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Struggling to peacefully parent 2 defiant toddlers

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Dr. Laura,

I really like the concept of your work. I've read several Q&As from your website that have helped me handle my children better during an extremely rough time right now (for both them and me). However, since I started holding them through the tantrums and simply giving them words for their emotions ("I know you don't want to do this, but throwing/hitting/insert behavior here…") both of my toddlers (ages 2 & 3) have started crying in a loud, monotone voice "But I don't want to!" It pushes me beyond the borders of my patience, especially because of my situation. Is there anything on your site that addresses behavior changes in them directly related to the new way parents start relating to them? I feel like I see some changes, but then other times I really don't feel like I see anything and I end up really frustrated not knowing what to do. Again.

Thank you!


I can't tell from your letter exactly what is happening, but I think you are saying that you and your kids end up in a standoff, where you won't let them hit/throw etc. and they refuse to do what you want. The key to defusing that standoff is your empathy and compassion. In other words, back off whatever you want them to do (that they are saying "I don't want to" about.) Instead, empathize with whatever emotion they are expressing. "You are so mad that you want to hit/ throw..You can be as mad as you want, and you can tell me in words...You can stomp your foot to show me...And I won't let you hurt anyone....I think you are sad inside, too, because I said no (or "it's time for bed" or whatever). It is so hard when you want x and I say no..." Kids respond to that empathy by crying. After they cry, they are more cooperative because they showed you those feelings and are no longer stuck on them. They can move on. I hope that helps. Also, have you seen this post? 12 Tips to Transition to Peaceful Parenting   

Dr. Laura

Not quite. They both just start screaming "I don't want to!" When I lovingly try to set healthy limits. They started running from me and fighting me which they did not do before. All of this has started as a result of practicing the gentle parent approach. The thing is that my daughter does not cry. She screams and shows anger, and whines loudly, but I don't see her coming to real tears. In fact I feel like she would rather fight me just so that I hold and comfort her later. Especially when I go out of my way to hold and touch her as often as I can during the day. It doesn't really make me want to hold her when my patience is already at its limit and it seems she's doing things purposefully to anger me. I want to view her differently, and your approach has helped me to, but it's very hard.


The reason they are now fighting and resisting is that they are not cowed, because they are not as frightened. You can change that by focusing on staying connected with your empathy, both while setting limits and the rest of the time. Yes, this approach is really hard. I wish it were easy. The reason it's so hard, as you say, is that it is so hard to manage our own emotions. When your patience is already wearing thin, the most important thing to do is to breathe and reframe things to see it from her point of view, so that you will actually feel more compassion. The compassion will be healing to you and to her. And yes, she IS purposely doing things to anger you. She is going into fight mode so she doesn't have to feel all those sad, mad, scary feelings that have built up. This is addressed in the post above. Also, it is covered in my book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids. Have you read it yet?


I haven't gotten the book yet but I totally plan to as soon as I can. Thank you for taking the time to respond to me. Your words give me encouragement, and help me to see the situation in a different light. For awhile I felt like I was just making it worse. Whenever I slack I see the old bad habits starting to come up again. That part is frustrating. Overall, I really do see a difference in the gentle approach. I just need to be more consistent and I need to manage my own emotions better. Thank you again for your advice! I will read the article.

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Dr. Laura Markham is the author of three best-selling books

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