Author Archives: laurie

3-year-old rejects father

Q: (Summarized). My three-year-old son is rejecting his father and their relationship is faltering. What do I do?

A: I’m so sorry you and your family are going through this. First of all, know that preference for one parent and rejection of the other is a common phase for young children. The trick is getting through the phase without turning it into something more permanent. The more attention drawn to the rejection, the more solidified it becomes, and the more your son is reprimanded for it, the more resentment towards your husband builds. If 3-year-old Johny hits Mike and gets in trouble for it, Johny thinks it’s all Mike’s fault, as 3-year-olds lack the experience and brain development to reason like adults. So if your son gets in trouble for his treatment of his father, he likely sees his father as the cause of the unpleasantness.

Here are some ideas to help get things back on track:

–Control the way you and your husband respond to the rejection so your son stops associating your husband’s presence with negativity, confusion, guilt, etc.

–Remain neutral and calm. Try modeling, redirecting, and ignoring. For example, when your husband walks into a room, model an appropriate greeting yourself, “Hi, sweetheart! Welcome home!” When your son gives an inappropriate greeting, say, “Daddy likes to be greeted like this, ‘Hi Daddy! Welcome home!’ ” Or, “Daddy likes to be greeted with a hug or a high five.” If he doesn’t choose one of the options, just move on, continuing to model and redirect at each opportunity with a carefree attitude.

–When greeting your husband and asking about his day, keep connected to your son so he doesn’t see his father as the reason for loss of attention from you.

–Schedule daily father/son special time (e.g., 15 minutes before bed) around something your son loves (e.g., wrestling, kicking a soccer ball, playing transformers).

–Leave your son with his father on a regular basis while you go for a walk or grab a cup of coffee. During that time, have your husband meet your son’s needs for food, comfort, attention, etc. When you leave, say good-bye with as little fanfare as possible, leaving your husband to start their alone time with a highly preferred and distracting activity. The more calm and collected you are when leaving him even if he’s very upset, the more he’ll think you really do believe he can handle it and the more he’ll believe it himself.

The most important thing you can do is curb the emotions involved to allow things to return to normal, though it’s easier said than done, particularly since it takes time. Best of luck and please feel free to email me at with more questions.

Child loses temper when told ‘No’

Q: My child gets very upset when he is redirected. He loses his temper, folds his arms, and looks away from the speaker. He tells the teacher “NO” when he is told to do something. His behavior is getting worse. What can I do? We have tried time out, we’ve taken his toys, games, and TV away, but he still does it. We have even spanked him, but I don’t like to do that…Please help.

A: I’m sorry you’re going through these tough times. I think all of us can relate to the frustration of being told ‘no’ by a child. I have several ideas for you, the first of which is to always keep your son’s age and developmental level in mind. Just as you are facing the challenges parenthood throws at you and all the new skills it requires, he is facing the challenges of simply existing in this large and complex world and almost every skill he’s learning is new and difficult. Even with our fully developed brains and lifetimes of experience, we still make mistakes daily (e.g., yelling at our kids, nagging our spouses), so with their very limited brain development and few years of experience, our children can be expected to make many more. However, what defines us as parents isn’t the mistakes they make, but how we respond to them.

Do we respond with understanding and patience, recognizing that behavior takes years and years (and years) to master? Do we treat mistakes as wonderful opportunities to learn? All misbehavior occurs for a reason–a skill that needs to be taught, a milestone that needs to be reached, a problem that needs to be solved, etc. No amount of punishment will teach a baby to walk since walking requires coordination and muscle development. Socially acceptable behavior too requires skill and brain development and is even more complex since emotions and others are usually involved.

It often helps me to remember that children are biologically designed to test everything in their environment–including our boundaries. This knowledge can remind us to enforce those boundaries with kindness. Being kind and firm at the same time shows (and models) respect for the child and for the adult. For example, you might say, “You are really working hard on your puzzle. I don’t like to stop in the middle of something either. AND it’s time to go. Would you like to clean up your puzzle now or set it aside to finish later?” or, “You’re having so much fun building that big tall sand castle. AND it’s time for lunch and our bodies need food. Would you like to lead the way to the car or hold my hand while we walk?”

There are many more tools for applying a kind and firm approach so I highly recommend finding a Positive Discipline class in your area and reading Positive Discipline or Positive Discipline for Preschoolers. Best of luck and please let me know if you have more questions!


3- and 6-year-olds dependent on TV

Q: I am a step father who has taken over the father roll of a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old. Both are great kids. The only thing that drives me crazy is their TV habits. These were instilled in them long before me. My main concern is bedtime. It’s so bad that they “Can’t sleep without the television” on. If the 3-year-old’s movie stops in the middle of the night, we hear blood curdling screams until someone comes in to press play. I know this is not normal. Is it okay? How can I wean them off the television, especially at night? I personally don’t think they need it.

A: I can understand why you’re concerned. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children and teens engage in no more than one or two hours of screen time a day (this includes computers and game consoles) since excessive screen time leads to attention problems, school challenges, sleeping and eating disorders, obesity, etc.

Sleep occurs when the brain slows enough to induce it, and though television is inactive and can indeed slow the brain, it’s not harmless white noise since the brain still hears the content on some level, but without the presence to interpret it meaningfully.

I highly recommend a problem-solving session where you and your wife validate your step-children’s concerns, share yours, and brainstorm solutions. A conversation with your six-year-old could look something like this:

Notice: “We notice you watch a lot of television and depend on it to fall asleep.”

Listen without interrupting

Validate: “You really like television. It’s interesting and exciting and makes falling asleep easy. I understand. I really enjoy sitting back and being entertained. Sometimes I fall asleep in front of the TV and it’s so cozy.”

Share your concerns: “Our concern is that doctors say too much television is bad for your brain, kind of like too much junk food is bad for your body. Also, we think it’s important for you to learn to fall asleep without it.”

Ask for ideas: “What could we do so you still get to enjoy TV a little each day AND also learn to fall asleep without it?”

Ideas work best if they come from the children, but think of some to lead them towards if they’re stuck. For example, to address the sleep issue, they could use white noise or music or read themselves to sleep. For cutting back during the day, you could come up with a daily (or weekly) allotment (e.g., 1 hour a day or 7 hours a week) and allow them to spend it however they choose (but once it’s spent, it’s spent). To help with boredom, you could brainstorm and make a list of alternatives (e.g., playing outside, drawing, playing board games, reading, building with blocks, doing puzzles).

Though the screams may be unpleasant, it’s okay for children to experience strong negative emotions as long as we respond with kindness and firmness (the kindness shows our understanding of their experience and the firmness shows respect for ourselves or the needs of the situation–in this case, their healthy development). You do not need to protect your children from the discomfort/pain of falling asleep without a TV but rather have faith in them to handle it, even if it takes time.

Best of luck and hang in there!

Father getting custody of 6- and 12-year-old girls

Q: I am getting custody of my ex-wife’s 6- & 12-year-old girls from out of state and I have had no contact with either of them. DNA proves they are mine. The 12-year-old’s mother died 3 years ago. How can I be a good father?

A: Wow, what a huge and important change for all of you. First of all, I highly recommend you contact a family therapist as soon as possible to help you through the transition. Next, I recommend reading Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, which offers great advice on how to mitigate the negative impact of family trauma, and Playful Parenting, which explains how children process, how to respond to emotional outbursts, and much more. I also recommend taking a Positive Discipline parenting class in your area. In the meantime, I suggest focusing on building a connection with each girl individually, showing a lot of patience and understanding for their experiences. I commend you for taking on this important responsibility and wish you the best of luck. Please contact me anytime with more questions.

Challenges with 3-year-old and grandparents

Q: My daughter is 3 years old and her behavior has been getting worse. I tell her off when she throws things at me, won’t do as she’s told, answers back, or hits or pokes me. She gets spoilt from my parents and expects things now from them and me, unfortunately I can’t afford to keep buying things. When I tell her off in front of my dad, he says she’s only 3 and only a little girl and I shouldn’t, and when I say no, my mum makes me out to be the bad person and says, “No mummy said you can’t do this,” or, “You can’t have that as mummy’s said no.” Am I being to hard on her or am I right in disciplining my daughter to not grow into a spoilt brat?

A: Many of us can relate to your concerns and they are frustrating indeed. I see two separate issues here–the best way to guide your daughter’s healthy development and your parents’ involvement in the process.

Grandparents are such a blessing to children, offering unconditional love and support without the burden of responsibility, and we parents can benefit from their vast experience. However, it’s easy for them to unintentionally sabotage our discipline efforts. I suggest talking to your parents in private, asking them to speak to you about any concerns out of your daughter’s earshot and to support your rules when they’re watching her. We make rules for our children out of love for them or respect for ourselves and others. If loving adults in our children’s lives disregard the rules, it’s harder for the message of love in our discipline to come through.

Now for the trickier issue… One of the hardest things we face as parents of young children is understanding what is developmentally appropriate. No matter how advanced our parenting knowledge today, all children must start over from the beginning with undeveloped brains and no experience. We must be careful not to use the line, “She knows better,” since adults, even with our lifetimes of experience and fully developed brains, engage in things we know better than to do daily (e.g., losing our temper, nagging a spouse, eating junk food). If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves expecting more from our little ones than we do from ourselves. And while we tend to learn new skills (e.g., a computer program, how to drive stick, a style of dance) only occasionally, every skill is new for our preschoolers.

Thus, our young children need lots of patience, understanding, and lots and lots of modeling (e.g., if we want our children to keep their cool when someone does something they don’t like, they need to see us keep our cool when they do something we don’t like over and over again until their brains are ready for them to adopt the same skill). We don’t punish a baby for not being able to walk, we wait for her to develop muscles and coordination and offer guidance along the way. The same applies to behavior.

I strongly encourage you to attend a Positive Discipline class in your area and to read Positive Discipline for Preschoolers. Also, there are several other blogs, such as, with more specific discipline tools related to your concerns. Best of luck and feel free to write again!