Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Toddlers and the Hitting Stage


Hi, I attended your session at the Adlerian Conference in Myrtle Beach. It was really great!

I now have a 14 month old son and recently bought your book Positive Discipline, The First Three Years as he began to really start to show his little personality and I realized wow, I need help! I finished it tonight but still have a question and really wanted your opinion about the issue of hitting. Our son, is a very happy toddler but lately when gets angry he will hit me and my husband in the face. We have a dog who he just loves so we are always telling him to "pat her gently". So when he hits us we typically say, in a kind and firm manner, "we touch mommy gently." Sometimes I add, "mommy touches you gently." I usually grab his hand to stop him from hitting me. He hasn't hit any other kids or family members other than me and my husband. I just wanted your opinion about how to handle this. I was trying to relate this to the section in the book on biting. Do you have any helpful suggestions with this issue? Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated.

By the way, I recommend your book to the other moms in my playgroup and they are all enjoying it too!

Thanks so much and have a great day, Lauren


Hi Lauren, You describe exactly what happened to me when I was taking care of my 18 month old granddaughter when she went through her hitting stage--and you are doing exactly the right thing. Keep doing what you are doing and it will pass.

I'm including an excerpt from the book Positive Discipline A-Z on hitting. You see my story in the first booster thought. I think you'll enjoy the format of this book that covers just about every behavior challenge you can think of.

Hitting and Spanking

"I have tried everything I can think of to get my child to stop hitting her little brother. Sometimes she hits me. This really makes me angry. Punishment doesn't seem to work. I have spanked her and made her say she is sorry, but the next day she is hitting again."

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

How are we ever going to teach our children it is not okay to hurt others when we keep hurting them? We are reminded of a cartoon depicting a mother spanking her child while saying, "I'll teach you not to hit someone smaller than you." When children hit, it could be that their feelings are hurt. (Children can feel hurt or frustrated just because they can't get what they want – now!) You probably feel hurt and frustrated, too, because you want your child to treat others respectfully and may even worry that your child's behavior is a reflection on you as a parent. Perhaps you are overreacting and treating your child disrespectfully out of shame and embarrassment, trying to prove to the other adults around that you won't let your child get away with this behavior.

Most likely your child simply doesn't have the words or skills to get her needs met and lashes out (hits) because she doesn't know what else to do. Toddlers are short on both language and social skills, and when they play together they can easily become frustrated. When they lack the ability to express what's wrong in words, hitting and other types of aggression sometimes result. It is developmentally normal for toddlers to hit. It is the parent's job to supervise and handle toddlers kindly and firmly until they are ready to learn more effective ways to communicate. Kids will grow out of it if they get help (skills training) instead of a model of violence (hitting back).


  1. Take the child by the hand and say, "It is not okay to hit people. I'm sorry you are feeling hurt and upset. You can talk about it or you can hit this pillow, but people aren't for hitting."
  2. Help the child deal with the anger. (See Angry Child.)
  3. With children under the age of four, try giving them a hug before removing them from the situation. This models a loving method while showing them that hitting is not okay. Hugging does not reinforce the misbehavior.
  4. You never really know at what age a child begins to understand language. For that reason, use words such as, "Hitting hurts people. Let's find something else you can do," even if you think your child can't understand.
  5. Show children what they can do instead of telling them what not to do. If you have a child that has a pattern of hitting, supervise closely. Every time she starts to hit, gently catch her hand and say, "Touch nicely," while showing her how to touch nicely.
  6. When your preschooler hits you, decide what you will do instead of trying to control your child. Let her know that every time she hits you, you will put her down and leave the room until she is ready to treat you respectfully. After you have told her this once, follow through without any words. Leave immediately.
  7. Later you might tell your child, "That really hurts" or "That hurts my feelings. If I have done something to hurt your feelings, I would like to know about it so I can apologize. When you are ready, an apology would help me feel better." Do not demand or force an apology.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

  1. When children are pre-verbal, take time for training without expecting that the training will "take hold" until they get older. (Lots of supervision is the main parenting tool for pre-verbal children – along with distraction and redirection.) Help her practice touching family members or animals softly. Show your child how to be gentle and say, "Pat, pat," or "People are for hugging, not hitting."(See Booster Thought 2 ) This does not eliminate the need for supervision until she is old enough to understand.
  2. Teach verbal children that feelings are different from actions. Feelings are never bad. They are just feelings. Tell your child that what he feels is okay, but it's still not okay to hit others, even if he is angry. He can tell someone, "I'm angry because____and I wish ________." Help children brainstorm ways to deal with feelings that are respectful to themselves and others. One possibility is to tell people what he doesn't like. Another possibility is for him to leave the scene if he is being treated disrespectfully.
  3. Get your child involved in creating a Positive Time Out area. Teach her that sometimes we need time to calm down until we feel better before doing anything. Don't send her to time out, but let her know that she can choose her special time-out area any time she thinks it will help her feel better. Sometimes, when she doesn't want to use her special time out area, ask her if you can use it until you feel better – or create your own and model using it to feel better.
  4. Find ways to encourage your children with unconditional love and by teaching skills that help them feel capable and confident.
  5. Show that hitting is unacceptable by never hitting your child. If you make a mistake and hit your child, use the Three R's of Recovery to apologize so your child knows hitting is not acceptable for you either. (See Part 1, page xx.)
  6. Look around and see if there are ways you are hurting your child without realizing it. Are you sending your child to his or her room frequently, scolding and criticizing regularly, singling out the child when a problem occurs? If so your child may be feeling really hurt and upset and the hitting is a way to strike back at the world. Be more encouraging and positive and stop the hurtful behaviors and see if you don't notice a change in the hitting behavior.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that it is not okay to hurt others. Their feelings are not bad and they are not bad people, and they can get help to find actions that are respectful to themselves and to others. They can learn that what they do doesn't define who they are. They are not a bad child because they hit, but the behavior is unacceptable.

Parenting Pointers

  1. Be aware of the discouraged belief behind the misbehavior. A child who hits usually is operating from the mistaken goal of revenge with the belief, "I don't feel like I belong and am important and that hurts, so I want to hurt back." Children will feel encouraged when you respect their feelings and help them act appropriately.
  2. Many people use the biblical admonition "spare the rod and spoil the child" as an excuse for spanking. Biblical scholars tell us the rod was never used to hit the sheep. The rod was a symbol of authority or leadership, and the staff or crook was used to gently prod and guide. Our children definitely need gentle guidance and prodding, but they do not need to be beaten, struck, or humiliated.
  3. Don't hit your child to show an onlooker that you are a good parent and not going to allow your child to get away with something. Your relationship with your child is much too important for that.

Booster Thoughts

Grandma had the opportunity to take care of her 18-month-old granddaughter for a week while her parents were on vacation. Sage was developing the habit of hitting when she felt frustrated (or, it seemed, just for the fun of it). She would hit her grandma and the dog – sometimes for no apparent reason at all. Grandma watched closely for the hitting to start and would gently grab Sage's hand and say, "Touch nicely," while guiding her hand to gently stroke her grandma's cheek or the dog. Soon Sage would start to hit, but would first look at her grandma who would say, "Touch nicely." Sage would grin and touch nicely. Within a few days, Sage was touching nicely instead of hitting. (It is much more effective to show children what they can do instead of telling them what not to do.)


He: There are times when it is necessary to spank my children to teach them important lessons. For example, I spank my two-year-old to teach her not to run into the street.

She: After you have spanked your two-year-old to teach her not to run in the street, will you let her play unsupervised by a busy street?

He: Well, no.

She: Why not? If the spanking teaches her not to run into the street, why can't she play unsupervised by the street? How many times would you need to spank her before you would feel she has learned the lesson well enough?

He: Well, I wouldn't let her play unsupervised near a busy street until she was six or seven years old.

She: I rest my case. Parents have the responsibility to supervise young children in dangerous situations until children are old enough to handle that situation. All the spanking in the world won't teach a child until he or she is developmentally ready. Meanwhile you can gently teach. When you take your children to the park, invite them to look up the street and down the street to see if cars are coming and tell you when it is safe to cross the street. Still, still you won't let them go to the park alone until they are six or seven.

Studies show that approximately 85 percent of all parents of children under twelve years old resort to spanking when frustrated, yet only 8 to 10 percent believe that it is dignified or effective. Sixty-five percent say that they would prefer to teach through positive methods to improve behavior, but they don't know how. This book shows you how.

Dr. Jane Nelsen

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Seven Week Positive Discipline Class and Developing Capable People CDs

I recently finished facilitating a seven-week-class in Positive Discipline. This is the first seven week class I’ve taught in over 30 years (I’ve been teaching the two-day workshop on Teaching Parenting the Positive Discipline Way), to teach other people how to facilitate the 7 week classes) and I loved it. It was so gratifying to experience the class members go from total confusion after hearing that Positive Discipline does not advocate any punishment, rewards, or praise, to excitement as they discovered how well the Positive Discipline non-punitive tools work to avoid power struggles and parent micro-managing to helping their children develop feelings of capability and a desire for respectful cooperation. I just received the following email from one of the class members.

Dear Jane,

Thank you so much for an enlightening journey these past weeks. I've learned a lot and am seeing positive results, daily, through what you've taught me. I am deeply grateful.

I bought my husband the Stephen Glenn CDs and he is applying the tools not only with our son but in his workplace. It's amazing how enabling it is to deal with conflict resolution from a positive perspective...and, the big bonus is reduced stress for everyone involved!

Angie Batt

I encouraged everyone in the class to purchase the Developing Capable Young People CDs as a great supplement to all they were learning—and to share with their spouses.

Some of you may know that H. Stephen Glenn died in 2004. He was a very charismatic speaker who made people laugh while they learned very important concepts about helping children develop skills and belief in their capability.

Jane Nelsen

Friday, May 18, 2007

Rude and Defiant


My name is Vicky and I am a mother of an 11-year-old going on 12. This has been the most trying year I have had with him. He is rude when speaking to others, swears, defiant, disruptive, and argumentative, and lies. He has escalated this year to the point that last night he was kicked out of our Tae kwon Do academy until he can rationalize his behaviours to our Master. I am in the midst of reading Positive Discipline and do believe that it works, at the same time I am struggling with thinking up consequences for these types of behaviour that are both kind and firm.

I was not raised in this form, rather I was raised w/ fear of my father and so I did not do most of these behaviours. I understand the empathy part, but what do I do if I can't empathize with him because I was not in those types of situations? I am at my wits end with him and really would like to have a good relationship with my Son. I am tired of being disappointed and embarrassed by his behaviour. I've told him calmly many times that I want more than anything to praise him more and to have more good times w/ him, unfortunately the battles are coming between us.

Please help



Sorry to be so long responding. By now you have probably read the whole book and found answers to all your challenges. :-)

I can't know for sure, because I don't know all the details; but I think that your son may be responding the many children respond to parenting that is vertical instead of horizontal. Vertical parenting is top-down. It usually involves parents who think they need to "catch" kids being "good" so they can praise or reward them; or "catch them being "bad" so they can punish them. Horizontal parenting means focusing on solutions "together" (and all the other Positive Discipline tools that are both kind and firm at the same time).

Two clues you give that you are still thinking in terms of vertical parenting is that you are looking for consequences that you can "impose" (which is usually disguised punishment), and wanting to "praise him", which is still top down. (Be sure to read about the difference between praise and encouragement.)

I do hope you keep reading the book because you will learn many tools for horizontal parenting including:

1) Family meetings where everyone learns to give and receive compliments, brainstorm for solutions, and plan for family fun.

2) Joint problem solving to focus on solutions together.

3) Helping children "explore" the consequences of their choices through curiosity questions instead of "imposing" consequences on them.

4) Or, allowing children to "experience the consequences of their choices without lecturing or punishing. Show empathy and have faith in them to deal with their feelings and to learn from their mistakes.

5) Making sure the message of love gets through without rescuing or fixing.

Of course there are many more respectful parenting tools that can be used. I'm mentioning just a few.

Sometimes parents need to admit to their children that they have made a mistake and can see how they have helped create a power struggle (or a revenge cycle), and express faith in themselves and in their children that they can find more respectful ways to relate to each other.

Even though I emphasize how important it is to get children involved in solutions, there are times when parents need to "decide what they will do" instead of what they will try to make their children do. When children talk back. the parent may need to decide to leave the room after saying, "I look forward to talking with you later when we can both be respectful.

Vicky, I hope this helps. You may want to seek some parent coaching to help you make some big shifts in your parenting style. There are some Positive Discipline coaches listed on www.posdis.org

Jane Nelsen

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Positive Discipline School in Portland, OR

I just returned from doing a teacher in-service at Emerson School in Portland, OR and my heart is full. This school is a wonderful place to be. Read about their philosophy and their physical setting and you will know why. The teachers are so loving and competent—and they love Positive Discipline.

On Friday, I visited class meetings and felt so gratified. It made my life’s work seem so worthwhile to see children giving each other compliments that were so articulate, thoughtful, specific, and sincere. Listening to them solve problems was such a joy. They were so respectful of each other and so thoughtful as they brainstormed for solutions to problems. One class had a lot of fun role playing a suggested solution so the student could practice doing what she thought would solve the problem. When possessing what they learned from the role play, many of the students shared insights they had gained that they would not have noticed before.

The teachers confessed that they really don’t have many problems to work on because the students have learned so much about respect and problem-solving from their daily exposure to Positive Discipline class meetings and other methods.

Before arriving in Portland I had been thinking about how sad it is that homework and testing has become such a source of misery for students, parents, and teachers. In fact, I have been thinking about writing a book titled, "Homework and Testing Hell." It is so sad to me that homework power struggles take up so much family time. I hear parents share their obsession with good grades (they feel so much pressure to have their children achieve academically), and sadly watch children feel so discouraged as they feel the "sense" that grades are more important to their parents than they are. This hurts, so they often rebel or get even by purposely showing a lack of concern and motivation. Some actually give up because it seems so impossible to meet all the expectations put upon them. I was feeling very discouraged until I walked into Emerson School.

The staff at Emerson struggles with the homework and testing issues. They know that tests and homework are not true indicators of learning—and, if fact, often take the joy out of learning. Still they have to comply with state testing. They work very hard to create a balance of the "ridiculous" things they have to do by making sure they have a curriculum and includes opportunities for true joy in learning.

During our Saturday in-service, I wanted to make sure the teachers also experienced the joy of learning as we engaged in many experiential activities including, "It’s a Jungle Out There," a fun way to learn about respecting separate realities and team building; "Cooperative Juggling," to teach about the need for guidelines to avoid chaos—and that every person is essential to the success of the group; "Six Lists" to create a map (through brainstorming six lists) about what we want for our children, and how challenges can help us get there through understanding how to avoid the negatives of being only kind or only firm so we can experience the positives of being both kind and firm; "Top Card" to help teacher’s gain a better awareness of the assets and liabilities of their own personalities and what they invite from others (children), and the "Teachers Helping Teachers Problem Solving Steps" where teachers learn to support each other in role playing for better understanding of a behavior challenge, and the brainstorming for encouraging ways to use the challenging behaviors as a platform for teaching students valuable social and life skills for good character. I believe I speak for the teachers when I say we had a lot of fun and learned a lot.

I have asked Emerson School to become a Positive Discipline demonstration school and they are excited about the possibility. Don’t pass up the opportunity to visit this wonderful school if you get a chance.

Morning Problems


I have read your book, Positive Discipline, cover to cover, and have searched your website in the FAQ about morning routine problems but could not find a solution to a certain situation. I have a problem with my 7 year old daughter that I can't solve, and can't find advice for.

Andrea is not a morning person. She is usually cranky when she needs to get up for school. I used to wake her up myself, which usually took many attempts just to rouse her, and then I would have to keep going to her room to check if she was up. Usually she would be back in bed or on the floor sleeping. I bought her an alarm clock so she could be more responsible about the whole thing, but she sleeps right through it, when I can hear it downstairs loud and clear. I'm serious, I've allowed that thing to ring for 40 minutes and she WILL NOT get up to turn it off. I'm so sick of nagging, the trips up to her room, the struggles. When I eventually get her up she is ANGRY with ME. She is hostile, verbally abusive, and will hold up the rest of the family while we wait for her to get ready. I know she is getting enough sleep, at least 9 to 10 hours per night. Please give me suggestions.


I’m surprised that we haven’t answered a similar question because so many parents are experiencing the same frustration with morning problems. I did when my children were young. Since you read the Positive Discipline book, you are familiar with the mistaken goal chart and can make a guess about the mistaken way to find belonging and significance. If you are feeling irritation, annoyed, worried, or guilty, chances are that her mistaken goal is "Undue Attention". If you are feeling challenged, provoked, or defeated (which is what it sounds like in your e-mail), chances are that her mistaken goal is "Misguided Power." However, her mistaken goal could be "Revenge" - if you are feeling hurt, disappointed, disgusted. I doubt that her goal is "Assumed Inadequacy". Understanding the mistaken goal can help you understand the most effective approach. Let’s assume her mistaken goal is "Misguided Power", where her coded message is, "You can’t make me." The other piece of information that is helpful is to know that she wants to feel belonging (connection) and significance and is choosing a "mistaken" way to achieve this. Now, what to do???

First let’s focus on how to create a sense of belonging and connection. One way to do this is to admit that you can’t make her get up in the morning. Be sure to say this in a kind and friendly way - not as an accusation. Then ask for her help. Sit down (during a calm time) and have fun brainstorming possible solutions with her. Using you sense of humor to start the brainstorming can create a fun and inviting atmosphere. You might suggest things such as finding a band (with lots of drums) to come wake her up every morning, hiring horses to come drag her out of bed, inventing a feather waker upper - a machine with feathers attached that will tickle her face until she gets out of bed. Then you could start on the more serious possibilities by asking her, "What would work for you?" If she says, "I don’t know," (which is very typical), say, "You are such a good thinker and problem-solver. I have faith in you that you can think of some good solutions. Why don’t we take a break for 10 minutes while you think about it and then come back to our brainstorming." I have no idea what she will come up with that would be helpful to her, but you could suggest some of the things you have already tried (such as an alarm clock). You might be surprised at how much more effective it will be if she chooses it.

Once she has chosen a solution, it is very important for you to the stay out of the picture. (If the suggestion she chooses is for you to wake her up with a hug and a kiss, do that once and then stay out of the picture. I used to take long showers so I wouldn’t be tempted nag or interfere.) Allow her to experience the consequences of her choice to stay in bed. You can go over these in advance. Perhaps the consequence is that she will be late for school - and has to deal with her teacher or the school (without your interference). (Notice that this is something that happens without you "imposing" it.) Perhaps it is that she will miss the bus and have to walk. This can be combined with deciding what you will do. One parent said, "I’m not willing to drive you to school when you miss the bus, but I will follow you (either on foot or in the car) to make sure you are safe while you walk.) Perhaps the consequence is that she has to stay home from school (either with you or with a child-care person) if she wakes up too late. (Now is a good time to do this, because 7-year-olds usually like school and don’t want to miss.) It is important to avoid turning this into a punishment by saying she has to stay in her room and can’t do anything fun. It is okay to say, "This is my time and I’m not willing to entertain you - and I’m sure you’ll be able to get up on time tomorrow so you won’t have to miss school again."

I’m sure you have found other suggestions in the book, such as having her create her own bedtime and morning routine charts where you have taken pictures of her doing each task on her list, and letting her paste the picture next to the written task. The key here is having her create her own chart. It is okay to do it with her, but not for her. The other key is to be both kind and firm in whatever interactions you have with her.

Another thing that can be very effective is to set up a daily special time with your daughter - one that is on the calendar for a specific time slot. Many parents find that this solves problems, even when they don’t deal directly with the problem because it helps the child feel the belonging (connection) and significance that is their primary goal in life.

Best wishes, Jane Nelsen

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Step Parenting Blues


I just read your response to the lady regarding her partners five year old son. And, after reading the article by Mike Brock on Relational Parenting, his words confirmed for me what I have been feeling for a long time... we are not being good models of behavior with the constant, and sometimes intense, arguing. I noticed that you had recommended your e-book Positive Discipline for your Step Family, but before purchasing it, I wanted to ask if there is another book or article you might suggest for my family...step yes, but made up of three high schoolers, mine and his. I just hate wasting time on information that is most applicable to young children. The different approaches to discipline between my husband and I are taking a huge toll on our relationship and I don't want the kids to have to live with this any longer.

Any suggestions?

Fraught and heartbroken


Dear Fraught and Heartbroken,

My heart breaks for you and for your kids. AND, you are in a very good place because of your awareness and desire to change. It is difficult to tell you which book might be best, so let me tell you a little about two of them and you decide. The Positive Discipline for Stepfamilies eBook is good because if provides lots of tools, and also addresses the challenges of step-parenting.

Positive Discipline for Teenagers is excellent for families with teens. (Yours.) It focuses only on the challenges of parenting teens. The focus is on understanding their individuation process instead of taking everything personally, and focusing on solutions instead of engaging in power struggles. Some parents like to the get the Empowering Teens CDs (or MP3 download) to go along with PD for Teens, because listening to the one hour lecture "brings it alive."

The 25th year anniversary edition of Positive Discipline is excellent, but it does cover younger children too. However, many of the tools suggested for use with younger children are very appropriate with teens. One of the big concepts I included in this new edition is for parents and teachers to take responsibility (not blame or shame) for how they help create many of the behavior challenges they face. Every Positive Discipline book includes many tools. In this book I created a summary of every tool that was covered in each chapter.

I will say that the Step Family book is extremely cost effective. What would you have to lose if found even one idea that is helpful? And, I know you will find many. I know it is a pain in the butt to have to read something on a screen (although some people like it).

Many people purchase more than one book because they all have some different information (and some repeats), and most of us parents need as much reprogramming as we can get.

And, if you need more help, go to www.lynnlott.com and consider counseling. Lynn is the co-author of Positive Discipline for Teenagers and has several clients she works with via phone.

I hope you have signed up for my monthly newsletter at www.positivediscipline.com You might find these articles and Q & As very helpful.

I wish you the best.

Jane Nelsen