Changing Our Parenting Language

There was recently an excellent conversation on Mrs. Marsha Johnson’s list ( about three-year-olds and “temper tantrums”.  One of the wonderful mothers on Mrs. Johnson’s list emailed me and stated how she always felt badly about that phrase: “temper tantrum”.

I have to agree with her.  If you think carefully about it, that is a phrase that really puts a mother on one side and a child on the other side.  A “temper tantrum” really implies that the child has a bad temper, that the child should be able to control his or her emotions and that this temper tantrum is a lack of self-control or self-discipline on the part of the child.

A “temper tantrum” is a need for connection.  A time when a child is feeling so badly, so over-stimulated, is a time when a child really needs you to guide them with love.  Sometimes all you can do is to be there.  Time-out  is not an effective tool for this; it promotes separation and isolation instead of listening and being with that child when they need you most.  Please see this back post for more about dealing with challenging behaviors:

So, let’s re-name temper tantrums once and for all.  I think “Connection Crisis” sums it up.  Your child needs you.

This reminds me of an article that was shared with me at a La Leche League meeting many, many years ago.  It was written by Pam Leo, author of “Connection Parenting” and appeared in the 1997 Winter edition of Empathic Parenting.  She took concepts from Faber and Mazlish’s “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk” and modified them. 

I am going to modify what Pam wrote, so here goes:

1.  When you blame and accuse me —

  • I hear:  I’m no good, I do everything wrong
  • I feel: unloved, unlovable, incapable, worthless
  • I need: for you to listen without interrupting and judging me, to set boundaries for me if I need, but most of all to love me despite my flaws and mistakes

2.  When you call me names —

  • I hear:  I’m stupid, I’m lazy, I’m no good
  • I feel: unloved, unlovable, incapable, worthless
  • I need: encouragement

3.  When you threaten me–

  • I hear:  a person I  love is going to hurt me
  • I feel:  afraid, in danger, unsafe, terribly alone
  • I need: boundaries set and kept  in a loving way, I need to see a way to de-escalate conflicts peacefully, I need to feel your warmth and your love

4.  When you command, order or coerce me–

  • I hear:  I have no choice, I am powerless, I don’t matter
  • I feel:  unloved, unlovable, incapable and worthless
  • I need: to be able to make mistakes when the cost is small in order to learn, limits but with enough freedom that I can still grow into being myself, understanding  and love

5.  When you keep warning me —

  • I hear:  I am careless, I am stupid, I don’t think well
  • I feel:  unloved, unlovable, incapable and worthless
  • I need:  a safe way to channel my wonderful ideas, my energy

6.  When you make martyrdom statements:

  • I hear:  I am selfish, I am thoughtless, I am mean
  • I feel:  unloved, unlovable, incapable, guilty and bad
  • I need:  to see how someone asks for help when they need it, to see how someone can take care of themselves and still take care of others, how someone exercises self-control of their mouth, how someone has a positive attitude

7.  When you make comparisons:

  • I hear:  I am not good enough, everyone else is better, you don’t love me
  • I feel:  unloved, unlovable, incapable, worthless
  • I need:  you to guide me to improvement, you to show me how to solve a problem or a challenge

8.  When you are sarcastic —

  • I hear: voice words and tones that don’t match the situation
  • I feel: confused
  • I need:  your sincerity, your gentle voice and hands to guide me, to see how children of different ages are parented in different ways

9.  When you make negative prophesies–

  • I hear:  I will never do it right, I will never be enough, my life will be ruined
  • I feel:  hopeless, unloved, unlovable, incapable and worthless
  • I need: your encouragement, your guidance, your ability to let me mistakes when the cost is small, your love and compassion, your demonstration that sometimes “okay” is “good enough”

10.  When you lecture and moralize —

  • I hear:  I should be better than I am, I will never get this right
  • I feel:  unloved, unlovable, incapable, worthless. alone and isolated
  • I need:  your love, your boundaries to keep me safe, your warmth and understanding, your stories about what you were like at this age and what happened and did you ever at all feel the way I feel


Change your language and change how you feel toward your parenting

Many blessings,


25 thoughts on “Changing Our Parenting Language

  1. Thanks for reminding me to see things from my child’s point of view. When you do get caught up in a power struggle, you certainly loose sight of the “child’s voice”.

    Blessings back to you 😉

  2. Hi Carrie

    I agree with changing our parenting language. Our words are so powerful not only for what our children hear but also for our own self talk.
    The other term that makes me feel bad is ‘the terrible two’s’. I always feel if you label the stage as such you set yourself (and your child) up for a difficult time.

  3. Thanks for this reminder.
    Every time I read or hear about temper tantrums I think of the excellent book by Aletha Solter “Tears and Tantrums”. I don’t agree with everything in the book but it offers a very interesting perspective on why children cry and need to cry. I think all parents who read it will feel a lot more relaxed and understanding when their kids cry, instead of being distressed and trying to stop the crying as soon as possible.

  4. It’s nice that you posted this, Carrie. I read it some years ago in some place that I don’t remember, but it really is a good reminder. Lately I’ve been really tired…I think I am way too old to have a two year old boy 🙂 …I’ve just found myself saying unhelpful things, like “can you please just stop for once” or “do you need to hit me all the time”, etc etc. Nothing outrightly damaging, but then I see his face and some twinkle in his eye goes and my heart breaks, and I see so how unhelpful/unmindful that is. In the moment I feel an immediate need to express the exasperation, but I see how it’s poorly directed. It shouldn’t be at my son. I’m on a plan: 40 Days Towards Being a More Peaceful Parent. I’m making progress! These speech reminders are good additions to my Peaceful Parenting Notebook!

    • Elizabeth,
      Be gentle with yourself….you are right where you need to be and on this path…You could always head back to those “20 Days Toward Being A More Mindful Parent” posts from December. I love your idea of having a Peaceful Parenting Notebook, I do hope you share about that!

  5. Carrie, your description of tantrums echoes a passage in “Natural Medicine for Children” by Julian Scott. Under “Terrible Twos” he writes: “A toddler’s emotions depend heavily on those of other people, and he or she quickly picks up feelings from the parents. We often notice our children becoming irritable when we ourselves feel irritable.” Another passage reads: “When family tensions run very high, the child may reflect what someone else in the family is actually feeling inside, and act it out. Children who are closest and dearest to their parents are strongly affected by these types of adult emotions.”

    • Eva, I have never read any Julian Scott, but his writings sound interesting. I guess I should put him on my “to-read” list!!
      Thank you!
      Many blessings,

  6. Carrie,
    what great reminders. I’m bookmarking this entry on my iPhone as “life language” as it seems to apply to how we everyone, including our spouses and ourselves. I’m also forwarding this to my husband. Good stuff. Thankyou.

  7. Thank you for this powerful reminder, Carrie. To think that we can cause so much damage out of our own ‘temper tantrums’!



  8. Pingback: May Gentle Discipline Fair » The Road Less Traveled To Parenthood » Baby Dust Diaries

  9. Pingback: Sunday Surf » The Road Less Traveled To Parenthood » Baby Dust Diaries

  10. Pingback: Changing our Parenting Language | Lovinglydevoted's Blog

  11. Pingback: How Do I “Keep Calm and Carry On”? « The Parenting Passageway

  12. Great post. This is is at the heart of the inner work I am doing right now.

    Carrie I am stuck on number 4 here, as I feel this is the area I most struggle with, in terms of setting boundaries/limits for my spirited 3 year old. I feel like I always end up ‘commanding, ordering, or coercing’, after failing to get my son’s attention in a kind and gentle way. I would appreciate any concrete examples of setting limits for a child at this developmental stage, or any resources/reading that may be helpful.

    Also, after reading many of the (very helpful!) back posts re: fostering creative play, I read in one of them that you may be writing a future post about facilitating play – would you provide the link to it, if applicable.

    Many thanks for your words and your time!

  13. Pingback: Strong-Willed At Three and Four Years of Age « The Parenting Passageway

  14. Pingback: Sunday Surf « Baby Dust Diaries

  15. Pingback: May Gentle Discipline Fair « Baby Dust Diaries

  16. Pingback: Dealing With Conflict: Eight Facets Of A Healthy Family Culture | The Parenting Passageway

  17. Pingback: Sunday Books: The No-Cry Discipline Solution | The Parenting Passageway

  18. Pingback: Sunday Surf | Baby Dust Diaries

  19. Pingback: Boundaries, Empathy, Consequences | The Parenting Passageway

  20. Pingback: “Getting Children To Do What We Want” | The Parenting Passageway

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.