"Smart, audacious and often hilarious. Takes everything you thought you knew about parenting and turns it on its ear." - Jennifer Jason Leigh

Do you scare your kids? Do you think they deserve it?


Do you feel like that’s just the way it is? If your kids don’t do what you say and you’ve asked nicely more than once and they continue to “push your buttons” and “test your patience”, do you feel justified in your yelling? Or threatening? Your counting down? Your infliction of pain on their bodies (aka “spanking”)?

Or do you sense there’s another way?

From what I can gather, this is what parents seem desperate to know:

  • How can I get my kid to clean up the playroom?
  • How can I get my kid to brush his teeth?
  • How can I get my kid not to hit me?
  • How can I get my kid to “listen” to me?
  • How can I get my kid to cooperate?


How can I get my kid to DO WHAT I SAY …

so that I don’t get upset and yell at or threaten to take away toys or hit my kid. And then regret it. Or not. 

(It continues to shock me that parents think hitting a child will teach the lesson that they shouldn’t hit. Am I missing something?)

If THEY would only listen, all would be well with the world.

(Those little snot-nosed fucks.)

Here’s my message. Be forewarned: You’re not going to like it.

 It’s not your kids. IT’S YOU.

You can’t self regulate.

You can’t self-regulate because your parents couldn’t. You were not given the tools. You don’t know any better. I’m not blaming you, but it is still you. And you are the adult in the relationship and so it is up to you to calm yourself so that you don’t take your anger (likely derived from fear, fear of being late, fear of being disrespected, fear of whatever) out on your kid.

You want them to stop and clean up. You want them to stop and put their shoes on. You want them to do this and do that because you said so and yet YOU can’t stop and breathe. YOU can’t say “Honey, I need a  minute. I’m getting flooded. My brain has too much cortisol in it to respond to you in the way that you and all humans deserve. I need to get a glass of water.”

And I get why.


You have to become aware of your triggers. You have to do some work.

As my friend Michelle put it:

“Yelling is an addiction. It gives me a sense of how hard it must be to break patterns of drinking drugs etc… Your body just goes there.” 

Michelle no longer tries to justify her yelling. She knows that when she can self-regulate, that when she can make time to be with each of her children, that when they are struggling, she empathizes, there is no need to yell.

But it is still a struggle.

Struggles are great. We all struggle when we try to make changes in our lives.

But I just so desperately want parents to move on to the struggling to self-regulate part of parenting and to give up the justifications for yelling at and threatening and hitting their darling, young children who so desperately need to express their feelings and to be heard and loved.

If you think a child stopping playing and cleaning up on a dime is the be all to end all, I’d like to share with you a different perspective.

Compliant kids are kids who don’t stand up for themselves. Their need for love and approval is so strong that they just do what they are told. I know lots of people who do what they are told regardless of what it is. (Hell six million Jews were killed because people obediently followed orders.)

I don’t want a child who isn’t passionate about their lives. Their friends. Their buildings. Their playing. Their love of staying awake and living life. Or their need for autonomy. I wouldn’t want a kid who doesn’t try to stick up for themselves and their point of view. Their joy in what they’re doing should be a good sign, a sign of total engagement, not a bad one.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have limits.

But if we can focus on their feelings, remarkably the limit that we’re trying to set (no hitting! no name calling!) dissipates.

Not allowing your child to express their feelings for as long as they need to, to get them out of their bodies is not healthy and borders on abusive. Why? Because stress leads to anxiety, depression, heart disease etc.

What our kids need is to EXPRESS THEIR FEELINGS.

Many many many parents worry that their empathizing will go on forever as if their children have an endless ability to wallow.

Okay, I’ve empathized. I know you’re upset. I’m sorry you feel that way. Now let’s get in the car. Enough is enough. I’ve got to get to work! You’re gonna get me fired!


I love how Teresa Brett, author of Parenting For Social Change talks about this:

 In a culture that normalizes power-over and control of others, especially children, how a child communicates and expresses herself can become a battleground… Even when we accept the need for the expression of emotions, we may want to limit its length. At some point we think the child should feel better or that the expression is no longer authentic. I have often heard adults tell a child who has cried for a period of time, “Okay, you’ve cried enough; it’s time to stop.” This is another form of trivialization. The root of trivialization is anger: we are angry that the child is burdening us with her emotional expression “for no reason at all.” Notice that all of these reactions are based on the feelings that are triggered in the adult by the child’s emotional expression. We feel sad, uncomfortable, or angry, and our response to those feelings is a desire to control the emotions of the child so that we ourselves can be more comfortable. In fact, we make the child responsible for our own emotions.

I repeat:

“We make the child responsible for our own emotions.”

The buck has to stop with us.

We have to take responsibility for ourselves. We have to learn to self-regulate. We have to be empathetic. We have to let our children express themselves. We have to make sure they feel heard and understood. Again, we can set limits. But they don’t have to take those limits lying down. They can scream and cry. (And if you have to be at work, let them scream and cry in the car!)

“You seem angry that you can’t buy the toy….You love it so much. Your friend has one. You want one too. Me not buying it for you is making you scream and yell. It’s hard, I know…”

If we can’t stop the yelling, if we can’t start empathizing, we must seek help.

Therapy. Echo Parenting Classes. Reading Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting. Googling “self-regulation.”

You CAN learn to handle the screaming and the tears. You can handle their anger because you are their calm anchor in a chaotic world.

You can.

You can.

You are their Little Engine That Could.



This post was inspired by a talk on ANGER by Ruth Beaglehole, director and founder of Echo Parenting & Education on May 7th @ The Oaks School in Hollywood.


120 Responses to “Do you scare your kids? Do you think they deserve it?”

  1. lia says:

    im a single mother of 2 and I work full time to support my kids – a 9 year old and a 4 year old. I’ve been single since I was 3 months pregnant with my youngest because my kids dad molested my older child so I put him out. He didn’t end up with any prosecution, and I have spent so much energy, cashed in my 401k on attorneys but have managed to keep visitation supervised all this time and make sure my son had and has access to therapy. But that means that I have 3 hours a week to myself at the most and an immense amount of responsibility, heart-ache and anger. I don’t have any family in the area and I don’t have any reliable child care outside of work hours. Some days I can shoulder it all, make dinner, pack lunch, make sure the clothes are clean and homework done in those 3 hours between getting home from work and bed time…but some days I can’t…

    When I was a kid my mom yelled so much I hated it and SWORE I would NEVER be like that, yet I do it. And I hate it! I need help but where? who? when?

    • Jennifer says:

      You’re children are lucky to have you as a mother! You are a true Mama Bear.

      I don’t know if you are familiar with Dr. Laura Markham of ahaparenting.com but just today she posted this very helpful piece on how to stop yelling.

      Here it is:


      I hope it helps you!

      Also, are there any families in the neighborhood you can connect with. Support from friends and neighbors—even if it is just one or two hours a week—can be so helpful!

      Hang in there. Let me know how it goes!


  2. Julia says:

    A child psychologist who I had consulted about my son’s defiant behaviour told me, “You need to make him SCARED of you.” She advised me to turn on my son not with physical violence, but with a savage face and voice and gestures that would inspire him with fear. Luckily, my son has never – ever been afraid of me (due to the lucky combination of his temperament and mine) so I was pushed to go on searching for a more satistfactory answer. When I found Connective Parenting – and empathy-based approach which puts responsibility on the PARENT for their OWN emotional dynamics – everything changed. It’s amazing how much less ‘defiant’, ‘resistant’ and ‘obstructive’ my son became when I started speaking to him with respect for his feelings, wants and struggles, instead of just yelling at him because he didn’t do what suited ME. A miracle? Or plain common sense? Why is common sense so rare? Only because it’s so difficult from what we grew up with. Train yourself in an empathetic approach – it is well worth the investment of time and energy.

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you for sharing that. Isn’t it so tragic that a child psychologist is advocating making a child afraid of his parent. So grossly misguided. Just tragic.

      Yes! EMPATHY!!


  3. Kaitlynn Lawrence says:

    I am kind of hesitant about writing this since it isn’t exactly the newest post, but I figure that you might just be the person who can help.
    I am at the strenuous age of fifteen, and I know when I am pushing my mother- who is at the age of “around forty”- to her limits. I realized some time ago that due to our money problems, I REALLY should be not doing that. However, my mother’s reasons for getting angry at me, the rest of my family (My younger brother, who is eleven), and my housemates (Another fifteen-year old, and another “Around Forty” lady) have been getting more and more trivial.
    Most days I find her unapproachable and very temperamental, even when I try my best not to upset her while still holding on to who I am. Fights are near daily, and about things like how I said “How are you?” and the ‘fact’ that I’m not doing things quickly enough for her liking.
    I’m at the end of my wits, and would like a few tips on how to deal with this strange and unpredictable mother.
    Can you help?

    • Jennifer says:

      I’m so sorry your life is so stressful. Financial stress can be debilitating. And you seem very concerned and aware of your mom’s triggers. It sounds like you are walking on eggshells around your mom and feel like there is nothing you can do that would be right. She seems to be blaming those around her. I think it would be iNCREDIBLY helpful for you to attend an Alanon meeting in your neighborhood. They have Al-teens. I am not saying your mom is an alcoholic, but the type of relationship you have with her is similar and i think you would find a lot of help and support in the alateen community.

      Do you have access to a counselor through your school?

      I would highly recommend seeing him or her. I think you really need some support!

      Please let me know if you pursue either.

      You can e-mail me at jennifer@goodjobandotherthings.com.

      let me know.

      hang in there!

  4. JM says:

    What are your credentials? Your bio is empty. Makes me skeptical.

    • Jennifer says:

      so weird! a bunch of things are missing on my site. i’m trying to fix it now. they are there behind the scenes but won’t show up on the site. thank u so much for bringing this to my attention!

  5. [...] Good Job! and Other Things You Shouldn’t Say or Do Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailMoreGoogle +1LinkedInPrintStumbleUponLike this:Like Loading… This entry was posted in God, Motherhood, No Nelling, Sobriety and tagged anger, anxiety, child abuse, communication, empathy, fear feelings, God, motherhood, parenting, parenting patience, recovery, sobriety, yelling. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  6. Annabel says:

    I have two boys. 7 and 6. My husband is studying as well as working full time, which has meant that for the last 3 years which has made me effectively into a single Mother. Both my parents have died and my in-laws live on he other side of the world from us. My youngest so was born with a catalogue of on-going health problems. At the moment I am finding tht I am yelling at the drop of a hat, mainly at my older son, who won’t takeNo for an answer. I feel as though I have nothing left inside and am not coping. I love my boys o much. They are my everything. I am so scared that I am ruining my relationship, particularly with my oldest son, and making him unhappy. Advice please!

    • Jennifer says:

      Annabel! Indeed you have a lot on your shoulders.

      My guess is that your oldest son is looking for attention, perhaps because you have to, by necessity, devote so much time to your youngest who has health problems. Negative attention, after all is still attention and with the little info you have shared with me, that is my best guess of the need he has that is not being met.

      First question: I understand that your husband is very busy. Does he have ANY time with your boys? And if so, making the most of it is critical. Real connection. Playing basketball. Reading books. No agenda. Just connection and love.

      Second: It seems to me like you need more time to replenish yourself. Do you have a neighbor or friend who can agree to watch your kid, perhaps for even just an hour or two a day or a week, as much time as you can carve out for yourself, the better. Also if you can find THREE minutes a day to meditate, it will help you find a calm when you need it. And a prayer every morning to the “Universe” or whatever to help you not yell will help. And finally looking at how you were yelled at as a child (did it happen, how often, how did it feel) just becoming more aware of your own childhood experience will help.

      Third: When your son does something you don’t like be aware of if it is HIS problem or YOUR problem. For instance, if he left his room a mess and he doesn’t care, that is YOUR PROBLEM. If he is upset someone at school was mean to him, that is HIS problem. For your problems, try to practice I-Messages, like “When you leave toys on the floor of the kitchen I’m afraid I will trip and fall.” Then let him put two and two together and clean it up. Don’t say things like, “You are mess! Clean this up!” Tell him how what he does makes you FEEL. “When you and your brother scream at each other, I feel overwhelmed and I need to go in the bathroom for a break and have some water.” This way you may start to notice if you have “too many” problems with him for things that really don’t need to be an issue (or perhaps not!) If it is their problem, try to help by just lisenting and trying to put yourself in their position and reflect back to them how they are feeling. I know this is a lot. I recommend you read (I know you don’t have time, but maybe one page a day? Two books: Dr. Laura Markham’s Peacful Parent, Happy Kids: How to stop yelling and Start Connecting. And Dr. Thomas Gordon’s Parent Effectivness Training.

      Please write me and let me know how things are going!

      Hang in there.


  7. bri says:

    I’m 21 years old. My oldest daughter is two and youngest of one. My husband works out of town 22 days out of the month. With my first daughter I was the picture of calm. Never threatened never yelled. When number two came. I found myself angry. I found it hard to deal with an unruly yep year old. I have this immense guilt because I have screamed and threatened her more times than I would like to admit. I’ve never hit her, or called her a name other than naughty. But I swear a lot when I lose it. I love in a duplex. And for about a two month period my anger got really bad. My neighbor actually informed my husband while he was home briefly that I needed to calm down. I haute that I’ve threatened my child. I hate that I’ve sworn at her. I love get more than the stars and moon. I’m bawling as I write this. I want to remain calm. I want her to forgive me. I want my neighbor to realize I’m trying my hardest through the sleepless nights and temper tantrum days. I don’t want petiole to think I’m abusive. Has anyone else had these problems. I just want to feel as though I’m not a bad mom. But then I think how could I not be when I just threatened to beast her ass for stealing her sisters birthday cake. I’ve made mistakes, I need advice and some positive embossment. Please help

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Bri!

      So sorry for the delayed response.

      And I’m so sorry for your struggles. You sound overwhelmed. And like most parents, ill-equipped for the job!

      I’m not sure which book to recommend first! Either Your Self-confident Baby by Magda Gerber (since u have to small ones) or Dr. Laura Markham’s book PEACEFUL PARENT: HAPPY KIDS.

      First thing is to apologize to your children for yelling and threatening them. It is no way to treat anyone let alone the ones you love most. Secondly you need to get more sleep. This is essential for you.

      You cannot be the mother you want to be if you are running on empty.

      Before I answer more, let’s address this situation which has many issues, can you give me more information about your sleep habits and the sleep habits of both of your children.

      (and i think you know this, but it’s just cake. all children want it. why can’t she have more? when you threaten and punish for it, it will just make them better stealers.)

      first things first. tell me about sleep in your home.


  8. Rob says:

    I have to admit…I was raised to become a yeller. And that neural pathway is slowly being changed over, but not in light of a LOT of hard work and perseverence on my part. There is a lot of checking in with myself that has to be done during the process. And believe it IS a process.

    Bad habits are hard to break, especially ones that have been nearly hardwired into your brain for 30+ years.

    I was on the fence at one time, thinking that allowing my children to freak out, scream, go boneless in the store and cry when I asked them to comply with something I wanted them to do would only lead to uncontrollable and manipulative children that I wouldn’t be able to trust to have the same respect for me that I thought I “deserved”. This was where my backwards thinking began and stopped.

    It took a while, but I am on the road to recovery from being a YELLER to a NEGOTIATOR, all with one purpose in mind – get everyone out alive. Note that I didn’t say “alive and happy” because that doesn’t always happen. It’s a dream, and one that perhaps the amount of respect and trust I am willing to give will instill a sense thereof in my children down the road. But not something I expect or even count on happening.

    It takes a second to yell at a kid. It takes a minute to calm down and regroup. Take the minute. It’ll hurt you both less in the long run.

  9. Sarah says:

    I think there was more to the holocaust than just Jews following orders. This throw away line made me stop reading your article. I think over simplifying complex historical events in a gentle parenting advice page is a combination perhaps not to be mixed.

    • Jennifer says:

      I agree Sarah! I was talking about the Germans following orders, not the the Jews! But yes it is complicated why and how they were able to totally dehumanize humans.

  10. I am so glad to have stumbled onto your site. I agree that it is all about the adult and her or his finding self discipline.

  11. Honorata says:

    but I can’t let myself be fired, and why no one empathize with me?

  12. Carissa says:

    My partner and I stumbled over here different web page and thought I should
    check things out. I like what I see so now i am following
    you. Look forward to finding out about your web page

  13. Sue says:

    Thanks so much. Really enjoyed it and agree with everything that was said.

  14. [...] “Do you scare your kids? Do you think they deserve it?” by Jennifer Lehr (Non-sex-related, Parenting, Youth, Self-Awareness, Psychology) 5/8/12 This is one of the most [...]

  15. Lilred says:

    So, how does a child learn to control their feelings as an adult? Obviously people can’t just go around throwing tantrums every time they don’t get what they want.
    And if you don’t think that little three year old flopping around on the ground at the grocery store because you won’t let her have her lucky charms isn’t teaching you a little manipulative dance that you will be participating in all the way to her 16th birthday and beyond then you are naive.
    In theory I buy what your selling but in practice, come and talk to me in twenty years. You are not doing these kids any favors but not teaching them some self control. You are creating little monsters who will grow up to be big teenage monsters and make your life and their lives miserable.
    There have to be some absolute limits. They have to learn that sometimes, in the spirit of mom not losing her job, they need to just do what they’re asked and get in the car regardless of how they feel about it.
    What would the world look like if everyone just expressed every emotion they felt every minute of the day?
    There is a balance here, a balance that I believe can be summed up in one word; respect.
    I have raised four fantastic kids who are all their own people, who all really like who they are, and love and respect every one around them. I did all of this decades before this latest parenting fad was dreamed up.
    Kids need love
    Kids need to be listen to and heard
    Kids need to be able to trust their parents so they can follow directions and listen to guidance. (this is usually born from parents exhibiting REPECT and patients towards their children and practicing whatever it is they teach)
    And kids need a whole lot of consistency
    if you want to know how to raise your kids, go and buy a book called “don’t shoot the dog” and read a stack of books about how to raise a happy healthy puppy. These books focus on consistency more then anything else and how to be a good “pack” leader.
    If your serious about cutting through all the crap (like time outs, and allowing your kids to just pitch fits until they wear themselves out, all this junk we know won’t work,) just read some books about how to train a puppies and interact with adult dogs,, always always always respect your child and if you blow it apologize, every time.
    Realize they didn’t ask to be born so you owe it to them to make them the first priority over yourself even when it means having to discipline them when your friends are watching. Write out a plan, if Johnny hits Suzie what’s the consequence going to be? Share all those rules with the kids, post a list in the kitchen, if someone disagrees with one of the rules talk about it, if they have a good reason, change it. But no matter what the consequences have to be followed through on EVERY SINGLE TIME. You’ll be shocked how quickly Johnny stops hitting Suzie once he realizes if I do this then that will happen no matter what, every single time.
    That is my twenty-five cents worth, I meant to type out only two cents, I apologize for going on so long
    Mother of four
    Happily married to their father for over 23 years and counting.
    Don’t get me started on the whole “how to have a happy marriage” I will give you a hint though: RESPECT

    • Vane says:

      Yes! That is right

    • Dana McGuire says:

      Yes, Yes, And Yes, Mother of Four. This blog is so oversimplified as is missing the wisdom of experience.
      Strictly empathic or permissive parenting as is being preached in this blog(no limits on what the child can do/say..all under the umbrella of letting them “express themself” while the parent stuffs her truth no matter how natural and healthy it sometimes is), this way of parenting is a *reaction* to authoritarian parenting: unconscious, reactive, out-of-control parenting which is driven by a struggle between fear and “need” for power.
      This permissive parenting reaction takes it too far in the other direction and misses the target.
      Always prioritizing our child’s emotional experience does actually produce brats. Brats are unhappy children who have been sheltered from the natural consequences of their tantruming. Yes, they sometimes grow into a loving and compassionate adult. But they will have tantruming hard-wired as their coping mechanism for getting their way in their family (Don’t marry a person who was parented this way!).
      Ideally, “compliant” children are children who trust their leader/parent. That is the parenting target.

      • Dana McGuire says:

        Whoops, typo! I meant “authoritative”, not “authoritarian”…
        Authoritative is the out-of-control parenting.
        Authoritarian is the target.

      • Jennifer says:

        Hi Dana,

        I’m not sure where you are getting that I believe in permissive parenting.

        Children can’t DO anything they want, but they sure can FEEL it.

        I have limits for sure. And I hold them. But that is if I’m 100 percent sure about them. If my child has a pov, or something to say, I want to consider it. So that they feel considered, heard and respected. That doesn’t mean I’ll change my mind, but I want to encourage them to speak up.

        If a child has a “tantrum” (brain becomes flooded with cortisol) and the parent “gives in” that’s one thing. That will sure make a kid neurotic. But if the child is flooded and the parent remains calm and let’s the child express herself while still holding the limit, that is healthy.

        Thanks for writing in.


        • Dana McGuire says:

          Tantruming (loud, disrespectful, blaming, angry, even kicking, hitting or bucking)is not usually about our young children having unexpressed emotional pain or unresolved trauma to discharge. *Sometimes it can be* and *that* is an important moment of discernment…a way that we can show up as a loving support for our children…to notice when they might really have something unresolved or pent up to discharge. And it is a “failure” on our part if/when we miss an opportunity to connect with our child about the matter. I really appreciate when Lilred says “, always always always respect your child and if you blow it apologize, every time”. That being clear,
          Let it be understood that most tantrums are not an expression of purely felt emotion. Tantrums are a behavior, a coping strategy, which young children learn will send mama running to their aid (especially for first-time mothers who haven’t begun learning to distinguish infantneed crying and toddler powerplay crying. It is a power tool/boundary ram. They are testing power and boundaries to find out who is their leader! And When are they my leader? And what if I am “naughty”?…etc. It is not a conscious investigation they are doing. They are compelled…like rascally puppies.
          What a danger it is to advise parents always submit to as much tantrum as their child can put out. The child’s tantrum muscles and stamina grow and it is very disruptive to the family, community, and especially, the poor loving parent who is just trying to get it “right” but who becomes so run down by the terrible struggles.
          I have watched this parenting strategy…*many* families I have known (in the Northwest, especially) read Unconditional Parenting (for example) and commit whole-hog to making space for the children’s “feelings” (throwing a fit).
          It grows unhappy resentful children who do not trust people.
          Empathizing with our children is only one very important tool in the parenting toolbox. You will discover that many of your judgments of other parents will be humbled by your own parenting learning journey.

          • Sarah says:

            I think maybe some people are confusing attentive parenting with permissive parenting here? Nowhere does it say don’t provide boundaries. By allowing the full expression of an emotion, children learn that they can be angry, sad, frustrated and loved anyway. Not that the behaviour resulting from those feelings is celebrated, but tolerated. And in time they learn to self-regulate because they display the same empathy that was shown them: an older child will see, mom really wants me to get in the car right now so I’ll do it, because they have better learned to manage and process their own emotions around this. Did you see the part where she said let them continue the tantrum in the car? Nowhere does it say let the child call the shots and just don’t go to work. Often by listening you shorten the length of the tantrum anyway.

          • Jennifer says:

            I think you may be right Sarah!

            I definitley don’t say kids should call the shots.

            Thank you for the clarification and for writing in!

      • Beth says:

        Oh, I love: Don’t marry a person who was parented this way!.

        I dated someone who could not handle, at all, when I told him no. Or told him I was upset about something he did, but he was allowed to criticize me, throw tantrums, knit pick, harass me, etc. And it was always my fault, because I made him react that way.

    • Lynn says:

      I was thinking about similar things. What happens when this guy is 12 or 14 years old. Dad does something the kid doesn’t like and the kid hits dad. Are you still going to sit down and talk about it? Young children need discipline and most actually WANT discipline. They want to know what’s expected of them. Talking is OK up to a point, but there comes a time when it isn’t enough. You are going to have a big problem when they get older. Most teenagers have a hard enough time talking to parents about things.
      The above example of a puppy is good. A well disciplined dog is a happy dog. They don’t bite and wreck the house. They don’t attack you because did something they didn’t like.
      I’m not sure what you have in mind about self regulation. I am about the calmest person I know. I have worked in jobs where my co-workers couldn’t believe I didn’t blow my top at something. If my house is on fire and I tell the kids to move, I don’t want to “talk about it”, I want them to move. Sorry to say that there are many times when “talking about it” just doesn’t cut it.
      I have two children who were both disciplined at times – not beaten, but definitely sat on. They are both well adjusted adults with no injuries or mental problems. Both have good jobs and families, so I guess something worked.


      • Jennifer says:

        Hi Lynn,

        I’m sorry that my post wasn’t quite clear enough.

        The first thing to do is to set the limit. “You are spitting. That tells me that you are really angry. I won’t allow you to spit on me, but I want to help you…”

        options could be, “spit outside” or “rip paper” or something to get the feelings and stress out of their bodies.

        then when they are calm…we can talk.

        setting the limit and enforcing it is key. but always calmly and never ever with punishment. to punish someone in pain is adding gasoline to a fire. they may be obedient in the moment (because they are scared) but the it becomes about them being afraid of mom and dad and whatever caused the pain in the first place just festers. connection and communication are so important. then you will have gained the respect of your child and they will learn to self regulate. and will learn emotional intelligence so that they can handle their feelings better at 14. i don’t hit a child now so they won’t spit on me in ten years.

        i’m so happy for you that your children are so well adjusted.

        thanks for sharing your thoughts.

        • Holly says:

          How do you “calmly” and without punishment enforce something physical? When my daughter is forcefully pushing down her little brother, and the limit is “no hurting other people,” after several iterations of verbally setting the limits and talking about it I have to physically separate them to enforce the limit. And that is often not a calm process because she is kicking and screaming, and she sees it as punishment because she can’t play in the room he is in anymore.

          I am trying to connect and communicate, and I’m not yelling or getting worked up, but she is not engaging with me. And she is not “learning to self regulate.”

          • Jennifer says:

            Hi Holly,

            Indeed it is hard. My first question is: How old are your children?

            My best guess is that you are likely stronger than they are. I believe there are ways to stop the fighting without removing children from a room. Yes, it is our number one priority to keep children safe. So! First I’d physically get IN BETWEEN the children. “Hitting hurts. I can’t let you hit your brother. You are so mad you want to kick. How about a ball? Or the sofa?”

            Next things to realize is that they are so mad about something they are kicking. So I try to make it NOT ABOUT the kicking but about trying to understand the REASON WHY they are kicking. I don’t want them to feel worse about themselves because they handled their upset in an inappropriate way, I want to help them feel heard and understood.

            So! You take your best stab at why they are kicking.

            “Your brother took your toys again. That really made you mad, huh?”

            Usually when someone feels heard and understood it takes the EDGE off and they begin to calm down.

            But by seperating them into different rooms it just says “You can’t solve this. I have no faith in your abilities to solve this or be in the same room.”

            Stay around until everyone feels heard and understood and brainstorm solutions with them.

            Help them resolve it. That’s lesson: You are upset and you can solve your problems and a calm, well educated adult in the art of problem solving is here to help you. If you want to become better at helping them SOLVE THEIR OWN PROBLEMS, I highly recommend you read Dr. Thomas Gordon’s Parent Effectiveness Training. He was nominated for THREE Nobel Peace Prizes for this work so it is super peace-promoting.

            Thanks for reading and writing in.


    • Leanne says:

      When I was going through an emotional breakdown at 32 years old (after facing a traumatic personal event earlier in life), someone bought that book for my husband. Don’t Shoot the Dog. Two weeks later, he left me. Yes I also read it after the fact…and realize how it allowed him to walk away because he couldn’t teach me how he thought I should behave at that time.

      To compare raising children, or dealing with any other human, the same way as you deal with a dog…is absolutely inhuman.
      You are not the ‘leader of the pack’ or the leader of anyone. Our children and families are individuals that have their own path. They aren’t puppies that need to be trained! We are on parallel train tracks. We help each other stay on track, but we do not come above or below each other.
      That is what respect is.
      That book teaches obedience through rewards and punishment. Yuck.

    • Darlene says:

      Yes I so agree! You should have written this article. And really, throwing the whole WWII into the argument? That’s ridiculous…

  16. Mira says:

    This nearly had me in tears.

    I’m not a parent and, in all likelihood, I probably never will be. This article was so powerful for me because my own mother was so controlling and violent that I spent all of my childhood (and most of my teens) too terrified to even dream of saying no, even when she chose my– my courses, my hobbies, my food, even my friends for me. (Some of those “friends” treated me with even less respect than she did.) And even when I did everything that she said, I was never good enough. I eventually learned that I never would be, but I’m not even close to breaking the conditioning.

    I was a plucky, brave, enthusiastic, independent child who stood up to bullies everywhere except at home, partially because it was the right thing to do, but also because no one was scarier than my mom. I am now an adult with no motivation, no ambition, very few (if any) real friends, and no hobbies. I am– rather desperately unhappy. It is a struggle just to get up in the morning.

    The worst part is knowing that she probably meant well. I can’t bear the thought of ever repeating her mistakes. I would rather never have children then do to them what has been done to me.

    It gives me some hope that there are people out in the world that own this philosophy, and are going so far to teach it to others. Because it is important.

    Obedience is worthless. Confidence, critical thinking and enthusiam– for a cause, for a hobby, for a career, for anything, really– is priceless. And surprisingly fragile.

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you Mira for sharing your experience with us. You certainly are not alone in having grown up afraid of a parent. I can’t imagine anything much harder. I do hope and pray that you can find a way to forgive your mother because that is what will set you free. I’d hate for the way she raised you to rob you of the life you can live. I’d like to recommend the work of Marianne Williamson and particularly A Return to Love. I hope you can find your way to some inner peace. As you said yourself, likely your mother meant well. Likely she was raised similarly herself. I do think you can heal. And certainly, I’m trying to help other children suffer a similar fate (in my own small way.) I appreciate so much you writing in.

      All the best to you.


      • Sweetness says:

        Mira, I’d say that you may have had a mother like mine. Do some reading on the narcissistic mothers. They don’t have good intentions, and I was raised very much like you. The controlling…I stood up to others, but at home I never could.

  17. [...] http://goodjobandotherthings.com/do-you-scare-your-kids-do-you-think-they-deserve-it/ Great post by Jennifer Lehr of ‘Good Job and Other Things You Shouldn’t Say or Do’ [...]

  18. Georgina says:

    I just came across your blog today via one of your regular readers. I love it! This is how I feel parenting should be but I don’t have exact words as to *why* it should be done this way! You state specific reasons that I can use! I don’t know if my hubby will actually give up time outs but I’ve been trying hard to diffuse situations whenever I’m the parent involved rather than use time outs or spanking or anything.

    Interestingly enough, my mother today suggested I punish my kids for not finishing their food. I calmly but sternly told her I do NOT punish my kids for not finishing their food and the discussion was finished! I was so happy she didn’t follow her usual path of trying to convince me why I should do as she does!

    May I ask… is there a reason the “tickling” links don’t lead to articles in question?

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you so much. I know it can be very challenging when both parents aren’t on the same parenting page. Perhaps you can offer him an article you found that you like, perhaps non-chalantly via e-mail. As in “hey honey, this article really resonated for me….take a look when you have a moment. would love to discuss it with you.” hopefully that can open some dialogue because i can imagine it would be trying to feel like you are always needing to diffuse and put out a fire or step in between your child and your husband. modeling is the biggest way we teach our children, so having a healthy line of communication with our spouses is how we show them what a healthy relationship looks like etc. (likely i’m not saying something u don’t already know!0

      so great the success you had with your mom!

      re: tickling

      it was an incomplete piece that i’m still working on. do u have a particular question about it that i can answer for u?

  19. Deb says:

    This is exactly why I have you on my blogroll, and why I share so many of your articles with all my like-minded (and not-so-likeminded! ;-) ) Facebook Momma friends. We all have so much to learn from our children and from each other.

    Thank you for another brilliant post. :-)

    • Jennifer says:


      Thank you so much for the support and spreading the good word. I didn’t realize you had me on your blogroll. I’m on my way over to your site to reacquaint myself!


  20. [...] self-regulation means, when during a 2-days in a row without screaming I read Jennifer´s post: Do you scare your kids? Do you think they deserve it?  which talks basically about self-regulation and the adult´s need to learn it before expecting if [...]

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you for the shout out. I’m eager to learn how this month goes for you and what you learn and what i can learn from it!

      such a worthy and challenging pursuit!


  21. Chris Wulf says:

    I have just found this site and Im excited to dig further. The agreement I have with the above article cannot be overstated. I would like to add one thing, a response to the following quote. Perhaps you have clarified it elsewhere.
    “From what I can gather, this is what parents seem desperate to know:
    •How can I get my kid to clean up the playroom?
    •How can I get my kid to brush his teeth?
    •How can I get my kid not to hit me?
    •How can I get my kid to “listen” to me?
    •How can I get my kid to cooperate?


    How can I get my kid to DO WHAT I SAY …

    so that I don’t get upset and yell at or threaten to take away toys or hit my kid. And then regret it. Or not.”
    I believe it borders dangerous, or is at least detrimental to the development of both parent and child not to add an immidiate, and, in the long run, more important question. “Why do I want my kids to do X?” Asking only “How” can easily lead to only finding a more effective way of manipulating your children.

    • Jennifer says:

      Yes Chris! You make an excellent point. Parents want to know “HOW” but i’m saying it isn’t about how.

      And like you, i do advocate for first, as alfie kohn says in his 8 guidelines for “work-with parenting”, RECONSIDERING YOUR REQUEST! But I do get into that in another post. (http://goodjobandotherthings.com/alfie-kohn-my-hero/)

      People are, as you’ve pointed out, SO FOCUSED ON THE BEHAVIOR when really it is all about unmet needs. Is the child hungry? tired? looking for understanding of his pov? to feel heard? for some autonomy and freedom? looking for love? needing space? needing to follow her curiosity? needing time? what need is not being met here? we can’t always meet their needs of course but by being able to identify it and tell them we understand goes so far.

      it’s hard to pack everything into a single post! :) but i appreciate this point very much. and i don’t want parents to just try to find another way to manipulate their kids.

      welcome to the site! i’m glad you found me. enjoy digging around and i look forward to hearing more of your astute comments.


    • Leanne says:

      A kid that habitually hits their parents is unhappy and frustrated I’d say. It isn’t about what’s happening at that moment. They are just revealing their deep rooted feelings. They lack peace. They don’t know how to recover when they have strong feelings…because they weren’t allowed to have them. So they lash out. They may have even been punished for them.

      Its like road rage. Its not about the traffic.

  22. Kate says:

    I get much of this, and value it, but in the event our children still need to get their shoes on/get in the car/stop being rude/stop hitting their siblings or whatever the flash point was in the first place. Empathizing with my kids and encouraging them to say how they feel has had some success, but not with the most intractable of their behavioural issues.

    • Jennifer says:

      hi kate. i hear you.

      i do think getting shoes on is different than hitting siblings and different than being rude.

      in the case of hitting siblings. first and foremost this is common to all. and children NEED our guidance not our yelling in these situations.

      it is so important to remember that children hurt others (hitting, biting, spitting) only in as much as they are hurting themselves. they NEED a calm adult to help them 1) stop hitting in a calm way. and to help them figure out the situation. “you’re hitting. you seem angry. i can’t allow you to hit because that hurts people’s bodies. but you can push against my hands or hit the sofa. or stomp your feet. (as mr. rogers wisely suggested…he also recommended children play musical instruments strongly) this is helping them get the energy out of their bodies in a positive way. They are not bad for feeling angry. they simply feel it. YOur job is to help them get the feelings out safely and to help name it and give them helpful language (when they are calm enough to hear). “Your sister took your ball? You were playing with it? It’s hard to have your toy taken away” or whatever. they aren’t just hitting for no reason. they feel crowded or something. I’d love to recommend the book BECOMING THE PARENT YOU WANT TO BE which has a brilliant chapter on how to humanely, respectfully and helpfully deal with hitting children.

      secondly, re: being rude. Are they being rude because they are angry? Or are they just hungry and are bypassing the “mom can i please have….” etc.? i believe each situation is so different and it is up to us to “map it” are they hungry or tired so aren’t being as polite as we’d like? ore do they need feedback from us on how it feels to be talked to rudely? or do we have too high expectations for their age of language? etc.

      re: getting shoes. everyone asks this! i have the same problem with my daughter. not my son, because at almost 4, he rarely ever wears shoes so we don’t have to deal with it yet! as alfie kohn (the genius!) recommends in his advocating of a “working with” style of parenting and not “doing to” i thought about how could my daughter and i work together on this. we decided her school shoes would always be left at the front door. if she forgot and if anyone in the house happened to see them elsewhere we’d know to bring them back to the front door. then when it was time to leave she’d have to just grab them. it was UP TO HER IF SHE WANTED TO PUT THEM ON BEFORE WE LEFT THE HOUSE OR IN THE CAR. she wants to wear shoes to school so some days she puts them on in the house. and sometimes in the car. perhaps this might help u. and it started with empathy. “honey finding shoes in the morning seems to be really hard….” etc.

      thanks for writing in! all “behavior issues” stem from unmet needs. so if we can figure out the need (for love, for autonmy, understanding, being heard etc.) everything else goes better. they are not separate from anything else. also, a child reluctant to put on their shoes may literally be dragging their feet about going to school…maybe someone is mean to them there and they are putting off going etc.


  23. Lauren says:

    You Rock. Needed this! Thanks for speaking the truth that was inside my head and yet to be articulated.

  24. Laura says:

    It’s not only addictive but contagious & I get a pit in my stomach every time I encounter it. Shamefull.

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Laura….

      I’d never thought about the contagious part! But yes, others doing it certainly justifies us doing it. We all have to yell at our kids, that’s just the way it is in life.

      So hard to break that mentality.

      Like you I feel a pit in my stomach every time I encounter it too. And I know why the parents do it, but it still kills me.

      The only thing I can think to do is write posts like this!


  25. Lou says:

    Every time I read one of your posts, it gets me thinking. Thinking about my approach to parenthood, my interaction with my son… my OWN emotions and how they effect the way I act.

    Thank you so much for your insight!

    • Jennifer says:

      Lou! Thank you for articulating how my writing affects you. So rewarding really to know that I can help people think about some things in a new way. We all need that and reminders!


  26. Wendy says:

    This blog, post, and comments are such a blessing to me. Thank you, I’m learning too and it’s exhausting. I have a 20mo. old and an 8 week old. It became abundantly clear of my “parenting issues” when my toddler started behaving way different toward me only, after baby. I’ve made progress because my supportive husband gives me some feedback. I don’t know much but I would like to add that if your a spiritual person, it is time to nurture your relationship with God to transform your heart and mind. Spirituality is important in teaching compassion, empathy, and self-control/regulation not only helping today but throughout their whole lifelong struggles and adversities. I decided to read the word, devotional, worship radio, whatever I have a min. for in the mornings, to gain a clear perspective and face her assertiveness with love, love, love! It does help to keep my thoughts and focus on God and what he wants for my family to turn things around at my house. P. S. I’m all about self help and I now started to attend a family therapist with a biblical perspective on parenting as well, who I found through our church. Once again, love your blog! Congrats! :)

    • Jennifer says:

      Wow Wendy, you are in the thick of it with a newborn and a toddler! And I’m so glad you are able to realize that your son is really struggling with not being the only one who gets all of your attention. It’s like being dethroned. Very very challenging for toddlers. It’s like a death in a way. A death of the life they once had as the center of their mom and dad’s universe. I’m so happy that you are able to find strength and support from God, from therapy, your church and the internet (!). It does get easier!


  27. Leslie says:

    This is excellent. It’s interesting because I have read about and even written similar things (with Nazi references, too), but reading this really triggered a lot of new thoughts too.

    It made me remember a moment last year – it was after a tragedy with my son – he was found at the bottom of the pool – my husband was able to perform cpr, he came to and we rushed to the local clinic.

    I sat with him in the clinic and held him for two hour while he slept and was monitored. I sobbed the entire time. I did not stop crying for the entire two hours. It was a major trauma.

    A friend rushed to the clinic when she heard the news, got permission to enter the room I was in and came to comfort me. She was the last person in the world I wanted to see because she lacks compassion. I was sobbing and she looked at me and said, “He’s okay.” She waited for me to stop crying, but I didn’t, so she said it again. I still didn’t stop and then she sort of shook me and said it more firmly, with that parental tone meaning – it’s time to stop crying.

    I politely asked her to leave.

    I still feel anger about that to be honest.

    Anyways, I’m not quite sure how that relates exactly, but just wanted to share that. I will be sharing this article.

    This was my favorite line:

    “But I just so desperately want parents to move on to the struggling to self-regulate part of parenting and to give up the justifications for yelling at and threatening and hitting their darling, young children who so desperately need to express their feelings and to be heard and loved.”


    and this:

    “I don’t want a child who isn’t passionate about their lives. Their friends. Their buildings. Their playing. Their love of staying awake and living life. Or their need for autonomy. I wouldn’t want a kid who doesn’t try to stick up for themselves and their point of view. Their joy in what their doing should be a good sign, a sign of total engagement, not a bad one.”

    And finally,

    “Not allowing your child to express their feelings for as long as they need to, to get them out of their bodies is not healthy and borders on abusive. Why? Because stress leads to anxiety, depression, heart disease etc.”

    Totally agree with this and have experienced this – with my first son who I parented his first five years with a traditional approach, to his detriment and mine. And I’ve experienced the anxiety and depression myself my whole life.

    • Jennifer says:


      First of all and most importantly, what a blessing your son was saved.

      And secondly, i totally understand why you relate to this piece. No one should tell another person when they should stuff their emotions back in their bodies. I’m sorry that your friend wasn’t able to be the friend you needed at such a critical time for you. So amazing that YOU had to ask HER to leave. I wouldn’t be surprised if her parents didn’t allow her to cry. I see and hear about it too often.

      And while I know you still feel anger towards here, just think about the life that was robbed from her by her parents by not allowing her to express herself. She wasn’t so she couldn’t let you. It’s our culture really!

      Thank you very much for taking the time to share your story with me and the readers of Good Job. I’m sure it will resonate.


      • Leslie says:

        Thank you so much for that. I really needed to hear that perspective on my friend. It’s something I’ve been struggling with – but what you are saying is the answer exactly. All of this parenting advice applies so practically to ALL of our relationships.

        • Jennifer says:

          of course it is so much easier for me to say! i carry around that kind of anger at people too for letting me down or hurting their kids etc. but it’s the truth!

          glad to give you some relief on such a big one.


    • Christine says:

      Love your post Jennifer and Leslie’s poignant story. I think it could take 2 hours to simply list all the potential reasons you were crying after suffering and witnessing this traumatic incident. The obvious ones of course, but all the many deep places that this must have scratched and burrowed into as well. I say cry. Cry openly and freely and let your tears fall like rain.
      Thank you for sharing. It is a good reminder for me because sometimes i forget my child isn’t crying for some seemingly innocuous event that just occurred but what happened yesterday or last week….. Because I don’t ever want him to feel (the way you felt with that friend) that I am not his safe place to cry.

      • Jennifer says:

        Christine you make an excellent point. Children can carry so much with them. someone at school may have said something hurtful, a teacher may have and it all comes out over something seemingly innocuous. let it out!

        Thank you for pointing that out. And of course for your kind words.


  28. Red Pill Mom says:

    It’s so inspiring to read the comments from all the parents who, like us, are trying to parent with empathy and compassion. One of the things I’ve learned is that we have a finite amount of willpower. Genetically, we all have varying amounts of willpower and you can “grow” your willpower bucket, if you will, just like you grow muscles, but it takes time. This is why you seem to have a lot of patience and then suddenly, you go nuts and are left thinking “what the hell just happened?” Well, your will power bucket empties immediately without warning. It’s not a slow drain its an immediate, whammo!

    I had a stressful weekend and by Monday, I my willpower bucket was near empty. Of course, I didn’t recognize it and became so frustrated with my four year old’s whining about his needs not being met, although little brother and I had been acquiescing to his every need all morning, that I started whining and protesting about MY needs (not a proud mom moment, for sure!). My four year old stopped crying, looked me straight in the eye and told me “Mom, you need to calm down. I’m happy to meet your needs, but first you need to help me understand what they are.” Omg…what a humbling moment!

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you so much for sharing this story. i think we can all relate!


      • Kyra says:

        Hi, I found this website through the Jennifer’s article published on CNN.com.
        I just wanted to say to Red Pill Mom that I think what she did was a perfectly legitmate thing to your kids need to see that you are finite, and that adults do not stop growing up or having needs themselves and asking for help.

        • Jennifer says:

          hi there.

          I’m not sure which comment you are referring to. Do you mean RED PILL MOM wrote something on the CNN site? If so, i think there are over 2,500 comments so I’m not sure I could find it. But now I’m super curious? Is it possible for you to find it and send it?

          Thanks for writing in.


  29. Stephanie Nelson says:

    First I want to say that I respect your passion for what you do. Anyone that has a blog sharing the things closest to their heart deserves serious props! One of my Facebook friends posted this blog as a link on her news feed and that is how I happened upon it. After perusing through your blog a bit I can tell that you and I could have some good (and probably very heated) conversations as I don’t agree with you on much of anything. I do agree with you on these two points from this blog entry: Parents can be way too selfish and agenda-driven! And also that we must win our children’s hearts at all costs! To connect relationally with them is paramount in raising children. However, I disagree with your approach. You suggest that we parents work on becoming self-regulating, which (correct me if I am wrong) is just a fancy post-modern way of saying that we need to have self-control. (I agree with that). Much abuse is done to children because their parents don’t have self-control. (ie: alcoholism, anger, etc.) However, I would like to know how your advice to allow a child to express themselves to the point of crying for as long as they “feel” like it helps the child to LEARN to be self-regulating themselves. Or do we have no responsibility to train our children to live and function in the world we live in? A world, which by the way has zero tolerance for an adult who throws off emotional restraint because they don’t get their way. These children often grow up to be arrogant, self-centered and full of demands requiring others to cater to their every whim just like their mom and dad did. May I suggest BALANCE? Let’s not yell and scream at our kids! Let’s win their hearts, let’s show them they are the most important thing to us by putting away our electronics and media while they are awake. Let’s teach them of their value as a person. But for heaven’s sake, let’s NOT lead them to believe they can express whatever whim they feel for as long as they want to. Unless of course we want to cripple them as adults so that they never learn how to self-regulate when they become parents. Or business people. Or doctors. Or the President of the US. It’s not abusive to train children how to value themselves and others by teaching them to restrain their emotions. Again, thank you for the thought-provoking read. :)


    • Kat says:

      I value this comment, you’re obviously a thoughtful parent and I think this a more reasonable approach for most parents. There are certainly parenting ideals (like the idyllic picture in this article) that are fantastic goals to have in mind but children also have to learn about self-control somehow, and the world is a much more painful place to learn it than in a loving, supportive home!

    • Christine R. says:

      I appreciate Stephanie’s comment and perspective but I think she is selling kids short. Self regulation comes over time with brain and emotional development. Plus, children learn very quickly where it is safe to emote and let go and where it is not. I think by providing our kids a safe place to fall and to let it go and to experience all of their emotions we are indeed helping them achieve balance. I believe that releasing and understanding one’s emotions doesn’t cripple but in fact, does the opposite; it makes you stronger because your response to people is not based on unfelt or unresolved or pent up emotions. It makes for BETTER doctors, business people and presidents. Thanks for the opportunity to share a counter perspective!

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Stephanie.

      I appreciate you sharing your point of view on this.

      I think one of the primary places we disagree is in what is an “appropriate” amount of self-expression. One of the reasons people do become acoholics (and perpetuate cycles of abuse) is because they weren’t allowed to express their uncomfortable feelings. But they just do not simply disappear. They turn to things like drugs and alcohol to anesthetize themselves. That, as you know, leads to all things bad.

      When we talk about self-regulation, first it is important to take the brain development of a child into account. If one is not a neuroscientist etc. then it is important to educate oneself on how the brain proccess emotion. A developing brain is different than an adults. I love how Dr. Momma at drmomma.org explains this in laymen’s language (which i need!):

      A distress tantrum means that one or more of the three alarm systems (rage, fear and/or separation) in your child’s lower brain has been very strongly activated. As a result, your child’s arousal system will be way out of balance, with too-high levels of stress chemicals searing through his body and brain.

      Distress tantrums happen because essential brain pathways between a child’s higher brain and his lower brain haven’t developed yet. These brain pathways are necessary to enable a child to manage his big feelings. As a parent, your role is to soothe your child while he experiences the huge hormonal storms in his brain and body. If you get angry with a child for having a distress tantrum, he may stop crying, but this may also mean that the fear system in his brain has triggered, over-riding his separation system. Or he may simply have shifted into silent crying, which means his level of the stress chemical cortisol will remain sky-high. As we have seen throughout brain research, uncomforted distress can leave a child with toxic levels of stress hormones washing over the brain.

      Her pain point is that CHILDREN CAN’T TALK OR LISTEN WELL WHEN STRESSED. Here’s the link so you can read more should you or anyone else be interested: http://www.drmomma.org/2010/01/tackling-distress-tantrums-with-brain.html

  30. Marilia says:

    I thought these quotes from ¨Summerhill School¨, by A.S. Neill fit perfectly here:

    ¨Self-regulation implies a belief in human nature, a belief that there is not, and never was, original sin. Self-regulation means the right of a baby to live freely without outside authority. It means the baby feeds when its hungry, that it becomes clean in habits only when it wants to, that it is never stormed at nor spanked, that it shall always be loved and protected. Of course, self-regulation, like any theoretical idea, is dangerous if not combined with common sense¨.

    ¨Self-regulation means behavior coming from the self, not from outside compulsion¨.

  31. Marie says:

    This is EXCELLENT! Well done, well written, thoughtfully expressed. Awesome!

  32. Jessica says:

    I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your blog. This post, and the one about the easter egg hunt has been some real eye openers for me. I have known for a while now that my yelling at my daughters has done nothing but negatives for my family. I’ve been trying so hard to not yell and try other more constructive ways of working through situations. It has been hard to get passed the automatic anger reflex I have. The spot I have reached now is the realization that I need to start working through tough situations right now, BEFORE the situations even come up. I need to have this positive energy as a foundation. Anyway, your blog has been a wonderful eye opener for me that I knew I needed. I plan on reading all of your posts and bettering myself as a parent. Thank you so much for being so understanding and helpful.

  33. aNonyMous says:

    Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! You have hit the nail on the head. I’ll be sharing this. It’s fantastic.

  34. Tea says:

    What do I do with an older brother (22mnths) who tries to smack and jump on his baby sister. I have tried showing him how to touch her appropriately, and the things we can do together like singing to her and reading her a book, and at the moment she is sleeping a lot, so he gets a lot of attentions. I have never even considered smacking him before but it is getting hard to not give a smack for his smack.
    Would love some of your ideas.

    • Kari says:


      I had the same problem when I had my 2nd child. My first child (girl) was 2.5 months old, though. She would treat her new baby brother with love one moment, and then attack him the next. Body-slamming, pinching, biting, kicking, etc. I set up gates and “safe” areas where I could set the baby down without giving my 2.5yr free access to him. I only gave her contact with him while I was sitting next to them, or they were both on my lap. I showed my daughter pictures of herself as a baby, and explained how we took care of her in the same ways. We talked about feelings, read books about new siblings, etc. The reason I am writing this is because I DID reach the point when my son was about 3 weeks old where I smacked her (previously, no spanking/hitting– all gentle style teaching). I felt protective of my newborn, and I started seeing my daughter as a huge threat to him. I sought counseling. I discovered I had post-partum anxiety/depression. It was such a big upheaval for me, and one day I realized how hard all this must be for my tiny 2.5 year old– who was used to having a loving, attentive mommy & daddy all to herself…to loose a piece of that, of us, and share it with this new baby. I suddenly felt a huge amount of compassion for her situation, and saw things differently. Things started to change slowly– I learned new communication skills, I carved out special time for “just us”, I learned to fill my emotional tank first (so hard with an infant & toddler). Things are MUCH better now. My son is 6 months old, and my daughter is 3. They play nicely, my daughter and I have a fantastic relationship, and I don’t have to worry about her attacking him (or anyone). It was a huge adjustment for our family, but with lots of time, forgiveness, and effort things have come around. I believe they can for you, as well! What I learned after hitting her, was that I never wanted to do that again. And also, it was the first time I gave her an honest apology for anything…and she learned from that. She learned to forgive, and we both learned how to repair our relationship. So, while not a stellar mommy moment- I do believe that good came out of it. Good luck to you, keep seeking information and trying new approaches until you find what works for you. Sometimes, these things can take a long time to heal & run their course.

      • Kari says:

        I meant to say my daughter was 2.5 YEARS old when my son was born. Sorry!

        • Kari says:

          Oh, and I want to add one more thing that *really* helped. In order to prevent me from “lashing out” and hitting her again, I wrote these words on my hand “Stop. Drop. And Hug.” (like stop, drop, and roll) I knew I wanted to act with empathy & compassion and having these words written on my hand helped remind me of my goals (to have a healthy relationship with my child). Simple, but very effective for me! Hope it helps.

          • Jennifer says:


            I love this

            STOP. DROP. AND HUG.

            great mantra. and a great way to remind yourself.

            brilliant really.


          • Tea says:

            Kari, I love the Stop.Drop. and Hug!
            You are right about many things. It must be really hard for him, and to be honest with you, our good days are always when I approach it from a place of love.
            Love this site, love that there are other people who want to have the same approach to parenting

    • Eileen says:

      I had a similar problem with my boys- 22 months apart. ahaparenting.com in the ask the dr. section was very helpful. To make it brief, I would hold/cuddle my older son, really try to connect with him using eye contact. Just as Dr. Laura said, he would get a little more combative and then kind of melt. All the time I would tell him I love him and tell him there is no hitting. She does a better job of explaining but it was really effective for me

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Tea,

      I hear you. It is very hard to see one child hurt another. And imagine how hard it is to be the center of your child’s life for 22 GLORIOUS MONTHS and then all of the sudden have a needy, crying newborn take your loving mother’s attention away from you. Often. It can be sooo hard for the older ones. And my hearts go out to them. At two years old a child only hurts in as much as they are hurting themselves. At this stage, hitting, biting etc. are normal expressions and that does not mean we can allow them to go on. i’d love to recommend you get the book BECOMING THE PARENT YOU WANT TO BE. Before I quote from it, because of your situation, i would never allow my two kids in the same room without supervision. It is unfair to both, I fear it is setting your older up for failure. You can easily use safety gates to either have a safe play space for your elder or the younger, but they should be seperated when you can’t be on it. Perhaps this will help as well: Here’s a taste of what you can get in the book. I hope it helps Tea. I know those early months and years with two little children can be challenging!

      “Behind every behavior is an impulse or an attempt to communicate that can be supported. Even “hostile” gestures can come from a basic desire to communicate.

      People hurt others only as much as they themselves are hurting. When they hurt others it is because they are often feeling hurt, mad or scared themselves. A child who pushes another child out of the toy car may be feeling crowded and scared.

      “When a child is hurting other children it may be hard to remember that he’s feeling vulnerable or scared himself. But if you merely punish him you load more hurt onto the existing hurt. If instead you take into account his circumstances and motivation, you can approach conflict resolution from a less punitive perspective than “let’s punish the wrongdoer.”

  35. Debbie says:

    What a wonderful, thought-provoking post. I have no children of my own, but I am 32 years old, and have been working with children in my capacity as a primary school teacher, and as a nanny for many years. And I, too, have yelled. A lot. Only when I do it, it’s worse, because they’re not actually my children.

    It took a lot of reflection and growth to stop yelling, and to learn to listen to children. And when you’re dealing with 20 to 30 children AT ONE TIME, with a sprectrum of behaviour and ability and upbringing, it’s really not easy. But learning not to yell, and not to let myself get fired up by the ‘they’re not listening to ME!’ frustration was one of the most worthwhile lessons ever. It’s made me a better teacher, a better nanny, and hopefully one day a good mom.

    For me the learning curve and self-regulation started when I was ranting to someone that the kids weren’t doing what I wanted them to do, and her reply was, ‘Why should they?’If you want ‘because I said so’ to be a valid response to that question (and let’s face it, sometimes that really is the only reason you want them to listen!), then you need them to respect you enough to take your word for it, and yelling doesn’t build respect.

    As a nanny, my No 1 piece of advice for parents who are struggling to deal with toddler tantrums is always, ‘stay calm, and don’t yell. Empathise with them, even when you don’t understand.’ It’s not easy, but it does help, in time.

    I hope you don’t mind me sharing this post with friends and colleagues!

  36. Tracy says:

    Another awesome and thought-provoking blog post.

    I used to wonder about my sweet little girl, “Why in the world can’t you let me just finish this email?” Then I looked back at how I hated out when my dad treated his TV like our was more important than me. (“You make a bettter door then a window!”)

    Now I see it from my daughter’s perspective. “Daddy, why are you reading your email when I am trying to spend time with you?”

    That was an eye opener. Sure, children have to learn how to wait their turn andnot just interrupt. But we also have to learn to be present when we are on the room.

  37. janice says:

    timing couldn’t be better. anger is a total addiction matrix ~ when i am tired i am much more likely to snap [HALT - hungry, angry, lonely, tired] there are triggers and your article is very centering. i have faltered but i know that i need to break the cycle. the buck stops here! she is my greatest teacher and i know i am doing a 99% good job as a parent, but that 1% needs a lil work. mommy on the job… breathing… ~*~ also i am very hard on myself and the perfectionist thing doesnt heed well in parenting… space, time and mommy time outs are very important. the feelings are the most important part and also allowing for mischief, i am learning, is essential!

    • Jennifer says:

      hey janice.

      so happy to hear this post came to you at a good time. the big question is: how to transfer that perfectionism over into being a perfect self-regulator.

      what can you let go of?

      i so appreciate you sharing your struggles with us janice.


      • janice says:

        my need for perfection comes from my non accepting parental models – not accepting me as i am/was ~ so to give this to my daughter is a big piece/peace.

        i think if i had to nail it down in simple terms it would be to relax and enjoy and not be so expectational in my germanic need to be on time. time is a flow and to remember this is essential to staying and being in the moment.

        i like the idea of self regulating and i am very aware of my triggers, they usually get set off when too much is going on at once. the multitasking queen i am needs a reprieve! so, taking things as they come and expecting less of myself as being the end all do all all the time would be a good start lol. so doing what i can, and it will all unfold. loving her and letting her see me taking care of myself in a good loving way is the best gift i can give her ~ much more than talking about it. we use humor a lot and charlie browns wah wah wah sound lightens the mood!

  38. Wolfmother says:

    The truth hurts but it is liberating. I’ve noticed this in my own parenting, that my triggers are those my own parents were unable to deal with in a healthy manner. Now I am tasked with teaching myself self-regulation and a completely different way of being essentially in order to raise my own children in a healthy manner. And it is HARD!!! So hard. But someone has got to do it and I’m not one to shirk responsibility.

  39. Vanessa says:

    So timely… We are making progress but today I yelled once, apologized later, I tried to go for a “Mommy time out” but my 3 year old follows me and gets even more worked up, so I have to buckle up and take just a couple of deep breaths to self regulate, at some point he told me he needed a hug so I came out and gave him a hug and explain I felt frustrated because he was asking for my help but I didn’t know exactly what he needed, I held him on my lap and he seemed to calm down and was able to tell me what he needed.

    I think I can
    I think I can :)

    Thank you so much for your post and LOVE your upfront approach so much!

    • Jennifer says:

      Hey Vanessa,

      So glad the post came at a good time!

      Repair is so important. It shows you are vulnerable, human, working on it and care about your child’s feelings.


      You can do it!

      I really appreciate you taking the time to share this story that I think we can all relate to on some level.


  40. Aria says:

    All I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you to people like yourself for putting this information out there. And thank God that there is an awakening and new understanding of how these things work – right when I am in the midst of being a new parent. You never, never think you could yell or scream at your baby and then one day you find that you are doing it, closely followed by the guilt and tears. Luckily I was still in touch with my instincts enough to know something was WRONG with ME. Not my baby. And so I went to counselling. Which helped a lot. It’s still hard sometimes but reading articles like this help so much and are such an important reminder that it is us, the parents who need the discipline, not our children.

    • Jennifer says:


      Thank you for sharing this. Yes! It is so hard to imagine when we give birth that someday we will be yelling at our children or worse. But it happens to most everyone. And the children suffer. You are so smart to have realized this and sought help. I admire that very much.


  41. Sara says:

    Thank you for being so up front. A little over a year ago I was struggling, learning, overhauling. Today-self regulation is the norm and I yell less, apologize more and am so grateful for posts like this that shook me out of the cycle.
    Nothing I was doing prior was “working” and my daughter would inform me of how I was breaking her heart. It was a big deal-change or stop being a parent. So I have poured my heart and soul and mind into becoming a mom who my daughter trusts, and enjoys being with. She was afraid of me and not telling me things bc she didn’t want me to get angry. How sad! So-I have delved into the world of gentle parenting-scientific articles really resonated with me. I was raised by loving albeit yelling, spanking, threatening parents. It was “mild” but I saw where that feeling of having no voice came from. I refuse to do that to my girls. So here we are and it gets rocky sometimes and I have to remember to be calm and less selfish but it’s working. Much more peace. And I’ve let go of having “clean” bedrooms. Lol

  42. I also wrote an article recently that talks about how our limbic (i.e. emotional) brain helps them regulates theirs. Except when it doesn’t, and we let them pull us to their level. But ultimately, I totally agree with you that our feelings (even the ones they trigger) are OUR responsibility. Here is the article link: http://www.myparentandfamily.com/balancingactblog.php


  43. So important to not give up just because it is hard, and hard as hell is very accurate. I love how you hold up the long view for parents too: “I wouldn’t want a kid who doesn’t try to stick up for themselves and their point of view.” EXACTLY! As far as supporting children in having and expressing their feelings, and our role in setting the tone: it’s a mixed metaphor, but I like to say that children are emotional barometers, but the adults set the thermostat.

    Thanks for posting this Jennifer! Sarah

  44. Jennifer says:

    Hey Lea!

    yes…so important to model for them how to name our feelings and frustrations…not just tell them how to do.

    i know! easier said than done.

    such a struggle. so worth it. so much to be mindful of.


  45. gena says:

    This is An AWESOME AWESOME article –thank you for giving reason to my feelings -

  46. Amy says:

    Your words could not be more true and better timed. Thank you for this post today.

  47. Azan says:

    Therein lies the challenge of parenting — being the ADULT. Sometimes my child will say to me “Mommy be the Adult”, I’ve taught her – and thank goodness she is able to remind me.
    I know I can…I know I can…I know I can.

    • Jennifer says:

      Azan! I love that you have taught her to remind you to be the adult. That’s so inspiring.

      My friend outed herself as an addictive yeller to her children. Now they call her on it.

      My daughter says, “You are using that rude tone again…”

      Isn’t it fantastic?!

  48. Lea Payne says:

    I love this Jennifer. Thank you for sharing. Self-regulation is as hard as hell. I have been thinking a lot about it recently. I notice that I have so much patience for the constant and steady flow of tears and screams and demands from my three girls (as well as their love and laughter and calm). I have patience, I have patience, I have patience. But then after a while I don’t. When I reach my limit, I start to dissociate somewhat. Upon reflection, I know I have given my girls a voice to express themselves, their feelings, their wants and needs. But I also realize that while doing so, I sometimes neglect my own feelings and wants and needs. I give them words for their feelings but then forget to give words to my own. And now as I am realizing this, I am stopping to voice my feelings to my children along the way. It lets the pressure out of my body, and in its place is a new sense of calm. Of course, it is all a work in progress and I’m nowhere near perfect. But I’ll keep trying like that Little Engine That Could.

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