Tag Archives: attachment parenting

Attention Isn’t a Reward

Connection

I don’t even know if I have the capacity for normal emotions or not because I haven’t cried for a long time. You just stifle them for so long that maybe you lose them, partially at least.”

That is a punch to the gut for anyone who feels like they have to hide their emotions or “true self.” Science continues to affirm that concealing your emotions is destructive. Dismissing our feelings makes us less able to maintain our sense of well-being. Our inner, ignored swamps create a distance between us and those we love.

Time does not heal all wounds; connection does. When someone you care for struggles with their feelings, you reach out a helping hand. Sometimes pain comes in the form of destructive behavior—as a society, we recognize this. We acknowledge that addiction indicates alienation and that the most aggressive among us are hurting.
So why do we admonish people for giving their children attention when they are having a hard time?

What are Rewards?

You shouldn’t reward behavior like that.”

If you pay attention to him, he will just keep doing it.”

Paying attention to someone isn’t a reward. Loving someone isn’t a reward. Love is an automatic reaction. We should not pretend to turn it on and off as a means to manipulate.

Are you a good person or bad person for feeling sad?

Are you an upright citizen or dreg for feeling anxious?

Does your regret make you admirable or awful?

These are of course ridiculous questions.

Rewards are something that you get for doing something good. Punishments are for doing something bad. Emotions are not on a moral spectrum.
Labeling feelings as negative or positive is destructive. Learning to accept a wide range of emotions contributes to our ability to self-regulate, an important life skill which you are teaching your child how to do (or not to do) now. When your child makes bids for your attention, that is an opportunity for you to coach them through their feelings.

Attention

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It is easy for us to forget in today’s society what attention actually is. It is even easier to forget as adults because we feel and believe that we “take care of ourselves.”

Attention is our lifeline. Without the attention of others—in our evolutionary past and today—we either die or simply survive. In harsh environments, ostracism is used as an extreme punishment because we are social mammals; being ignored by your community is a threat of death and not an idle one.

Our attention and love are not rewards for our children. Once we recognize belonging as a fundamental human need, we can let go of the fear that we are rationing it incorrectly. You wouldn’t take away air, water, or food from your child as a punishment for their bad behavior. You shouldn’t take away your love.

Wanting attention is a legitimate need. If you find yourself thinking that the desire for attention is something that needs to be fixed in yourself, reflect on this belief, where you got it, and how to fix it. As trendy as pathologizing basic human desires and behaviors is, your family will benefit if you resist the urge.

Overwhelm

In the name of authenticity, we should admit that we want to show our love for our children when they break down. Breaking down can be palatable—the shuddering of shoulders, the “blue zone” that Dr. Siegel talks about where our children clam up and avoid eye contact. Or it can be the dreaded “red zone—the tantrum, yelling, crying, screaming that everyone seems to think they will be able to avoid because they will parent right.

Both of these are normal human reactions to being overwhelmed. Children feel overcome with emotion more often and more easily and have outbursts to match.

What should you do when your child is having a tantrum? You don’t need to tell them that their behavior is great. You certainly don’t need to actually reward the behavior with ice cream and toys. You don’t need to help them quickly get over the emotion. Stop harmful and destructive behavior (physically, if you need to), and just be with them. You don’t want to be alone in your tough emotions. Neither do they.

All behavior is communication. Sometimes that behavior is communicating, “I need your help to stop. I feel out of control.”

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The Quote

The quote at the top was made by a really famous guy. Jeffrey Dahmer.
I’m not saying that your child is going to cannibalize people if you ignore their emotions. They could grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. They may learn how to regulate their emotions.
You are your child’s emotional coach. What are you teaching them?

Please share this post if you enjoyed it! Comment below: How do you handle your children’s tough emotions?

Babywearing

Babywearing is extremely important in my life. It was a crucial part of my parenting philosophy going in. I put a heavy emphasis on independent play, but babies are young. They need you. They don’t like to have time alone.

Babywearing is what has allowed me to do what I want to do with my child in tow.

Stranger Danger

It has been amazing to watch Zander reach developmental milestones. The first time he grabbed something, the first time he propped himself up on his arms, the first time he smiled.

He has recently hit another milestone: a bit of stranger danger. He knows who he knows and who he doesn’t. He knows he is separate from me. He understands that he can be left alone—he does not care for it.

Carrying has become more important than ever. Only a few weeks ago, I could see him across the room from me, and he would be happy to maybe see me. Maybe hear my voice.

He no longer accepts these crumbs. He wants all of the mommy, all of the time.

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Frustration

While this can be overwhelming for people, I believe that a lot of the discomfort of it comes from trying to accomplish tasks while leaving your baby alone. When I have tried to approach things this way, I can feel myself getting frustrated.

Not at my child, but at the situation.

There is something that I want to do, or need to do, that I cannot get done.

I firmly believe that my son is the number one thing I need take care of.

But, can I breathe?

“Attachment” Parenting

All of this frustration completely evaporates away when I wear him. This frees my hands to accomplish almost anything.

I want to make this clear: I don’t believe babywearing his how you create a secure attachment. The science doesn’t support it. You don’t need to practice the 7 B’s of Dr. Sears Attachment Parenting–birth bonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, bed sharing, beware baby trainers, read baby’s cues, set boundaries—to create a secure attachment in your baby.

I practice all of those 7 B’s. Only one of them is necessary: Responding sensitively and consistently to baby’s cues.

This is the only thing that can create a secure attachment.

If you breastfeed but never lock eyes and smile at her;

if you bed share but ignore her cry,

then your child will have difficulty creating a secure attachment.

If you bottle feed but engage your child,

look when she is pointing,

and mirror her emotions,

you are in a better place to create a secure attachment than a breastfeeding mother who is not present.

Why Babywearing?

I put forward babywearing as a practical way to get your child’s needs met. That’s our job as parents. There physical needs, emotional needs, and social needs.

After that, they should absorb our world. Their lives revolve around ours, not the other way around.

Children follow adults, not the other way around.

To this end, I wear my baby. I have walks to take, cooking to do, books to write, and floors to clean.

If I left Zander by himself on the bed, he would complain.

Understandably.

I would need to then drop what I was doing, and respond to him.

This takes you out of the state of flow. It makes the day feel broken up and more difficult.

Safety

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There are babywearing precautions that you should take. You should be trying to do exercises that strengthen your back and correct your alignment.

There are a few simple exercises for this. Do wall angles, pelvic tilts, and ragdoll pose regularly. Do TA contractions muscles before and after putting on baby.

Check here for more tips.

Even if you do not decide to baby wear, these basic exercises will still be helpful for your postpartum body. Breastfeeding mothers, in particular, will benefit. None of them are serious workouts. I’ve also attached the beginning of the series on alignment that you can look at.

For more on posture alignment, watch this video series.

I use the Ergo 360 and a Hip Baby woven wrap.

 and Tell me how you feel about babywearing!

What carrier or wrap do you use? Do you have any tips about babywearing or fitness for mothers?

What is one exercise for alignment you can dedicate yourself to doing once a week?

 

babies are people

Babies Are People

Because they don’t talk. Because we support them. Because they need so much. Because we are all they have.

It is sometimes difficult, if not impossible, to remember that our babies are people too. They have their own needs, wants, and struggles.

Difficult Times

My partner experienced this recently when he kindly offered to take our four-month-old son for a while so could relax.

Our four-month-old sleep-regression-and-developmental-leap-having son.

He was not the easiest he has ever been.

My boyfriend remarked in his wisdom that he could see how people sometimes forget that babies are people.

My boyfriend, obviously, is not alone in this. We had spoken about it. I have had that feeling. We all have that feeling.

Little Baby “Thoughts”

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While we’ll never know exactly what babies think—although that’s not quite the right word—I try to put myself in their shoes. I try to think of having a pain and not knowing how to resolve it. I try to think of being alone and not knowing if I’ll ever see anyone again. I try to think of needing help, and the people I care for most withholding.

Of course, my son’s thoughts are nowhere close to this coherent. Babies are people, too, but he has just come out of creature mode. He is just waking up to the world. His emotional system is just coming online, and he can begin to respond with reactions other than fight, flight, freeze or faint.

But even without the cognition, the important thing is there. The feelings are there.

And to me, they sound very difficult and very frustrating.

No Theory of Mind

I try not to go in the other direction, either. There are people who prescribe far more cognitive abilities to children than they have. I probably tend on this side, though I can usually catch myself.

Infants don’t have a theory of mind—they don’t know that you’re making choices and thinking thoughts different and independent from theirs. They don’t understand your motivations.

When my son is uncomfortable or in pain, I sometimes wonder if he is thinking, “Why won’t you just solve this? You’re so big, so strong. You can do so much. Please make this pain stop.”

But he doesn’t think that. He just feels: “I don’t want this!”

As he ages, he may start assigning blame. It will have to do with his temperament, and the sort of culture we set up in our household. Whether he blames me, himself, the world, or realizes that there is no need to sign blame, our ideas and attitudes towards are discomfort are going to have some effect on him.

Being Present

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But for now, my goal is just to remember that he is a person. He is not an inanimate objects that I can force my desires on, and he is not a full grown adult prescribing malintent. He’s neither a manipulative psychopath trying to pull from me every resource that I have nor plant requiring just a bit of water and a touch of sun.

All that I can do is respond consistently to his cues. This doesn’t mean perfectly, and this doesn’t mean immediately. It means recognizing that he is trying to communicate his needs and wants to me and responding to them sensitively.

Sometimes, he will cry while he is in my arms, but if he is with me, he will be fine. And if I can see him and stay with him there without demanding he feel some other way, then I will, too.

 

Cry It Out

It is not possible to spoil your baby. Anything that your baby wants, your baby needs. If that is food, if that is sleep, or if that is just your attention.

Attention is not inconsequential to a human’s life. Because we are social creatures, others attention a is fundamental to our survival.
We are used to saying that babies only have one means of communication: Crying. That is not quite the truth. Read anything about breastfeeding, and it will tell you to look for other signals before they start to cry. Rooting, chewing on their fingers, behaving restlessly. The quicker you are to respond to these small signals, the easier it will be for baby to remain in a state of emotional regulation.

Mild Deprivation
We know that extreme deprivation of parental care causes huge problems for an infant. Famous studies were done in Romanian orphanages where they found out that children who were not touched or paid attention to had higher rates of criminality and drug use. They were in worse health and more likely to suffer from mood disorders.
The literature is less definitive on sleep training and other practices that involve the intentional decision to allow your baby to cry without responding.
What the literature is very clear on, though, is that responding to your child’s cues is never going to be the wrong thing to do. Especially not for an infant.

The point of argument is whether or not cry-it-out, as it is know, is negative or neutral; not whether or not responding is a bad thing. There are some physicians who will tell you that without sleep training, your child will fall into sleep dysregulation–some go even as far as to call co-sleeping or nursing to sleep a “sleeping disorder.”

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Sleep Associations
We all use what are called “sleep association” to get us to bed. Very few of us just conk out where ever and whenever. If you look for tips on the best way to get a good night’s sleep, you will again and again come across two suggestions: (1) Make your bedroom only for sleep; and (2) create a routine. Because our brains are association machines, you will automatically be put into a state of ease if you use these tools.
Anyone who is calling using your mother as a sleep association a disorder is drawing an arbitrary and unhelpful line.
While evolutionary psychology is often just-so, I think it is useful to note that babies would have slept with and been nursed by their mother’s for most of human history. While we should be wary of people using naturalistic arguments to push their view, using our past is not a bad default to move from.

Cortisol
What made the children in Romanian orphanages ill equipped to handle life?
It has to do with their cortisol levels. Cortisol is a chemical that is released in response to stress. Too much of it is linked with bad health outcomes.
Since we know at least one of the mechanisms that leads to poor life-outcomes, we can ask specific questions. Does cry-it-out release enough cortisol to produce negative, long lasting effects?

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Hyporesponsitivity
One of the most fascinating things about babies and young children is that they actually don’t produce much cortisol, even when they are crying a lot. This is called the period of hyporesponsitity, and you can read more about it here.
Hyporesponsivity essentially means that while you see your baby or toddler getting red in the face, crying, or having a tantrum, their brains aren’t reacting as if they’re in a stressful situation. It is hard to illicit a boost in cortisol, even if we can see that our children are having a very difficult time.
We don’t know why the brain does this in those early years of rapid neurological development, but we know it does. We also know that brains bathed in cortisol early in life set up their organism for failure, so it makes sense that it has some way to protect itself.
There is one easy way to get a baby or toddler’s brain to start producing cortisol, though: Remove their caregiver.
Our small ones use us as a buffer against stress. We mediate their emotions because they can’t.

Distress vs. Eustress
But isn’t stress good for us?
We will encounter stress throughout our lives. Some of that stress will make us more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, and some of it will make us better, stronger people. We can distinguish between these two kinds of stress. One is distress, which is negative; and the other is eustress, which is positive.
Eustress is short-term stress where we believe that we can cope with the demands on us. It is motivating. Taking on new job or hobby are examples of good stress. Distress can be long-term or short-term and it makes us feel like we do not have the tools we need to be successful. Unemployment and a death in the family are example of bad stress.
Are babies experiencing eustress or distress during CIO? Is it chronic stress or does it get interpreted as acute stress?

Inoculation
There is a phenomenon called stress inoculation. If you are exposed to a small amount of stress, you will slowly grow the ability to deal with more and more stress in your life. That is, you’ll subjectively perceive instances as eustress that you may otherwise have perceived as distress, if you have encountered similar struggles before. You will grow your window of tolerance for difficulty.
Studies have shown that baby monkey’s who experience short periods of separation from their mother’s in early life tend to be less anxious later in life.

Answers
This information my awareness of the need to focus on integration. My children and I need to be linked but distinct parts. Sometimes that calls for closeness and comfort, and sometimes that calls for standing apart.

As much as I’d like for the answer to fall definitively on my side–that what my gut tells me is right, is right–humans aren’t that simple. We might never have the answers we need to rest comfortable in our judgementalness of other’s choices.

Family Board Meeting

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There’s a well-known rule in the business world and in economics called the Pareto Principle—the 80/20 rule. It means that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort.

This is something that is hard to integrate into our daily lives. It is easy to believe that all of our marginal decisions and extra efforts are making a difference.

But this is a lie.

Too Close To Call

In fact, there are only a few things that we do in any arena of life that are getting us results.

We stress and strain over minor decisions and actions that don’t matter much. We spend time trying to figure out whether this or that is the best. It’s so close–too close to call. What if you make the wrong decision?

It won’t be the wrong decision.

Most of the time, it will be an inconsequential decision.

Get clear, in each part of your life, on the 20% of things that you are getting the most of your results from. Think about this in terms of your relationships, as well as your work life. Think of it in terms of your exercise. Think of it in terms of you diet. Think of it in terms of your routines.

With our children, there is an effective strategy to employ that will get us big results.

It will matter much more than which gift you get them, how many mortgages you pay, or the time spent lounging together.

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Family Board Meeting

That is the family board meeting strategy. It’s a concept in the book of the same name by Jim Sheils.

Here’s the main idea:

In the business world, there are board meetings that are conducted quarterly—once every three months. Everyone connects with each other, often face to face, to see where all lines are leading and to make sure they’re going in the same direction.

Have a board meeting with each member of your family, every three months.

Here are a few guidelines:

1) One-on-one: Every three months. This is possible, no matter the size of your family. Being paid attention to, without any distractions, creates a different kind of bond—one that allows each person to feel seen.

2) No technology: No distracting people, no distracting things. Playing video games and watching TV together may have its place, but this is about paying attention to each other.

That is impossible if mom, dad, daughter, or son are checking their phone every few minutes.

3) Four-Hours: Once a quarter, for each family member.

As the author of this book often reminds people, you only have eighteen summers with your children.

When we get together, we need to decompress before we can do things shoulder-to-shoulder in a truly connected way.

4) Freedom: Try to give as much freedom as possible to your children in deciding what to do. There are limits to what is possible, but take their preferences into heavy consideration.

Eighteen Summers

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Eighteen summers. Then they’re adults, and they can decide how much they want to see you.

How are you going to use that time?

What sorts of things do you think will build a loving, trusting relationship that keeps them interested and engaged with you now, and long into the future? Are you doing those things? Or are you hoping that all the tiny things that you do, the unseen things, the lower 80% things, will add up to the big results you’re hoping for?

Having routines and rhythms in our lives is one of the best things that we can do for ourselves. It allows us to be more mindful. It allows us to schedule our priorities, rather than bumble through and hope we get to them.

Keeping the Pareto principle in mind will help you be a productive, focused person, rather than a busy one. It will allow you to stop worrying if you make the right, tiny decisions, because you’re making big, intentional ones with results.

Consistency is NOT Key

children-817365_960_720.jpgConsistency is not key.

It is a common refrain among parenting coaches and educators that one of the most important things that you can do for your children is being consistent.

Which forces us to ask what the benefits of consistency are.

Consistently responding sensitively to your child’s needs creates a secure attachment.

For children and adults, there is a real upside to having routines and schedules. It allows us to be centered and mindful.

But consistency for the sake of consistency is garbage. Things for the sake of themselves often are.

What if you told your kid no ice cream, then thought about it, and you realized it really wasn’t an issue with you? What if you were angry in a moment, and disciplined your child—and then realized that it was disproportionate or useless?

There are many times when not being consistent is extremely important. Saying, “I’m sorry” means that you’ve changed your mind, or your behavior, or your attitude towards something. You in the present and you in the past do not agree on how to handle something.

Change isn’t always a good thing; but we have to be willing to change our minds. With new information comes new possibilities. With new energy comes new alleyways to discover. With new surroundings comes new structures.

What we create constantly gets knocked down, and that includes ourselves. The principle of non-self (anatta) tells us not to hold onto an idea of a solid, unchanging self because it is a lie. If anatta truly does reflect reality—and I very strongly believe it does—then to be totally consistent overtime is impossible.

One reason people think consistency is so important is because they think children are less intelligent and flexible then they are.

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When I was a kindergarten teacher, I would let my students jump up and down on my stomach. It was very fun for the all of us, and I like to make kids feel big and powerful. The owner of the kindergarten asked me not to do it because she was afraid that they would think it is okay to do with other teachers.

I talked to her about all of the different ways that the different teachers run their classrooms. About how I teach letters this way, but Teacher Ryan taught his this way. About how I played these games and Teacher Claire played those games. About how I let my kids scream, and Teacher Sean always liked his classrooms quiet.

We shared students, and of course, the children had no problem switching from one situation to another. They didn’t get confused with the different English speaking accents.

I asked the students: Who it was okay to jump on? They screamed, “Teacher Amelia.”

As excited as I could, I said, “Can we jump on Teacher Ryan?” and the kids laughed and laughed and said “No!”

“Can we teach on Teacher Claire?”

“Hahaha, no!”

These were 3 and 4 year olds, and we were talking in their second language. They were not confused at all that different people want different things, and that even different times required different behaviors.

If I came in feeling unwell one day, the kids did not feel uneasy when I said, “We have to be quiet today because Teacher is feeling sick. We won’t play many games.” Did they require a reminder or two?

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Sure, of course.

But it didn’t make them fundamentally distrust me, or feel confused about our relationship, or feel that the rug had been pulled out under their feet.

There are ways in which consistency benefits children. Again: responding sensitively to their cues, and having some semblance of a schedule so that they aren’t all over the place. Having an attachment figure, of course.

But children are very smart and adaptable. They start gaining the ability to empathize very young, and they live in an ever changing world. They are humans. Human are excellent generalists. We are amazing at building tools and finding ways to adapt to a variety of situations. We know how to reorient ourselves to new people, new rules, and new cultures.

The concept of consistency is important in a few domains. But in most, it is not. Not only do our moods change over time, but so do our values. What our children are capable of is constantly changing, and if you’re sensitive to their development, you will open up new doors for them at every opportunity. Today’s “No, it is too dangerous,” often can and should be Tomorrow’s “Yes, please give it a try.”

How To Get Your Partner to Parent the Same

I can’t get my husband to stop barking at the children.”

“My partner won’t listen to me or read any of the books I have asked him to.”

“My boyfriend keeps telling my son that he’s a ‘big boy now’ and I think it is hurting his confidence. How can I stop him?”

Frequently on parenting groups, we see these sorts of complaints and questions. A mother has decided on principles of interaction with her children, and the father is unwilling to follow the same path. The mother is distraught. Very often, distraught enough to be considering leaving her partner.

So, the question is, how do you get your partner on board with your parenting style?

My gut reaction—everyone’s gut reaction—is to say model the appropriate behavior. We learn better as children with modeling, and we learn better as adults with modeling. But in saying this, we leave out an important element of why people follow modeled behavior so well. They see the exact steps to take, and they see that it works.

If I wanted to learn how to make a cake, and someone modeled for me how to make a pie, I might be grateful for their effort, but I would not then follow their instructions. It was not what I wanted, so using their guidance for my ends is useless.

This is why mother’s will often say they already model and it doesn’t seem to be working. Why, oh why does he not see what I’m doing? How is he not compelled to do the same?

One option is that you have different values about what you want for your children.

More likely, you have different values about how you want to feel about how you treat your children.

I believe both parents, in most relationships, have their children’s best interest at heart. But I believe mother’s often want their relationship to be like a friendship. They want their relationship to be sweet and caring and empathetic. They are often liable to ignore the results that they are getting out of their interactions with their children, and how they are effecting their behavior. They are dedicated to certain principles and feelings, sometimes at the cost of what is actually best for the child in the long run.

If your partner sees you being a “gentle parent” towards your child, but your child is often out-of-control—both his own and yours—he is extremely unlikely to be convinced that this gentle parenting approach is for him, or really even for his child. He will not want to parent that way, and he may even begin to try to act as a counterbalance to permissiveness and lack of leadership, being harsher than he would otherwise.

And, perhaps, you seeing his harshness in response to your gentleness makes you double down and be even softer.

If I want to bake a cake and you hand me a book on how to make a pie, I am not going to read that book. It isn’t useful to me.

Feeling that we have the answers, feeling morally upright and indignant, is very appealing. Especially when you know that you’re on the right track. A half truth can sometimes be worse than a whole lie because reality will confirm that you’re doing something right.

I wholly agree that anyone who is interested in gentle parenting is gleaning some very important truths about the best way to raise children; with secure attachment, with emotional coaching, with loving care and openness. But they’re often missing leadership, another big part of the equation.

Before you try to model harder that your method is right, have a discussion about what values it is you are trying to raise your children with. From there, you can discuss why it is that he feels that your approach is lacking in accomplishing those goals.

Chances are, you will find that you both have the same values around what you want for your children. This is for two reasons. One if affiliative mating; we tend to date and breed with those who are like us.

But even more than this, it is because we generally all want the same things for our children. We want them to be emotionally healthy, able to pursue the things they want in life, for them to value their relationship with us, to be resilient, healthy. While which things you value most may differ, it is likely that the fundamental desires you have are the same.

A discussion can lead to gaining mutual respect for each other’s positions. You may even find that you give up your efforts to convert him to your ways, because you can see that there is a balance between the two of you. Perhaps being a great leader and setting boundaries isn’t your strong suit, and you can learn something from your partner. He is likely bringing something of value to the table. Maybe be will better be able to see where you’re coming from, too. Don’t go into the discussion hoping to “win” it, though.

Another possibility is that you guys can talk about what kinds of things would make a more gentle approach more appealing to him. Once you understand that you’re valuing the same things—that you don’t want to raise an impulsive, inconsiderate, unproductive person, but instead think that these ideas will lead to a strong, confident, cooperative adult—you can begin to talk about how to get where you’re both going.

It might be that your child doesn’t take directions well, and until your partner starts to see results in this area, he is not that interested. Realize that this is fair. Children aren’t meant to be slaves who simply follow orders, but they are meant to cooperate, to be led, and at a certain point, start to gain emotional control. When they can’t have emotional control, you are that calm for them.

Once you start to build the skills necessary to lead your child, maybe your husband will ask more questions about how to be authoritative. Then you modeling will be instructive for him.

But until then, until you show him how to bake a cake when what he wants is a cake, your modeling will do no good.