Award-winning author, L.R.Knost

Posts tagged “preschooler

Did Jesus have a Temper Tantrum?

[Excerpt reprinted from Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and StagesWhispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood; and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]


Jesus angry temple“Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer but you are making it a den of robbers.’”
Matthew 21:12-13


Temper tantrum: (n.) a loss of mental balance or composure, esp. an outburst of anger or irritation

It may seem a bit disrespectful to label Jesus’ takedown in the temple courtyard as a temper tantrum, but according to the dictionary definition of a tantrum, that would be an accurate designation. He acted out his overwhelming emotions by flipping over tables and throwing chairs and chasing people away in a God-sized, epic tantrum that must have shocked the religious to their core and rocked the pharisaical back on their heels.

So what’s the deal? Are temper tantrums signs of a child’s sinful, selfish nature, as the child-training set are so quick to accuse, or are they normal expressions of overwhelming emotions? Let’s see what the child-trainers have to say:

“A temper tantrum is an absolute rejection of parental authority. Parents should isolate the child (with a promise of consequences), then follow through with chastisement [spanking] after the child settles down.” (Gary Ezzo, Growing Kid’s God’s Way)

“…tantrums are a form of challenging behavior that can be eliminated by one or more appropriate spankings.(p. 108)” (Dr. James Dobson, The New Dare to Discipline)

“A seven-month-old boy had, upon failing to get his way, stiffened, clenched his fists, bared his toothless gums and called down damnation on the whole place. At a time like that, the angry expression on a baby’s face can resemble that of one instigating a riot. The young mother, wanting to do the right thing, stood there in helpless consternation, apologetically shrugged her shoulders and said, “What can I do?” My incredulous nine-year-old whipped back, “Switch him.” The mother responded, “I can’t, he’s too little.” With the wisdom of a veteran who had been on the little end of the switch, my daughter answered, “If he is old enough to pitch a fit, he is old enough to be spanked.(p. 79)” (Michael Pearl, To Train Up a Child)

“If your child is still angry, it’s time for another round. ‘Daddy has spanked you, but you are not sweet enough yet. We are going to have to go back upstairs for another spanking.’”(Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart)

So, what do you think, parents? Is acting out of overwhelming emotions a sin that must be punished as the child-trainers claim or is it normal human behavior? Is there even such a thing as normal human behavior, or is human behavior itself sinful by its very nature? Is having overwhelming emotions, in and of itself, a sin?

Sin, Biblically speaking, is acting outside of God’s nature. Since Jesus is God in the flesh, he was clearly acting within God’s nature at all times, even though he was also fully human. So, Jesus’ actions and his human behaviors, his normal human behaviors, all fell within the boundaries of God’s nature and therefore were and are not sinful.

Let’s go back to Jesus and breakdown the takedown in the temple. He was angry. He toppled tables. He threw things. He chased people away. But Jesus was and is sinless, so clearly being angry, being overwhelmed by big emotions, and acting on those emotions are not sins, in and of themselves.

When does acting on emotions become sinful, then? The answer lies in Ephesians 4:26-27, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Note that it doesn’t say, “Getting angry is a sin.”

Emotions can lead to sin when they remain unsettled, are left to burrow deeply into our hearts and take root, and when we subsequently respond with spite, bitterness, vengeance, or rage.

As parents, then, how can we help our children when they are overwhelmed by their emotions, when they tantrum and cry and act out their big feelings? Does it make sense to expect them to cope with their big emotions alone or to suppress their emotions so they remain unsettled?

Of course not. Our children need us to parent them, not punish them.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.”
(Psalm 46:1b)

Just as God is “our refuge and strength” and “an ever-present help” that is what we need to be for our children, to reflect the heart of our Father to our own little ones. We can help them to process their emotions. We can work with them to resolve their problems. And we can equip them with the life skills they’ll need to handle their emotions on their own when they grow into adulthood.

As you read on, remind yourself that having emotions is not a sin and needing help processing those emotions is a normal part of childhood:

When a little person feels frustrated, overwhelmed, or just plain old out-of-sorts (read: tantrum time!), it’s tempting for parents to focus on correction rather than connection. But when children are intensely stressed, the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which in early childhood is an underdeveloped, mushy grey sponge waiting to be formed, is flooded with cortisol, the ‘stress hormone.’ The result is what is known as the fight-freeze-or-flight syndrome in which higher brain functions (learning, reason, self-control) are markedly hampered and lower brain functions (instinct, physical reactions) take over. This is an in-built survival mechanism that gradually comes under conscious control through years of growth in a safe and supportive environment. Interestingly, it is theorized that this underdeveloped ‘sponginess’ is why small children are able to learn new languages more quickly than older children and adults. They are, in a very literal way, absorbing information raw, unhampered by the processing and reason of a more mature brain.

Expecting young children to have the maturity and self-control to overcome this God-given survival instinct is unrealistic. Threatening, punishing, or even reasoning with them while their higher brain functions are suppressed is futile and actually just adds more stress to the situation (more stress = fuel on the tantrum-fire!).

What they really need is help…

  • First, help coping with their big emotions
  • Then, help reconnecting with their source of safety and security (you!)
  • And last, help processing the problem that sent them into a maelstrom of emotion in the first place.

Punishing them, yelling at them, sending them to their room, or putting them in time-out disconnects them even further from their source of security and not only delays a resolution of the issue, but misses an opportunity to equip them with the tools they need to handle future problems.

This is where the Three C’s of gentle discipline come into play:


  • Remaining present and supportive until they are able to calm down enough to accept your help
  • Drawing them close when they’re ready (time-in)


  • Validating their emotions by labeling them and empathizing (i.e. “You’re sad because we have to leave the park. I’m sad, too. The park is fun!”)
  • Offering words to help them express their frustrations using reflective language (i.e. “It’s hard to do things we don’t like, isn’t it?”)


  • Helping them move on by redirecting their attention to the future (i.e. “When we get home we’re going to make a snack. Would you like grapes or bananas today?”)
  • Modeling coping skills and self-control by calming your own reaction to their meltdown and helping them process their big emotions

These are all ways of reconnecting with your toddler or preschooler to help them successfully navigate their present difficulty as well as to cope with difficulties they’re confronted with in the future.

One effective tool for use in helping little ones cope with big emotions is a Calm-Me-Jar made from small, round, plastic bottles such as Aquapod water bottles. They are perfect for small hands to shake and manhandle to their heart’s content.

To make your own Calm-Me-Jar, fill up a plastic water bottle with warm water and basic craft glitter glue in whatever color you like. You can add some extra glitter and a drop of food coloring to customize your glitter jar to your child’s tastes, and then when you have the look you want, be sure to hot glue the top on to prevent spills.

When my little ones have meltdowns, or, if I can catch it, before they reach that point, I pull out one of the Calm-Me-Jars and shake it up and just let them hold it while I hold them (when they are ready to be held) and talk or sing quietly. When I feel their body relaxing and their breathing slow down, I might say something like, “It’s sad when we can’t have a toy, isn’t it?” or whatever else will reflect what they seem to be unable to express.

When an older preschooler or early elementary-aged child has a meltdown, or, again, before if I can catch it, I first connect, “I’m here. I can see you’re upset. How can I help?” and listen as they try to verbalize their feelings. If they’re having trouble with the words, instead of immediately supplying the words for them, I’ll offer them a Calm-Me-Jar and ask if they’d like to show me how they’re feeling. They will often shake the Calm-Me-Jar vigorously while jumping up and down and twisting all around, which is a great physical outlet for their intense feelings. I watch until I see their movements slowing and their breathing evening out, and when they’ve calmed just enough to hear me, I quietly talk them through the calming process, “Look at all that fairy dust bouncing around like crazy! I bet that’s how it feels inside when you’re so upset. Look at how it’s starting to slow down and settle to the bottom. If we breathe really slowly, we can feel ourselves settling like the fairy dust. Want to try it with me?” Then, if there are any behavior issues we need to address, we’ll work through those afterward when they’re calm, connected, and capable of interacting and understanding.

Here’s an example of how Calm-Me-Jars are helpful in ‘listening between the lines’ to my children’s behavior so I can meet them where they are and help them process their big feelings:

My five-year-old is a tiny girl with BIG emotions, and she really likes using Calm-Me-Jars to work through her feelings. We’ve put several together such as a silvery one she named Goodnight Moon, a light blue one she named Nemo Under the Sea, a pink one she named Hello Kitty Princess Ballerina, and a dark blue one she named Starry, Starry Night. When she is mad at one of her siblings, she’ll often bring me one of her Calm-Me-Jars (Goodnight Moon is a favorite in the evening!) and work out some of her upset physically by shaking the jar like crazy while she jumps up and down and tells me how mad she is. When she’s a bit calmer, we’ll have a little cuddle and watch the glitter settle while saying goodnight to the moon, all the furniture, and whatever other silliness we come up with until she’s calm. If there’s a discipline issue or she needs some help working things out with a sibling, we’ll work through it at that point because I know that’s when she can hear me and really process what I’m saying. If she chooses Starry, Starry Night we might sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or step outside and see if there are any stars out yet. If she decides on Hello Kitty Princess Ballerina she’ll often dance her frustrations away while shaking her Calm-Me-Jar. And if she picks out Nemo Under the Sea we’ll ‘speak whale’ like Dory from Finding Nemo or we’ll make fishy faces at each other until we’re both giggling.

As you can see, my feisty little girl’s choice of Calm-Me-Jar shows me what she needs to do to work through her emotions of the moment, whether it’s to act things out physically in acceptable ways or to connect through song or through silliness.

The key is being in tune with your little one enough to understand their personality and work with it instead of against it. My five-year-old is spunky and silly, so having a long, serious talk would drive her crazy and accomplish nothing. We quickly decide together how she’ll approach whatever the problem was the next time she encounters it, and then she’s ready to move on, whereas when some of my older ones were little they really liked to talk things through (and still do!). My toddler, on the other hand, doesn’t have tantrums because that simply isn’t part of her own unique personality, but she’s still fascinated by her Calm-Me-Jar and loves to sit with me and watch the “pintess faywe dut” (“princess fairy dust”) glitter settle when she’s feeling a bit cranky or out-of-sorts.

Remember, there is no cure for tantrums because they are simply a normal result of a normal developmental stage of childhood. Trying to avoid tantrum triggers (tiredness, hunger, overstimulation, etc.) is always a good first step, along with remaining in-tune, responsive, and available, but when all else fails and a tantrum does occur, reacting with an adult tantrum is tantamount to throwing fuel on a toddler-tantrum-fire. So instead of losing it when your little one loses it, take an adult time-out, breathe deeply to gain control of your own emotions, and then grab the Three C’s of gentle discipline from your parenting toolbox and work with your child, not against them. (Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages)

Reactors react to a crisis with a meltdown. Responders respond to a crisis with help. To raise a mature, stable adult, be a first responder, not a nuclear reactor!

“God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in times of trouble”
Psalm 46:1b

Related posts:

Stealing God’s Gift: Free Will is a Gift to be Nurtured, Not a Curse to be Broken

Spare the Rod: The Heart of the Matter

Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting

Tattered Tapestries: Weaving Trust Through the Chaos

Fear Doesn’t Lead to Faith: Becoming Your Child’s Safe Place

Where Did You Learn Love, Child?

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.

When Things Get Physical: Hitting, Throwing, Kicking, and Biting

[Reprinted from The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood and Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]


toddler hittingToddlers and preschoolers are still in the early stages of learning to communicate verbally. Add to that the fact that they have little-to-no impulse control and very immature social skills, and you’ve got a recipe for an instinctive physical response (i.e. hitting, kicking, biting, hair pulling, throwing things, etc.) to situations when they are frustrated, angry, excited, scared, or just tired and out-of-sorts.

Many parents who practice gentle discipline wonder where their little one picked up the behavior, not realizing that it is a normal and age-appropriate reaction, albeit an undesirable one. Very often parents are advised to spank their child to train them not to hit others, especially those who are smaller and weaker than they are.

The concept of using consequences, physical or otherwise, as a deterrent for hitting is based on the misconception that small children have the capacity for forethought (i.e. “If I hit, I will get in trouble. Therefore I will not hit.”) and that they are choosing to disobey. As mentioned in the last chapter, though, the prefrontal cortex, where reasoning, logic, and forethought take place, is highly immature in toddlers and preschoolers and actually doesn’t develop fully until the mid-twenties. Small children act instinctively and impulsively even when not stressed simply because that is what they are developmentally capable of, but when they are stressed, even the small amount of self-control they may have attained flies right out the window, and before they know it they’ve reacted physically to their stress.

The plain truth is, though, that even if punishment was effective as a deterrent, a gentle response to physical aggression is literally the only response that a parent can make that won’t actually reinforce the aggression. Responding with counter-aggression by powering-up on a child, whether physically or verbally, merely reinforces the idea that ‘might makes right’ and that whoever is the dominant figure at any given moment has the right to force others to bend to their will.

Obviously, parents who practice gentle discipline don’t believe that hitting a child to teach them not to hit others is an appropriate or even logical option. But knowing that they don’t want to resort to physical punishment and knowing what to do instead are two different things entirely.

So, what other options does a gentle parent have when confronted with a little one who has started lashing out physically whether from anger, frustration, or excitement?

  1. Supervision! Supervision! Supervision! When you have a child who is acting out physically, it’s vital to remain in visual contact with them whenever they are with other children. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s important not to leave small children alone with a child who is struggling with physical aggression. Some steps you can take are to either take the child with you when you have to leave the room, take the other child/children with you, or use baby gates to section off areas where you can separate the children to play (in a non-punitive manner) when you have to be out of visual range momentarily.
  2. Intervention. Consistent intervention by an observant parent, preferably before the situation escalates to physical aggression, is essential in order to protect the other children. When you see your child heading toward a physical response to a situation, reminding them to use their words or offering a solution to the problem will often help avert a lash out. If your child has already started to become physical, but hasn’t fully escalated, reminding them to “Use your gentle hands” will give them a little head’s up that they are headed in the wrong direction and give them an opportunity to redirect themselves. Suggesting alternative options will equip your child with the tools they need to handle their feelings in acceptable ways.
  3. Prevention. If scratching or biting are issues be sure to keep your little one’s nails trimmed and try to stay on top of teething pain. When it comes to teething, small children are frequently either dealing with swollen gums from a tooth starting to come in or one that has just come in, so being aware of that and using amber necklaces, keeping a supply of damp, frozen washcloths available, and giving a bit of ibuprofen when needed are good preventatives to biting.
  4. Remind and redirect. If hitting, biting, scratching, etc. are the result of over-exuberance, consistently reminding a little one to “Use your gentle hands. Can you show me your gentle hands?” or that “Teeth are for smiling, not biting. Can you show me your smile?” and offering specific alternatives such as clapping their hands to show their excitement will help to redirect them to more appropriate expressions of their big emotions.
  5. Respect. Respecting a child’s possessions helps them to share by offering them the chance to choose. Feeling more in control of what does or does not need to be shared is a proactive step toward a child feeling more in control of their body and impulses. You might allow their room to be off-limits to their siblings or possibly have a ‘special’ toy box where they can keep a select few toys that they don’t have to share, but can only play with in their room or when the other children are sleeping or otherwise occupied. If a situation arises where they aren’t willing to share something, they can have the option to choose to put that toy in the ‘special’ toy box, but will need to decide which toy to take out of the box to share in its place.
  6. Outlets. Children who feel out-of-control need outlets for their big feelings. If they’re angry, they can go to their room and punch a bop bag or go outside and throw or kick a ball around. But if they’re headed toward a meltdown, they may need help processing their feelings, and a Calm-Me-Jar and time-in (see Chapter Eight) may be the best option.
  7. Practice. Role playing can be helpful with a child who repeatedly lapses into physical aggression. You can take turns being the ‘hit-ee’ and ‘hitter’ (avoid using labels such as ‘victim’ and ‘aggressor’ with your child) and show them different ways of handling situations that you know have caused them difficulties in the past.
  8. Silliness. One of my favorite tools when dealing with toddler’s and preschooler’s aggression is playing the ‘I’m the boss of you, hands!’ game (can also be used for teeth, feet, etc.) in which I remind them that they are the ‘boss’ of their hands and ask them to tell their hands what they can or cannot do. (i.e. Me: “What are you going to tell your hands if they try to snatch a toy?” Child: “I’ll tell them, ‘No way, hands! I’m the boss of you!”) Little ones love the idea of being the boss and generally respond well to this type of play.
  9. More silliness. For younger, non-verbal children who may not be ready for the “I’m the boss of you, hands!” game yet, if they’ve hit, pinched, snatched, etc. try ‘checking’ to see if they have gentle hands by exaggeratedly examining their hands and then kissing each palm and declaring, “Yep, that’s a gentle hand, all right!” The positive, declarative statement will help them to develop a positive self-image and set the foundation for self-control as they grow up believing that, yes, they are good and gentle little people!
  10. Modeling. If your child has already hit someone, you will need to first address the injured child’s needs.  If you’re angry with your child for hitting, and you very well may be, it’s okay to share that with them in a calm voice and let them know that you need a moment to console the injured child and to calm down before you will be ready to talk with them. What you are actually doing is modeling self-control and coping mechanisms, important components for your child to learn in order to master their impulse to lash out.
  11. Teaching empathy. Reflect what the other person might be feeling, “It hurts your sister when you scratch her. Why don’t we go ask her if she’s okay? If she has an owie, we might need to get a bandage for her.” It’s very intriguing for little ones to feel like they can ‘fix’ something, and often the idea that they have that kind of power makes them more likely to feel they have the power to use their gentle hands, too. The positive impact of learning to think and care about the feelings of others, though, is the real power that will enable them to begin to control the impulse to lash out.
  12. Verbalize. Offering words to express your child’s feelings of anger or frustration when they have lashed out (i.e. “I see that you don’t want to share the ball. That makes you angry. I’m sorry you’re angry, but I can’t let you hit. What can you do instead of hitting when you’re angry?”) will help your child learn how to verbalize their feelings over time instead of simply acting on them as well as reminding them of the options you’ve provided for them to redirect their big feelings into acceptable outlets.
  13. A place for time-outs. When a toy is misused (i.e. thrown, used to hit, etc.) and a gentle redirection has already been given, another option is to try the Time-Out Toy Box. Little ones generally find the concept of a toy being put in time-out rather humorous and go along with the removal without a fuss. When your child decides that the toy is ready to behave, you can have your little one tell the toy it has to listen to them because they are the boss. Again, humor is a great communicator! Remember, though to listen and be flexible. If the removal of a toy brings about a strong negative response, a time-in with your little one might be needed. Remaining in-tune with your child will help you to read the situation and respond appropriately.
  14. Expectations. It’s important in all aspects of parenting to frequently take a step back and examine your expectations to make sure that they are reasonable in regard to your child’s age, developmental stage, temperament, etc. Unrealistic expectations can put significant pressure on a child and cause a great deal of frustration and stress which can lead to aggressive behaviors as well as conflict in your parent/child relationship.
  15. Honesty. If physical punishment has been a part of your parenting, removing that entirely from your parenting toolbox is a great start toward easing some of the anger, stress, and frustration that is fueling your child’s aggression. Being honest with your child about your own struggles with handling things physically as well as apologizing for using threats, intimidation, and physical pain to control them in the past will begin the healing process in your relationship.

Always try to keep in mind that behaviors are communication. Listening ‘between the lines’ to your child’s aggression will help you to discern whether your child’s behavior is communicating an unmet need such as hunger, a nap, or attention (Yes, attention is a valid need!) or if they are communicating a big emotion that they’re having trouble processing or if they are simply out of their depth and need an adult to help them handle a situation. Children are actually great communicators, just not necessarily verbally. It’s up to us adults to ‘listen’ carefully, empathetically, and calmly to our children’s behavior and then offer them our gentle guidance, wisdom, and support.

Related posts:

Toddlers, Tantrums, and Time-in’s, Oh My!

The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

When Children Act Out ~ Reflecting Our Emotions

The Problem with Punishment

Bridge Over Troubled Waters~Parenting a ‘Problem’ Child

The Taming of the Tantrum: A Toddler’s Perspective

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

200 Ways to Bless Your Children with a Happy Childhood

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

The ‘NO’ Zone

You’re Not the Boss of Me!

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.

Are You a Parent ‘Reject’?

[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also now available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]


toddler girl puppy costumeCapri points at the front door every morning and says, “Daddy, go!” Her daddy feels a bit rejected, especially on the weekends when he doesn’t have to go to work and his little girl cries because he won’t leave! 

When Daddy and Luca play tickle monsters after bathtime, Mommy tries to join in, but Luca grabs Mommy’s hand and drags her back to her computer chair. Her mommy feels like she’s just the parent workhorse while Daddy gets to be the playmate. 

Micah cries and yells, “No-no, Daddy!” when Daddy tries to help with bedtime. Daddy feels like he’s missing out on some of the most important memory-making parts of his little guy’s childhood.

While these parents’ feelings are, of course, valid, the rejection they are feeling is actually a misinterpretation of their children’s actions. Small children are creatures of habit. They’ve only recently arrived in this world and everything is strange and new and big and loud and confusing, so it makes sense that they find comfort and security in repetition and routine. That’s the reason they ask us to read the same book to them over and over and…well, you get the idea.

As they begin to learn and grow, they categorize things in order to understand them. That’s why right at first every animal is a ‘kitty’ and every drink is ‘juice.’ This same process of learning through categorization applies to relationships, as well. Children are constantly observing and studying their parents and the roles each of them play, and then using that information to construct a mental ‘schematic’ of their world.

If a child is accustomed to one parent doing the bedtime routine while the other is busy cleaning up after dinner, a sudden change in that routine may disrupt the little one’s schematic, and they will often resist or have a meltdown.

Understanding that it is the break in routine, the unexpected happening when a small child has settled in their mind what the ‘expected’ is, that is at the root of the issue can help a parent to overcome their feelings of rejection and focus on working toward a solution in a way that meets their child’s security needs.

Here are five ideas to try if you or your partner are a parent ‘reject’:

1.)    When you know a routine is going to change, talk about it with your child ahead of time to prepare them. For instance, if your little one is used to Daddy going to work and you have a day off coming up, you can say, “Daddy gets to stay home and play tomorrow!” the evening before and then in the morning, “This is the day I get to stay home and play! What should we do first?”

2.)    If you’d like to share the diapering duties, but your little one is used to just one parent doing the changes, start by having the non-diapering parent assist for a few changes, then switch roles, but continue to do it together until your baby is comfortable with the new routine.

3.)    The same ideas apply to bedtime or bathtime routines, dropping off or picking up your little one from preschool, or any other routine your child is used to. If you need to change the routine, talk about it ahead of time to prepare them and then try to walk through the routine a few times together before switching roles or sharing the routine.

4.)    If one parent has a special play time with your little one, instead of trying to join in, why not choose a separate time for the three of you to play together? That will allow them to have a special bonding time for just the two of them while providing an opportunity at another time for you all to bond as a family.

5.)    Keep in mind that, especially for very young babies, their survival instinct may make them quite partial to their mommy for the first few months to a year old or even a bit beyond. That is a natural, normal, and healthy design inbuilt to ensure that they stay attached to their source of food and comfort. If a securely attached baby is having trouble bonding with anyone other than mommy, instead of trying to detach baby, try building your bond while baby is happy and content in mommy’s arms. Play peek-a-boo, make fishy-faces, read picture books, and just chat with baby. That will help your little one to begin to associate you with the same safety and comfort they feel in mommy’s embrace while building your own secure bond with them.

Related posts:

The Terrible Trouble with Toothbrushing: A Toddler’s Perspective

The Thoughtful Parent’s Guide to Positive Parenting Guides

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

The Taming of the Tantrum: A Toddler’s Perspective

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

10 Ways to Play with your Children when Play is the Last Thing on your Mind

200 Ways to Bless Your Children with a Happy Childhood


Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.

Testing the Boundaries~What’s A Parent To Do?

attitude[Portions reprinted from The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and  Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood now available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

Challenging behavior in our children can be really…well, challenging! How do you ‘handle’ a child who suddenly refuses to wear shoes or sit in her carseat/seatbelt or eat, period? Here are some tips to help you regain that snuggly, loving relationship you used to enjoy before your baby became a…gulp…PERSON!

1.)    Remove the word ‘handle’ from your parenting vocabulary entirely. Your child isn’t a lion to be tamed or a dog to be trained! He’s a person, an individual with thoughts, interests, concerns, wants, and needs that are totally separate from yours. Respecting him as a separate individual not only models the value we need to place on others in our homes and communities, but also sets the stage for a mutually respectful relationship in his teen years and beyond.

2.)    Slow down! Often simplifying our lives is the key to simplifying our parenting issues. Rushing a child from one activity to the next doesn’t expand her horizons; it stunts her creativity and inherent zest for life, which are the building blocks of a life-long love of learning. When she digs her heels in, pay attention! She’s trying to communicate a very deep need for time and space to learn about the world, to play and grow, and to just ‘be.’

3.)    Small children have very little control over their lives, and the more powerless they feel, the more likely they are to make eating, getting dressed, going to the potty, etc. a battle of wills. Giving choices, engaging your child in making plans, and being flexible and responsive on a daily basis are good ‘proactive’ parenting, but little people are notorious for their awkward timing in deciding to suddenly assert their independence! Be prepared for those challenging moments by deciding ahead of time how you will respond. (See below for some ideas!)

4.)    Listen, listen, listen! The first question parents ask me is almost always, “How do I get my child to listen?” And my first response is usually, “How well do you listen?” As Ralph Waldo Emerson so aptly put it, “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” In other words, our children learn best by imitation. If every time our little ones ask for our attention we say, “Just a minute,” then we cannot expect instant attention from them. If when they speak to us our eyes constantly stray back to our computers and iPhones, we should not be surprised if they have a hard time looking at us when we ask them to. Listening is a two-way street that starts and ends with us, the adults.

5.)    Boundaries are our friends! Many people believe that Gentle Parenting is a form of un-parenting, but nothing could be further from the truth. Gentle Parenting is involved parenting~interactive, engaged, active parenting. It takes focused attention, planning, participation, research, and so much more to be an empathetic, responsive parent who is in tune with their child’s needs and who is prepared to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to meet those needs. That said, in any home, like in any civilized society, boundaries are necessary for everyone’s safety and comfort. It is in the choosing and maintaining of those boundaries that Gentle Parenting distinguishes itself. In a gently parented home, boundaries are focused on guiding rather than controlling children and are maintained through empathetic and creative resolutions rather than harsh punitive consequences. (See below for some ideas!)

6.)    Watch your attitude! Do you have angry eyes? A sharp tone? Do you issue commands and demand compliance? Do you sigh and roll your eyes when frustrated with your little one? All of these things contribute to creating resistance in children. Really, who wants to cooperate with someone who is demanding, impatient, sarcastic, angry, etc? Does feeling like a burden or a failure ever motivate anyone? Is a desire to please rooted in correction or connection? Think about how you like to be treated by authority figures (supervisors, law enforcement, etc.) and then treat your children the way you want to be treated! This not only reduces challenging behavior, but also models The Golden Rule~Do to others as you want them to do to you…an excellent life lesson!

Here are some ideas for your Gentle Parenting toolbox:

    • Little one refusing to put on shoes before leaving the house? First, ask him why he doesn’t want to wear them. A toddler most likely won’t be able to/want to explain, but you’re modeling courtesy and opening up a dialogue, both good connection points. A three-year-old, though, might just surprise you with a very logical, in their own mind at least, response! Second, don’t react; just scoop the shoes up, and take them with you. If the refusal to wear shoes continues at the park/in the library/at the doctor’s office, etc. calmly tell him he can sit in your lap or in the stroller and hang out with you until he’s ready to wear his shoes.


    • If a tantrum results, remember to stay calm (deep breathing, counting silently, and saying a quick prayer for guidance are all helpful!) and remain present. Some children respond well to a parent quietly talking, offering words to express what the child may be experiencing (i.e. “It’s frustrating when we have to do things we don’t like. I can see that you’re angry, and that’s okay. Let’s just sit here together for a while.”), while other children become more upset when a parent attempts to interact with them during a tantrum and are comforted simply by your quiet presence, a gentle back rub, or playing with a Calm-Me-Jar . Getting to know your child is an important part of Gentle Parenting and will help you to ‘read’ these situations so you can be responsive to their unique needs.


    • A place for Time-Outs. Typically, I advise parents to use Time-Ins instead of Time-Outs in order to connect-to-correct, but there is one area that I advise the use of Time-Outs…the ‘Time-Out Toy Box!’ When a toy is misused (i.e. thrown, used to hit, drawn on, fought over, etc) and a gentle redirection has been given, the next step for the toy is to be put in the ‘Time-Out Toy Box.’ Little ones generally find the concept of a toy being put in Time-Out rather humorous and go along with the removal without a fuss (the toy can be returned after an exaggeratedly stern warning to the toy letting it know what is expected of it and that it must listen to ‘the boss’ ~the child, lol. They love that!), but remember to communicate, listen, and be flexible. If the removal of a toy brings about a strong negative response, it may be that the inappropriate behavior was more than just over-exuberance, in which case a Time-In might be needed. Again, being in tune with your child will help you to ‘read’ the situation and respond appropriately.


  • The most challenging, independent children tend to be the ones who need the most intentional parental reconnection. Strong will=Strong need! It is often the strongest-willed children who identify most closely with their parents, oddly enough. While there is no denying how difficult it can be to raise a strong-willed child, seeing the purpose behind the behavior can make the journey much more manageable. Try to view their seemingly constant testing as them doing ‘research’ on you, seeing where your strengths and weaknesses are, and discovering all the ins and outs of being you. Also, taking the time to explain why you make the decisions you do, why you said this, why you didn’t say that, answering the endless questions patiently and openly, can alleviate some of the challenging behavior by offering them insights into who you are without them having to ‘dig’ it out of you!

Related posts:

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

The Taming of the Tantrum: A Toddler’s Perspective

When Children Hit~10 Tips for Parents

Easy Peasy DIY Parenting Tools

To a Toddler Sharing is a 4 Letter Word~MINE!

Tots to Teens~Communication through the Ages and Stages

Parenting in Public: Toddler Time

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.