Embracing the “terrible” twos


Anyone interested in so-called positive parenting or gentle parenting is probably familiar with Dr. Laura Markham and her Aha! Parenting website. I find myself reading and re-reading many of her posts and tonight I came across this fantastic list of reminders for parents who, like me, are starting to see the first glimpses of those dreaded “terrible” twos in their until-now saintly toddler.

I won’t tell you more about it because the list is perfect and clear as it is. All I will say is: please, if you have a toddler, read this. Think about what it says, apply as much as you can, print it out and keep it close for when times get a little difficult, and go ahead and embrace that beautiful toddler of yours.

Happy read!

(Original post from Aha! Parenting can be found here).

Toddlers: Your Game Plan for the Terrific Twos

How to manage your toddler and stay a positive parent?

Most children become harder to manage at around fourteen months. That’s because they make a huge developmental leap at this point. They’re not so easily distracted. They realize that you’re a separate person, who can sometimes–but not nearly often enough–be influenced to do things their way. They realize they have some influence in the world, but not a lot of power, and they start experimenting to see how they can get their needs met and their desires fulfilled.

This can be a maddening time for parents, or it can be a Photo: Angela Sevinwonderful time, watching your child blossom into a person in her own right.  How difficult the phase from 15 to 36 months is depends mostly on the parent’s attitude. Your child’s rebellion will be inversely proportional to the freedom she’s given to do her developmental work.

How much is he allowed to explore? To set his own pace?  To feel in control of his world?  To discover that he is a competent person?

Much of this depends on the parent.  Are you sensitive to your child’s readiness for independence, supporting but not pushing? Can you appreciate your child’s bids for independence without taking them as personal insults?  Can you give up some control so your child can develop some sense of mastery over her world? Can you set whatever limits are necessary for her safety and your sanity, while empathizing with her disappointment when she doesn’t get what she wants?

Your Toddler’s Developmental Tasks:

Rapid physical and brain development.
Rapid acquisition of vocabulary and verbal rules.
Learning how to stay connected to you while he asserts his own needs and wants.
Development of Agency (sense of oneself as a powerful, competent person able to act upon the world).
Learning that other children are people too, and that he relate to them safely, so he doesn’t have to be aggressive with them.

Your Parenting Challenge:

Keeping your sanity while your baby increasingly expresses herself and engages with the world.

Your Parenting Priorities:

1. Keeping your child safe as she explores.
2. Giving up some control so he can develop some mastery over his world.
3. Enjoying her emerging independence and curiosity.
4. Staying positive!

“The first three years of life establishes the blueprints for all of our future relationships.” — John Bowlby

What toddlers need from their parents:

1. The validation of her own agency.  She needs to learn that there are things she is in charge of, such as her own body, and she needs to experience herself as competent and powerful.

2. Structure, Limits, Routines and Security:  Toddlers are beginning to grasp that it’s a big world out there.  Even their own  feelings seem overwhelming to them at times.  They need the reassurance that the parent is in charge and can keep them safe  — from the world, and from their own big feelings and lack of self control.

3. Help understanding and structuring time so he feels less out of control and pummeled by circumstance (“After lunch it’s nap time, and then we’ll drive to Grandma’s.”)  Toddlers need to know what to expect and do better with a definite routine.

4. Your empathy: Look at it from his point of view, and you’ll see it makes sense.  Even if you can’t do what he wants, it will help him to cooperate if you can understand and sympathize with his unhappiness.

Gameplan for a Fun Toddlerhood:

Photo: Crushed Red Pepper

1. Let your child be in charge of potty training.  They all get out of diapers sooner or later. Fights with your child about his or her body are fights you will never win.  Toilet training can actually be empowering for your child, an important step in independence, but it depends how you handle it.  If your child shows zero interest in toilet training, find opportunities for him to be around other kids who are using the toilet, and he’ll quickly want to emulate them. For more on easy potty learning, click here.

2. Sidestep power struggles.  You don’t have to prove you’re right. Your child is trying to assert that he is a real person, with some real power in the world.  That’s totally appropriate.  Let him say no whenever you can do so without compromise to safety, health, or other peoples’ rights.  You’ll be glad to know that since tantrums are an expression of powerlessness, toddlers who feel some control over their lives have many fewer tantrums.

3. Pre-empt tantrums.  First, know that tantrums are normal for kids this age.  Second, since most tantrums happen when kids are hungry or tired, think ahead.  Preemptive feeding and napping, firm bedtimes, re-connection with you,  cozy times, peaceful quiet time without media stimulation —  whatever  it takes to calm down and rest —  prevent most tantrums, and reground kids who are getting whiny. Learn to just say no  — to yourself!  Don’t squeeze in that last errand.  Don’t drag a hungry or tired kid to the store. Make do and do it tomorrow.  For more on taming toddler tantrums, click here.

4. Use play to “manage” your toddler.  Toddlers don’t like to be ordered around any more than you do.  What they do love is to play.  Want cooperation? Fly your toddler up to her bath.  Get him to finish his milk by pretending to be a puppy who loves milk.  Get her into her carseat by pretending to be the flight attendant preparing for takeoff.  Race him to the car.

5. Don’t take it personally.  Your toddler will at times reject you or be hurtful in some way.  Don’t take it personally.  She’s learning from you how to modulate her anger.  This is your opportunity to grow, and teach her at the same time.

6. Allow time in your schedule for your toddler’s need to explore the world.  That’s his job, after all — exploring, experimenting, learning.  That’s how his brain develops.  Rushing toddlers is one of the common triggers of avoidable tantrums.

7. Cultivate empathy for your child.  Social skills start with your empathy.  Kids begin to develop empathy for others (and therefore, the ability to share, not hit, etc.) as they themselves feel understood. Click here for more on what empathy is and how to use it to raise great kids.

8. Don’t force her to share.  That actually delays the development of sharing skills!  Kids need to feel secure in their ownership before they can share. Instead, introduce the concept of taking turns. (“It’s Crystal’s turn to use the bucket.  Then it will be your turn.”)  Help him wait for his turn with empathy. Help him put his favorite toys away before another child visits.  When he does share, out of the goodness of his own heart, empower him to make that choice again by observing, aloud, the effect of his choice: “Look how happy Michael is that he gets a turn with your truck.”

9. Use age-appropriate “discipline.”  For toddlers, that means empathic limits, information, redirection, and help with emotions.  Researchers compared two groups of toddlers who were rated as behaving about the same. They watched what happened when parents spanked them.  The children who were spanked behaved worse a year later than the kids who weren’t.  Even yelling at toddlers has a negative effect, causing them to harden their hearts to you and become defiant.  Toddlerhood is where violence starts: Are you unwittingly teaching your kids that might makes right? (See Positive Discipline, for help in managing your toddler.)

10. Be the person you want your child to be. Children learn to interact with others by experiencing relationships, and then they recreate them.  Remember that your toddler is learning both sides of any relationship she’s in.  If you don’t want her to tantrum, don’t lose your temper at her. If you yell at her, you’re teaching her by example that tantrums are ok.

11. Eliminate visual electronic media.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two not watch TV or videos at all because they have other important developmental work to do and because it impacts brain development.  The AAP recommends that older children watch AT MOST an hour or two per day of nonviolent, educational TV.  I recommend TV and movies only for special occasions. I know we’re told that Sesame Street is good for our children, but research shows that it influences brain development and shortens the attention span. It starts an addiction in kids who are prone to it. When they’re a little older, they’ll want to watch other TV. And before they’re much older, you’ll wonder why they flip on the TV instead of reading a book. Not to mention that you will have stopped being able to monitor what they watch by the time they’re eight.  For more on TV, see Why Your Toddler Shouldn’t Watch TV — and What to Do Instead.

12.  Feeding is the toddler’s job.  You provide the healthy food.  She feeds it to herself.  Put a mat under the high chair.   Don’t obsess about how much she eats. Kids don’t starve themselves. Many toddlers are too busy during the day to eat enough and ask for food at bedtime.  This can drive a parent around the bend, unless you build a bedtime snack into the schedule – which also often helps kids settle down and sleep better.  If you make sure the snack is healthy, you take the pressure off dinner so you can enjoy your child more at dinner without prodding them to eat. You can combine it with the bedtime story if you’re short on time.  Click here for more on feeding your toddler.

13. Forget about stimulating your child’s brain by teaching her the alphabet.  The intellectual work of toddlers is about exploring, observing the world, talking and being listened to, being accepted, validated and acknowledged. Emotional self-management lays the foundation for intellectual development. It’s never too early to develop a love of books, but that doesn’t happen by learning the alphabet.  If you want your child to love reading, then read to her and tell her stories.

14. Pre-empt whining.  Whining is an expression of the child’s feeling of powerlessness.  It can become a habit.  To nip whining in the bud, avoid letting your child have opportunities to learn that whining gets her what she wants.  In other words, try to avoid making whining necessary, and if it does happen, try to avoid rewarding it. Instead, help your child with those helpless feelings.  Click here for more on how to stop your toddler’s whining.

15. Use routines.  Kids develop self discipline partly by living in a safe, predictable structured routine where they know what to expect.  When you disrupt routines with travel,  Grandma’s visit, or simply exceptions for your own convenience, you can expect tantrums, difficulty falling asleep, and other challenges. Grandma, of course, is worth it, but choosing disruptions wisely is part of protective parenting. Click here for more on schedules and routines that toddlers can understand.

16.  Give her the opportunity to experience competence. Toddlers tantrum less and cooperate more when they feel more powerful.  How can you help your toddler feel more powerful?  Three key ways: Listen to her, Let her make decisions whenever possible, and give her the opportunity to experience competence.

Toddlers need daily experience with work to gain confidence in their own capabilities and begin to think of themselves as competent people.  I don’t mean burdensome work, I mean work in the spirit of Maria Montessori, and Tom Sawyer making the other kids think that white-washing the fence was the world’s best game.   In other words, toddlers LOVE to understand how the household functions, and to participate.  They LOVE to contribute.  They LOVE to learn.

Invite your toddler to be involved with whatever you’re doing.  Ok, so the help will make your job harder, but he’s learning and gaining skills for the future, and you’re bonding.

What kinds of household tasks?   They can stand on a stool or bench in the kitchen to help.  They can help you as you run errands.  They can help in the yard.  Specifically,

Make themselves a snack, such as peeling fruit or an egg, or slicing soft cheese and making sandwiches with crackers.
Help wash pots and pans or other unbreakable dishes.
Wash vegetables in the sink
Wipe the counter off
Help you clean the refrigerator
Help set the table
Help clear the table
Help you by turning lights on and off.
Scrub the tub (from inside, barefoot!)
Pair the socks as you fold clothes.
Sort clothes (which clean clothes belong to which family member?)
Help you transfer clothes from the washer to the dryer, pull clothes out of the dryer, or hang them on a line.
Pick out fruit at the grocery store.
Wash the table or floor.

These activities are ultimately more educational and satisfying than TV, and most young children love them.  After completing such a task, the toddler says “I did it!”  and feels like a more capable, powerful person. (Compare that to how they feel after they watch a TV show.)  Sure, it’s more work for the parent than just doing it yourself.  That’s not the point.  Toddlers and preschoolers who feel competent and powerful don’t need to assert their power by being contrary.  They’re more confident.  And they’re more helpful! That’s what I call win-win.

Click here for more on helping your child develop Competence.



Positive parenting: self-regulation


Hi and sorry for the long absence! I really have no excuse, other than I’ve just been busy with life in general. Never too busy to listen to the radio, though. (I’m an incurable CBC radio junky).

I went for a short drive on Sunday, and I ended up idling my car at a parking lot because this documentary was playing on CBC: How does your engine run? It was a fascinating piece about a pilot project in schools in Surrey, British Columbia, where teachers are training kids to self-regulate their behaviour.

The gist of the story is that these teachers are dealing with behaviour issues driven by stress in a very interesting way: by identifying what is stressing each kid and offering individual solutions for them. For instance, one girl is so hyper that when her behaviour is spiraling out of control, she goes for a run to calm down. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the middle of a class. Another kid just hates his chair and can’t focus, so he gets to seat on a special cushion. It has nothing to do with discipline —it’s all about observing and understanding each kid’s needs. And it’s all about each kid identifying their own tipping point at doing something about it.

But wait, isn’t this supposed to be a post about positive parenting? Yes! I found this story to be perfectly in tune with one of the principles of positive parenting that we’ve been talking about: treating children with respect. So many times, in so many instances, I feel that we look at our children from the top down, and we reach conclusions about their behaviour that in reality have nothing to do with what is going on in their minds and bodies.

I think respect means that, even from a very early age —from Day One, I’d say— we should try to listen to what our kids are trying to tell us, instead of projecting our ideas onto them. And we should really toss away that obsolete notion that kids behave badly just to make us feel bad. Treating our kids with respect means that we understand their behaviour is not about us, but rather about something they need and are trying to communicate to us.

It seems to me that respect is at the heart of this idea of teaching self-regulation to children, because it forces us to trust their ability to understand themselves; to trust that they can identify their own limits and deal with them, even from a very early age. Simply put, respecting our children empowers them.

So yes, I think positive parenting has a lot to do with teaching self-regulation. And I think I’m on the right track, because my friend E., from The Mindful Parent, also recommended the CBC doc to me 🙂

I encourage you to check it out. Read the story and listen to the doc here.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Have a great week!



Positive parenting: bits on toddler tantrums, doing chores together, and more


Good morning everyone!

I am overwhelmed by how much attention you paid to my previous post on Big Feelings. I really love that we are all walking this positive parenting journey together. My brain definitely works better when I articulate my thoughts out loud, and I love hearing your thoughts on my posts.

Today I just want to share a few articles I came across that serve as a great follow-up to the discussion about big feelings and time-ins / time-outs. Below are some excerpts and links to the full articles. I’m not very familiar with these websites, but especially the first two seem like they have lots of good insights into positive parenting. If you know any of them and have an opinion to share, please do!

Transitions in Attachment Parenting: Infancy to Toddlerhood, originally posted in Aptly Said.

  • “A tantrum doesn’t need a punishment but simply some time to pass. Stay nearby. (…). When a tantrum ensues, let your toddler know it’s OK to be mad…”

How to Raise Decent Children without Spankings or Time-Outs, originally posted in Abundant Life Children.

  • “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. (…) Guidance revolves around prevention, instruction, and remaining cool in the moment, insisting that children’s anti-social behaviors are needs in disguise. [The emphases is mine]. 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.”

10 Current Psychology Studies Every Parent Should Know, originally posted in PsyBlog.

(I’ll post the whole thing below because it’s short and has lots of interesting bits. I particularly enjoyed the one about the parents doing chores together —this is totally true in our home!)

1. Parents are happier than non-parents

In recent years some studies have suggested that the pleasures of having children are outweighed by the pains.

“Ha!” said parents to themselves, secretly, “I knew it!”

Not so fast though: new research has found that, on average, parents feel better than non-parents each day and derive more pleasure from caring for their children than from other activities (Nelson et al.,. 2013).

Fathers, in particular, derive high levels of positive emotions and happiness from their children.

2. Putting your child first is worth it

Underlining the pleasures of having children, research finds that child-centric attitudes are beneficial.

 A study by Ashton-James et al. (2013) found that parents who were the most child-centric were also happier and derived greater meaning in life from having children.

Performing child-care activities was associated with greater meaning and fewer negative feelings.

“These findings suggest that the more care and attention people give to others, the more happiness and meaning they experience. From this perspective, the more invested parents are in their children’s well-being — that is, the more ‘child centric’ parents are — the more happiness and meaning they will derive from parenting.” (Ashton-James et al., 2013)

So, what’s good for your kids, is also good for you.

3. Helicopter parenting may be depressing

As with many things in life, though, it’s a fine line between caring and smothering; especially when children have grown up.

Schiffrin et al. (2013) asked 297 undergraduate students about their parents’ behaviour and how they felt about it.

The study found links between ‘helicopter parenting’ and higher levels of depression amongst the students, as well as lower levels of autonomy, relatedness and competence.

“Parents should keep in mind how developmentally appropriate their involvement is and learn to adjust their parenting style when their children feel that they are hovering too closely.” (Schiffrin et al., 2013)

4. Avoid strict discipline

Around 90% of American parents admit at least one instance of using strict verbal discipline with their children, such as calling names or swearing at them.

Rather than helping keep adolescents in line, though, be aware that this may just exacerbate the problem.

A study of 967 US families found that harsh verbal discipline at 13-years-old predicted worse behaviour in the next year (Wang et al., 2013).

And it didn’t help if parents had a strong bond with their children. The study’s lead author Ming-Te Wang explained:

“The notion that harsh discipline is without consequence, once there is a strong parent-child bond–that the adolescent will understand that ‘they’re doing this because they love me’–is misguided because parents’ warmth didn’t lessen the effects of harsh verbal discipline. Indeed, harsh verbal discipline appears to be detrimental in all circumstances.”

5. Regular bedtimes

Regular bedtimes really matter to children’s developing brains.

Researchers followed 11,000 children from when they were 3-years old to the age of 7 to measure the effects of bedtimes on cognitive function, (Kelly et al., 2013).

The researchers found that:

“…irregular bedtimes at 3 years of age were associated with lower scores in reading, maths, and spatial awareness in both boys and girls, suggesting that around the age of 3 could be a sensitive period for cognitive development.”

Regular bedtimes are important for both boys and girls and the earlier these can be implemented, the better for cognitive performance.

6. Do the chores together

Bringing up happy children is easier if Mum and Dad’s relationship isn’t too rocky. One frequent bone of contention between parents is the chores.

A trick for achieving marital satisfaction over the chores is to do them together.

When partners perform their chores at the same time–no matter who is doing what–both people are more satisfied with the division of labour (Galovan et al., 2013).

7. Limit infant TV viewing

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should watch no more than two hours of TV per day after two years of age, and none before that age.

Here’s why: a new study that followed almost 2,000 Canadian children from birth found that an extra hour’s TV viewing at 2.5-years-old predicted worse performance later when they attended kindergarten (Pagani et al., 2013).

The more children exceeded this recommendation at 2.5 years old, the worse their vocabulary, math and motor skills were at 5-years-old.

More on this study: One Extra Hour of TV Reduces Toddlers’ Kindergarten Chances

8. Exercise boosts kids’ school performance

Kids are increasingly sedentary and, as I frequently write here on PsyBlog, exercise is a wonderful way to boost brain power, and it has many other benefits (see 20 Wonderful Effects Exercise Has on the Mind).

A new study of 11-year-olds has found that moderate to vigorous exercise was associated with increased academic performance in English, Maths and Science (Booth et al., 2013).

These gains from exercise were also seen in exams taken at 16-years-old.

Interestingly, girls’ science results benefited the most from extra exercise.

9. Dangers of intense mothering

Some women say that taking care of children is more stressful than being at work. There are also links between child-rearing and stress and guilt.

How can we square this with the reports and research findings that children fill your life with joy and meaning?

It may be down to differences in attitudes to parenting. In particular, being an ‘intense mother’ may be bad for you.

In their study of 181 mothers of children under 5, Rizzo et al. (2012) found that mothers who most strongly endorsed the idea that children were sacred and that women are better parents than men, were more likely to be depressed and experience less satisfaction with life.

Yes, nurture your children, but don’t sacrifice your own mental health.

10. Why siblings are so different

Anyone with more than one child will have noticed a curious thing: their personalities are often very dissimilar.

In fact, according to a study by Plomin and Daniels (1987), siblings have no more in common in their personalities than two completely unrelated strangers.

This is very weird given that 50% of their genetic code is identical.

The answer isn’t in the genes at all, but in the environment in which children grow up.

Far from having the same environments, each child has:

  • a different relationship with their parents,
  • a different relationship with their other siblings,
  • different friends and experiences at school…

…and so on.

And all these differences add up to quite remarkable dissimilarities between siblings–often such that if they didn’t look alike, you’d never know they were related.

All this means, of course, that because their personalities are often so different, parenting strategies that work with one child, may not work with another.

It’s just one more challenge of being a parent!


Positive parenting: dealing with “big feelings”


So I had a challenging day yesterday. D and I went to pick up S from her daycare and she was happy, being her normal self just after waking up from her nap. When we started dressing her to leave, however, something happened and she just snapped. Out of the blue, just like that, she had a major meltdown. Tears, screaming, biting (she bit her shoe!).

Long story short, D stayed in school and I brought home a hysterical toddler that just would not settle down. I was shocked. I had no clue what to do. I stayed with her, trying to hold her but she would literally jump out of my arms. Her pain became my pain, and I began to cry too. After 35 minutes of her intense crying, S accepted my offer for boob. She slowly calmed down, as I held her tightly close to me. She nursed and nursed, while she sighed and I cried. We both fell asleep for about five minutes. We cuddled for a long time. Then she was fine.

Throughout the whole crisis, so many things went through my mind. Is she crazy? Is she sick with anxiety? Is there something wrong with her? S has her temper but I had never seen her like that. She’s had meltdowns when she’s tired, but this was the middle of the afternoon and right after a two hour nap. I had no clues as to what could have triggered her meltdown.

This, until two hours later, when I saw it: S had a huge, red bee sting on her wrist. A stupid bee had stung her, probably as we were getting ready to leave the daycare. That was all!! While I was going mad with speculation, S was in pain, and she kept biting her wrist because it probably hurt like hell, not because she had some weird anxiety disorder like my crazy mom brain was suggesting.

Which brings me to the heart of this post: Big Feelings. Reading about positive parenting, I’ve come across a few articles about Big Feelings. About how toddlerhood is the time when children can feel overwhelmed with new and big emotions because they simply don’t know what they are, or whether they are fleeting or permanent. I did what the articles had suggested, which is to stay close to your child while they sort through the big feelings, even if they are trying to push you away. And I’m happy I had read that, because it did feel right as I did it.

Though yesterday’s crisis was a lot less about S’s big feelings and a lot more about mine —I will have to learn not to follow S’s meltdowns with another meltdown of my own—I still think it’s immensely useful to know how to approach any show of big feelings from our children. Even if that feeling is simply pain from a damn bee sting.

Here are a couple of quotes I like about positive parenting and dealing with big emotions:

  • Children need to be able to “self-soothe” to manage their behavior; and they only learn to self-soothe by being soothed by parents. That’s because the neural pathways that release soothing biochemicals are formed when the baby is soothed by the parent.  Leaving little ones alone with their big emotions does NOT teach them to self-soothe; it undermines their neural development so it’s harder for them to calm themselves throughout their lives. Self-soothing is essential for children to manage their anxiety, emotions and behavior.  Children who are explosive, anxious, or “dramatic” need extra support in the form of parental calming. (Original post here).
  • Children can only manage their behavior when they can manage their emotions, and they learn to manage their emotions by having parents who accept their emotions, even while limiting actions as necessary.  Human emotions need to be felt so they dissipate and leave us; feelings that are repressed pop out uncontrolled and cause “bad” behavior.  But children need to feel safe to experience their big upsets and let them go.  Kids who are uncooperative, angry or fearful are signaling that they need us to “witness” their feelings by letting them cry or rage in our loving presence.  Children who know their feelings are “allowed” don’t store them up, so they’re better able to manage their emotions and behavior. (Original post here).

Positive parenting encourages parents to try “time ins” instead of “time outs.” I don’t think S is quite old enough to experience a time out anyway, but I bring this up because this deals exactly with what I’m talking about: staying with your child while she’s experiencing a big emotion. These two articles explain it really well:

How To Transform Your Time-Outs To Time-Ins

Positive Parenting Tools: Time In vs. Time Out

I hope you find all this info useful. I definitely will try the time ins when the time comes… I know soon enough I’ll be writing about it.

Have a great week everyone. Do share your thoughts here or on the FB page anytime. xoxo


Positive parenting: Independence, we’ve got it all wrong


One of the first conversations I had with my good friend Ang, last year when we were sleep deprived and drinking coffee at the community centre (wait: we’re still sleep deprived. Where is my coffee?!), revolved around children’s sleep —what else do new moms talk about? Chatting about the sought-after “self-soothing” of babies so that they learn to sleep through the night, Ang said something that stayed with me: “I feel that there is a lot of pressure for babies to be independent.”

If you’re a mom you simply know this is true. But if you have any common sense, you should flinch when you see the words “baby” and “independent” together. Why on earth do we want our babies to be independent? They’re babies. They’re supposed to be dependent. Yet we do feel that pressure, from the moment our babies are born, to teach them to fend for themselves. Because, our narrative goes, if we don’t do so they will become spoiled, entitled mooches in adulthood.

Which brings me to this article I stumbled upon yesterday. I’d love you to read this carefully, and think about it, and share it with other moms and dads. I agree with almost every single word on this article –and I have a tendency to disagree, so this says a lot!

(Original post at Evolutionary Parenting)

Six Ways to Allow Your Child to Become a Responsible Adult

By Tracy G. Cassels

Lately there seem to be many parents yelling about how much they hate our current generation of entitled children or young adults who can’t function on their own and don’t take responsibility for their actions.  They seem to argue that it’s parents who are responsive that are a problem, something I’ve heard first hand (because didn’t you know that letting my child breastfeed at 2 means she’ll be a spoiled, rotten brat??).  They often push for things like bullying being okay or leaving your child to cry because the real world is harsh: The problem is that we just haven’t been harsh enough with our kids and that’s why they can’t cope.  I think it’s bullshit.  You want to raise responsible adults?  Here are six things you should allow your child to do if you want them to grow into adults who understand responsibility, will work hard, and be self-motivated…


Allow your baby to be totally dependent on you.  Our society focuses far too much on trying to make babies independent but quite simply, it won’t work.  Think of your child as a house or tree, without the right foundation or roots, you will have problems.  Attachment is absolutely necessary to children’s well-being.  Although historical or evolutionary practices are very easy ways to get this attachment (because of the constant proximity between baby and a caregiver – typically mom but certainly not always given the high prevalence of alloparenting in these societies), as I’ve written about before it’s really all about responsiveness.  Whereas leaving your baby to cry or refusing to feed or comfort at certain points is non-responsive, you simply cannot spoil a baby with too much love and you will not create “bad habits” or “clingy children” by responding to them.  You just won’t.  In fact, you’ll raise children who feel secure enough to go out and explore the world on their own, knowing they have a safe place to return to if necessary.

Allow your child to grow into his/her independence.  You see, we have it backwards.  We force independence in babies and then restrict it as our children develop and are yearning for independence.  Does this mean we hand our 2 year old a knife and wish them luck?  No, it means that we allow them to explore.  In the younger years, it may be as simple as just letting them climb on the play structure themselves.  In the older years, it’ll be letting them go on bike rides or walks to friends’ houses by themselves.  You can always make sure your child is doing something as safely as possible but if you remove the chances for them to practice their independence out of fear of anything happening, you will stunt them.

If they have the secure foundation of responsive parenting in their early years, they know they can come to you if they run into problems and they most likely will.  They may face problems that you wish they didn’t, but you’ll be there to see them through it, from cuts and broken bones to broken hearts and lost dreams.  Remember that each child will grow into their independence in their own time – you can’t actually force independence.  You can force independent-like behaviour, but if a child isn’t ready, it will be done with extreme anxiety which is not good for future exploration.  (Also remember that a child who is set on being independent will find ways and if you make it too difficult for them, expect them to start doing it behind your back and probably not in the safest or sanest of ways.)


Allow your child to play, and play rough (if she/he wants).  Until the age of around 6 or 7, children should spend most of their time playing (and still a lot of time after that).  Outdoors when possible, but at least playing.  In our world of daycare and preschool and kindergarten readiness tests, we are so focused on trying to teach our children, I’m not sure that there’s any room for them to learn.  Will they memorize things?  Sure.  But are they learning about their interests, the world around them, and how to engage with it?  I don’t think so.  Play is key to this process of learning and we need to allow them to cultivate it far more than we currently do.

One more thing, many kids (yes, girls included) will want to play rough – toy swords, toy knives, wrestling – and we should let them.  Every bit of play is learning, including roughhousing, and from it they can learn a lot about safety, respect for others, and the appropriate ways to use tools.  I know many people panic when their child shows an interest in rough play, especially those that identify as “gentle parents”.  Remember: Gentle parenting is not about restricting play to gentle play, it’s about how you respond as a parent to your child.

Allow your child to take responsibility for his/her actions.  There are two different problems in our society in this realm.  Either parents, in an effort to avoid seeing their child in pain or suffering any type of punishment, cover for them or they offer harsh punishments that don’t fit “the crime”.  In more traditional societies where groups are small and people have to work together, it is common for people to know how to make amends and if they don’t, allow the group or the elder to decide what actions should be taken while all accept the outcome to move forward.  As we don’t have such small groups, we’re not used to that type of awareness of how our actions influence or affect other people, thus parents are used to either doling out punishments or hiding their child from responsibility.

What does taking responsibility look like?  Well, at the basic level it’s letting your child take part in figuring out how to make amends if they’ve hurt someone, fix something they’ve done “wrong”, own up to any behaviour that hurt someone, or accept the natural consequences of their own behaviours.  It’s bringing them into the fold and having them come up with solutions with you (to help guide them, but not tell them what to do).  You should also be giving them things to be responsible for, whether it be a chore in the house, cleaning up after themselves, or being in charge of whatever toys they bring out in public.  If they don’t have ways to practice responsibility, they can never learn it.  Children as young as 2 or 3 can help come up with ideas and the more they do, the better they get at it and the more they learn to be responsible for themselves.

Allowing responsibility does not mean never helping them when they ask for it out of fear that they will not learn to be responsible.  You also want to teach them to help others if they can and when the request is reasonable, so be prepared to do the same for them.  It does not mean covering for them or fixing their problems without their input and work or helping when the request is not reasonable.

[My own personal take is that when we instill this, we are helping reduce bullying.  If you are consistently aware of how your actions affect other people and become used to having to take responsibility for that, you don’t intentionally hurt others and certain apologize when you do.]

Allow your child to say “no”.    If you were to actually step back for a day and observe your interactions with your child, how often do you think you’d allow them to say “no” to you?  How often do you allow yourself to say “no” to them?  It’s inherently going to be unequal, but in our society it is so skewed that we might as well be honest that we seem to have the primary goal of obedience, not raising children to think for themselves.  Sometimes allowing them to do what they want will lead to failure for them (something I know we hate seeing) and that’s okay.  They need to fail.  We all do.  With failure we learn: We learn what doesn’t work and we learn we need to change our plan if we want to reach our goal.

We also need to allow them to say no to develop their own voice.  If they can’t feel safe saying “no” to a parent and having it be respected at least once in a while, how can we expect them to feel confident saying it to someone else?  We worry about our kids running off with the wrong “crowd”, doing drugs or drinking too much, saying “yes” to sex when they aren’t feeling truly ready themselves.  Although these behaviours stem from a multitude of issues, part of it comes down to kids who just don’t believe their “no” has a voice.  And finally, how can we expect them to respect our “no” when we don’t respect theirs?

Allow your child to be a child out in public.  I have to qualify this by being clear that I’m not talking about all places, as there are areas where we need to be aware of how we all act and kids need to learn that too; however, we seem to look askew at anyone with a child who is being a child anywhere.  Folks, public is public and it’s for everyone, children included.  I don’t like the behaviours of many of the adults around me, but I acknowledge their right to behave that way in these spaces.  My child has the same rights to behave like a child (arguably more because they don’t have the neurological capacity to always behave as others’ might like).  That may mean being a bit too loud, running around, squealing with delight, and yes, sometimes breaking down.  These are all normal behaviours.  It’s how we handle things when they go too far that we must be aware of.

A child who is screaming at the top of her lungs should be reminded that it hurts other people’s ears and to be quieter or to find a place where that won’t bother people.  Running around and crashing into people without regard is also something children need to learn not to do.  And breaking down often requires gently removing a child from the situation until he or she is calm and figuring out what happened while offering comfort and understanding.  Adults in our society need to be exposed to children as children are.  Children need the exposure to public places and adults to learn how to behave, while also being allowed to be themselves in a respectful way.  When we hide them from it or force them to behave in ways that aren’t aligned with their developmental level, we are making it harder and harder for them to learn to consider others (because they’re too focused on their own behaviour) or to take responsibility and learn about thinking of others.  It also tells them that they are not worthy of respect but others are and frankly that’s not a lesson that’s going to serve anyone well if we want them to grow up to feel confident and secure in themselves.


There we have it.  Six things you can allow your child to do that will help them be responsible, independent, caring grown-ups.  You don’t need to force them to toughen up or even force them to be independent because they’ll get there on their own.  The problem isn’t that we haven’t been “harsh” enough, the problem is that we’ve been harsh when we should be gentle, permissive when we should encourage responsibility, and driven by fear to restrict our children’s growth into independent beings.  Let’s end that.


Positive parenting: The Whole Brain Child book review


The Whole Brain Child, By Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.

I’ve been (slowly) reading The Whole Brain Child, a book written by two incredibly accomplished brain doctors, which offers strategies to help you develop your child’s brain in a positive way. The book was recommended to me by my good friend Mel when I expressed interest in learning more about positive parenting. Mel’s husband is a psychologist and a big part of his job is to counsel parents and help children with behavioural issues. He often recommends The Whole Brain Child to his patients.

The book sits really well with the whole concept of positive parenting, because it encourages parents to practice mindfulness and to treat their children with respect. It also explains through brain science why children do the things they do –and why us parents react the way we do.

There’s a lot of science in this book, but all of it explained in extremely easy language. Overall, what you really take from the book is a series of “strategies,” or examples of what to do in very specific situations. (I list some of my favourite below).

If there’s one thing I find us parents always need is to know that we are not alone in experiencing a challenge; to hear from others that what our child is doing, and the way we feel about it, is normal. The Whole Brain Child offers huge relief in this respect, because it unravels the mysteries, among other things, of those irrational outbursts. Like when your toddler is mad at you and bites your cheek. (True story. It hurt!).

What I like most about this book is that you can use it almost like a manual. And I say “manual” in the best possible way. This is not a prescription for perfect parenting, but rather a guide that you can use when you feel stuck. And some strategies are simply good reminders of using common sense in everyday situations.

Here are some of my favourites. I love the last one because it reminds you not to take things so seriously all the time!:

Instead of command and demand: A kid gets out of bed and says: “Mom, you never leave me a note in the middle of the night and I hate homework!” The mom responds: “What are you doing out of bed? Get back to your room, and I don’t want to see you until morning.”
–> Try connect and redirect: “Mom, you never leave me a note in the middle of the night and I hate homework!” The mom kneels down to hold her kid, looks him in the eye, and says: “I get frustrated about things like that, too. Want me to leave you a note tonight? And I’ve got some ideas about homework, but it’s late now, so let’s talk tomorrow.”

Instead of how was your day: At the dinner table, mom asks her daughter: “How was your day?” She says: “Good.”
–> Try remember to remember:  Mom starts a conversation to avoid a “yes” and “no” Q&A:

– What was the best part of your day?

– When I played with Cali and I painted.

– I know you love painting. What was the non-the-best-part?

– When Diego bited me.

– Ouch. What happened after he bit you?

– My teacher talked to him and I went on the swing with Cali.

Instead of command and demand: In the tub, a girl tells her mom: “I want daddy to wash my hair!” Mom responds: “Daddy is helping your sister go to sleep right now, but he can wash your hair next time.” The girl screams: “I want daddy!!!!” Mom says: “Yelling isn’t going to work. If you don’t stop, we won’t read any stories tonight.”
–> Try playful parenting: “I want daddy to wash my hair!” Mom puts on a “daddy” face, and says: “Hello Samantha, were you calling me? It’s me, Daddy. Shall I give you the special shampoo?”

There are many many more examples like these throughout the book. I definitely encourage you to check it out, hopefully with your partner!

What do you think? Any other books you think about positive parenting I should read and review here?

Have a great day everyone.


Positive parenting: respect and understanding


Hello and thanks for checking in!

I was very glad to see that the topic of positive parenting got lots of attention from you. As I mentioned in my first post about it, Diving into positive parenting, I have started a learning journey about this approach to parenting, hoping that it will serve as a guide for D and I as we raise our daughter.

I have been reading a lot about positive parenting and two of its most basic principles seem especially powerful to me: Respect and Understanding. Here is how I would summarize them:

  • Respect your child – Your child is a person, capable of understanding and communicating with you. Don’t try to “trick” your child (however fun this is!) into doing things. Rather, try explaining why things are done, or not done, in a certain way.

For instance: I was eating a piece of chocolate the other day, and S wanted to have some. I tried to distract her and put the whole thing in my mouth, and then she wasn’t too happy about it —obviously. So the next time I wanted to have a piece of chocolate in front of my toddler, I didn’t act all weird about it. I just held it in my hand, ate it normally, and when S approached me to get some, I told her: “I’m having a chocolate. Do you want to see it?” She looked at it and touched it. I told her, “You can taste it but this one is just for mommy, ok? This has too much sugar for you.” I let her put a small corner of the chocolate in her mouth, just enough to satisfy her curiosity. Then I ate it in front of her, and she didn’t react at all. We just kept playing normally, without making a big deal of it.

  • The second concept is understanding your child: our brains are not developed in full until we reach our early twenties. Children do what they can with the tools they have. Sometimes that means that screaming is a tool to call your attention, not an evil ploy to destroy your nervous system. Always try to see a situation from your child’s perspective, and respect that they are experiencing real emotions, even if they seem silly to you.

This one is a work in progress: Sophie is terrified of my gloves. They are red and kind of furry, so I can understand why she’s a bit apprehensive about them. It is getting very cold in Ottawa and I need to wear my gloves. More importantly, S needs to wear her mitts. But she hates them, too. She looks at their purple fuzziness with contempt and screams if I get them anywhere near her.

So I could do one thing: ignore her apprehension towards my gloves, and impose the mitts on her even if she cries. Or, I can acknowledge that S has a point in being scared of gloves. And then I will explain to her every time I can that, you know, gloves and mitts are inanimate objects that might look like crazy hairy monsters but are totally friendly and keep your fingers warm.

This morning I put on my gloves and they talked to S in a nice, funny voice. I put them on and off several times so that she could see that I control the gloves. She wasn’t too impressed but she wasn’t entirely hating them. So I call that progress. She still didn’t let me put her mitts on.

So, respect and understanding. I know I will be coming back to these two concepts as my parenting challenges become greater than chocolate and mitts!

Meanwhile, I’m reading The Whole Brain Child, a good book about positive parenting. I’ll post a review on it soon!