How my bad 4-year-old and I found our way home

There’s simplicity parenting, attachment parenting, parenting by temperament. Authoritative parenting, French parenting, parenting the spirited child.
And one I think we’re all familiar with: parenting by the seat of our pants.

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Image by Shena Tschofen

That, whether I like it or not, is where I parent from most of the time. And let me tell you, the seat of my pants is battered and worn. As I have mentioned before, parenting Jo since I got pregnant with Cal has been no cake walk. We’re talking hitting, kicking and throwing things at me when I was pregnant, having big physical outbursts with other kids and trying to contain his massive physical energy in a small house with a newborn.

I sought advice everywhere I could—books, friends, my mom. I dissolved into tears while asking Jo’s teacher what I should do after his first morning of preschool, all while bouncing Cal in his carrier.

So this last fall, I went to an introductory talk for a Hand-in-Hand parenting class that was recommended by a mom I’ve been admiring for months. Her daughter goes to Jo’s preschool and she’s a kick ass and very real mom of 3 exuberant children, including a very physical, eldest boy which is why I sought out her sage advice.

At the end of the talk, I was the woman raising my hand, “Sure Angela, that all sounds great, but then what do I do when my 4 year old starts head-butting me?” I walked out of there with the massive chip on my shoulder that only a mother of a super-physical and sometimes-aggressive boy can have: Your slick limit setting ideas won’t work in my house. My child will chew up your parenting tools and spit them directly into my face.

But I was at the end of what felt like every one of my ropes, so I tried what she talked about.

I actually stopped the 7 things I was trying to do at once while making dinner and got down on the floor with Jo the next time he tried to hit me. AJ happened to be home, so I had the pleasure of being able to try this without having Cal in tow. I tried to set the limit with a “firm and warm tone while making lots of eye contact.” I just kept saying things like, “I can’t let you hit me.” And “I know you’re angry because we’re not going to watch a video.” And “Nope. I can’t let you kick me either.” I stayed with him while he flipped out.

It was the parenting equivalent of walking straight into enemy fire.

And it effing worked.

He cried and screamed and thrashed. And then the hitting stopped. And he melted into a hug.

I was stunned.

I signed up for the class.

Like any parenting advice worth its salt, the things I learned there and practice now are just good habits for living as a human being. And they happen to apply really well to the under-developed brains of children and the calcified brains of parents.

There’s so much to say here because the whole Hand-in-Hand approach is a sweeping understanding of human relationships in general.

It’s rooted in brain science, in particular the functioning of the social or limbic part of our brains that is fully formed when we’re born. When we feel connected to others, our limbic system is happy. When we don’t, the red flag is raised, the alarm sounds. Babies cry. Toddlers tantrum. Moms want to fly far far away from here.

So, in short, the answer when things are going pear-shaped is to find a way to connect if you can. If you can’t, it’s okay. Try again next time. Angela, the same Angela I grilled with chip-on-my-shoulder questions at the intro talk, would repeat this kindness over and over: sometimes you just can’t stop everything and connect. Surprise! You’re human. Each time she’d say this, I could feel every parent in the room deflate into relief. She understood. Sometimes, you just need to sit your child down in front of 6 episodes of Animal Babies on Netflix until you get your sanity back.

The other thing the class reminded me about was how crucial listening is. Often, our kids desperately want to be listened to when they’re upset. (Shockingly, I also want this.) And if we’re not getting listened to as parents, about the relentlessness of it, the trials and triumphs and mind-numbing Tuesdays, then it’s really hard for us to listen to our kids.

Eureka.

Getting listened to over the course of the 6 week class felt like cleaning out some backed-up old pipes. Week after week I was allowed and even encouraged to let ‘er rip: “When he bit me, I wanted to hit him. I wanted to scream, ‘What the hell is your problem?!’” And slowly, I de-gunked. And the water ran clear again.

I credit what I learned in my Hand-in-Hand class with helping me recover the relationship with Jo that I loved. The way I see his outbursts and respond to them has changed subtly, and we recover faster.

As a result of all this listening and limbic system learning, I was able to make a radical mental shift:

I was able to see Jo as a good kid.

After so many months of having him try to hurt me (and sometimes succeeding) and watching him lash out at the baby, I started to believe that Jo was bad. Damaged. Wrong.

This may come as a huge surprise, but when you’re parenting your child from the perspective that they are The Bad Seed, your relationship with that child does not tend to flourish.

I’ve witnessed now, time after time, that if I have the presence and time to connect with Jo when he’s going off the rails, (which sometimes I don’t—see Netflix option above) if I can stay warm and firm, it reminds him (AND ME!) that I’m the grown up. I’m the big padded wall he can fling himself against. I’m not going anywhere. And I see that he’s okay and that we’re okay deep down. He can unfurl in that safety, flip out, and then come back. I show him that I know he’s great even when he’s at his worst. And then he knows how to find his way back.

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‘The Long Way Home’ by Christine und David Schmitt

Case in point:

Cal was crawling around with some toys in the living room and Jo was running and jumping everywhere at ludicrous speed. I stopped Jo and looked in his eyes and asked him to please slow down, because he might accidentally knock Cal over, and I know he doesn’t want to hurt him. Not 2 minutes later, Cal got knocked over, fell on his face and came up with a bloody, screaming mouth. My face crumpled and started to get that angry look towards Jo. I scooped up Cal, and Jo looked back with this horrifying grin on his face as if to say, “See how bad I am?”

I had the presence in that moment to remember his goodness. So instead of talking to the sadistic nutcase in front of me, I talked to the kid I know he is.

Don’t worry, Jo. Cal is going to be okay. I know you didn’t want to hurt him and that it’s really scary to see him bleeding. But he’s going to be just fine. He needs to cry because he’s hurting. But I know you didn’t do that on purpose and I know how much you love him.

I brought him in close and just kept talking about how I knew he was scared and sad and that he loved Cal to pieces. He kept playing the cruel jerk. But I just kept right on.

When Cal’s crying died down, it was time for us to go meet a friend. Jo fell quiet while we were getting in the car, and as I was buckling him in, he asked, “Can I hug him?”

Why yes, dear boy. You can.

“Can I kiss him too?”

By all means.

And then, after the gentlest hugging and kissing that I’ve ever witnessed from my little dynamo, he settled into his seat, looked straight into my eyes and said, “Mama, I’m never going to do that again.”

Yowza. We made it.

143 thoughts on “How my bad 4-year-old and I found our way home

  1. Yep, cried. That was powerful, you showing him to empathize when all you want to do is scream at him for hurting. What you wrote has an impact for me right now. I can be that padded wall.

  2. I love Hand in Hand’s approach. Can I just say that what you said to Jo after Cal got knocked down was spot-on and perfect and so very caring. How inspiring. Seeing the Hand in Hand approach in action in real life situations is always such a lovely reminder. Thanks!

  3. I am not one that normally comments on posts, but I felt compelled to do so today. You see, I am a mother to a beautiful boy who tries my patience every day. Your description of the sadistic smile that he gets is so like my William’s! Oh, and if I cry-he will erupt into a fit of laughter. But, as you say, deep down it is all an act. A cover. A costume he wears to ensure that no one know exactly how upset and disappointed he is that he made that choice. His pre-school teacher tells me everyday how mean he is to her and that he thinks his actions are funny. So, we are seeing a counselor to help, but my heart breaks that his teachers have labelled him as “bad.” He is so much more than that mask. Your post brought me to tears, because you showed me I am not alone. Thank you!

    1. Oh Mandy, I WROTE THIS POST FOR YOU. Keep the faith. It is so so hard sometimes. But he’s good deep down. Try as much as you can to surround yourself with people who know how good he is too. Please keep me posted, okay?

  4. Thank you for sharing. I’m trying to find a way with my 3 years old boy that plays –often– the agressive kid, usually against me. Hand in Hand is really helpfull and I’m looking for other adults that could listen to me as my kid wants to be listened by me. I’m really glad reading your experience. Appreciation!

  5. I am so glad I came across this article today! This is my son ALL over the place. He just tUrned 5 and I have been struggling with this for months now, and it just keeps getting worse and worse. Thank you so much for writing this and reinforcing what I have been trying to do with him that everyone else thinks I am doing wrong. They’re ideas are the slamming and so on, and I am not ok with that!

    1. Stick with it, Kirsten. It is so hard to be the parent of our kind of boy in the world. Because so many people are judging the behavior harshly and your parenting response and that trickles in. But I know your boy is good and that your relationship will grow in the direction you want if you remind him over and over that you see who he really is. All while venting to a listening partner about how bad you think he is sometimes!!

      1. It’s beyond hard 😦 I have four boys – two are like your son. Your piece had me in tears as not an hour ago I had numerous sets of eyes glaring at me at a park as a meltdown occurred. I stayed calm, told myself to ignore the judgement and to love my boy. But gosh was it hard. Even after two years of practice staying calm with him during his outbursts (since I finally learned not staying calm made it infinitely worse!) I still struggle. Reading this piece and knowing it is okay to not always be connected was what I needed today because I am falling flat lots lately on that note. Bottom line: (1) thank you for a beautiful and needed piece and (2) I’ll listen to you any day.

        1. Seriously, Rhino. Its nuts. Beyond hard indeed. First of all, you deserve a medal for having four kids. and boys! I’m sure that’s what would happen if I kept going. Boys and only boys.

          Can I please say how shocking it is that the most judgment we face is from our parenting peers?! We’re all doing this and know how effing hard it is and yet…

          It is SO OKAY to not always be connected. Also, its impossible to always be connected. Its all about rupture, repair, rupture repair. Just keep coming back. To yourself, and them.

          Thank you thank you for sharing here.

  6. Thank you for sharing this. I’m in much the same place with my 6 year old at the moment after a ‘crisis point’; I’m somehow now managing to keep calm in the face of his hyperactivity and his less than empathic responses to his little sister’s teary reactions to his rough physical behaviour with her. Just like you said, maintaining that inner equilibrium in yourself to stay focused on being warm but firm and reminding yourself of how amazing your children are when they themselves are in a good place – it seems to work. Hope you go from strength to strength as you grow together.

    1. Yeeesh, I hope so too Free to Be. But it’s been a number of months since this episode took place and we still backslide a lot. I’m so heartened today to hear from so many moms who are facing the same thing. These boys can’t all be Bad Seeds, can they. All I know is that this parenting gig is a PRACTISE. Some days I fall flat. Other days: enlightenment!

  7. My beautiful bad seed is all girl..lovely, opinionated, strong-willed, thoughtful, loving, commanding, and gorgeously all girl. With a temper that can send giants to the corner, silently weeping and hugging their knees. I;ve learned from her that despite my executive status at work, that I do not need to control a situation. That the image I had of my calm kiddo and I quietly exploring all the little things in life is not entirely impossible, but that it can only come on her terms. When SHE has decided. Calm and patience are my contributions to her life – and she needs me to consistently deliver no matter how many times she flings toys at me, or kicks me, or runs from me…she is perfect – and perfectly nehaved as long as I manage the chaos and let her be little. I’m exhausted – and emotionally drained – and I would not trade it for the world…

  8. wow! My son is 11 months old and I can already see Jo in him. I get so frustrated but this really encouraged me. And yep.. cried in the end! thanks for the post. It helps to “know” I am human but that I can be that padded wall for him. The “soft place” my husband talks about.

  9. Thank you for putting in words what I’ve been trying to do with my nearly-3yr old bundle of energy boy. I’ve recently discovered if I say “I love you but I don’t like what you’re doing right now” it ends the hostility and he melts into my arms in tears. We’ve got a long road ahead here with two boys – good thing I’m a very well-padded wall.

    1. Yeah, Gayle, I think he did. But it is so hard to see past that sometimes. Once, AJ looked at Jo when he was doing that and said “You feel embarassed, huh?” Jo neither confirmed nor denied it, but I was blown away that he could see through that. It takes a lot more work for me. Depending on the day, I might be able to do it.

  10. Thank you for this! I am trying to do this with my son but I’m hitting a wall with some things. When my son goes berserk he tries to hit and scratch and bite and he’s like a wild beast. If it’s not that it’s chucking things at me and knocking things down. When I just try to block a hit, say, he’ll grab a projectile and he’s dang fast. I hate it but I end up holding him down because I don’t know what else to do. I am saying the things and staying calm but he’s too dang fast and furious….any ideas?!
    Thanks so much

    1. Hi Liz. I totally get it. Our boys sound like birds of a feather 😉 What I learned from Angela’s class was to touch them with as much force as you need and NO MORE. That’s the trick, and I’ve only learned it by practice and sometimes I get so angry I can’t do it. But in an ideal scenario, here’s what I’d recommend: hold him with only as much force as you need to with his back to your chest. Cross your legs over his. Cross his arms over his chest with your arms. If he’s still trying to bite, which he probably will, try to restrain his arms with one of yours and press his forehead to your chest with your other hand. This *can* work for me, especially if I’m talking to Jo the whole time with the warm firm tone, which is also key, “I’m doing this with my hands and legs because I can’t let you hurt me. I can move my hands and legs when you can stop trying to hurt me and other things….” I’m sure you’ve found this, but if there’s once ounce of fear or anger in my tone, everything goes wonky. The only other thing I do sometimes is to say, “Honey, I can tell you’re really upset and I can’t let you hurt me. I know you don’t want to hurt me so I need to get some space from you right now. I want to stay close, and if you can stop trying to hurt me, I’ll be able to. But to stay safe, I’m going to go over here or close the door or whatever it is you need to do. Jo throws stuff too, and there are times when I have to close his door to deflect things. I explain to him why and when he cools down, we keep going. Sigh. Just writing this gives me BUCKETS of empathy for you. Does any of this sound helpful?

  11. I do the holding with my son as well. I have no other choice when he gets that upset and angry. Like a few of you have said above, he hits, kicks, head butts, body slams me, bites, throws things, ect, and laughs all the while doing it. And I know he is not laughing to be malicious, but because he cannot get his emotions under control, and he doesn’t understand them. It’s damn hard though. And he’s a strong little bugger. I am sincerely hoping we can work through alot of this behavior and self regulation before he starts kindergarten in the fall.

    *note from my previous comment, I was on my phone and “spanking” came out as “slamming” …… I am soooooooo tired of other people telling me that is what I need to do, give him a good spanking, the belt, a paddle, or something, it breaks my heart that they say that, and think that

    1. Well, slamming and spanking aren’t so far apart, are they? 😉 I’m so impressed with you, Kirsten. To stay steady with what you feel is right is so hard when you’re under the watchful eye of so many parents who disagree and doubt. Not to mention that I’ve certainly felt like smacking Jo during one of his outbursts. But I agree with you–it’s hard for me to see how the solution to aggression is more aggression. How is hitting our kids supposed to teach them that hitting is not okay? But yeesh, it is so hard to be the subject of what looks like completely sadistic behavior. And to feel like somehow, by staying calm and grounded that you’re enabling it. We had SO Many conversations about this in our parenting class, ie: If I let go of all of the more punitive parenting strategies, will everything just turn to mayhem?! Can this really work?! It was so incredible to be part of those conversations about the biggest questions of parenting and all of our assumptions about what works. I still find myself at this crossroads–do I do something punitive or have the time/energy to listen, stop, be with him. Depending on the moment, i’ll go either way. But time and time again, the second option ends up generating breakthroughs. The first option works in the short term.

  12. Yes!! Loved this and shared it on my facebook page. I have a spirited son and daughter. I’ve encouraged my son, when he starts to get his “crazies” to come give me the biggest hug he can and hug all the “crazies” out. You know, before it gets too far and I have to hug him until he has himself under control. It’s so hard to remember that the maniacal laughing is really just a defense mechanism for their fear. Hugs to you!

  13. Loved this today!! I have a very spirited 2.5 year old and the rubber is really meeting the road with him lately; it’s time to parent. To figure out a gentle strategy that works. To get daddy on board and get the whole house functioning differently. I know things can’t go on like they have been; something’s gotta give. It’s him or me, and considering I’m the adult, I should be the one to alter my behavior. My question is: do you have any book recommendations? Your class sounds amazing but I’m not sure if there are any around me. I thought I would start off by seeing if there were any books you might be able to recommend. Thank you so much!

    1. I know exactly where you are, Kate. In terms of reading, I would go to the Hand-in-Hand parenting blog I link to in my post. And I’d also go to this page of my teacher’s website where she has a handful of quick and wonderful videos. They are the distilled version of what I got in that intro talk:
      https://parentconnecteastbay.com/welcome/introduction/
      The other resource I love is Janet Lansbury’s blog:
      http://www.janetlansbury.com/
      And you’ll probably also relate to this post about a book one of my readers recommended. And might be more worth your precious time just to read my post rather than the book:
      https://anhonestmom.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/read-it-tears-and-tantrums/
      Hope that helps!!
      Also, regardless of you live, you can take a Hand-in-Hand parenting class:
      http://www.handinhandparenting.org/product/parenting-classes-building-emotional-understanding/
      I haven’t taken this class, since I had the option of an in person class (and you might have that too–just check on the H-i-H website.)
      You can do it. Things change.
      Please stay in touch and let me know what’s working and what’s not. I wanna learn with you.

  14. Wow. Just Wow. Your story resonated with our boy word for word. We have adopted a similar approach without actually putting into words the way you have done so brilliantly. I hate the word “naughty”. Always have, always will. If there is one thing that we can do for him (except to love him unconditionally!) it will be to surround him with people that can see the good and the huge potential that he has. He is amazing kid, I know that no one else will see him the way we do, but to see that spark underneath? Priceless. I’m no angel, and I have no halo around my head, I am only human and I don’t ALWAYS have the modicum of patience that I need to have, but I do MOST of the time. Thank you for your words of insight, wisdom and humanity. This is one of the best articles I have read in a while.

    1. Jenny–I couldn’t agree with you more–the other piece of this is deepening connections with people in your life who can see the goodness in your kids and getting some distance from those that can’t. That’s another major victory I had with Jo. I’ve created some space between a few folks in our lives who have a hard time seeing the brilliance underneath Jo’s physicality. It was hard to do, but felt INCREDIBLE. When you have a physical boy, you feel like you’re always defending the world from them, and for once, you get to DEFEND THEM against people who just can’t keep the vision.

  15. So I had another chance to practice this over the weekend, the first time when my munchkin was amhaving his meltdown, me holding him and letting him get it out for a bit, wasn’t working. To my surprise, when I simply said “you know I love you” in the middle of it all, is when he deflated and it all stopped. Fast forward a few hours, that same trick didn’t work, and I had a grandparent trying to “help” who doesn’t quite understand this method of parenting. And that is when I tend to struggle more. My son is more upset, I am more upset by the “help” that isn’t helping, and it’s just one big mess. I try to remove my son and I from those situations when possible, but we can’t avoid everyone all the time either.

    Did I see mentioned above that there was an option of an online hand in hand parenting class? I am in Canada and haven’t actually heard of that class until coming to this site.

    1. Kirsten…So interesting. That’s definitely been my experience too. There’s no magic bullet. One hit wonder. It’s a moving target for sure, but I’m pretty struck by the “you know I love you” victory. And in my experience when you throw grandparents into the mix, all bets are off. I have to thing of those times completely differently, and often, for me, the only solution is to try to get some space–even if just in the corner of the room. Though you’re right, its not always possible and all I know to do in those situations is to acknowledge to myself that I’m gonna let this one go. There’ll certainly be another chance.

      From what I know you can do these classes from just about anywhere:
      http://www.handinhandparenting.org/product/parenting-classes-building-emotional-understanding/
      They have classes and teachers in all sorts of countries, and I would expect that Canada is no exception. But I know that if you’re in touch with Hand-in-Hand they’ll certainly get back to you.
      The other thing for your immediate consumption are these videos that my teacher Angela has posted–they’re the distilled version of that intro talk I blogged about: https://parentconnecteastbay.com/welcome/introduction/

  16. Ladies, this was so my son when he was younger. I think I still have PTSD from his first month or so of kindergarten when he was 5. He suddenly started hitting and kicking other kids, which he had never done before, was seated at a lunch table by himself and came close to being expelled. A change in his ADHD meds and six years of maturing and work by teachers and parents later, he just graduated from fifth grade and will be entering middle school this fall. He has some issues with writing and math (can’t blame him there), but otherwise he is an A/B student. He has friends, and he likes to play Minecraft and soccer. He can also be very funny, if sarcastic. Some days I still want to kill him, but those days are farther and farther in between. Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is hold on. It will get better!

    1. Thanks for saying there is a light at the end of the tunnel so to speak 😉 My son was in pre-k last year (Sept – Dec) before we moved, and he struggled with his teacher, as did I. He was sent to the principal’s office multiple times, and was actually sent home one day. And there’s me going, what the hell is going on here for this to happen? He had a very traumatic experience at his daycare just that summer where I had to call in CPS and file a police report ect, and I wasn’t sure if that was playing a part in the behavior, but am sure it was at that time. When I tried to talk to his teacher and let her know what had happened, to make her aware of what he had been through, she shrugged me off and said she couldn’t take that into account. Ummm, ok then. I have my early childhood education, have worked with children, worked in a daycare, and I know how trauma and abuse can affect a child and their behavior. Yet I came up against this in his pre -k. I’m horrified now for what we may be up against this fall when kindergarten starts. I have one very smart little boy, who is just very active. Sorry for the long winded posts, have been at the end of my rope with my munchkin and the “well meant help” recently. Thank you for the references to check out and a place for a bit of venting!

      1. Are you kidding?! Sounds like you have *a bit* to vent about and if there’s anything this space I want to be, its a free-for-all vent zone. “Couldn’t take it into account”?!?!? Yikes. Whether any of us like it or not, we bring all of our experiences with us wherever we go. Shame that she couldn’t take it into account, because she’ll have to anyway. Love to your boy. And to you! And keep venting here!

        1. No, I am not kidding! Pretty darn sad if you ask me. It had happened only 2-3 months prior to starting pre -k. Oh well. New school, new teacher this year, and if I hit the same wall, I’ll be raising some h*’ll. I know there is better help and support out there for those situations. I’m not going to allow them to slap a label on him (that I know isn’t true) and shuffle him off to the side.

  17. This is the first mommy blog post I ever read straight through, or wanted to. It’s good writing, it’s a good story, there’s good information that even a non-mom can use, and the heroes emerge victorious at the end. I feel proud of you and for you.

    Now…please go forth and somehow download this wisdom magically into the ones letting their offspring scream themselves into dry heaves at the grocery store after which they reward each little performance artist with an apologetic look and a piece of candy. Because I’m designing a tranquilizer gun that shoots Ritalin darts and I’m not necessarily aiming at the kids.

    1. Thanks for reading, allthoughts. Honestly, I’m sure those parents would appreciate a breather from the moment. Better than ritalin might be a gun that shoots the message “I know this is really hard and you’re doing the best you can. Go home and have a cocktail.”

  18. Reblogged this on Naturally Happy Together and commented:
    An amazing women shares her struggles and dissapointments as a mother and how she found the original love again.
    Main points I find in this blog… 1. Find a supportive place to vent your parenting frustration. 2. Make eye contact with your child and clear statements about the unwanted behavior. 3. Focus on the positve side of your child.
    (This sounds like my story in a nut shell.) Thank you so much for sharing this.

      1. You’re welcome. It mirrored my experience so well, I just had to share it.

        Likewise, I look forward to getting to know you in blogland. Is this your first Freshly Pressed post?

  19. How insightful is this… I made some notes…even if the struggle never ends but one thing we have to remember that all this will pass over too….once gone nothing in our hands….so better connect and help and get helped in the process to have a healthy relation as much possible

  20. “My child will chew up your parenting tools and spit them directly into my face.” My son is only 6-months and I feel like this already fits him to a T. Love the insight and I’ll be sharing this with my wife as we prepare for the next stage!

  21. I think this must hit home for every parent!! It’s so true that we have to see our kids as we expect them to be and know they are (good, sweet, kind) rather than what we fear they are or can be (bad, disrespectful, unkind). I love how the new approach is working for you!! Great post!

  22. My first child is two, and I find that there is no established parenting style in my house. I think the toddler takes advantage of our parenting ignorance. Its like he fell out of the womb knowing that we would spoil the crap out of him. lol I love being a mom. I learn something every day.

  23. Thank you for sharing! I’m going through a similar thing with my four year old son. I’ve noticed that when I give him my attention and eye contact he isn’t so wild and destructive. I’ve gotten the Hand-in-Hand emails for years and read them often. I will have to check out if they have classes in rural IL!

  24. I love it, and totally get where you are coming from. Love your Bad Seed reference. Sometimes I have my kids call me “Mommie Dearest” for fun, they have no idea why, but it makes ME laugh. My 4 year old has lately gotten so much more physical with his little sister, he is really pushing limits and when I yell he comes back with “So I guess you HATE me…” I’ve noticed much better results when I remind him on eye level how much I love him too…along with why big brothers can’t act that way. I’ll be looking into this program for help with my approach.

    1. HA. I do something similar with Jo where I say “THANK YOU, MOM!” when I do something especially helpful and out of my way for him. It makes me laugh and that is a good thing. How awesome that your 4 y.o. is so clear about how he’s feeling w/ the Hate comment. You don’t have to wonder how he’s interpreting things. It’s amazing how much the eye level and “warm but firm” tone has helped him and me in those moments.

  25. Whoa!! Loved the ending – got goosebumps! I am in exactly the same boat with my almost 3 year old and little ‘accidents’ with his younger brother. He too will randomly afterwards say ‘I’m sorry mum, I’m sorry for hurting (or whatever it is he’s done) and I know we’re making progress. Such wonderful information – thanks for a great read. Will have a look at your other posts now.

  26. I could relate to many of the things you said. Especially about how we all need to feel connected! My son acts out the most when he sees I’m not listening or venting out my anger constantly at him or that my younger daughter is taking up more of my time… Children just need to be heard and to feel loved all the time…that’s all..And yes when everything else fails, there’s always a stretch of cartoon showing to calm overworked-mommy-nerves! Awesome post!

  27. Such a lovely story. And as a sometimes frustrated parent it is nice to see there is light at the end of a often dark tunnel xx

  28. My kids are 12 and 8 now, but boy, this article really reminded me of how things were working back when they were little. I am going to re-test some of the hints you mention. I really am glad I came across this post, it was exactly what I needed today! Oh, and shameless plug… come visit me at GrinningEmpress.com

  29. What an encouraging, sweet and honest post. Thank you for being a great mom, and thank you for sharing your story honestly (which makes you an even greater mom and greater human.)

  30. Wow. I’m not a parent but this I’d sensational! You must be a great Mom… 🙂

    Why not check out my blog please?

  31. Im a new mom. Last month of my pregnancy and I always wondered about what I was going to do whenever this kind of thing was to happen when my child gets to that over active stage and this really helped me. Thank you very much!

    1. You’re so welcome, Jaime. You might want to look back in my archives for earlier posts about my experience new-momming 🙂 And stuff in the “becoming a mother” category. Stay in touch!

  32. thanks for sharing..I’m having a 4 yo myself, and he does gets physical with his little sister from time to time. Maybe what I really need to do is re-connect. 🙂

  33. Of all the success out there, I say parenting is no easy feat. We are all successful parents when we see the good in our child and we work towards bringing it out so they can be the best that they can be in this life. Kudos to you. Kudos to your son. Thanks for sharing!

  34. It sounds like everyday life with a toddler . We have all been there, feeling like we have let our child down , from time to time . But the methods you use are ones that I use to. Calm .. Look at my child and explain with authority then a huge cuddle and kiss .Children sometimes think they can rule us. We sometimes forget there understand very little as much as we think they understand like adults do. Great blog post . Keep up the good work and sharing your story x

  35. Wonderful! Thank goodness YOU are his mom… I think you’re doing great. Have two boys myself and making a priority of them getting along and acting civil with each other is not always easy. Having animals had been very helpful for us. While not that great as you have a very little one right now, it can do wonders later. As long as the main responsibility lays with the adult, and the children carry just part of it. Not an end all of course, just a small piece of the puzzle. That, and constantly reminding the “troublemaker” hof proud I am off him and talking well of him to others when he can hear. Hugs!

  36. ” this horrifying grin on his face” oh that grin. it surfaced for us exactly at 4, it almost always means I am too ashamed to admit I did wrong. I almost always read it first as an evil cackle and have to remind myself that it comes from hurt and goodness and not a desire to do harm. Thanks for a great post!

  37. This really, really moves me. Your writing is soooo engaging. This is the kind of story mom’s need to have at their fingertips.

    It looks a little silly, but I’ve got it hanging at the end of mine.

    This is a post to share…

  38. I just wanted to say thanks for this post. I have a two year old who is just starting to tantrum, but I found such value in this approach (the connection part, staying with them when they are going through whatever it is that arises) even when she was a lot younger. I re-read it today as a reminder to help with this next phase, and will probably re-read it many more times, too. I have also shared it with others…in short: I love it :).

    1. This made my day, Simone. I have to be reminded all the time to go back to this. It can be so tempting to go with the anger or frustration hook since their big feelings often arise in the least convenient moments…but when I can stop and just be with it, its pretty transforming.

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