Despite the popular idea that we need to “express” our anger so that it doesn’t eat away at us, research shows that expressing anger while we are angry actually makes us more angry. This in turn makes the other person hurt, afraid, or angry, and causes a rift in the relationship. Rehashing the situation in our mind always proves to us that we’re right and the other person is wrong, which again makes us more angry as we stew. What works is to calm down, and then find a constructive way to address whatever is making us angry so that the situation is resolved, and our anger stops being triggered.
The real job is keeping your cup full so you have plenty of joy and presence to share with your child.
Parenting is about nurturing your child, which means noticing what she needs and trying to make sure she gets it. You are, after all, the grown-up. But we can be peaceful parents only to the degree that we “parent” ourselves.
Children freely, even enthusiastically, cooperate when they believe that we’re on their side. When they don’t have that belief deep in their bones, our standards of behavior seem unfair, contradicting what they perceive as their own best interests, whether that’s taking the biggest piece of cake or lying to us.
The happy news is that as you come to terms with your own childhood story, you subtly change your emotional availability to your child, and your child blossoms accordingly, whether she’s an infant or a nine-year-old.
In relationships, without quantity, there’s no quality. You can’t expect a good relationship with your daughter if you spend all your time at work and she spends all her time with friends, screens, or the sitter. So as hard as it is with the pressures of jobs and daily life, if we want a better relationship with our children, we have to free up the time—daily—to make closeness happen.
Every child benefits from Special Time to reconnect with each parent often, if possible every day. Think of it as preventive maintenance to keep things on track in your family. And if you’re having issues with your
Every difficulty is an opportunity to get closer, as you extend understanding and your child feels truly seen, heard, and accepted.
Children need to know deep in their bones that their parents adore them and take delight in their company.
Remember, getting dressed is your priority, not his. Your presence is what motivates him.
To parents, bedtime is the time they finally get to separate from their children and have a little time to themselves. To children, bedtime is the time they’re forced to separate from their parents and lie in the dark by themselves. On top of that, children are exhausted and wound up, and parents are exhausted and fed up.
This isn’t about you right now, and your being upset won’t help. In fact, no matter what your child is talking about, you can process it later.
It may seem impossible, but if we feel the slightest glimmer of desire to turn things around, we can grab it. We don’t even have to know how. We can just choose love. We can always find a way to reach out to our child and reconnect. We can always find a way to heal things, even when we’re in a cycle of negativity that’s gone too far.
By contrast, when we think of ourselves as coaches, we know that all we have is influence—so we work hard to stay respected and connected, so our child wants to “follow” us.
What Empathy Isn’t
But before you can correct, you have to connect.
To know that their parents adore them, love to care for them, and care about their happiness. (Worthiness, security, self-esteem)
To feel truly seen, known, accepted, and appreciated—even the “shameful” parts like anger, jealousy, pettiness, and greed. (Unconditional love)
To stay connected with each parent through regular relaxed, playful, unstructured, affirming time together. (Intimacy, belonging)
To work through challenging daily emotions. (Emotional wholeness, self-acceptance)
To master new skills. (Mastery, independence, confidence)
To act from one’s own motivations to impact the world. (Self-determination, power)
To make a contribution. (Value, meaning)
Acknowledge your child’s perspective and empathize.
Allow expression of emotion, even while limiting actions.
Respond to the needs and feelings behind problem behavior.
When a desire can’t be granted, acknowledge it and grant it through “wish fulfillment.”
Tell the story so your child understands his emotional experience.
Teach problem solving.
Play it out.
Look him in the eye. Stay calm. He will either go blank (numbing himself), look away in shame, or look straight at you in defiance. Regardless, reach out for him.
We’ve absorbed the misguided view that children will be disobedient and manipulative unless we force them to “behave.”
Authoritarian parenting keeps children in a state of stress, worried about the next punishment (which may explain why kids who are spanked have lower IQs5).
But it does mean that babyproofing is better than trying to teach limits at this age.
Until your child has a chance to be heard, those feelings will be looking to spill out, disconnecting her, driving misbehavior and keeping her from being her usual sunny self. That’s why the single best thing you can do for your preschooler is to prioritize reconnecting with her when you’re reunited at the end of the day.
This parenting approach tends to raise kids who are self-centered, anxious, and not very resilient.
Authoritative. The final parenting style is the one that Baumrind’s research showed raises the best-adjusted kids. Her authoritative—as opposed to authoritarian—parents offer their children lots of love and support, like the permissive parents. But they also hold high expectations, like the authoritarian parents. Age-appropriate expectations, of course—they aren’t expecting a three-year-old to clean up her room by herself. But they may well be working with that three-year-old to help her clean up, over and over and over, so that by six she really can clean up her room herself. These parents are involved—even demanding. They expect family dinners, lots of discussion straight through high school, good grades, responsible behavior. But they also offer their children complete support to learn how to achieve these expectations. Importantly, these parents aren’t controlling like the authoritarian parents. They listen to the child’s side of things, they make compromises, and they cede control where possible. Their kids, not surprisingly, stay close to them—they often describe one of their parents as the person they would most trust to talk to about a problem. These kids usually do well in school, and they’re also the ones that teachers describe as responsible and well liked, simply nice kids who are a pleasure to have around.
Every child who has a sibling needs daily private time to bond with each parent.
We’re inviting him in, so that he’s part of the solution. He may have done a monstrous thing, but we’re communicating to him that he isn’t a monster. This is the foundation of his being able to face that he did something that crossed a line—and to forgive himself. It starts with our forgiving him.
Mastery isn’t a one-time feeling. It’s a way of approaching experience that through repetition becomes an acquired trait, a way of living life. It describes a person who loves to explore, learn, grow, apply himself, practice, master something, take joy in the whole creative process whether he “succeeds” or “fails” in the eyes of others, and move on to his next goal.
Every child is born with latent talent. Any child who enjoys the process of mastery has the internal motivation to polish his natural abilities to achieve—as long as the achievement he’s aiming for matters to him.
What might we say?
“You really like doing that puzzle. . . . It’s the first one you took out again today.” (Empathize with his feelings.)
“You’re trying all the different pieces to see what fits in that spot.” (Notice what he’s doing, which helps him feel seen and valued. In this case, we’re also articulating the strategy we see him using, which helps him be more conscious of what he’s doing, so he can evaluate whether this particular strategy is effective.)
“I love doing puzzles with you!” (Communicate your enjoyment of sharing a task or project with him.)
“It’s frustrating, isn’t it? But you’ve almost got it!” (Effective encouragement. By contrast, if we show him, we imply that he can’t figure it out for himself, which lessens his self-confidence.)
“You did it! You got all the pieces to fit! You must be so proud of yourself!” (We’re mirroring his joy in his accomplishment, but notice we’re not telling him we’re proud of him, which implies that pride in him is something we can also withhold. Instead, we empower him by acknowledging that pride in himself is his, something he can take action to create.)
Blame is simply anger looking for a target, and it never helps us toward a solution.
The truth is, we always have more responsibility than we’d like to admit. And the more responsibility you take, the less defensive your child feels, so the more responsibility she’s likely to take in her own mind and, eventually, aloud.