When It Doesn’t Work

I have read a LOT of parenting books in my life and while I’ve liked some ideas from all of them there hasn’t been one book or author or overarching parenting philosophy that I’ve really identified with. Nothing seemed to fit me, or my children, exactly. And that was fine; I didn’t mind picking and choosing what worked best for my family.

Many months ago I read Peaceful Parent Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham and experience my own personal a-ha parenting moment: for the first time a parenting book seemed to make inherent sense.  I really liked the ideas prescribed in the book and I truly believed that if I could be THAT kind of parent, my kids and I would be happier and more fulfilled.

{This was especially surprising as the book, and the accompanying website, has an overt natural parenting vibe, and natural parenting has always been the OPPOSITE of my thing. I haven’t quite figured out why I identified with this particular parenting philosophy when I found other natural parenting philosophies so off-putting, but I think the natural parenting slant present here is a big part of the dissolution this post describes.}

Of course, it hasn’t been that easy. I try and try and try to take care of myself, to foster a deep connection with my child, and to set limits empathetically, but I’m still struggling with all the same issues I did before, only now they are weighed down by a deep sense of personal and maternal failure.

This is not the first time I’ve read something that seems great in theory but ends up being impossible (for me) in practice. Still, the ideas seem simple enough. I need to fill my cup so I can tend to my childrens’. I need to build a deep, loving connection with them so they will feel invested in our relationship and compelled to participate in a positive way. I need to set limits with real empathy, doing away with arbitrary consequences altogether.

So I set to work attempting to fill my cup, connect deeply and set limits empathetically. Except to fill my cup I need time away from my family, which means I have to work even harder to build that deep connection when I come back. No matter how much good, quality time I spend with my daughter, she always seems to need more, which means I need even more time away to fill the cup she is constantly depleting. Setting limits with empathy doesn’t seem to be getting me very far. I’ve told my daughter not to hit or kick me a million times but no amount of talking it out later (when she was no longer upset) or getting down to her level to assure her I understand how upset she is or telling her that I will keep her safe helps her control the impulse to hit or kick. The only thing that helps her stop hitting and kicking is creating an arbitrary consequence (ie if you hit me one more time we’re leaving the park). Nothing else works.

I do believe that the ideas in this book have made me a better parent. I am more in touch with who my daughter is as a person and I’m much more aware of what she needs. I feel very real empathy for her when she is struggling and I do think that empathy makes our interactions during those troubled times more productive. I better recognize when I’m asking more of her than she can give (on a busy holiday, for example) and adjust my expectations accordingly. Spending 15-20 minutes of “special time” with her (an important tenant of the book) has an incredibly positive impact on our relationship and does make getting through our days easier.

In the end though, I don’t feel like a more peaceful parent and my daughter doesn’t seem like a happier kid. She still won’t eat if we don’t promise a special treat after a certain amount of bites. She still throws a tantrum every time she has to wash her hair. Hitting and kicking are still HUGE issues for us, even as my daughter approaches her fifth birthday in two weeks. I still feel like I’m walking on egg shells around her, wondering which next random, arbitrary event will set off an epic tantrum. The only thing that has changed is that now I feel like I should be able to do a better job, that the reason we’re still dealing with all this is because my cup can never be full enough for me to stay calm during high pressure moments, that I don’t have the time (I’m a WOHM with two kids) or fortitude to create a deep emotional bond with my daughter, that I don’t understand how to set limits firmly and with empathy instead of falling back on arbitrary consequences.

Laura Markham maintains a website (ahaparenting.com) that offers free access to hundreds of articles on specific parenting issues, for parents of newborns to teenagers. Almost every problem I’ve encountered is tackled in either an article or a Q and A post and I’ve almost always found the advice helpful. But I have not found one post responding to this issue (which is not to say it doesn’t exist, I just haven’t found it yet). Basically I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do if I feel like I’m trying this and it’s just not working (which is making me feel like a failure).

I’ve been questioning the idea that if your connection is strong enough kids will just inherently want to do what you ask. (Most adults seem more compelled to follow the rules so they will avoid a negative consequence, or redeem a reward, than simply because it’s the right thing to do). I also can’t figure out how I’m supposed to keep my cool when my daughter stares me straight in the face and hits me, or kicks me over and over again while I ask her to stop. I just don’t think I’ll ever have a full enough cup to handle that calmly, especially as my child gets older (and stronger) and my expectations change. Sometimes it feels like this kind of parenting asks too much of parents, but then again, aren’t parents supposed to rise to the challenge, whatever it may be?

I wonder what Dr. Markham would say if she read this post. She’d probably have a very empathetic, articulate response that would make me feel simultaneously supported and suspicious. She would assure me that I’m doing a good job and should keep trying and I will continue to feel like a failure and assume that my future attempts will be fruitless.

One might wonder why I don’t just ditch this parenting philosophy and go back to picking and choosing what works for me. I guess the reason is that I haven’t found anything that makes me feel like a more competent parent when it comes to these issues that we have been dealing since my daughter was a toddler. I thought things would get better by now and they just haven’t. Not even a little bit. I want to find something that helps and this is the closest I’ve gotten. I think I’m worried that if I abandon this philosophy I’ll have nothing, and nothing is even worse than failing at something I’m no longer sure of.

There is a new book out, Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings and I haven’t decided if I’m going to read it yet. We’re already dealing with sibling issues and they will only get worse as my son hits the terrible two’s (which is already happening). I’d love to get some good ideas on how to handle my two very different children and their continuously contrasting needs, but I don’t know if I can stand to feel like I’m failing once again.

Do you follow a parenting philosophy? Have you ever felt unable to parent in the way you wanted? Or that parenting in the way you wanted wasn’t providing the desired results? Have you ever felt like you’re failing as a parent?


  1. I used to subscribe to her blog, but I found that it was making me feel guilty all the time. I felt just like you, that I loved the philosophy in theory, and Dr Laura Markham always says it’s okay to feel anger, it’s okay to feel burnt out, etc, but somehow she was always so calm, it made me feel guilty. I’d find myself saying (in my head), “but I don’t feel like filling my own cup so I can stay calm! I feel like getting mad!” I am so relieved to hear you felt similarly.

    1. I remember you saying this when I wrote about her before and it actually made me feel a lot better, so thank you for commenting again. I chuckled at your “Dr. Markham always says” bit because it’s so true. She has a way of saying things that makes me feel like I’m not being judged (or like I should feel like I’m not being judged?) but then when I’m trying, and failing, to do what she says (or I’m doing what she says and my kid is still f*cking hitting me), then I do feel judged. Ugh. I feel like I need to find a Dr. Markham support group, full of women like me. There have got to be a lot of us out there, right?

      I have been thinking about unfollowing her page on FB but honestly, I find a lot of good articles on it (not necessarily from her site, but from others too) and while most of the comments are super sycophantic (Oh Dr. Markham, I soooo needed this today. Thank you! You are a god walking among us. Etc. Etc.) there are others that call her out and I appreciate those so much that I am keeping it in my feed, at least for the time being. 😉

  2. We’ve got an upcoming post (probably next month some time) about the kind of parenting advice I hate and the kind that I like. Basically it boils down to hating the “One True Way” advice and liking long lists of tips and tricks that work for some kids and not for others so I can pick and choose if there’s a new idea.

    I have two kids and what worked for my oldest doesn’t work for my youngest and vice versa. They’re different kids who respond to different things and have different abilities and understanding. They’re both great kids, but with my oldest we didn’t have to worry about misbehavior and with my youngest we (so far) don’t have to worry about perfectionism and insecurity. If that’s true for my two kids who have the same parents and live in the same environment, it’s also very likely true for other people’s kids as well.

    I will also say that for a very brief time I ended up in a natural parenting playgroup where they didn’t believe in consequences of any sort, just empathy. Those kids were terrifying in terms of how they could not/would not control their own physical violence. I feared for my three year old’s safety. There’s a lot to be said for natural consequences and boundaries, though there’s probably a lot of variation in those ideas too. The extremes in whatever direction always seem to be a bit messed up.

    1. To be fair, she does espouse “setting limits” (as in, you definitely shouldn’t let you kid hit) but she doesn’t believe in consequences, as she thinks consequences are just adults’ way of imposing our own wants and needs on our kids and their behavior. And while I see that in some ways (like when I’m at the zoo and I really just want my kid to get off the ground because I’m freaking tired and want to go home), in other ways I’m not so sure. I’ve always been a really big fan of natural consequences and I’m falling back on those more and more lately (though I do have to look at them carefully to make sure it’s really a natural consequence and not an arbitrary one masquerading as something else). I’m getting stuck in one big area though because I think the natural consequence of a kid hitting is that no one will want to be with him or her, so I always want to leave her to her raging when she is hitting and kicking me, but leaving a kid when they are upset is supposedly a BIG no-no because it damages the closeness you’ve been trying to cultivate, the closeness that makes them want to do what you’re asking. So I’m really at a loss, because it’s hard to “keep us both safe” when I can’t leave because she is getting bigger and bigger and it’s HARD to keep her from hurting me without hurting her and I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to do. Ugh, just writing that makes me feel like something is seriously wrong with my kid and that is just a whole other post that I’m not prepared to write right now.
      Anyway, back to my original point which is that she doesn’t believe in just letting kids hit, but she also doesn’t believe in giving them consequences for hitting and so far my kid only stops hitting when there are consequences so… I’m really not sure.

      1. Yeah, those women at the natural parenting group didn’t believe in consequences either. They tended to run ineffectually after their children saying, “hitting isn’t nice” but not actually removing the toolbox the child was trying to brain my son with. It was very traumatic for us. (In contrast: playdates with normal families from preschool where the parents didn’t go to all-day, “how not to parent” seminars, the children would play nicely and the parents would chat about grown-up things.)

        Natural consequences make so much sense. Not things like spanking, but things like, if you can’t be polite in public, you get removed from public until you are no longer obnoxious to other people. If you keep making a mess with something after being told not to, it gets taken away. Life is much easier for *everyone* when the world makes sense. With both of our kids we don’t have arbitrary rules (which is what’s popular around here in the South) and we don’t give, “Because I said so” or “Because I’m the adult” as the rules, but we actually explain why so that our kids eventually self-regulate, or at least that’s the hope. But sometimes in the heat of the moment, those limits need to be enforced, generally by taking away the problem object.

        (The natural parenting moms who went to how-to-not-discipline-your-kids-training would also tell their kids how their kids felt, which seriously bugged me because how does the mom know how the kid feels? What if the mom is wrong? Where’s the kid’s agency? But one can adjust that by asking if the kid feels a certain way instead of telling them. We’ve got a rant on that somewhere in our history.)

        1. p.s. Time-outs aren’t actually “violent parenting” (though I think they changed the name from non-violent parenting to something else about 5 years ago because they were getting so much push-back for the idea that temporarily removing attention is in some way violent) and in the grand scheme of things are unlikely to be a big deal. I remember the mommy wars on that topic back when I was living in a coastal city as well. It’s laughable given that the arguments where I’m living now are about spanking.

          Research on neglect says nothing about removing attention so that a kid can calm down for about the number of minutes that they are old. It really doesn’t.

          1. This is so interesting that in some parts of the country people are debating spankings while in California, parents are viciously arguing over time outs. Definitely helps put things in perspective.

            1. Just listened to a discussion with two of our admin staff in the hall– one has her infant on BabyWise (which is probably the only actually dangerous parenting book out there with earlier versions linked to Failure to Thrive). The other recommends spanking during potty training when children have accidents because they’re doing it on purpose.

              1. Wow. Amazing. You would NEVER hear a conversation like that where I live.

          2. A few months ago, a mom posted on a fb group that I sometimes glance at that her 2.5 year old wakes up in the middle of the night and asks for a snack and then falls back asleep after a bite. The mom wasn’t sure what to do. Several moms wrote in that you should NEVER deny your child food because it can lead to “food issues” later. WHAT?!?!??! I feel like they must be misapplying SOMETHING here.

            1. Wow. That is amazing. I just don’t even know how to respond to that.

              The food/eating stuff is really hard for me. My kids are so picky, but I was picky so I get it. What I don’t get is that sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) they won’t even eat foods they supposedly like. It’s one thing to only like five things and it’s quite another to not like those five things half the time. I know I’m supposed to just let my kid not eat dinner and be hungry, but when her blood sugar gets low it’s a disaster. And she doesn’t seem to learn from the experience and/or isn’t able to apply what she learned to future experiences. So we make her take a certain number of bites (or reward her taking a certain number of bites with a bag of gummy bunnies). Our steadfast rule is one no-thank-you bite and sharing goods and bads but we give her a treat if she stays in her seats and eats 7-10 bites. I worry all the time that I’m causing eating issues, but the girl has to eat. She doesn’t have an ounce of fat on her body and she loses it when she doesn’t get enough food so I bribe her to take bites at dinner. Talk about failing at parenthood.

              1. @noemikjames
                The BEST book on toddler/kid eating is called Hungry Monkey. It’s hilarious and full of research, and he goes around and interviews famous chefs and food critics about their own children. Spoiler: Your kids are normal. The phases they go through are similar to other kids and correspond to developmental stages. The best thing to do is just not worry about it — keep healthy food available — because over the course of a week left to their own devices, kids get the right amount of nutrients and calories. He’s got some good suggestions for encouraging a growth mindset too, but isn’t preachy at all. (And I don’t think he addresses it, but I don’t think there’s any problem with teaching kids to be polite about food.)

            2. See, out here, if you feed your kid (even an infant(!)) in the middle of the night, then people say that will lead to issues. It’s also weird seeing people apply things that are true for infants to toddlers and vice versa. (And applying research from extreme situations to things that are not at all extreme.)

              The number 1 search that finds our blog is “Do I have to CIO?/What happens if I don’t sleep train?” No, no you don’t have to CIO. If you don’t sleep train your baby will grow up to be an adult just like all the sleep-trained babies do. (And sleeping through the night is a relatively recent invention starting with electric lighting anyway.) They are SO sleep obsessed in this part of the country. After the nth “does your baby sleep through the night yet” I wanted to punch someone (because, of course, any time I answered yes, “baby would make me a liar every time,” as they say out here).

        2. Oh yeah, Dr. Markham is all about telling your kid how they feel. “Oh, you feel so angry right now. You want to keep watching TV and you’re so angry you’re yelling and flailing around. I bet when you’re older you’ll watch TV all night long.” Yeah, that bit does not work with my daughter. At all. And I also wonder if it makes sense to assign my daughter feelings when I’m not sure how she feels. A lot of the time I think she’s frustrated but she says she’s scared. I try to ask her now, and sometimes she can articulate it. We talk a lot about how characters are feeling in books and identifying emotions in illustrations. I think that is helping.

          I really appreciate hearing your experience with kids who have been parented this way. It’s such a different picture than the one painted on the website, but it’s the one I would expect. I wonder if those parent’s think their kids behavior is just par for the course at that age, or if they were also wishing those methods worked better.

          1. “I wonder if those parent’s think their kids behavior is just par for the course at that age, or if they were also wishing those methods worked better.”

            It depends on the parent. At one birthday party we went to (we remained friends with one woman in the group even though we didn’t ever ever go to a natural parenting playgroup– she’s the one who had invited us to join and her daughter wasn’t so bad), there were some really terrifying instances of kids playing dangerously and inappropriately (throwing things dangerously, misusing the teeter-totter to deliberately hurt, etc.). I asked our friend about it and she was all, oh, this is normal. But it isn’t normal! So she thought it was par for the course. Her kid also seemed to be pretty used to the abuse from the other kids and mostly shrugged it off. Before I’d met this group, I’d thought of playgroups as a way to keep kids safely entertained while the parents talked with only occasional parent intervention and watching out of the corner of an eye, so this level of danger and need for parental intervention to prevent serious injury was (and is) completely crazy to me.

            On the other hand, the woman whose son kept trying to kill mine (and other kids) was clearly miserable. She would spend her weekends going to parenting classes (probably based on Laura Markham, though the names that got thrown about a lot were Althea Solzer and Alphie Kohn). She used to be a corporate lawyer but quit when her son was born and had lots of student debt and felt she had to type-A raise her son to make up for the fact that her husband had to work overtime to make up for her not working. (I got all of this the first time I met her in disjointed sentences while I attempted to keep my son from being injured and her son from hurting any of the children there– I think she was also starved for adult conversation.) I think she knew something wasn’t quite right, so she kept working harder at being the perfect natural parent.

            Most of the other parents we met were somewhere in between those two extremes, and not all of them were 100% on board with all the philosophies, but I remember the *looks* DH got when he praised a drawing that DC1 had done in front of the rest of the parents. (You’re “supposed” to say things like, “You used yellow here,” because they were misapplying research on mindsets to an extreme.)

            1. And I do want to add– I think that kid who was so very dangerous is still going to turn out ok. I bet when he got to Kindergarten he loved the structure and became one of those kids who behaves well for everyone except the parents. (Indeed, he behaved quite a bit better when not at his house, though he was still pretty dangerous, as were most of those kids.)

            2. “but I remember the *looks* DH got when he praised a drawing that DC1 had done in front of the rest of the parents. (You’re “supposed” to say things like, “You used yellow here,” because they were misapplying research on mindsets to an extreme.)”

              Bwahahaha! I laughed so hard when I read that. Amazing. Just amazing.

  3. I’m only familiar with Dr Markham in passing. My son hasn’t really hit the defiant/tantrum stage yet so it hasn’t been too relevant. But I just poked around her site and it is exactly the type of parenting advice that I hate — if you do these easy things, it will all work out and if you don’t, you are probably doing something wrong. In an article about the difference between limits and consequences, she even says that if your child isn’t responding when you remind him of a rule, it’s possible that you aren’t spending enough time with him. And her illustration of how limit setting should work is preposterously easy – opening the door when your son continued to bounce a ball in the house and watching him happily move his activity outside. I just don’t buy it.

    I find that so many of the parenting philosophies out there are about the primacy of the mother – mothers milk is best, baby being held by parent, baby sleeping close to mother, mother responding to every cry, mother being attuned with babies needs. I’m mostly familiar with the endless discussion on sleep, which amounts to if the mother does all of these things (and possibly depletes herself in the process), her child will naturally learn to sleep on his or her own without tears. This puts a lot of pressure on the mom and basically sets her up to fail because no one can be 100% available all the time.

    I see that with Dr. Markham too. If the parent (which is usually the mom), responds with empathy, remains peaceful, and doesn’t impose her consequences, everything will work out and there won’t be any battles. Again, it sets up a dynamic where the parent either takes all the credit or all the blame.

    I think this notion makes mothers miserable and/or intolerably narcissistic.

    1. That is a brilliant point. I had not thought of that and it makes so much sense. And it fits with what bugs me about removing the agency of the child in terms of emotions. (Disclaimer: with little infants, I’m totally on board with being in tune with the baby’s needs, but it is also really painful to listen to a baby cry when it’s an infant, so the easier thing to do is to pick the baby up. Where I live now they tell you that you’re spoiling the kid when you listen to your instincts and pick up a crying infant, so the permission to actually do what feels right is freeing, not guilt-inducing. It’s different in other parenting circles.)

    2. Oh my god. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this comment. You so succinctly sum up everything that has felt upsetting about these ideas in a way I was never able to, even to myself. This comment is so, so SO helpful. I will definitely be writing more about this soon…

      1. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since my son was born. I was so excited about being an attachment parent/gentle parent. A good mom should be 100% emotionally and physically available for her child, right? But all of a sudden I realized, that’s actually impossible! I will always fail if that’s the standard. And at the same time, I also started to think that it was a very narcissistic form of parenting. A mother isn’t some magical fairy who will protect her child from hardship, disease, loneliness through nursing, babywearing, cosleeping, making organic food, quality time, and an endless well of empathy. We’re important but not THAT important.

        1. I think differently about attachment parenting– I take it out of the cultural context of “you must do X, Y, and Z or you’re a bad mom” (and again, where I live, X, Y, and Z means all those liberal/pansy/Heathen/etc. AP Californians are bad moms for spoiling their kids). Instead, I take it at its base definition where you listen to your instincts and you do what works for you and your child. At its base, it’s exactly the opposite of a list of things to make you feel guilty. ( https://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/guilt-in-parenting-ibtp/ )

          It really sucks that people have a tendency to take a good message to extremes.

  4. The things that have worked for us are a weekly family meeting (each verbal person answers “what’s one thing that went well this week, what’s one thing that didn’t go well, and what’s one thing I am going to do differently this week?”) and giving the Kid her own space. She gets sent to or put in her own space when she starts acting out. Getting her to own her behavior helps some. As far as parenting philosophy goes, I try to stick to more or less natural consequences when possible, saying OUCH very loudly if the girls hurt me and then moving away from them so I don’t get hit/bitten/scratched again, and anything that works. Also being very consistent and predictable helps some – ie hitting has the same consequence, if you hit with a thing it goes away, if you take something from your sibling the thing goes away, etc.

  5. Books are written in quiet in front of one’s computer or desk. Parenting occurs in full chaos. NO GUILT for not acting like you are at your computer when actually full chaos is occurring.
    Your daughter knows the rule is no hitting or kicking. Therefore no warnings. She is in timeout or removed from area at first sign of occurrence.
    Two year olds are learning the rules and may, rarely, need 1 brief reminder. But really removing them at the very first sign of collapse teaches the rule.
    Endangering others is NEVER ok, full stop, no time for ‘learning others will not play with you’ because really others will remember you are dangerous and by the time you have learned your lesson they have no intention of finding out what you have or have not learned. Children throwing things can put out eyes…… I went to school with a boy blinded in one eye from another child throwing a truck. ENDANGERING IS NEVER OK.
    Food: bribing with sugar really is not good and un-teaching her that will not be easy or fast or pleasant. This is what there is to eat. Eat or not eat. If not, hold same food until next meal when new is offered. She ‘really loses weight’ and is the doctor concerned??? How many pounds does she weight and how much does she lose? Does her weight fall off the chart for an average 5 year old of her height? Take her to the doctor and have doctor tell her what the rules are about eating. At 5 she can learn from the doctor directly, she is smart. I remind you most middle-class American children are not malnourished and most eat too much junk, sugar, starch. Also, one teaspoon of food on her plate at a time stops some battles over ‘how many bites’ …. and, every parenting person gets to counting bites sometimes. EVEN those of us who try to avoid it the majority of the time. (Me too, in other words.)
    As a generalization today we do not expect much responsibility from our children and we are wrong. Children can do real tasks and it is better for them to learn to do tasks from childhood. I am not advocating that 5 year olds do forced labor or work in dangerous situations, but responsibilities and cooperative living skills are reasonable to expect from a 5 year old. Known consequences will occur otherwise and that actually makes children feel safe and be safe. Children do not play in the middle of the street on Castro between 17th and 20th. My 3 year old grandchild recites: ” You get what you get and you don’t get upset” …… applies to food and toys and to your daughter. (Yes, she does get upset but that doesn’t change the few flat rules of her life, and getting upset does not change them either.)
    Everyone parents in full chaos. I do not approve of or suggest violence, but honestly the idea of a parent having a ‘full cup’ and always being patient and saintly …… Does not happen.
    You have some wonderful people already commenting. What you are saying is REALLY IMPORTANT and I hear too many moms today being harassed and severely chastised for being human not perfect. (Not using the ‘right’ diaper, feeding from a ‘not perfect for me and my child in our situation source, not using my ‘perfect’ bedtime routine, not birthing or getting pregnant in a ‘perfect’ way……such stupid egocentric insecure WRONG absolutism!)
    Every child and every parent is HUMAN and Different and has different needs and BOTH Child and Parent’s needs should be respected. Our children need to learn we are as human as they are and we also have rights and needs and responsibilities. “As your parent I must ‘require/keep safe/not let you have your own way/impose/teach/think of consequences outside your experience/etc’.
    Books and theories do not parent while in full chaos but people do.

    1. I’m not worried about her eating enough when it comes to her weight, but she really does have a HARD time later when she is hungry. She is very sensitive to her blood sugar falling and if she just skips a meal (which she would do repeatedly) she is so hard to manage later. Like impossible. So I really want her to eat at every meal to save me from (unmanageable) problems later on. It’s not about worrying that she’s getting enough calories in her day, it’s worrying she’s getting enough calories to get her to her next meal without totally losing it.

      The gummy bunny treat after dinner is not just for taking a certain amount of bites but also for staying in her chair during dinner. We tried constantly reminding her but dinner just became an infuriating exercise of asking her (a million times) to sit in her chair. We don’t require it for long, but we do think she should be able to sit still for five minutes at this age and be present at dinner. So we started giving her an incentive to do so, because incentives work well for her, but we told her when we started that we’d only do it until she turned five because by then she should be able to do it all by herself. Maybe it will become part of the chore chart that we’ll be starting when she is five, part of her responsibilities as a member of the family (as we’re calling it). Then she can use doing that as part of a larger system inside of which she can work for other incentives. Also, those gummy bunnies are the only sweet thing she’s given all day, besides a bar she gets when I pick her up from school, which is her incentive to eat lunch at school. (Evidently she never eats anything at school unless they let her keep eating after all the kids take a nap. They even feed her sometimes (actually spoon food into her mouth) because they also know how hard she gets later if she hasn’t eaten anything all day. So it’s not just at home that she has trouble eating, this is a problem in all areas of her life.)

      As for removing her from the situation when she hits, I try to do this but it’s getting increasingly difficult. She is a big almost 5yo. She already wears 7yo clothes. She weighs 42lbs and is 46in tall. She is STRONG. I can’t pick her up and move her into a room when is hitting or kicking me. Sometimes I can’t even extract myself because she has such a tight hold on me and is hitting me with one hand and holding me with the other. Getting away from her can feel like a VERY violent act that requires me to hold her/pull away REALLY HARD. It’s becoming really upsetting, honestly. And if I do manage to get her into her room she tries to get out. And if I keep the door shut she’ll throw herself against it or hurt herself in some other way. Then I have to go in there and hold her in a straight jacket stance. Yes. It’s that bad. I really don’t know what to do about this. It’s not as cut and dry as removing her from the situation (which I was doing for YEARS before I starting trying something else). Luckily she almost never hits anyone else, so we haven’t had to remove her from her friends and no one else is danger when they are around her. It’s just me who gets abused.

      1. My son and I (and my MIL…) get that low blood sugar thing. Fortunately sometime between my son turning 3 and 4 he was old enough to understand that it happens and he became more receptive to eating food to keep from crashing. At some age he started making the connection between crashing and needing to eat a snack himself and was able to ask for snacks at daycamp when he started being sad for no reason (at school they’re better about snacktime). So they can start regulating themselves when they understand why!

        1. I’ve been trying to explain it to her for a long time but she either doesn’t get it or doesn’t want to. I hope she figures it out soon.

  6. I generally avoid parenting books, not because I feel tremendously confident in my own skills but because I suspect that parenting is best learned “on the ground”, particularly since every child (and parent) is so different. I also feel like I receive messages about cultural expectations from plenty of other sources.

    I haven’t actually read anything by Dr. Merkham so I may be off mark but I think I see the value in empathy if it implies making an effort to understand a situation from the perspective of the child. When g was about 2 he started to hit other kids on the playground and at playgroup. What I saw was that he did it mostly because he was either overstimulated or overwhelmed by the demands of social interaction, mostly thanks to his total lack of social skills (still underdeveloped for his age). The real answer was simply to wait until he grew out of it but in the meantime I tried to limit his stimulation and, when I did put him in social situations, I spent a ton of time working on appropriate, non-violent, reactions.

    I do think it’s also important to recognize that we are not magicians. We can do our best to find solutions to parenting challenges but no book is ever going to hold the key to making them disappear.

    1. The past 18 months have been a lesson in learning that I’m not a magician. It’s been very humbling.

  7. All I know about parenting books & philosophies, I’ve learned from reading blogs and comments. I’m too lazy to read through an entire book about parenting, which I find kind of boring!

    My “philosophy” can be summed up as: I try to be patient but firm.

    1. That is a good “philosophy.” It’s definitely what I’m using with my son, but it doesn’t seem to be enough for my daughter.

  8. I haven’t heard of her, but I also haven’t done a whole lot of research. We try to do Love and Logic. It’s really hard but when it works it’s so cool.

    Mostly I think that both parents have to be on the same page. At least when it comes to how to discipline. (For lack of a better word).

    1. Both parents being on the same page is so, so important. My husband generally just does whatever he does and supports me in doing what I want to do. I guess he follows my lead, generally, but sometimes our lack of communication on the subject (he doesn’t want to spend his time enmeshed in parenting conversations) gets us into trouble. The truth is he doesn’t deal with them nearly as much as I do, so we have avoided any big issues when it comes to not being entirely on the same page.

  9. Ha, all the comments about Cali where I am make me laugh. At our otherwise helpful parent/child group some attachment crap was pushed down our throats (ooh, timeouts are bad! Wear your baby!). And one teacher gasped when I announced (as we went around the circle) that we did sleep training of our 6 month old that last weekend (3 days and it worked perfectly, thankyouverymuch).

    Anyway, I’ve started reading Calmer Happier Easier Parenting which so far makes sense, although I’ve only just started and I’m only at the descriptive praise step so far. That refers to praising the child when they do stuff right.

    1. Wearing our baby worked great with our son. So much easier than having to deal with him getting upset when we put him down or in a stroller. Our daughter, otoh, loved the stroller and tummy time and hated being confined in a sling. Finding out about slings was like a miracle with our first child (and we bought everyone a sling for their new baby because it was such a lifesaver for us), but being pressured to use a sling with our daughter would have been traumatic for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with most of the advice that people give, so long as it isn’t, “Our way is the One True Way.”

      1. My daughter hated the sling and would tolerate the Ergo. My son likes the Ergo well enough, but is getting really heavy to wear for long periods. He LOVES the stroller and is constantly climbing into it. Sometimes at the park he just sits in it for 15 minutes after we get there, even though he could climb down at any time…

        It kind of drives me crazy when a parenting contingent just assumes that all children like a certain thing, like being worn or co=sleeping. Some kids don’t thrive in those environments, but there are people who would never believe that. Instead they would say that the mom is doing it wrong. So infuriating.

  10. Thank you for elaborating. Also for you patience with me.
    You see correlation between not eating and emotional acting out. Has your pedestrian had testing done on her blood sugar patterns? Have they looked to see if chemically she stays normal and all at once falls off the cliff rather than a slow motion change which is more normative.
    Will she eat unsalted nuts mid-mornng and twice mid afternoon to stabilize this?
    Can she ever sit still for 5 minutes… for story or tv or is she in constant motion?
    She doesn’t eat lunch when the other children at do, is she hitting stimulus overload and not feeling hunger because the activity levels around her overwhelm her.
    It sounds like she has trouble regulating impulse controls generally. Is this true?
    At her age and size you are correct that you will not be able to physically control her at all soon. I know you went to a child behavioralist, who said she was fully normal (but I think way to an edge on that) would you consider going back again to that person or to a new one? (Because when you were told her patterns were normal you, and many of us, did not think that was quite right.)
    Because, your descriptions are vivid and clear and it sounds like she literally does not/can not control her behaviors at some times. And, that is not your parenting. It is inside her. Feeling scared sounds to me like she knows something is ‘off’.
    Is your son following in her behavioral patterns? I don’t hear that from you.
    Parents always want to ‘fix themselves so their children x y z’ but sometimes it really isn’t the parenting but inside the child. There is a point where the term ‘spirited child’ is actually off base and the child really needs more help than parenting lessons for mom/dad.
    I have followed you for a long time… I think you work hard on you … but some times some problems are not yours.

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