Stop Negotiating with Your Toddler (And What To Do Instead)

Hi Janet, I’ve read your article Common Discipline Mistakes as well as several others involving toddler behavior, and I’m still not sure how to best handle the actions of my almost three-year-old without punishments, which usually means taking away things like his toys. For example, I will give him two acceptable options to a situation, and he will choose a third (unacceptable) option. Or I will give him a time limit, and at the end of the time, we are right back to where we started but now having lost five minutes.
At nap time recently, he pulled my glasses off my face and refused to give them back. I said give them back or I will have to take something of yours. (What are the options here?) After he refused to give them back, I pried them from his hands and put his toy on a shelf. He cried, and I left the room. My husband returned, talked to him, and gave him back his toy.
In the morning, my son and I talked about the glasses and consequences. He hasn’t done it since, but I didn’t feel very good about how I handled the situation. It’s a constant cycle of what feels like threats (if this/ then that) and taking the stuff he loves. What’s left? Thanks, Antonia

Hi Antonia,

What I sense is missing here is a clear understanding of your child’s perspective and how impossible it is for him to negotiate and make “good choices” in these situations. When children are acting out, they need our help, not threats and punitive consequences. After all, we can’t reason with the unreasonable.

Our young children’s disagreeable behavior is impulsive and emotionally driven. It isn’t coming from a sensible, thoughtful place, and we can’t snap children into that place by giving them threats, consequences, countdowns, and ticking clocks. Those strategies make matters worse because they give children the sense that we’re against them, which tends to make them feel even more uncomfortable, emotionally flooded, stuck. It’s as if children know they’re not doing the right thing, but they can’t find their way out of where they are, so they struggle and become even more confrontational, which we interpret as consciously “bad” behavior.

The truth is, asking a child in that state of mind to choose between compliance or a punishment is just not fair, even a little cruel. How can we expect children to respond to logic when they aren’t in their right mind? Never mind that the choice we’re offering is between two equally unpleasant alternatives. It’s no surprise that these transactions don’t make us feel good either.

Here are my recommendations for giving children the help they need using some of the examples Antonia shared regarding her son:

1.Taking away toys

I would only take a toy away if it wasn’t being used safely and would frame this as helping to provide protection: for my child, another child, the toy, the home or environment. Children will object but still feel the fairness in this, particularly if we are calm rather than annoyed or emotional. We’re noticing that they need help with self-control, and we have their back. “I need to keep you safe.” Our attitude and actions are the opposite of punitive.

2. “I will give him two acceptable options to a situation, and he will choose a third (unacceptable) option…”

He is demonstrating very clearly that he is not in a state of mind to make reasonable choices. Instead, he needs help in following your direction, whatever that is. This will often require us to do something physical like taking our children by the hand and helping them go somewhere, blocking dangerous or inappropriate behaviors, etc. Young children need a lot of physical care, so we can’t shy away or try to avoid this. Do it right away and well before getting angry or frustrated.

3. “I will give him a time limit and at the end of the time, we are right back to where we  started, but now having lost five minutes…”

Right, so here again, he can’t snap into a reasonable state because there’s a clock ticking. He needs a parent who can see that he is lost and help him move forward, often that means taking calm, physical actions like picking him up and carrying him to his bedroom or out of the bathtub, etc.

4. “At nap time…”

Mm-hmm… This is prime time for challenging behavior! So be prepared, confidently walk him through what he needs to do, definitely don’t negotiate or give him choices or allow him to stall. Escort him to his bed.

5. “He pulled my glasses off my face and refused to give them back.”

Sounds like he’s saying, “Help, I’ve lost control of my impulses! I’m going to the dark side! Get me to bed soon. I’m overtired!”

6. “I said give them back, or I will have to take something of yours. (What are the options here?)”

This feels like you are dealing with a peer in a tit-for-tat rather than a tiny, overwhelmed guy who needs his mom to override his immature impulsive actions and remove the glasses from his hand right away with confidence and love. You might even joke, “That was very quick, Mr. Wiseguy!” And then help him to rest as soon as possible.

7. “I pried them from his hands after he refused to give them back and put his toy on a shelf.”

Taking them from his hands is exactly what I would do, but it’s not surprising he refused to give them back. He was already in an impulsive place when he took them from you, and children don’t usually snap out of this. Again, taking his toy is tit-for-tat and taking his behavior personally rather than seeing him as your tiny overwhelmed child.

8. “He cried, and I left the room.”

Finally, he’s expressing some of the feelings driving his behavior. This is very positive. It would be better to stay in the room with him, but not in an angry or frustrated state.

9. “My husband returned, talked to him and gave him back his toy. In the morning, my son and I talked about the glasses and consequences.”

With the understanding that unreasonable behavior comes from an unreasonable place, we will ideally forgive these incidents and let them go. It’s positive that his dad connected with him about what happened, but it’s best not to rehash or make too much of this. A comparison I’ve used is sleep walking… We wouldn’t judge, blame, and rehash behavior our child displayed while he was sleep walking. With their underdeveloped impulse control, young children are often inclined to act out of a similar lack of consciousness. So, I recommend being the “bigger” person, letting it go, and moving on.

Hopefully this perspective will help reframe expectations around typical toddler behavior. Parenting is hard work, and we all deserve to feel good about the relationships we’re building with children.

And if you need more help and clarity—join the club! Most of us need more at some point. I’ve created an in-depth resource that will get you over the hump and on your way, once and for all:

I also share more about setting limits with confidence and respect in my bestselling book
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame (which is now available in Spanish)


(Photo by Lubomir Simek on Flickr)



Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. I am in the same boat as this and am dying to know how to help my child. I realize he needs my help when he’s out of control and driven by his impulses, but I don’t know how. When he was smaller it was fairly simple to empathize, talk to him while looking in the eyes, stay calm, etc. But he’s now 2.5yrs and he is often frantic before there even is a conflict. If he is too out of control to make a decision (ie between choice a or b) or calm down (ie I’ll count to five and then help if you need it), how on earth do you help? Helping after the count of five, no matter how calmly seems to be me forcing him to put on shoes, get a diaper changed, get out to the car, etc especially if we’re running late. This is often after a long night’s sleep or being offered food so it’s not as simple as ‘he’s tired or hungry’. Any advice welcome!

    1. Hi Rebecca – I would be fully prepared to walk him through these transitions, which tend to be very difficult for toddlers. Don’t give him choices at these times, but rather move forward with confident momentum. Override the possibility of conflict by confidently putting on his shoes (yes, it may be somewhat forceful, but if you’re prepared to do this, you won’t get angry). Pick him up and carry him to his diaper changing place, etc. Do this with upbeat confidence and a lot of acknowledging of his “disagreement” (“Ah, you seem very mad at me right now! I hear that. It’s hard to get dressed when you don’t feel like it.”) Keep your sense of humor if you can. It’s the stopping and waiting and counting and giving time and choices that will lead to you becoming frustrated and cause your child to dig in his heels. So, what “help” looks like is Mama or Papa bear taking care of their cub. Doing for him what he can’t do himself in that moment. Again, this is all very normal behavior, so meet it with confidence. 🙂

      1. Also know that if you are rushing and stressed, your child’s behavior will reflect those feelings. So all the more reason to prepare yourself for these experiences, pump yourself up and proceed with love and confidence.

      2. Hello Janet,

        I would love to connect with you and do a panel discuss around this topic. Please let me know if you are interested

      3. I find my daughter of 2yrs 2 months finds it hard to transition from one thing to another so I now plan to limit how many transitions out of play we do, eg. End play, then do drink, snack, getting shoes on, going out. It is so much harder if these things are interrupting play. We get some momentum going to do these necessary things. So I might make sure I’m ready to go out first while she is playing, so that I can focus on all the tasks she needs to do in one go. The other thing that’s really helped with ending play or moving on is letting her bring a toy with her into the next activity. It means we can talk about the toy and what she’s just been playing with so that it doesn’t feel so much of a wrench for her with ending the game. Saying ‘bye bye’ to her game does help to move on as I’d tried with timing (2 more minutes…) but it was impossible as she couldn’t understand how long or short that was. So now I am with her ending her game, it might be that we help say bye bye or night night and lay the trains on their side to go to sleep or pack the jigsaw into the box with, ‘bye bye, see you soon’. We have so many fewer issues with the everyday things like changing nappies or getting shoes on (tantrums, scratching, crying) now I am more conscious of how to manage this. Not perfect, but it has helped!

    2. What do you do when physically intervening is a trigger for your child? When a situation arises, where my son needs to be escorted or picked up out of an unsafe situation, it always escalates his behavior. He has difficulty with sensory processing and the extra touch can be too much.

      1. Start by breathing out! Heave a big out breath, and then breathe into the empty space in the middle of your chest, that space which gets massaged every time the lungs inflate with a new breath. This is a fun thing to practice in non stressed times as well.

  2. Thanks for this article Janet, I needed to remember this. Just a question, until what age is this unreasonable behavior to be expected? My daughter is almost 5 and can’t help to think that she is now more in control of her actions, but we still struggle with similar behavior. Am I expecting too much from her? Thanks!

    1. You’re so welcome, Cecilia. In regard to your daughter, she’s in control… until she isn’t! Seriously, I think we can probably all relate to emotions getting the better of us and making us feel unreasonable. Children fall into that much more easily because of their less developed prefrontal cortex. So, minimizing stress, encouraging children to release stress when they have it, and providing them a sense of security in our relationships with them are key ways to foster self-control

    2. Hi, I’m in a similar situation as my daughter is four. She has begun digging in hard at bedtime and loses control quite quickly. I’m at a loss of what to do here though because picking her up or physically moving her is something she hates to her core. How do you reach them in this case where all you have available is words.

  3. Hi Janet (and ladies),
    I am the original poster. Thank you for taking the time to provide some feedback to my struggles. I still am unsure that I fully understand your feedback even coupled with the references articles.

    To clarify, I tried to be vague because the behavior that I’m experiencing is not specific to one time of day or one situation. When I referenced nap time, several comments were made specifically about my son being tired, but I could see this behavior any time of the day. I mentioned giving him two acceptable choices or a choice with time limit to help him make decisions because I thought that’s respectful. (I’m sure I’ve seen that suggested here.) Again, no specifics because what is parenting but a series of minor choices all day?

    I understand the need to be confident in my parenting (and generally am) but some of the suggestions don’t feel respectful. Yes, I could pry my glasses from his hand but I thought it would be respectful to give him the opportunity to hand them back. You’re saying no? It feels authoritative to do this. Is helping him taking the decision making out of his hands when he fails to make an acceptable one? Any attempt to make light of the situation or distract (you advise against this) results in us dealing with this behavior repeatedly. He thinks it’s a game if I act silly but he needs to understand that it’s not acceptable.

    Maybe a more general broad question is how can I be respectful and raise a respectful child. I need him to know what’s acceptable and what is not. I do really appreciate your feedback. I’m just at a loss on how to navigate the balance.

    1. Hi Antonia, and thanks again for allowing me to share your issues in my post!

      Regarding your dear boy… He needs you to firmly take the glasses out of his hand. That’s respectful. It isn’t respectful to try to get him to undo an impulsive act. He’s already shown you that he’s in a defiant place and needs your help.

      Authoritative is good. Children need leaders. If they don’t have leaders, they have to try to be the leaders and that creates a lot of insecurity and more defiant behavior. Authoritative is actually scientifically proven to be the best way to parent. Authoritarian is the controlling, punitive version that we want to avoid. Permissive is the other end of the spectrum. Authoritative is the “sweet spot.”

      What I tried to express is that he can’t make these decisions himself.

      I wouldn’t pry the glasses out of his hand, I would confidently open his hand as his loving mom.

      I hope that helps!

      1. Antonia shared an update on this post on Facebook the following day. I hope she doesn’t mind if I reprint it here for the parents it might help:


        Holy smokes! We are already seeing a difference.

        My son has been refusing to change pjs and diaper when he first wakes up resulting in him peeing through everything. In the past, I have given him the option to change downstairs which of course has resulted in accidents. So, this morning, I decided to confidently sweep him through the process. No counting. No options. Just direction. He protested by fussing and keeping all of his limbs stiff as a board while I undressed him. He told him I understood that he didn’t want to change his clothes and kept going. He then asked to use the little potty. We put his clothes on and went about our morning. The entire morning was smoother including him ASKING to go to the potty without any prompting. No threats or punishments were offered. Just acknowledgement and moving forward. Plus, I hadn’t gotten myself worked up with counting and options.

        I get what you are saying now about helping. It’s about leading him through the necessary without a whole lot of fanfare. Thank you!!!

  4. Thanks so much for this article and your insights Janet. My question is also around the ‘how’ to help my 3.5 yr old. I am currently having daily ‘battles’ around getting dressed morning & night and brushing teeth. I have adopted the physical helping approach – but this often results in ‘forced’ brushing of teeth (can you imagine?!) and basically holding him down to get him dressed. This is physically very taxing – is there an alternative way of approaching this? Many thanks

    1. Thanks, Rachel. Have you read my post about “confident momentum”? In the post I describe the great difference our attitude can make. Children will tend to relax into these situations if they feel our confident leadership. But if we are nagging, waiting, begging, negotiating, giving choices and consequences, we don’t come off as leaders to them and they get stuck in resistance mode, which can make these daily routines an exhausting, frustrating experience. So, rather than waiting for your child to comply, understand that he often won’t, and be ready to move on with a light, confident touch. Expect and even look forward to dressing your little cub in his PJ’s while he growls at you. Take it in stride.

      I would not force a voluntary activity like tooth brushing. Instead, approach the situation confidently and with a very light touch. Keep your expectations low and accept less sometimes, because what’s matters most is the bigger picture of you feeling confidently in charge and not taking his healthy, age-appropriate resistance too seriously. If you don’t get caught up in them, these struggles tend to lose their power.

      1. Is tooth-brushing really a voluntary act? Don’t we need our children to brush their teeth? And what do you do if you CANNOT physically do these things? I find the advice in these situations is often to physically take charge, but what if you have a strong child and a your body is not strong enough to physically make them dress or stop hitting or whatever the behavior is?

  5. Dear Janet! Thanks for this article! It came right in time!! What to do though, when it is already too late?? Recent example: my daughter (3) is ging to a forest kindergarten here in Denmark. It’s out of Copenhagen, so the kids get there and back home on a bus (which is quite common here)! It is a beautiful place with excellent kindergarten-teachers and she loves going there. But it also means that she gets very tired when she’s on the bus on the way home (she stopped napping a long time ago and went to bed late the night before (refused to go to bed, big struggle))! So she gets off the bus, sees me and immediately falls apart which I totally understand and honestly expected a bit! I really feel for my little girl, but then she screams, kicks, bites, hits, pulls hair and cries so hard! I acknowledge her feelings, tell her confidently that i will help her through this! That we are going home now where it safe to melt down but I find it impossible to get to her! She’s cannot hear or see me through her anger! She is just angry and fights me with all she can! I also cannot just grab her and carry her home kicking like this, because I have a 2 year old too and I don’t feel safe walking both of them, crossing big streets! So I find myself standing there, waiting for the storm to pass, meaning for her to get all her bad feelings out, but after half an hour I start going crazy too! I start negotiating, even yelling (after she managed to scratch me in the face) and feeling like the biggest failure as a mother! I feel so lost in moments like these! Help? How do I handle the situation when it’s already too late with a child that is absolutely not easy to comfort or helped? Thanks in advance Janet! It is highly appreciated!!

    1. That’s sounds very challenging, Vicky! Yes, you’re waiting and that’s making her feel more at sea. She needs you to move her right away… and it would help a lot if she could have all of your focus and energy to do this. I’m wondering if there is someone who could help you with your 2 year old at this time. Perhaps she could stay with a neighbor while you do this pick-up? Or is there someone who could be with your 2 year old at the scene with you? This period won’t last forever. Another solution might be to ask the school if your daughter could do a shorter day. I realize that might be impossible. What about taking a car to pick her up so you don’t have to help her home walking in that state?

      Also, it’s okay if she doesn’t see or hear you through her feelings. She needs your loving damage control and to be moved quickly and confidently. Imagine your friend is having an emotional breakdown and needs you get her to a safe place.

      Again, this is normal behavior for toddlers and preschoolers, so there’s no judgment. It’s wonderful that you are able to empathize with her.

    2. Gabrielle Weil says:

      Hi Vicky, I am not sure this is even relevant anymore, I can’t seem to see when you posted (date) but I love Janet & try my most to practice her wonderful advice. Loving reading her book right now too. I wanted to share a little with you from my angle as a baby sleep coach. At age 3yrs, your little one should still be getting somewhere between 10-13hrs in a 24hr period & this usually needs a nap in the afternoon. Her behaviour to me sounds like a big dose of having been pushed way past her sleep limits. I agree with Janet that perhaps a slightly shorter day for her in order to have that much needed nap re-charge would help very much.
      Hope things are better for you & that forrest school sounds amazing!

      1. That’s helpful, Gabrielle, thank you. Also, thanks for all your kind words.

    3. Hi, not sure it’s still relevant, but you could get a fairly cheap secondhand double buggy and just strap her in when she gets off the bus. Perhaps she just can’t face the walk home after a really long day. We have the bugaboo bee and the ride along seat which my 3 year old loves.

  6. And again…. you seem to post just what I needed to hear. I realise I’ve got into the habit of negotiating recently. And each ‘ one more..’ seems to fuel her power. Thank you again.

  7. Wonderful advice, but can we please stop talking about two-year-olds as “toddlers”? Two-year-olds can walk perfectly well; they are long past “toddling”. Furthermore, there is a world of difference between a toddler and a two-year-old as far as physical development, verbal ability, emotional needs, cognitive ability, etc. Maybe part of why two-year-olds get so mad is that people still treat them like toddlers.

    1. Gabrielle Weil says:

      My 2 year old still toddles…

    2. Two year olds are still considered toddlers 🙂

  8. Janet – you have previously lumped tooth brushing into necessary activities like medicine. It is absolutely necessary and not voluntary. What changed?
    Rachel- we used the Daniel Tiger morning routine song, and tooth brushing songs and books. We also do it like the dentist (upside down on my lap) when he’s feeling like he doesn’t want to do it himself. He can do it himself and let us “check them” or we can do it. We stepped back for one day and said “hands to ourselves” and didn’t reference the old way. It took about 10 mins for him to understand what was changing so try on a weekend. We did it the exact same way every day (morning potties, morning clothes, morning breakfast, morning brushes (hair, teeth and face). Good luck!

    1. By voluntary I mean that we can’t force a toothbrush into a child’s mouth. There is no respectful way to do that, so we need our child’s cooperation. That means a light touch and being very flexible, letting go of a battle or two in order to win the “war”. Seeing the bigger picture. Keeping the routine, but not making this into a scene that becomes a time of dread for both of us.

  9. Hi Janet,

    I just wanna leave a message and thank you for your insight! I have been reading your posts for sometime and everytime I’m amazed at how well you ‘get’ the dynamics of these little minds. I relate with your ideas, thoughts and explanations. I am a fan big time and regularly look for your next post. I should mention I have 4 lovely children and run an in home daycare the notion of respect you offer instead of demands is the best logic. Very trying and can be the long way around but so worth the long term benefits. I have indeed seen the positives in my home/workplace.

    Mama Mar

    1. Hi Marlene! I really, really appreciate your kind shout-out! I’m thrilled to have offered advice that has been helpful to you. Thanks for sharing with me!

  10. Christina says:

    janet, I appreciate this info but am having struggles with my almost 3 year old. If she is frustrated and hits me, I stop her hand,, but sometimes when I need to pick her up to lead her, she wiggles out of my arms, starts hitting, kicking and just spiraling out of control. I can’t figure out how to get control back. She will run away and is just so strong! I know she needs my help, but I can’t figure out how to help her in this situation. Taking her to our calm down space doesn’t work either.

    1. I think my post on “confident momentum”might be helpful to you:

      Also consider how it must feel to her to be able to overpower you at her young age. It’s very uncomfortable for children to feel that power. Is it possible that you are a bit tentative and cautious when carrying and holding her? I would approach these situations as if you are carrying her out of a burning building (without the frantic, urgent part). Be strong. Be heroic. This is important. She needs a leader who can keep her from wiggling away. If she’s somewhere safe, let her “spiral out of the control”. When she feels you there as her leader accepting her feelings and just keeping her safe — doing your job — she will calm down.

      I don’t believe in “calm down spaces” or “calm down jars,” etc. Children calm down after they have expressed their feelings completely. They don’t need a place or an object to fix this natural process.

  11. This article is so timely for me! My 21 month old daughter, Ivy, had a challenging morning of teething grumpiness which led to not eating which led to more crankiness. It took us 3 hours to deal with meals, dressing, diaper changes, and putting one load of laundry in the machine. Very little else was done because at every turn there were tears and lots of angry NOs. When she wakes up, I will try less negotiating to get her to do things like walk up the stairs and more, “Let’s go upstairs. You don’t want to walk up the stairs? I will help you get there by carrying you.”

    1. Yes, Karen, be her empathetic leader, not her coaxer, negotiator, etc. You can’t wait for her to be ready in those situations. It needs to be perfectly fine for her to feel like a wreck while you help her through whatever needs to happen. Don’t let the “tears and angry NOs stop you from being her parent in this situation (while you always acknowledge her feelings). You’ve got this!

  12. Janet: thank you. I read your posts and “No Bad Kids”, have listened to almost all of your “Unruffled” podcasts, and am now on to some of Magda’s books. At this point I feel I can pretty much predict what your response to parents’ inquiries will be. This has made me a more confident, relaxed, and (I believe) better parent. THANK YOU. Keep posting, writing and podcasting. You have made a real difference in my life, that of my family, and I’m sure countless others.

    1. Thank you, Danielle, I needed that! I love that you can predict what I’ll say. That means you’ve internalized this way of parenting. It’s my absolute pleasure to share ideas that have personally helped me so much and also help the families I work with. Thanks again for your kindness and support. 🙂

  13. Rebecca myers says:

    Janet, this is so helpful and a great reminder. I have a 3.5 year old daughter who recently has started becoming uncompliant (not a word but it’s what I mean) and defiant. Usually I can use calm guidance, distraction, or another leadership skill to gain compliance and in a respectful way.
    We started going to physical therapy and couched it positively to make her big and strong. She has a lung disease and is used to going to various appointments. Our evaluation went well. The first treatment she refused to comply with the therapist in any way. We tried everything. Choices, privileges, prizes, fun activities, talking, etc. I tried physical guidance and brought her slowly over an obstacle with me. But she won’t do any of it on her own so it is a waste as a treatment. She laid on the floor and screamed for 45 minutes. Then she refused to go potty and had an accident.
    My thought is to continue going even if she won’t comply to let her know that the treatment is something she needs for herself. Any ideas on how to turn it around or why this is happening seemingly at one location? We have to start speech therapy in the same building on Monday. I’m concerned we will go through our health care benefits before she gains much of anything.

    1. Hi Rebecca – I don’t recommend distractions, privileges, prizes, etc. I’m wondering how much you’ve read about the respectful parenting approach. It is about building an honest relationship with our children as whole people and working WITH them, rather than trying to work them with tactics and strategies. So, I would ditch all of those things and engage her honestly… “This is what we need to do to keep you to healthy… but you don’t want to do it. I hear that!” Then consider how you can help her to feel more participatory and autonomous in this situation. Explore this with her. I’ve shared more in this post (among others):

  14. Hello Janet,

    Since touching a child is not accepted in a school situation, how would you help toddlers who are lost at school? How would you help them get into their right mind when they are endangering other children by throwing toys, kicking, screaming pulling hair? The triggers aren’t usually apparent. It sometimes happens that parents drop off their child who is already in this state. It is difficult too when there is 20+ children in the room. Thank you.

    1. Hi Heather – How many teachers do you have? I would have someone stay with that child and confidently prevent him or her from behaving destructively while the tantrum is happening. You obviously can’t allow the child to be a danger to others. Then I would handle the storm similarly to my recommendations in this post:

      There is no way to “get” children into their right mind. When the tantrum is over, the child feels better, assuming he or she feels safe in the situation (meaning we are calm and confident).

  15. Gabrielle Weil says:

    Dear Janet, don’t stop what you are doing, the world of mamas & papas need more of you! Wonderful insight, always enjoy reading your advice and I strive to follow your wise suggestions that are often times very difficult to put into practice but with patience & will there is always a way! Thank you for being you!

    1. Gwen Jones says:

      My son has 3 and half year old triplet girls. Bedtime is a nightmare their mum does the counting 1,2,3 of course take no notice threats screams this can go on for a couple of hours. They wake during the night mum finishes up sleeping in their room no quality sleep for anyone. The tantrums are sonething else. When my son put them to bed ges firm no nonsense asleep in no time. Mother thinks what son does can damage psychological .Help whats the answer

  16. Hi Janet,
    You responded to my Facebook comment, asking me for specifics, so here I am with a “for instance” that I’d love your insights on! I have almost-3-year-old and 4 month old girls. I., the toddler, is fantastic and bright and funny and very appropriately challenges us, especially when we’re holding the baby. I find myself running quickly out of helpful, respectful options when this happens and would love your help.

    For example: She took herself to the toilet while I was nursing the baby in the living room. She ran out of the bathroom and launched her naked body onto the couch. I sort of casually said, “Heyyy… you need underwear on!” She laughed and wiggled. So I replied, “I., take yourself off the couch.” I waited a moment, was met with more laughing. I didn’t lead with my typical “I won’t let you” because I was nursing the baby and didn’t have the arms to remove her. After a few moments, I calmly told the baby I had to stop nursing for a moment, put her on my shoulder with one arm and removed I. from the couch, with the other. I placed her back into the bathroom, telling her, “Finish up in here, and then come join us in the living room.” She screamed and thrashed as I calmly stood in the doorway, but she eventually hurt herself trying to escape while I blocked her with my legs. She eventually cried, asked for hugs and help with her underwear. I told her if she needs help, next time, she can let me know and I’ll be happy to help her right away. After she got dressed, she happily washed hands and moved on.

    I guess my question is, how to help get to that point faster? When I’m not able to use the right body language for effective confident momentum immediately, but I KNOW she’s challenging me while nursing the baby for all the myriad reasons. I’m stuck trying to be respectful to both kiddos at the same time. How to help without getting physical? (She also climbs into the baby’s bed when she’s not in it and that’s become another area where I find myself forceably removing her and I hate it!)

    Thanks in advance for your specific language guidance!


  17. Oh Janet! Thanks so much for sharing this. God Bless you real good.

  18. Dear Janet I feel like I have created a very impossible situation to change and am desperate for any advice. I’ve always Co slept with and breastfed my daughter to sleep. She is now 21 months and despite a good effort to almost night wean her, it’s gone backwards again. I used the help of having her dad, who I’m not with anymore, to stay over with her for many nights. I don’t really want ti ask him to do if again as losing the space with him isn’t easy. She went back before as she had been ill so I’d fed to comfort and it never stopped.

    I’ve brought her cot into the room that she’s never used as I’m desperate to have good sleep again. Only thing is I get overwhelmed at fears of bad parenting when she goes off the rails and she really has in the past when I tried to put her in her cot. I want her to sleep there but I don’t want to go ahead with such a mission if perhaps at this late stage, it’s not going to be possible. I’ve tried talking to her Bout hoe much bi need my sleep and that milk us just for the day and although she seemed to accept it before, she seems to ignore it now.

    Any advice is do appreciated as I am so burnt-out.

    Thank you

    1. Marisa, have you had any luck with this? My daughter is 18 months old and I bring her into bed with me after she wakes up (this helps me to get more sleep). But she is waking up and wanting to breastfeed a lot and we are thinking about trying for another baby soon, so I’m thinking about night weaning, but am worried it’s going to be a nightmare!

  19. Dear Janet,
    I have a 2.5 year old daughter and a 4 week old daughter. 2.5 year old daughter has been overall positive about new baby, but of course with all the changes and emotions has had some meltdowns (I totally expected this and am trying to help her through them respectfully).
    At lunch time today she only ate some applesauce and declined the rest of her plate. She is usually a great eater so this led me to believe that she must be more tired than usual and we better get her down for her nap asap. I told her it’s time to change her diaper (she goes on the potty sometimes but I don’t push it), she said she didn’t want her diaper changed. Que newborn to start crying because she is hungry . I tell toddler we need to change her diaper because I don’t want her to get a diaper rash and she can lay down by herself or I can help her lay down. She says “no”. I then proceed to wrestle her down to change her diaper (she is very strong). I definitely lost my cool and raised my voice and was not calm. Finally got the diaper on, she ripped it off. I then left the room, I was about to really lose my cool and I also had a screaming newborn. I sat on the couch and started nursing and the toddler comes out to sit by me, still sobbing (I’m crying too at this point). I finally finish nursing, get the diaper on and her in bed.
    I know I handled this poorly. Please tell me what I should have done.
    Ps I have read Elevating Child Care (twice) and I’m half way through no bad kids.
    Thank you so much for your help.

  20. Thank you for this, Janet. I come back to your work time and time again to get myself on a better path.

    I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction for the following type of situation? It’s something that happens quite often, whether or not we are trying to get out the door.

    This morning, while getting ready to leave the house, my 3-year-old son began having tantrum after screaming tantrum. It began when I said he could get a toy AFTER he was dressed, and not before, like he wanted (we were already short on time and it had already taken immense effort to actually get him in the bedroom in the first place!) His pyjamas were already halfway off at this point and he just kept screaming at me to put them back on so he could go get a toy. Again, I said no, we need to get ready, I’m going to help you. I tried to undress him but he started screaming more hysterically and swatted me away. I snapped and just undressed him against his will. He’s then screaming for me to put his pyjamas back on. My husband comes in and tried to force clothes onto him, which my son resists. Our son demands that I dress him, so I try, only to be met with him yelling “Put my pyjamas back on and then take them off and put my clothes on!” It went on and on and he kept demanding that we undo something or another in order to get to the next step (for example, he then wanted me to take his clothes off and put them back on because he didn’t want his dad to dress him… Even though he wouldn’t let me either!)

    So I guess my question is: what should you do in this type of situation? Should I just have let him get the toy in the first place? How do you deal with hysterical tantrums when you’ve got limited time and need to get moving, when you can’t wait around all day for a child to calm down and become more cooperative?

    Thanks so much for your help, I really appreciate it!


  21. Hi Janet, thank you for this article as well as the thread, very useful today, haha. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on bedtime anxiety and how to negotiate the balance between leading him firmly and confidently into sleep time and meeting his emotional needs. I often feel like I’ve abandoned him when I leave the room because he is so upset when I leave. He wants me to stay in there while he falls asleep but then wakes every time I leave and needs me to do it all over again. I have only done this once or twice because I see the patten we are getting into. I have a young baby I need to tend to and don’t have the time to do this. I have talked to him about his fears and he’s not really able to express them, not surprising. I am also working tirelessly at connecting throughout the day to manage sibling jealousy. any guidance would be appreciated.

    Thank you,

  22. Hi Janet – thanks so much for your advice above. I’m still struggling with how to handle this teeth brushing point though (as it’s exactly the issue we’re having). Once you’ve told them it’s time to brush teeth and they refuse, how do you move past this in a way which isn’t just letting them think that it’s acceptable to refuse something by saying no (compulsory for their health!)? Generally my nearly 4yo will comply but sometimes she is just in a “funny” mood (usually tired!) and decide she won’t do it. I have ended up brushing them myself which I agree isn’t respectful or pleasant for either of us, but I saw it as a direct consequence rather than punishment – ie if you can’t brush yourself I’ll have to do it for you (I tell her this). Am I better to just not ask her to brush at all if I think she’ll refuse because she’s in one of those moods, or always ask but say “ok I can see youre tired so we’ll not bother this evening [but you need to brush for longer in the morning then?]” – ? I’m struggling to see how I can link their non compliance to a direct consequence, or handle their non compliance with confidence that I’m not caving too easily and teaching them the wrong lesson!

  23. Hi Janet,

    My four and half year old son watches his favourite cartoon and I feel he is completely lost in that even after the cartoon gets over he plays with his toys imagining them as cartoon character n he imitates everything he viewed in the cartoon.. Is it common or unsafe. Should I bring him out of it.. If so plz let me know how should I do that..

    1. Hi Vani,

      That’s the common (and brilliant) way children process, make sense of and learn from what they’ve been exposed to. That should demonstrate to you the high impact even a simple little cartoon can have. Children are very sensitive and they absorb deeply. So, no, I would definitely not try to “bring him out of” that important work. What I would take from this is to choose carefully what you expose him to.

  24. I understand that there seems to have been more contributing in the moment for this little guy and his mom, but I wanted to add another suggestion. My son went through a phase of “snatching” my glasses off my face at various times. I was able to identify that he was doing it because he wanted to look into my face without the glasses in the way. In addition to taking them back from him immediately, I also gave him words to use so that he could ask appropriately, “Mommy, can you take your glasses off please?” He was around 2 at the time and hadn’t really spoken in full sentences yet. One day he reached up with an annoyed facial expression to “snatch” them from me again and stopped himself. I could see his brain working as he said, “Mommy, take glasses off please?” That was his first more-than-two-word sentence!

    I often find it so helpful to explain what I *want* my son to do (give him the tools he’s lacking) rather than to tell him what I *don’t want* him to do. I don’t frown on his ability to use the tools at any given moment, but I also recognize he simply won’t be able to use a tool that hasn’t ever been given to him. If all that’s ever offered in response to an impulse is, “Don’t do that,” (or even “Don’t do that, or else…”) we’re not really giving a kiddo the tools to make a more appropriate choice the next time they have that impulse.

  25. Hi Janet,
    I’ve been finding your posts invaluable and on the whole I’ve been enjoying a wonderfully close and respectful relationship with my 3.5 yr old. However, in the last few weeks he’s been stalling at bedtime. He needs another wee, wants to tidy up, needs a last hug, one more jump on the bed etc. I don’t know how to stop him from getting out of bed and running out of the room and down the stairs. I just can’t work out what the respectful parenting option is here? I believe I’m being confident in the bedtime routine, not negotiating etc but he just runs out the room every time I try to tuck him up. He’s testing my boundaries but I don’t know how to enforce the limits I set. Please help! Thank you so much x

  26. How do I get my 30 month old son to stop throwing things at his sister, TV (just got a new flat screen and on cue it’s broke) etc. while the TV is a constant reminder, he is throwing dangerous objects at my 6 year old daughter and hurting her. We don’t know what to do.

  27. I like the idea of ‘confident momentum’ and the mama bear just guiding the little one. I get a bit confused though on how to balance this with choices. In this podcast it seems rather the opposite. So with the toddler refusing to get dressed it seems less like confident momentum and more like allowing choices. So on the one hand, it seems like just using benevolent parental authority to keep things moving but the podcast example seems more like waiting for things on the toddlers terms. Any insight on how these examples aren’t really different?

  28. I am struggling with my 2.5 yr. she is queen of procrastination. Lots of “I need one more minute”, now she says “two more minutes”. Getting ready for bed is particularly hard. I give her two choices & involve her in the process of choosing pjs, for example, but she “ignores” me. Only way to get her answer is when I say, “ok, I will chose” & then she yells and says she wants the opposite thing. I get why she is doing it but how do I get her stop?!

  29. Need help please! Toddler (16 months) keeps trying to climb on our kitchen table from the bench seat. I keep taking her down, and firmly but kindly saying I won’t let you climb up there it is not safe. I’ve had to do it a about 10 times in a row and it’s still not getting through to her. She doesn’t even get upset by it she just thinks it’s a game or something. What to do?

  30. So I definitely don’t do consequences in the sense of if you do this then this will be your punishment so you better stop it. But I have done consequences in the sense of your actions have consequences. Like with my four year old trying to do something rude or mean to force my hand to bend to do what she wants instead of being patient and waiting for me to be done so I can do what she wants then the consequences is she doesn’t get what she wants and explaining that cause and effect to her. She didn’t seem to have a problem with it or get upset and understood and accepted. So is that Kind off cause/effect consequences that aren’t if you do this then this will be your punishment consequences ok? Or is that also not right to do? I want to build trust and respect her emotions but I also want her to know that doing such things like ripping my phone out of my hand while I’m on the phone so I’ll stop and play right now is not ok and is not the path to get what she wants.

    1. Hi Sarah – the consequence you are describing sounds fair and reasonable to me because it is an expression of your personal boundaries. “When you treat me rudely, I don’t feel like doing you that favor.” That’s perfectly valid and I agree that children need to learn this kind of cause and effect.

      If you’re interested, I covered my thoughts on consequences in this post:

      Thanks for your question.

  31. Hi Janet,

    I’ve been following your techniques for years when I first started out as a nanny and wanting more advice on handling tough situations. Now as a mother of an almost 3 yo and 7 month old I’m finding myself handling new situations. We talk about emotions a lot in our household and always validate when anyone is expressing themselves. The issue we have been having lately is with our 3yo pushing, kicking, and hurting the 7month old. When I see this behavior starting to occur, I help stop my 3yo body and tell him what I’m doing so that he doesn’t hurt his brother. But I don’t always catch it. And when it does happen and the baby is crying because he was pushed over, I notice my 3yo often running away or laughing at what he did. I know kids have like zero impulse control and we’re here to help. But I’m at a loss of what to do in these situations. Do I try and calmly talk to the toddler about what happened? Attend to the baby and ignore the toddler? Nothing feels right and it feels like nothing is getting better no matter what my husband and I do. Please, we could really use some advice.

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