Positive Parenting: Punishing Misbehavior Doesn’t Have to be the Answer

Positive Parenting: Punishing Misbehavior Doesn’t Have to be the Answer

One morning my four year old daughter and I were getting ready to leave the house when she suddenly yelled “Idiot!” Right at me.

As I processed the word, I saw my little girl’s cheeks flush. Tears streamed down her face as she half whispered – half yelled “you are an IDIOT Mama.”

Total silence followed as we looked at each other. We stared so long, I nearly forgot to breathe out, and in again.

Idiot. My daughter called me an idiot.

There are many behaviors that really push parent’s buttons. Disrespectful, rude words tend to top the list. The default response for such rude remarks is often a stern “Don’t talk to me like that.” “Mind your words.” Or “How dare you speak to me this way?”

But I didn’t offer any stern remarks. I didn’t ignore, lecture, walk away or consider consequences.

Name calling is not a regular part of our family life. And in this moment, I recognized that my daughter wasn’t aiming for disrespect. She was expressing the disconnect. And punishment doesn’t solve disconnection. It creates more of it. 

“Misbehavior and punishment are not opposites that cancel each other – on the contrary they breed and reinforce each other.” ― Haim G. Ginott

Her choice of word said it all. She was frustrated. She sensed the stress. She was overwhelmed.

I needed to hear her.  Idiot.  I was being careless. Disconnected. I was the one being rude to begin with.

“Let’s go. A bit faster please. I don’t want your brothers to be late. Why didn’t you put your shoes in the shoe box last night to begin with?!?!”  Not exactly words that inspire capability and cooperation!

Children have a lot of feelings. Big Ones. So big, they often fumble when trying to find the right words to express those feelings. There are many words our children say when overwhelmed, frustrated or discouraged that we tend to dislike as parents:

  • “No.”
  • “You can’t make me”
  • “Poopoo head”
  • “That’s stupid”
  • “Idiot”
  • “Go away”
  • “I hate you”

Behind our parental dislike for such words is usually a wish for our children to be respectful, level headed, polite, kind, calm, collected little people. Now and as they grow.

Idiot Mama!

Would I have preferred to hear  “Hey mom, you are rushing me, I’m getting overwhelmed, and could we slow down?” over “Idiot Mama!” Yes, of course. But my daughter was four when this happened. At age four, staying cool, calm and collected under stress isn’t easy.  Actually, most adults I know struggle quite a bit at staying cool, calm and collected under stress.

So, why is it default to punish our children when they need guidance? To ignore them when they need presence? To hush our children when they need a listening ear? Why is it so normal to disconnect and push away when connection, compassion and kindness is needed the most?

The words we use matter, and become our children’s words too. Including the words we use to handle emotional overload.

Idiot is a word I regretfully must admit to using when extremely frustrated. Not AT my children, but yes, they have heard me say it. So, instead of punishing my daughter for misbehavior, I chose to focus on her real message. Idiot = Mom, You are stressing me out!

This is how we moved passed idiot and onto a better morning:

No blame. No guilt. No insisting the meltdown stop. No punishment for honest feelings of overwhelm.

No criticizing her choice of words.  Just focusing on our relationship. 

“I’m not listening to you.”  I said.  “No you are not.” she replied, wiping tears away.

“You aren’t listening to me either.” I said, and she nodded in agreement.

“You need more time. You need me to look at you, not rush you.”

“Yes. Mama.”

“Let’s try again. Want to bring your clothes onto my bed?”

“Can we get dressed together mama?”  “Yes.”

We exchanged two hugs, one kiss and we shared lip gloss.I walked into my daughter’s play school with interest and ready to see all her current projects. I trusted our drop off routine to work even if just slightly slower that particular day.

And then the surprise that made it all worthwhile.

“Sorry I said Idiot” my daughter whispered.

“Sorry I rushed you.” I whispered back.

“Idiot is not your word. Love is your word mama. I love you.”

“I love you too” I said with a tear filled smile.

No punishments or demands for respect and apologies were needed.

My daughter used a word that morning I didn’t like, but she wasn’t being rude, sassy, demanding, spoiled or being “furiously four”. She was just communicating with the tools she had.

November 27th-29th Only!

I taught my daughter that overwhelm and the word Idiot go well together. That morning, I had the opportunity to model relationship repair too. And empathy and validation. Forgiveness and kindness. The value of admitting mistakes and starting over. The value of focusing on relationships. Focusing on love.

Love really is my word. How special that at age four, my daughter knows that. Even if sometimes I’m not so good at it.

Don’t be afraid to focus on your relationship, to show kindness, to model forgiveness. Don’t be afraid to look beyond misbehavior, find the true message and trust the power of connection.

Peace and Be well,


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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

43 Responses to Positive Parenting: Punishing Misbehavior Doesn’t Have to be the Answer

  1. This was absolutely beautiful Ariadne. Thank you so much for sharing this story. And yes, we all say terrible words sometimes that come back to haunt us later when we realize our kids have been watching and listening. It’s a hard lesson, but a good one. Your response showed such love and depth of understanding, no wonder your daughter felt the desire to apologize. Her words were very touching.

  2. Very well narrated and with a solution…we r definitely so busy that we tend to push our timelines on our kids…

  3. Thank you so much Sue. Yes, we all say words sometimes we wish we didn’t. I’m a big believer that words are just that, words. The power behind them comes from our beliefs and values. Staying calm and listening instead of just hearing makes such a big difference sometimes! Thank you for your kind words!

  4. This post makes me laugh and cry at the same time. With my four year old I have these talks and if his six and half year old brother is not around, we can have these marvelous moments of connection and understanding and moving through the moment like you did with your daughter. But my older son is and has always been a far, far more challenging child. This would not have worked with him. Nope. I get so frustrated by these simplistic solutions. If you have a typical child, go for it. If my younger child was an only or an oldest things would be far different in our household. But my older child is not typical, though has no diagnosis. We have been to OT, yes. We practice a lot of wonderful strategies that strive for connection and work at times but not always. It is not a day to day thing but and an hour to hour, minute to minute process of trying to stay calm and connect and not lose my cool over the dozens and dozens of verbal and even physical insults he throws at me, his brother and my husband daily.(We do not use these words in talking with him – and only on a rare occasion in an outburst as you describe you did – nor do we spank or hit.) And the screaming and meltdowns over every small thing and the utter lack of cooperation in moving from one simple step to the next. It exhausting and we move ahead and make progress but it is so very, very much slower than this. He can be lovely and sweet too and we have wonderful, connected times as well – and he is almost always so different when others are around. I read posts and articles like this and talk to professionals and teachers to try and figure him out and do better as a mother and always walk away feeling completely baffled and defeated.

  5. Hi Heather,
    I hear you are saying it’s exhausting and your parenting journey with your oldest, is not the typical experience, or the experience you imagined it would be. I also hear in your words that you are striving and putting in so much effort. Your son is lucky to have you, because from reading your words, what I take away is that you are willing to stick it out. You have the love, the courage, the resolve to keep trying to connect. You care, and when things get tough and tiring, it gets harder to care, but you do anyways. I can offer you resources that might help, and yet, I’m guessing you may already know or have tried many of them. As for feeling defeated, getting here, to this practice, has taken plenty of trials and mistakes. I’m not sure there is ever a simplistic solution. But certainly possibilities. Outburts and inflexibility can be extremely difficult not to take personally and yet, I believe you have the willingness to keep caring, keep connecting even if it feels hard. Thank you for sharing so honestly, and openly. I’m happy to talk more with you anytime.

  6. Is it “DEFAULT” to, “punish our children when they need guidance…”?
    Is it “SO NORMAL” to, “disconnect and push away…”?
    I certainly hope not!
    Sometimes even the best mama’s get to be cranky and impatient and kids just have to learn to DEAL.
    What will your response be when your 4 year old is a teenager and mumbles, “idiot” under her breath? Will you blame yourself for overwhelming her and apologize then as well?
    I truly wish you the best of luck throughout your parenting experience & hope you’ll find a way to write articles that build parents up rather than add guilt to an already difficult job.

  7. Wow. Thank you for that! It’s perfect timing as I’m having a challenging few days with my 4 year old. Heather’s description of her older child sounds just like mine now. I’m going to try to respond differently next time she calls me “stupid”. Have you written an article of how to respond when they physically hurt you? Its difficult not to react right away and see the root cause. Thank you again. Really great timing!

  8. Hi Naomi,
    So glad this has been helpful for you. Yes, here you can read more about helping a child when they become aggresive. It can be quite button pushing or triggering when children become aggresive. I find it’s most helpful to remember that aggression is typically normal childhood behavior, children are instinctively physical when they are scared (angry, frustrated) and that children need help to feel better. That’s where we parents come in, we can help our children learn to regulate their emotions by keeping ours in check (not always easy!) We can stop the aggression and make space to listen. I hope it’s helpful to you and thank you for sharing your experience.

  9. I love this but how would you use it with a toddler who has started hitting. My 4 year old has never been a hitter until this past month. He now hits his 21 month old twin sisters for no reason or for a small reason bc they tickled him or walked pay him. I resort to a timeout and then we talk about his behavior but that doesn’t seem to be working.

  10. Hi Vanessa,
    you might like this post Toddlers and Hitting
    as well as this one 12 Alternatives to Time Out Toddlers are more likely to hit because they feel frustrated and just don’t have the words yet to say “hey you are bothering me when you tickle me” It’s a very impulsive, authentic reaction but we can help them learn better ways. Often with toddlers, time out is confusing, the alternatives listen if you check the link tend to help toddlers really learn what to do instead. hope these help!

  11. Hi A good mom thanks for your feedback. yes of course moms get cranky and impatient, and kids can learn to deal. But as parents, it is also wonderful if we can model relationship repair and how to admit we have made a mistake. This kind of modeling is very helpful for children to develop healthy emotional regulation skills.

    I hope you will look around and see that supporting parents and encouraging them is the very reason I do the work that I do. You are right, parenting is a very difficult job, which reminds me of something I worte in the past:

    Parenting is not a competitive sport

  12. Thank you! Perfect timing. I have been so frustrated with my kids (5 and 6.5) speaking disrespectfully to me and acting out so much. My initial reaction is always the punishment and that never ends well, it does create a bigger disconnect and more anger and I always end up feeling guilty that I didn’t handle it better. I feel really childish. They just push our buttons so!! Anyway, I do love the idea of stopping for a moment and reminding myself in that moment that they need a connection, they are trying to convey something and they don’t yet have the tools for it. Thank you! Baby steps, I will practice tonight, and then I will practice it in the morning, then the afternoon …

  13. Ariadne, You write beautifully and really capture the moment of stress, outburst and re-connection.
    To Heather above…try Dr. Ross Greene’s The Explosive Child….I have been teaching his Collaborative and Proactive Problem Solving methods with clients and their children with nice results. It’s a long term solution and therefore a long process, for children who lack the skills needed in day to day life. Please believe your son wants to do better, he just doesn’t know how to YET.

  14. Judy,

    Thank you for mentioning the Collaborative and Proactive Problem Solving method. I agree that it is such a wonderful way to help children and parents that deal with inflexibility and outbursts. I often reccomend the listening library from Dr. Ross Greene as well as a good place to get started.

  15. Heather,

    Kudos to you for working gently with your son and keeping your cool! Just a thought here, but I am wondering if your child is behaving like this because of gut issues? There has been a lot of recent research on the gut-brain connection. I’ve heard of cases like this, where when the child was taken off of gluten and other allergens (eggs, milk, etc.) and their intestinal system was healed through great nutrition, they almost became like a different child. I hope you can find something to help your son!

    Sincerely, Lori

  16. I just love this story, and the teaching of it is all right here: “my daughter wasn’t aiming for disrespect. She was expressing the disconnect. And punishment doesn’t solve disconnection. It creates more of it.”

    I have a 4 year old son, and I’ve never punished him. Never shamed, or spanked or scolded. I’ve never even yelled at him! But we do get disconnected at times, and he let’s me know it the best way he knows how. Which sometimes is using words and techniques that he’s learned get attention quickly.

    So the key for me is 3 things: 1) discourage the harmful words and inappropriate behavior, 2) empathizing how he feels, and 3) reconnecting with each other.

  17. So, so glad there are thoughtful, articulate, kindness-sharing people just like you, you! in this world.

  18. I’m really struggling right now with trying to help my son practice calming strategies when he’s mad. Instead, he’s reverted to hitting me, which he did when he was 2 and 3. He’s 5 and a half now, so I’m surprised to see this happening again. My specific challenge comes by way of his extreme resistance to even TALKING about cooldown strategies. He knows what these are. His preK teacher taught them both of his two years in her class. Even after he calms down and I try to engage him in a conversation about them so I can help him pick one that he might feel most comfortable with, he resists. Can you please offer me some concrete strategies? Because at this point, I’ve taken away TV for several days to make my point, but I don’t want to rely on punitive measures. I want to teach him how to manage his emotions better.

  19. … so what courses of actions do you recommend for when a child is being “rude, sassy, demanding, spoiled or being “furiously four”.” ? thanks!

  20. Hi Riku,
    A few ideas that help deal with sassy, demanding behavior: 1. Striving to see the child’s behavior as communication and an opportunity to offer them guidance. And also responding to children in a way that is both KIND and Firm (or clear). Kindness can be shown with validation and empathy (believing the child really wants what she is demanding) This isn’t the same as giving in. “I hear you want that hello kitty candy. It does look very nice and tasty. AND today I will not buy it for you.” If the child still protests, demands, cries you can empathize “Yes my decision isn’t what you wanted to hear. You are upset now” and then validate and while being kind and firm “I believe you are dissapointed AND I already gave you my answer.” Learning to communicate needs in a respectful way is a process – one that we can model and when children aren’t able to communicate well, we can also understand that they need guidance – our help to do better. If we punish children for being “sassy” we are robbing them and us of the opportunity to learn to communicate well, even through disapointment, frustration and disagreements. And these communication skills are so important for adjusting well as a child grows! You can read more here on how to stop back talk and here on how to stop power struggles.

  21. This is such profound parental wisdom and I’m so glad I read it. Reading your thoughtful responses to commenters is also very inspiring to me. 🙂 I have s question and if so appreciate your feedback. I have 2.5 year old twin boys. How can I implement these ideas when my twins interact with each other by saying “NO!” back and forth as if in an argument, greeting each other with NO! instead of ‘hi’, snatching toys, and hitting? We have lots of one-on-one time, but it feels like they are always competing for my husband’s and my attention when they are together. When I walk into the playroom and see my more volatile son quietly hitting his brother while his brother is crouched in a corner, my heart breaks and I feel angry and horrible. My default right now is stern lecture and time out as my response to such interactions, coupled with lots of praise for kind interactions. Please help. I so appreciate it!!! Thank you.

  22. Hi Twin Mommy,
    Sibling dynamics, possibly even more so for twins, can bring up a lot of questions! It sure can be challenging to keep the peace at time. You are certainly not alone when you say it is heartbreaking to see one sibling hurting the other. This is such a big button pusher! Seeing one child we love, hurting another child we love can be very distressing. The good news is that you can help yourself stay calm and respond in a way that is helpful to everyone. Setting clear limits, with a calm but determined voice, I call this the kind and clear approach is usually much more helpful than the stern lecture. The stern lecture helps us feel like we are doing something (and we are, but not in a way that truly helps children learn.) A kind and clear limit sounds like “I will not let you hit katie.” and you can use gentle phyiscal touch like a hand on their hand to connect while correcting. Following that you are present to prevent, and then you can allow them to resume play. Sitting on the floor by them, and setting that limit “I will not let you throw/hit/kick” and then connecting with the hurt child immediately offering some comfort like a hug. This models respectful communication – communication your boys can then model, in time, as they grow, to each other “I will not let you hit me!”

    I think your praise for kind interactions is well meaning – I’m not sure what you are saying so I will just share an idea here in case it sounds like a possibility – to some children, praise for nice interactions brings on more negative ones later. It can build a sense of tension (I’m being nice, I’m supposed to be nice, but i really, really, really want that truck…ah…fine I will be nice for now…can’t take it any longer…mom is not looking any more…snatch!!!) An alternative is to focus on describing and narrating what you see instead “I saw you pass a toy to jane and that made jane smile.”

    The toddler years can be challenging but there is so much goodness there too – the squishy smiles, the silly words, the giggling 🙂 It is very helpful and important that we model respectful, kind, helpful communication, and small changes to your approach could bring great changes! Also it may be helpful to use and talk about feelings words. And continuing with one on one time to strengthen your children’s relationship with you, with dad, with each other. These changes will serve to teach them healthy ways to fight, negotiate, make up – which is inevitable in the sibling dynamic!

  23. I think you’re being passive aggressive with your reply “a good mom” (nice/mean). Jmo

    We are our childrens roll models. They essentially mimic our behaviors and thoughts. It’s our job to set the standard for them. If we say idiot, then don’t expect them to not say it and use it in the same context. If we show caring and respect, they will do the same. If you have rules and consequences, they will understand it. If and when there is misbehavior, there is a reason for it. A dialog between parents/children will help both sides understand and hopefully resolve that disconnect.
    Nobody’s perfect but we’re all trying our best. 😉

  24. We’ve been having circular blow outs with our seven-year-old throughout the summer — including one just this morning. My wife forwarded this with the simple message, “Timely!”

    As a consultant, I work with people in organizations all day long around issues of being heard, having a voice, listening past the complaints to understand what people care about. Robert Kegan at Harvard calls it The Language of NBC (Nagging, Bitching and Complaining), and reminds us that our complaints are imperfect articulations of something we care about, or an unexpressed desire, or an unheard concern.

    I think I’m really good at home reconnecting after the explosions. I’m less good at avoiding them, much less minimizing them. Perhaps it’s because I’m spending too much time managing my daughter’s behavior, and not enough managing my own.

    All of which is to say, thank you for the reminder.

  25. Hi John,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to leave your feedback. The idea that “complaints are imperfect articulations of something we care about” is so valuable! I have a background in organizational communication and leadership, and I remember a great deal from the seven languages of transformation from Kegan and Lahey. I find particularly helpful to bring into parenting the “language of personal responsibility” and find often that positive discipline shares many similar ideas too. So often it is managing our own behaviors and being willing to listen and consider our children’s voice ( as you said, what they care about) that will make the biggest impact in stopping those circular struggles! Thanks again for sharing your experience and insights.

  26. Today my daughter (6) was very distressed about a drawing she was trying to make. She had made multiple drafts and none of them were what she wanted. I came in, listened, empathised, and reminded her of times in the past when she had gotten “stuck” and taking a break had helped a great deal.

    I then offered another chapter of our current read-aloud and asked her to wash her hands, which were covered in marker and leaving streaks of marker on everything she touched. I said I didn’t want any marker on me. She leaned over, and very deliberately wiped her hands on my trousers.

    I couldn’t think of anything positive to do. I said, “I’m too angry to deal with this right now. I am going to go calm down.” I went and took in the washing.

    When we discussed it after that, she said she’d done it because she was so upset over the drawing; not over anything I had said or done. I still don’t really understand that and I still don’t know what positive thing I could have done!

    I was still upset. I explained that when you do something bad to someone, then later when you are sorry, you go apologise, and, if you need to, do something to make things better. About a quarter of an hour later I did receive an apology, and then a lovely drawing of her hens. Then we read the chapter and she fixed the problem with her drawing without any further distress.

    She was happy all afternoon after that and went to bed without distress (she usually has difficulty in going to sleep if there has been any upset at all in her day). At bedtime when I asked for the best and worst times in her day, she said there wasn’t a worst time today.

    Could I have done things better? Was there a positive option I didn’t see?

  27. Thank you for this article. Such an important message. I got so emotional when reading it. What a beautiful story.

  28. Beautiful. I wish I have read it yesterday. Similar event at night with my ten year old that did not end well. I stared at him in disbelief, and stayed quiet as I was very upset. He is not four or six. I was too upset to think any positive response. Now I am able to look back and see how frustrated he was when he yelled at me. I was asking him why he did not finish his math assignments while he spent 3 hours in video games. Instead of telling me that he needed help, he started arguing and yelling. I should have asked him if he

  29. This is such a great article, Ariadne. In 24 years of parenting 8 kids I don’t think I have ever had such a positive parenting experience. Good experiences, yes. But the way you moved through what could have disintegrated into negativity and a power struggle… Grace. Graceful, insightful and honoring of your daughter as a feeling person.
    Thank you. I will stick around your site for more.

  30. This article reallyhe;ps us take a step back before we ‘react’, which is often what we do as parents because of stress and being overwhelmed in the moment. I absolutely LOVE your solution, but as a parent of a 6 and 4 year old who sometimes hears harmful words, I question what to do the next time the bad behavior happens. I must admit I am pretty good at ‘reconnecting’ and taking a step back to listen. And the moment is beautiful and we feel good in the end. However, my child will do the exact same thing the next day or week. I feel that the repeat behavior may be because he actually, sort of, “got away with it”. You know what I mean? My 6 year old is very open to talking about the situation and listening. However, he is smart – and he has also figure out that he can just vent his frustration the exact same way the next time with little to no consequence. He is okay with reacting bluntly or rudely, because in the end he is not punished (I do hate to use that word but it’s true). So I have kids that will even react this way in public, knowing that they can get away with it. Any suggestions? I love your strategy and my kids are surrounded by a positive parenting environment, but quite honestly they just repeat the behavior because it’s so easy to do.

  31. Megan, I’m wondering if taking some time to talk to your children about acceptable ways to vent and express frustration would be helpful? For most children (and adults) self-regulation takes a lot of practice and usually a lot of failed attempts too 😉 Without knowing healthy ways to vent frustration, children will rely on whatever information they have already stored and default to that. Even if they “should” know better…the brain is just too immature and when triggered it defaults to tried and true ways. It’s not so much that they “get away” with it as it is that it “worked” and the brain goes back to that. So in what ways would it be alright for them to vent? And how can you model, teach, play and incorporate those ways? One family i know has a “complaints” jar. they write their grievances down and put them in a jar. In my family we use family meetings to talk about “concerns” and these concerns can be simple like “i’m concerned we had spinach 3 days in a row!” to “I am concerned that my brother keeps picking on me” The good thing about having an outlet for frustrations and concerns is that when the moment is HEATED you can say “I hear you, let’s take a breathe and add this to our grivances jar” or “In what way can you help yourself to calm right now so I can hear you?” Does that help?

  32. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful anecdote and strategy. I have a spirited and strong-willed 4 year old daughter, and this will help me during times she is overwhelmed. I’m going to work really hard to prevent meltdowns by somehow anticipating when she is getting overwhelmed – this will be tricky but she seems to find relationships with her peers particularly challenging, especially when she’s tired, say, at the end of an activity. I’ve just downshifted my work after a recent diagnosis, and I’m valuing having more time to tune in to my daughter. Through reading gentle and positive parenting articles, I’m learning not to force my strong-willed daughter but to give her choices, to avoid taking a hard-and-fast position, to offer respect… And from your article I’ve learnt the value of slowing down, acknowledging feelings and working on relationship repair… I really appreciate you recounting the conversation you had with your daughter – you show us how we can turn a negative situation into a positive. If only I had known of this strategy yesterday after picking my six-year-old up from school and taking him to an office shop. He wanted a notepad, pens, whiteout… I said we were only there for a particular item. I didn’t ask why he wanted those items and just said no. Being tired after an early start, he had a big meltdown when we got back to the car – he curls up into a ball. I can definitely see the value in your strategy! We have to help them work through their big emotions when those emotions simply seem too big for them. As L R Knost suggests with her 3 Cs, you need to connect before being able to communicate and expect cooperation. Thanks again for showing us exactly how we can achieve such a positive result!

  33. Thank you very much. Just having an alternative opinion is refreshing. I like the way you think and will certainly look at this from a different perspective, and try some if your suggestions. Thank you again for helping me muddle my way through this 🙂

  34. I wish I would have read this years ago. Me and my kid’s are so disconnected it’s crazy. I will remember this and try this. Thank you for this. I just hope it works for my 12 yr old son.

  35. I loved reading this. I recognised so many recent situations when I hadn’t acted in the best interests of my child and our relationship due to not being able to control my own emotions, when as a mum I knew that I should have. To see it in writing and read about other people having a situation I have been in myself and found difficult I feel more empowered to make a positive, affirming choice to help my kids in the future.

  36. Hi Liz
    Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful reflections and insights. Sometimes controling our own emotions can feel so difficult – but with practice it does become easier and the outcomes are so worthwhile. Wishing you the very best!

  37. I loved reading this. These are the things I want & try to instill in my daughter as well. Although sometimes she’s very tough to deal with and somethings are very surprising & hurtful coming from someone so small, especially since she only just turned 3! I didn’t expect to hear things like this from her until she was at least a teenager! Like when she doesn’t get everything she wants or something isn’t her way, she’ll tell me (or others), “I don’t love you anymore” or “I’m not your friend” and run off to her room in tears. I don’t always know how to react to this. What would you say? A parent never likes to hear a child say they don’t love them. I’ll always love her unconditionally and be her friend too but sometimes I feel is best to be a parent first and then a friend!?! Luckily, 99% of the time I still hear “I love you” & “you’re the best, mom!” These are things she says regularly and just out of the blue if she wants to talk but doesn’t know what to say or really have anything else to say & of course, it makes you feel good and know you must be doing something right.

  38. Gayle, with time I have come to think that when children are secure enough to say “I don’t love you anymore” we can see it as proof of that amazing, secure base we have created for them – a space where they can be authentic and genuine and able to say truly how they feel in that moment. What a gift they give us in letting us know that we have created and provided such security. and in that we can rest in our knowledge that OUR love is unconditional and sufficient for that transition, for that moment when they are a bit lost withing big emotions and trust that if we give them space, and hold that secure bond in place, the child will find their way back to a place of love. Worry would come only if these interactions of “i don’t love you” begin to overpower the generally loving moments. Balance in favor of a positive relationship and our love when it’s needed then has the power to restore the balance. “I hear you don’t love me and I have enough love for the both of us right now” what do you think?

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