is a red flag for trouble.

In fact, there is very little that you “have to” do. The belief that you “have to” is actually what can cause a lot of tension and suffering. It *is* great to be organized and to have a special cleaning up day, but in order for it to “work,” it really needs to be fun for them. Otherwise...well...you’ll get days like today. The moment it is not fun, consider abandoning it for something that *is* fun! The mess will wait! Your relationship with your children will not wait.

Here is one way of looking at things that may help you make a more peaceful decision in any given moment under any given circumstance: Whenever you are faced with a “situation,” think of two possible actions you can take. And, pick the more peaceful of the two. So, if you and the kids are cleaning up, and frustration is building and the sound level is going up, one choice might be to yell. Another choice might be to walk out of the room for a moment. Walking out of the room is a more peaceful choice than yelling, so choose that action.

Walking out of the room is not as good as taking a deep breathe, centering yourself, and validating their feelings in the moment, and perhaps the next time you will choose that option instead of walking out of the room.

Just remember that there are always at least two options, and your mission is to opt for the most peaceful of the two. Your other mission is to trust that your kids are doing the best they can under the circumstances. They have as yet limited skills (but they’re gaining more and more all the time, and so are you!), and so they are doing the very best they can with the limited skills they have. See that and honor that, and allow yourself to hold compassion for them as they struggle through. And, allow yourself to hold that same compassion for yourself when things are rough.

Also remember that humor is really your best friend.

Peaceful parenting and 2-year-olds:

QUESTION: Two is HARD. I just have an epiphany that I think will make things easier, and then he changes! I know he is not trying to push my buttons, but damn! I have never felt more weak/vulnerable/short-fused than I do during this age, and sometimes I have trouble NOT identifying with those feelings. I think it is hard for me to see past my own internal static, then I feel guilty because I am supposed to be the adult, and the feelings snowball from there. I will keep practicing. I am just so afraid I am going to mess him up. I should let that fall away, too. I wish it weren’t so easy for my mind to get stuck.

ANSWER: You said, “I will keep practicing. I am just so afraid I am going to mess him up. I should let that fall away too. I wish it weren’t so easy for my mind to get stuck.”

I love that you will keep practicing. Can you change “I should let that fall away...” to “I COULD let that fall away...”? Can you let the “shoulds” go? They really don’t serve anyone. Think of it this way:

Should = Guilt, and that can disable us.
Could = Possibility, and that can help us move forward!

And fear? Well, sometimes fear is useful, believe it or not! Po Bronson said, “The absence of fear is not courage; the absence of fear is mental illness.”

It’s just that our ego doesn’t know the difference between life-threatening situations (like running from man-eating wild animals) and just run-of-the-mill I’m-gonna-screw-this-up fear.

So, when you feel fear about messing up your boy, just remember that EVERYONE has those fears, let the fear pass through, and check in with your heart, which really knows the answers, to see if you’re really on the right path or the wrong path. (BUT, it’s not too likely that you’re going to screw him up. Your son picked you, Wise Mama, because you guys have work to do together. Don’t be afraid to do it!)

But, having said all that, what you really need are better tools and a shift in your perspective. You are SO close!!!

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

1. You are human! Humans aren’t perfect and aren’t supposed to be! That doesn’t mean you don’t strive for doing better; of course you do! However, don’t allow your self-talk to disable you into doing nothing. The grace that you show yourself when you are imperfect is the grace you model for your children! So, be gentle. Acknowledge when you don’t do things the way you wanted, take responsibility for the energy you bring, and do it over!

2. Know that all behavior is communication. Young children are not the best at verbal communications (in fact, neither are many adults!), and so they must resort to behavior to express their needs. Children who behave poorly are the ones who need the most love and understanding. They WANT to do well but are unable to. You can learn to interpret their communication and meet their needs. All you need is the information.

Go to “Upcoming Events” to see if there is a teleclass or a class in your area coming up.

Disappointment and feeling unappreciated:

QUESTION: The writer was feeling unappreciated by her children. No matter what she did for her kids, it seemed it was never enough, and the kids were angry that they couldn’t do more. For example, they were angry when they were restricted by budgetary constraints at the store; they were angry when they had to leave a friend’s house because of reasons beyond the writer’s control; they were angry at having to wait for something that they really wanted to do now.

ANSWER: What I’m thinking is that the problem isn’t their complaints. It’s.... actually your taking their complaints personally. You don’t have to do that, because it’s not about you.

So, when you go to the store and get them ice cream or a toy and they complain that you (collectively) can’t do more ~ YES! That’s a bummer! It’s not about you. Can you hear that and say, “Yeah, babe. That *is* disappointing. I know you wish we could do more.”

Or when they have to leave their friend’s when they’re not done playing, it’s not about you! Can you empathize with the feelings and say, “Yeah, I know you wanted to play longer. It’s hard leaving when you’re having so much fun! It’s OK to want to play more.”

They feel safe to complain to you because you are safe for them, and that is a good thing! It’s good that they feel safe to express their hard feelings to you. It’s their feelings, and their feelings cannot hurt you unless you allow it. You don’t have to take it on. You can stand together with them and say “YES! I hear you! I see how sad/angry/frustrated you feel. Those are difficult feelings to have!”

Allowing them the expression of their grief and disappointment lets them release those things. That’s a good thing. And... it is NOT about you.

And, when you model the kind of gratitude you wish they would show, they will catch on EVENTUALLY. Trust me on this. It is 100% true. IF you don’t make it about you.

FOLLOWUP QUESTION: She continued, saying that it is hard for her not to take things personally when the kids anger is directed at her and she feels they blame her. She feels frustrated because she tries so hard.

ANSWER: Here’s the secret. Don’t try. Just tell yourself: “This isn’t about me.” They’re angry, and you’re their safe place, but you don’t have to take on anyone else’s stuff, whether it’s your kids’ stuff or your husband’s stuff or your mom’s stuff or ANYONE’S stuff. It’s just not about you, so don’t cooperate with that.

Rather, commiserate and validate. You are on the same side.

The trick is knowing the difference: When it *is* your stuff, own it. When it’s not, let it slide off. And, commiserate. And, help your kids get through their hard feelings by allowing them to release their pain and hard feelings without getting caught up in it. That’s what you can do.

And, consider that when you take their stuff personally, you may actually interfere with the release of their pent-up pain. Really. Do whatever mental trick you can to stop taking their natural and necessary expression of grief and disappointment personally.

Getting back on track after "losing it":

QUESTION: This client was upset with herself because she felt she had “failed miserably.” She had yelled at her kids, and felt like she had “tanked.” Now, she said, there was a weird vibe going on, like the kids thought she was “crazy” and they were “walking on eggshells.” She wanted to find a way to get back on track.

ANSWER: The VERY first thing to do is change your narrative. “Failing miserably” is VERY hard to recover from. Even though things are not going well, “failing” is harder to recover from than “stumbling.” Is there any way you can reframe what’s going on that may actually be more accurate and a kinder way to see the situation?

Remember that yelling is NOT failing. Sure, yelling is not what you wanted to do, but it’s not failure. Failure is when you murder someone! You yelled. You apologized. You tripped, but you didn’t fall.

Also remember that if you’re going to beat yourself up for having yelled, you MUST also congratulate yourself, or at least acknowledge where you succeed!

Here’s where you succeeded:

• You apologized.
• You acknowledged that you needed some space to calm down.

Those were two huge wins! They’re good skills to have, and they’re great skills to model. Every time you do that, you are demonstrating a powerful skill for your children that they will be able to use at some point.

The thing is, we THINK we need to be perfect all the time. No one benefits from perfection. That’s not why we are here on this planet right now!!! We are here to learn. And, we learn from messing up. It’s what you DO with the mess-up that counts. Not that you don’t mess up!

To change the vibe, consider changing the scenery! Whatever you are doing now, go do something different! Take them out for an ice cream or to a stream for exploring or something spontaneous and fun! Or, if you can’t get away, get playful and silly!

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