Helping the Young Child Develop Self-Awareness and Self-Control– Emotional Intelligence Part 2

Let’s begin with two well-established premises and a conclusion:

1st premise: A huge amount of brain development occurs in the first three years of life.
2nd premise: People with high emotional intelligence find it easier to be successful in life. They have better mental health, job performance, and leadership skills.
Conclusion: It is important to help young children begin to develop their emotional intelligence in the early years.

Do you know how to help your young child develop emotional intelligence?

In my last post, I focused on some simple ways to support the young child’s development of emotional intelligence. Specifically, I described some ways that you can help them develop self-awareness and self-control: a) allow them to experience the full range of emotions and practice coping with them without trying to change how they feel; and b) strive to maintain order and predictability in the young child’s environment to minimize the stress on them while they’re learning and growing so much.

I also touched on a very simple but very important method for helping children develop emotional intelligence– acknowledge and name their feelings– which I will address further here.

Remember that a big part of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. Emotionally intelligent people have good self-awareness. They understand themselves well. When they are upset, they are able to understand why. This makes it a lot easier to cope with upset feelings.

On the other hand, people who lack self-awareness don’t have any way of knowing how to make things better. They tend to either blame others for their upsetting feelings or become helpless and depressed when experiencing hurt feelings or upset.

Another big part of emotional intelligence is self-management or self-control. Emotionally intelligent people understand their feelings and manage them well, without hurting themselves or others.

On the other hand, people who lack self-management skills tend to act-out their feelings, taking out their sadness, frustration, or anger on other people. Adults who act-out their feelings tend to seem quite immature and may even be viewed as emotionally unbalanced.

Another simple way to help the young child development self-awareness and self-management skills is to acknowledge and name their feelings.

This is very simple, yet it is much more important and valuable than many people realize. Have you ever noticed that, when you’re upset and someone listens and validates your feelings, “well, of course you feel that way!,” it often helps you calm down? Or how different it feels when someone tries to talk you out of your feelings, “you shouldn’t be upset about that?” That almost never makes the upset disappear; rather, it compounds your upset. Now you’re also upset with the person who told you that you shouldn’t be feeling that way!

When your child hears you articulate their feelings, they feel that someone understands what they feel inside. That already makes them feel calmer. They may have felt like they were going to explode, but your calmly naming their feeling makes it clear it’s not a disaster. It helps the child to gain a greater understanding of what they’re feeling and it also strengthens their bond with you. It’s a win-win, and much more valuable than most people realize.

It is very valuable and, admittedly, easiest to acknowledge and name their happy feelings.

“You were so happy to see Daddy drive up.”
 “You think the dog is so funny when he scratches behind his ear.”
 “You felt so proud of that tower you built.”

It can be more of a challenge to acknowledge and name their less positive feelings, such as hurt, anger, or frustration; yet these are particularly valuable opportunities to help your child develop emotional intelligence. Try to be neutral, just describing what they’re feeling, without trying to fix it.

“You felt hurt when your brother didn’t want to play with you.”
“You’re frustrated that I won’t buy that toy for you.”

It’s much more difficult to manage our feelings when we don’t understand them. Acknowledging and naming their feelings is very helpful to your child’s emotional development.

Think about a time you were upset, but you weren’t sure why. Maybe you had to think back over a conversation that continued to bother you later, and ask yourself, “What happened that I keep going over and over that conversation? Why am I upset?”  It’s very difficult to get over the upset if you don’t know where it’s coming from.

So, with your baby, toddler, or young child, take the chance to name their feelings on a regular basis. Trust that this is beneficial, even though it doesn’t make the feelings automatically change.

Sometimes parents ask me “What if I get it wrong?”  As a psychologist and a coach, I can tell you it happens. It annoys a person to have their feelings mislabeled, but it’s not the end of the world. If you stay engaged in a dialogue, listening for what they are feeling, there’s no real harm done if you don’t always get it right.

You were pretty frustrated…”
“I wasn’t FRUSTRATED, I was MAD!!”

 “Oh, yes, I can see that mad is a better word for it. You were quite angry when that happened.”

Call to Action: Try it this week! Just name your child’s feelings, calmly, without trying to change them. I will be interested to hear what you learn.

By Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D., Born for Brilliance Parent Coach

NEW BOOK COMING OUT IN FEBRUARY! I am so excited that my first book about toddlers is due to be published in February, 2016.  Sign up for my email list to get more information.

New cover op 2




Posted in Babies, early childhood, emotional intelligence, parenting, Toddlers, young children | 4 Comments

How to Help the Young Child Become Emotionally Intelligent

cranky-sad-crying-baby-toddler-face-18467267by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D., Parent Coach

People with high emotional intelligence find it easier to be successful in life. They have better mental health, job performance, and leadership skills.

Young children are immature in every way, including their emotional development, but they are developing foundational skills in the early years. You can help your child, and enjoy living with them more, when you help them develop the competencies of emotionally intelligent people.

What can we do to help emotional, immature young children develop these important skills?

First, it helps to understand some of the components of emotional intelligence (EI).

  1. Self-awareness.  Emotionally intelligent people understand themselves well and have good self-awareness, while people who lack self-awareness don’t have any way of knowing how to make things better.  They tend to become depressed or to blame others for upsetting feelings they experience. 
  2. Self-management. Emotionally intelligent people also manage their feelings well, without hurting themselves or others. People who lack self-management are viewed as emotionally unbalanced. They tend to “act out” their feelings, taking out their sadness, frustration, and anger on others.
  3. Social awareness and social skills.  Along with understanding and managing themselves well, emotionally intelligent people have good awareness of, and ability to get along with, other people.

There are a lot of skills involved and it takes some time to develop them—you can help!

Simple ways to support the young child’s development of self-awareness and self-control:

  1. Let them experience the range of emotions and practice coping with them without trying to change how they feel about things. Like everything else they need to learn, self-awareness and managing emotional states requires practice.  Understand that you are not responsible for your children’s difficult feelings or upsets; everyone has them and we learn to cope. You can help your young child learn to cope with such feelings. Understanding our feelings is the first step in coping with them.

You may need to ignore the parenting advice about distracting and cajoling your child out of their feelings if you want to help them develop their emotional intelligence. If adults constantly try to distract young children from feelings of hurt or frustration, that robs the young child of opportunities to practice coping with those feelings.

Think about a time you were hurt or upset about something and your parent, partner, or friend said “you shouldn’t feel that way” or tried to joke you out of your feelings. It probably didn’t help the hurt or upset go away; instead, it let you know they didn’t want to hear it. Your young child will have a similar experience when you deny, dismiss, or try to talk them out of their feelings.

Sometimes, you just may not be up to handling your child’s hurt feelings after a long day.  But, whenever possible, instead of trying to distract your child from “negative” emotions, see it as an opportunity to help them with emotional development. Remember that your child needs practice understanding and managing these feelings. Look for opportunities to be a caring and supportive bystander. Being present with someone when they’re upset can be a very loving gift.

2. Acknowledge and name their feelings.  This is very simple but very powerful in terms of calming the child, strengthening your bond with them, and helping them develop emotional strength.  It involves paying attention enough to their feelings to say “You are so excited that Daddy’s home,” or “You think Rover is hilarious when he scratches behind his ear,” or “You are frustrated that I won’t buy that toy for you.”  (I will go into this in more depth in a future post.)

3. Strive to maintain order and predictability in the young child’s environment. Order and predictability bring calm.  If you look at your own experience, you will see that it’s true. When your car or your bedroom or your office are a cluttered mess, this stresses you emotionally. Research demonstrates that children and adults learn less and are less productive in cluttered environments.  Young children may be particularly sensitive to this effect. 

Practice naming your child’s feelings to help them develop the emotional competencies of self-awareness and self-management. Let me know what you learn!


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The surprising truth about “educational” toys

too many toys dreamstime_m_25989014

Did your child just get lots of new toys for Christmas?

You should know that many of the toys being marketed as educational for young children actually interfere with learning and development. See the New York Times article at the link below.

How can you know what toys are best? Remember that young children learn best by observing others and exploring their environment.

If the child is doing most of the work in a learning activity,
it’s a good learning activity.
If the toy is doing most of the work, it’s interfering with learning.

Also know that cluttering your home with toys is likely to add a sense of chaos and unease for everyone. Children and adults alike are found to be less able to focus and learn in cluttered environments.

Toddlers benefit from having small-sized tools for caring for the environment– brooms, dust pans, watering cans, dish bins or a stool to get up to the sink. They love to organize things, like matching tops to bottoms among the pots and pans.

Protect your child’s living and learning space–and yours, too!  Make sure there is a place for everything and make it a habit to keep things in their places. This is much easier if there’s not an excessive amount of stuff. Donate excess toys to Goodwill, especially the electronic toys that do the work for them.

Let your young child direct their learning as much as possible. Notice that young children are mostly interested in working at the things older people are able to do. Their self-motivated drive to become capable people will guide them. They will watch you a lot and want to do what you’re doing.

The primary “toys” that benefit a toddler are toddler-sized tools to participate in self-care, care of the environment, and meal preparation.

Think twice about characterizing this work as precious and meaningless. Toddlers may look cute doing these activities, but it is serious work for them. In their efforts to learn to do these daily life activities, they can develop a lot of important capabilities, including eye-hand coordination, concepts such as sequencing, and self-control. Doing this work allows the young child to achieve very important brain development that will help them succeed in life.

Montessori teachers don’t laugh and exclaim about how cute the young child is doing this work. To them, it would be no different than their supervisor laughing at how cute they are playing at teaching.  It’s clear, too, that the young children in the Montessori classroom feel highly respected and very safe to explore and learn.

When we respect the young child’s native intelligence and support their natural learning drives, young children much more and become more capable, confident, considerate and responsible. Don’t let yourself be sold on all the “educational” gadgets out there.

Have you ever noticed your young child “playing” for a long time with something simple? What was your child learning through that play?

by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D., the High Regard Parent Coach


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Raising a Young Child with Healthy Eating Habits

by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D., BCC, Parent Coach

As the family joined together to enjoy Christmas dinner, I noticed my cousin having a disagreement with her 4 year old son over the food. She was piling turkey, potatoes, stuffing, and peas onto her son’s plate as he held up his hands, saying “no, no, no!”

His mother continued piling things on his plate, saying “Oh, come on! You’ll hurt my feelings if you don’t eat this yummy food!”

Her son was becoming increasingly agitated, saying in a high, upset voice “I don’t want the peas touching the potatoes!”

Happy Thanksgiving this week!  Do you worry about what or how much your child eats?  If so, this could be a good time to make a change.

What shapes our approach to our children’s eating? Our own parents shaped our feelings about food and our approach to our children’s eating. The result is that eating can become another life area in which our approach with toddlers causes more stress than necessary. The attitudes and approaches that cause stress in our relationships also hinder child development.

Many of us grew up with parents who worried about our eating or parents who insisted we must eat everything on our plates. It just makes sense that this causes us to develop anxieties associated with food and meals. Many of us have difficulty figuring out when we are truly hungry and when we’re eating to fill other needs.

You can help your child develop healthy feelings and attitudes toward food by handling this differently. We want to make sure that our children eat enough nutritious food that they grow to be strong and healthy, but not so much that they become obese. We want them to try diverse foods, to expand their palate, and not to develop habits for eating the most fattening, least nutritious foods. We have found that young children do best if they choose how much to eat. When given the opportunity to serve themselves, they choose and eat more nutrition foods. Our cajoling them to eat tends to backfire, making their eating an emotional issue for us.


Don’t pressure, trick, or coerce your child into eating. When you bring home your baby, you may naturally feel anxiety about feeding. Your baby needs to eat much more often than you do to gain weight and Baby and Adult alike need to work things out. It can take a while to figure out nursing, whether with a breast or a bottle. After the early months, though, allow yourself to realize that children eat when they’re hungry. Get past that anxiety about their feeding as you go on to the next stage of your child’s development

Don’t continue to feed them without trying to give them opportunities to feed themselves. You are both accustomed to the adults feeding the child, but the toddler stage is an important point of departure for them to begin to feed themselves. Encourage your toddler to take more responsibility for feeding themselves. I have observed toddlers eating together with grace and courtesy day after day. It starts with treating them like human beings and expecting them to behave like considerate human beings at the table.

Don’t believe the propaganda that toddlers will only eat easy snack foods like hot dogs, french fries and chicken nuggets. It’s not true and it will lead you to feed your child the least healthy fast foods. That is not consistent with your goal.

Do understand that children go through stages when they react differently to different foods, and provide food that is healthy and diverse, including some food that you know your child is likely to enjoy. Young children go through stages when certain smells, textures, and tastes are repellent to them. You can encourage them to try things that aren’t familiar. Make novel foods available and model enjoying diverse foods, but don’t force it.

Do trust that your child will eat enough. Don’t insist that your child clean their plate. We don’t want to get into power struggles with our children over food. When someone tries to force us to eat something, we naturally assume it’s something disgusting. If it weren’t, why would you have to force us to eat it? Understand that people, including children, have a natural desire to eat when they’re hungry. We want our children to learn to recognize when they feel hunger and when they feel sated. Children need to learn this for themselves; we cannot do it for them. When we force on them our perceptions of how much they should eat, we train them to ignore their own bodies. This does not serve them in the long run.

Don’t make meals-on-demand for your toddler. To do this is to make your child fussy and demanding about food. If your toddler refuses to eat what is offered, there is no need to punish or scold them. Just excuse them from the table and let them experience a little hunger. Feeling hungry is great motivation for eating what is offered at the next meal.

Don’t rush through meal preparation and consumption. Slow down and give your child more opportunity to participate in meal preparation. For example, give them a low shelf where they can store and retrieve their plates, silverware, glasses, etc.

Don’t put them in a high chair (container) with its own tray and give them a sippy cup. Do make it easy for them to participate more like other people. You can put them in a booster chair or graduated chair that allows them to eat at the same table the rest of the family eats at. Give them utensils that fit their hands. Put serving bowls on the table that they can handle and encourage them to serve themselves. Research shows that young children who serve themselves are more likely to try novel, nutritious foods.

Don’t allow inappropriate behavior, such as throwing or playing with food. It may indicate they are full and ready to leave the meal, or it may indicate they are bored or frustrated.   Do model courteous and considerate mealtime behavior. If they don’t stop handling the food inappropriately, tell them “I won’t let you throw your food” and remove them from the table.

When you follow these Do’s and Don’ts, instead of doing what your parents did, you can help your young child to develop and maintain a healthy relationship with food. Your child will thank you for this gift!

What do you appreciate about your relationship with your young child?

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Tips for Teaching New Skills to a Toddler

by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D., Parent Coach

baby-cleaning-teeth-9843860Tips for teaching a toddler a new skill. Have you ever tried to teach a toddler how to do something they haven’t yet learned to do, such as brush their teeth or clean the table before the meal? If so, congratulations! We all know it’s easier just to do these things ourselves. But the children benefit when we let them participate more in the household community.

So, let’s say you have decided to make time to show your toddler how to clean the table, sweep the floor, water the plants, or set and clean the table. There are some basic principles you can follow to help your child learn to do these activities in an active, self-directed way that will engage their brains.

  1. Break the activity down into small steps. Think about the sequencing—there is a logical and most effective order. You don’t wipe the table and THEN get the sponge wet.
  2. Think through what might be difficult about this task for someone who lacks fluent coordinated movement. Think about what might help them grasp the task. For example, it will help if they take it slow, use both hands, and take it one step at a time.
  3. Show them how it’s done. Slowly. They are intelligent, but they don’t have the experience to understand everything in context, and it will take more time. It’s also helpful to realize that toddlers will learn best if you separate talking from moving. As we say “when my hands are moving, my mouth is not and when my mouth is moving, my hands are not.” Young children who are learning language are so focused on our speech that they can’t also effectively track our activities when we’re speaking. So say what you’re going to do, then do it without saying anything. Then wait. 🙂
  4. Be prepared. Do this when you have time and patience for your child. Be aware that these lessons can take 20 or 30 minutes at first. Be sure that you have all the materials to complete the task that fit their hands and are within their reach.

Toddlers develop much greater skills and more considerate behavior when we allow them to participate in self-care and care of the environment.  When you can make time to let them do more for themselves, it brings out the best in them.  They become calm.

Over time, they will gain fluency with these activities and you will have more time for fun together because they will be helping to keep things clean and orderly.  They will also feel like respected members of the community with a meaningful role like everyone else. And you will have less arguments about “LET ME DO IT!”

Who does not know that to teach a child to feed himself, to wash and dress himself, is a much more tedious and difficult work, calling for infinitely greater patient, than feeding, washing and dressing the child oneself? But, the former is the work of an educator; the latter is the easy and inferior work of the servant. – Maria Montessori



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Child-rearing changes cause more stress in our relationships with young children

by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D., Board Certified Coach

About 15 years ago, having already studied child development for many years and worked with hundreds of children and families, I had an experience that opened my eyes to how much more brilliant young children are than we realize.  The setting was a Montessori school and I was amazed to see very young children working with focused attention and intelligence.  I had never before seen children so young demonstrating such great capability, maturity, courtesy and confidence.  It was very moving and it made me very curious.

At the same time, I was hearing increasing concerns about helicopter parenting. Societal changes were producing child-rearing changes.  Two examples of these societal changes:

  • In most families, both parents were now working full-time;  
  • Increased mobility left many young parents without a strong extended family support for raising children. 

Helicopter parenting or hyper-parenting is a very understandable result of these changes, as we can see in these common concerns expressed by parents and caregivers:

  • I’m afraid to let my child play with older children because he might get hurt;
  • I don’t let my child out of my sight because I’m afraid someone will take her;
  • I just want my time with my young child to be enjoyable, so I tend to give in to their demands to prevent tantrums or other unpleasantness.

Perhaps because our lives are so busy and we have more fears about child safety than in the past, we now contain young children more than in the past. Containment (in high chair, crib, bouncy chair, etc.) is frustrating for young children who are driven to learn and develop skills. It also causes more stress in adult-child relationships. 

When adults micromanage young children, and interfere with their natural learning drives, we communicate that their learning must always be directed by an adult. When we underestimate young children, keeping them contained much of the time and interrupting their efforts to learn in a self-motivated and self-directed manner, young children learn that they shouldn’t try to act on their own behalf. Whether they need to brush their teeth, put on their clothes, or manage the frustration of a challenging task, they should simply wait for an adult to do it for them.  

These child-rearing changes can be seen everywhere in our society. Government agencies reinforce these changing child-rearing practices, emphasizing safety while ignoring child development. Child safety is important, of course, but there is often a lack of wisdom about managing child safety, to the point that practices are employed which are highly likely to cause serious setbacks in children’s development in an effort to prevent highly unlikely or insignificant potential injuries. 

This modern approach to child-rearing seems to have negative effects on child development. It makes sense that an increased use of containment and doing everything for children interferes with their development, leaving them immature. Maybe this also explains why, over the same time period that these child-rearing changes developed, there has been a matching increase in rates of depression, anxiety, and narcissism among children and youth. When we prevent them from active, self-directed learning, or we over-react to their mistakes and spills, we teach them to be passive and to avoid mistakes, or to hide them. Maybe it’s understandable that so many children raised in this way grow up to be anxious, depressed and immature.

I was certainly surprised to see the maturity of children in the Montessori school.  Did my surprise suggest that young children today are immature?  I thought about the fact that children today are developing independent toileting (sometimes called “potty training”) much later– 1 – 2 years later –than they were in the 1950s. This is just one example of the immaturity of children in our society today. 

Whether at school or at home, it seems that we have lost the appreciation for children’s natural learning drives. At the same time, we have increasingly embraced child-rearing practices that interfere with them. For example, our society tends to devalue play in spite of the fact that animals of every species, including humans, learn many important life skills through play. Children benefit a great deal from playing with other children of different ages, but we tend to prevent them from doing so and keep them isolated in groups of children their own age. In terms of child development, this is a mistake.

Diminished community, increased fear and over-busy lives have made things much more challenging for parents.  I suspect it’s a combination of these kinds of factors that cause adults to seriously underestimate the capabilities and natural learning drives of young children. Failing to recognize what young children can do and are driven to do, parents and caregivers now do too much for young children. We could even say that adults micromanage young children. And that causes our relationships with young children to be much more stressful than they need to be.

We can handle this differently and resist the negative aspects of modern child-rearing. We can nurture our young child’s native intelligence by demonstrating confidence in their abilities to do things for themselves. When adults believe in the capability of young children and nurture their natural learning drives,  children naturally develop great foundational skills and capabilities to succeed in life. They find their self-motivated initiative supported and this sustains their drive to develop the skills they see in other people. They naturally work to develop the capabilities to take care of their own bodies and their environment and to develop skills in all areas, including physical, social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual. 

We can allow young children to participate constructively in the life of the community, interacting meaningfully with community members of various ages, and young children will quite naturally develop courteous and considerate behavior. They will develop the very important capabilities of frustration tolerance and persistence and self-control, little by little, starting in the first 3 years. We can nurture their native intelligence and allow them to follow their natural learning drives, giving them the best opportunity to manifest their brilliant potential!

What role does consumerism play in these child-rearing changes?   In other words,  how often do manufacturers of children’s products try to convince you that your child is not going to be safe without their product? What is the true cost to you, and your child, when you believe them?  I would be interested to hear your thoughts. 

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Child-rearing has changed– and it’s not all good! Part 1

by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D.– Parent Coach 

What have you noticed about child-rearing changes in the US in recent decades?

I’ve noticed some positive changes.  It seems that more parents are more warm and affectionate with their children than in the past.  More Dads seem at ease being affectionate with their children and even serving as primary caregiver for the children, which is wonderful.

Some economic and lifestyle changes have greatly influenced child-rearing approach changes over the past 60+ years.  One is that, in most families, both parents must work full-time now.  And full-time has continued to produce longer and longer work days.  

At the same time, people have become increasingly mobile and a large percentage of young families live far from their families of origin.  

As our lives got busier and we had less help to raise our children, the market provided solutions—including TV dinners and fast food restaurants.  We were all relieved to be able to find convenience options as our lives got busier and our sense of community shrank.  Over time, we also came to realize that there is a cost – the convenience foods are often of poorer nutritional value and eating foods on-the-go results in fewer rich family conversations over meals.

The market brought another convenience when it created diapers with wicking technology. These diapers are another convenience with a cost.  

Did you know that US children in 2015 are achieving independent toileting, during the day, 1 – 2 years later than they did just 6 decades ago?  That is a huge delay! Without realizing it, we’re making it difficult for children to develop independent toileting in the most natural way, at the most natural time.

In the 1950s, most children achieved independent toileting – dry during the day—by 1 year old, on average. This wasn’t due to parent pressure; it was a natural thing for children to do. 

In 2015, without even realizing it, parents and caregivers make it impossible for a child to develop independent toileting at that age. We put children in clothing they can’t remove—and removing one’s pants is part of the process of independent toileting.

We put them in diapers that wick the wet away from their skin, which means they never learn the connection between full bladder—>release—> feeling wet pants. 

Effectively, we wait to introduce all the components of “potty training” at an age when children are naturally insistent about doing everything on their own. 

Independent toileting requires a series of steps which take time to master, and each step is one the child is naturally interested in working at when they experience the wetness and have the opportunity to manage their clothing.  We can make it easier by putting them in cloth pants early, so they experience the wetness and learn what it means.  We can also make it easier by putting them in pants they can take off easily.  When they are working hard at mastering independent toileting, we can even help by letting them hang out in just their cloth underpants, so it’s quite easy to get them off quickly when they realize they need to go.

Introducing the whole process at 2 years old or older is just bad timing.  It can be frustrating and overwhelming to the child.  “You’ve trained me my whole life that I should go in my diaper and you will change it for me—and now you’re changing all the rules?!”  Starting it all so late puts more pressure on the child –and on the parent—for a faster process.  

That’s why “potty training” has become so much later and so much more stressful than it was just 6 decades ago!

In my next post, I will address broader child-rearing changes that make child-rearing more difficult than it has to be and produce more immature, anxious children.



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Helicopter parenting– where does it come from– and how can we avoid it?

helicopter drawingBy Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D.

Where does helicopter parenting come from?  Isn’t it just a super-extraordinary form of love?

I became very curious about this 10 years ago when I first observed toddlers and young children demonstrating much more capability, courtesy, and self-reliance than other children their age.  These children were also so much happier and busier learning than other children their age.  I saw very few tantrums and, in their place, I saw young children demonstrating great grace and courtesy.  It was amazing!  

When we studied the differences between this environment and other early childhood environments, we came to several surprising insights about modern approaches to young children. 

First of all, it’s true– hyper-supervision comes from having a deep and abiding love for one’s child and wanting only the best for them.  And that’s a good thing! 

But overly restrictive, hovering, helicopter parenting often starts in the first 3 years and can be quite detrimental to child development and parent-child relationships.  So what causes it?  

Beware of these three causes of helicopter parenting.

  1. Unreasonable fear that babies and young children are in constant danger — this leads parents to hover and restrict children’s exploration and development. New parents seeking information about raising young children can now find thousands of articles telling them about some child who lost an eye or was kidnapped or died in a freak accident.  I know how much vulnerability and fear this information causes a new parent!  And it’s a fear that’s blown out of proportion.  Because of the way we get our news now, something that happened to 1 child out of a 1,000,000 becomes something that every parent fears.  And, let’s be honest, there is always someone selling something you can buy to keep your child safe from that (extremely unlikely) danger.  
  1. Adults massively underestimate the capabilities of young children, feeling they must do everything for them. This goes on until the parent/ caregiver and child are quite out of sync and the children are screaming at them several times per day I want to do it myself!  Babies are born with amazing intelligence and strong, inherent drives to learn and explore.  And toddlers are exceedingly willing to work very hard at developing the self-reliance skills and capabilities of more mature humans.   

But parents and caregivers are guided by “experts” to keep young children clean and safe—these are the priorities.  And that sounds right.  But this emphasis is often carried to an extreme, while few ever teach parents about the young child’s natural learning drives.  Few parents learn about how much critical development occurs quite naturally in the first few years – but only if young children are allowed to explore and interact with their environment.  

  1. Finally, parents’ lives are so busy now, with longer working hours than ever.  It can be difficult for parents to give small children the time they need to do things for themselves.  When parents are always in a rush, it’s much easier to do everything for the young child—put on their clothes rather than let them work at it, feed them rather than let them feed themselves, and change their diapers rather than introduce them to the potty and clean 20 or 30 cloth pants every week.

So, helicopter parenting starting in the early years, and it’s driven by undue fears, profound underestimation of the young child’s capabilities, and extreme time demands — all of which combine to influence parents and caregivers to continue doing things for their children long after the children could do things for themselves. 

The result is that young children aren’t developing the capabilities or the self-confidence that come from following their innate learning drives. Could this be one of the reasons so many children seem so immature?  It’s just one example, but did you know that children in the US today are achieving independent toileting 1 – 2 years later than they were 60 years ago?!

So, what I recommend to my coaching clients and readers is three-fold:

  1. Doubt the fear-promoting information. Any time you find a source of information – written, video, or in person– that emphasizes danger! – hold out doubt. Are they trying to sell you something?  Do you really think your child is that fragile?  Would it be better just to turn off the TV, unlike their page, unsubscribe to the publications that promote such fear?   You don’t need those images (of something horrible that happened to one child one time) in your head!  Maybe you can be the parent in your group who helps everyone experience less fear associated with their child– that would be a gift!
  1. Become aware of the intelligence and capability in the young child. Notice their curiosity, their strength and resilience. Observe without judgment and notice that the child will drive his own learning in a direction that is very productive—if only others will let him. As one wise mom told me:

At the beginning, I was so worried about something happening to her. But she kept showing me that babies are strong.  She never got sick.  She came to us with her own personality and a strong will.  Sometimes my husband and I would just be exhausted and ready to fall apart from taking care of a new baby and feel like we couldn’t make it through another day– but, we would go get her out of bed in the morning and she would just be smiling and ready for the day!  I just kept thinking “gosh, she’s so strong!”

  1. Take more time to let your child do things for herself. If you’re like most parents of young children these days, your life is very busy and you try to do everything fast.  But that can lead to undermining your child’s development—because your child needs time to develop the skills to do things.  When I first saw a toddler clean the table in preparation for a meal, it took the child more than 20 minutes!  I realized that there are a lot of steps involved in this process—and there is a sequence to the work, and it takes a lot of coordination.  When we can allow the child time to do this, and let them participate in the community this way, it will bring out the best in them!    

What have you learned that helps you to treat the young child with high regard and allow him to do things for himself?

I am offering a course on the Secrets to Living Stress-Free with a Toddler 4 Mondays 12:30 – 1:30 August 31st, Sept. 14, 21, 28 in Southwest Denver.  Seats are limited, so let your friends know today!

gt headshot pretty smile 2013

Posted in Child Development, parenting, Toddlers, Uncategorized, young children | 2 Comments

How to help your young child learn to say “Sorry”– and mean it!

by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D.

Let’s face it—apologizing isn’t particularly easy for anyone!  If we’ve done something wrong, it’s hard to admit it.  We can feel like we’re “losing face” when we apologize.  And, if someone tells us we have to apologize, that often makes us dig our heels in!  We don’t like that they are pointing out our mistakes, misdeeds, or flaws. That’s already got us defensive. And we definitely don’t like that they are telling us what to do!

So, as we are helping the young child learn to apologize, let’s recognize how difficult and mature this kind of interaction really is—and, hopefully, have patience with their learning something that’s not really easy. 

Second, remember that the young child learns a LOT by watching others.  So, make sure the more mature people in the family do the hard work of apologizing—to the child or to each other– when they’ve done something wrong.  The more everyone in the family creates a safe, trusting environment for admitting their mistakes, the more people will be able to apologize.  In other words, if I know you won’t use my mistake or misdeed to hurt or punish me, I’m more likely to apologize to you when I’ve done something wrong.

And here are two more things to understand as you help your child learn this important skill:

  1. People have fundamental needs for good relationships with others and that’s what makes it possible for us to apologize. If we didn’t care about our relationship, we wouldn’t put ourselves through the trouble of apologizing!  That’s part of the reason we feel hurt when someone doesn’t apologize and we think they should.  We’re thinking “Don’t they care about our relationship??”
  2. Sincere apologies come from feelings of empathy. That’s the feeling –ouch!  I just hurt my friend’s feelings!  I feel that!  And empathy starts developing in infancy.  In fact, babies are born with brain structures called “mirror neurons” which allow a person to experience another person’s feelings.  Have you ever noticed that feelings at work or at home are contagious?  That, if one person is worried or angry, that emotion begins to affect everyone?  This capability of feeling another person’s feelings is hardwired into us—and it helps us maintain strong relationships with each other. 

So, another important way you can help your child learn (or it may be better to say help your child develop the capability) to apologize sincerely is to nurture their empathy. 

Here’s an example.  Let’s say your child says something unkind to you when he’s tired and frustrated. But he doesn’t yet have the mature capacity to say he’s sorry—and you don’t want to make it harder by trying to pressure him to do it. You can say to him “Oh, you hurt my feelings.” And let the sadness and hurt show in your face.  He will naturally feel that hurt through the mirror neuron system.

You may see your sadness mirrored on his face, and it means he is experiencing some of what you are feeling.  This is empathy—and that’s what you want to nurture.  So, let him sit with that feeling a little while, without pressing him to make it right (because that might just make him defensive).  

After a moment, he may look for a way to genuinely express contrition for hurting you and to reconnect.  He may come over to hug you, but not say “I’m sorry.”  You can help him learn this norm of saying “sorry” by saying the apology for him.  “It feels so good to have you come and hug me right now.  I think you’re sorry you hurt my feelings.” 

So, to summarize the key points about helping your young child learn to apologize sincerely when they’ve wronged someone:

  1. Understand it’s a difficult skill. 
  2. Model it– apologize when you are wrong.
  3. Teach the cultural norms for apologizing – “we say I’m sorry when we hurt someone’s feelings.”
  4. Make it safe—create a safe and trusting environment where people don’t take advantage of someone who apologizes.
  5. Normalize mistakes—be comfortable  with your own errors and your child’s errors.
  6. Allow your child to learn from their own mistakes, including cleaning up their own messes. The self-motivated desire to correct their own mistakes will help prepare them to apologize—if you don’t intervene and correct all their mistakes for them. 
  7. Nurture your child’s empathy– it is feelings of empathy and the need to maintain relationships that will lead to sincere apologies.

What is one thing that has surprised you in teaching a young child to apologize?


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Posted in parenting, Toddlers, Uncategorized, young children | Leave a comment

How helicopter parenting leads to tantrums

Some of the parents I work with are worried about becoming the dreaded helicopter parent– described in the media and in research as a parent who hovers constantly over their child, overprotecting the child to the point of hindering the child’s growth and development.  

The parents I know are warm and loving with their children.  They are engaged, they care deeply, and they want the best for their children.  And they KNOW, without a doubt, that this is right.  But they’re not sure how to avoid becoming a helicopter parent.  They don’t want to parent in a way that cripples their child.

Helicopter parenting can easily begin in the first few years—and then become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This can happen if you don’t stay alert to the work your young child is focused on. Babies’ work includes developing coordination to bring things to themselves and get themselves to things. When they are working at this, let them!

Sometimes you can help by moving something closer.  But, if you pick it up and take it to them, when it’s possible for them to extend themselves and reach it, you’re disempowering them and interrupting their work. Similarly, if you were to pick them up every time they try to walk, you would be slowing their progress at learning to walk.  

After the first few months, parents must become increasingly alert to the work the young child is focused on– and let the child do that work.

When parents persist with the feeling that “I have to do everything for my baby because she can’t do anything for herself,” and fail to notice what their child is trying to work on, they end up doing too much for the child.  This frustrates the child’s natural learning drives and, over time the child will increasingly push back and fight to do things himself.  

When the child pushes back against your “help,” it’s the parent or caregiver’s job to recognize that it is very healthy that your child wants to do as much for themselves as they can, and your child will develop important skills by doing so.  And it’s your job to work on your skills at two-way communication and listen for understanding.  

Miscommunications occur a lot between parents and toddlers, as I observed many times at the Montessori school I directed.  I loved to witness the happy reunions between parents and young children at the end of the day.  They were excited to see each other at the end of the day and to be going home together.  But, so often, everything would go awry as soon as the parent started putting on the child’s coat or shoes.  The child would throw a fit and the parent would be perplexed and frustrated.  I knew that parents were tired and hungry, ready to get home, get dinner, and do all the end of the day activities.  At least once each day, I would hear a frustrated parent say, accusingly “Do you want me to leave you here?

It was a big miscommunication between parent and child. The child was communicating “I want to do it!” and the parent wasn’t listening — and it led to a tantrum.  So many times, I heard the teacher tell the parent “she wants to put on her own shoes,” and the parent saying “she can’t put on her own shoes!”

“Actually,” the teacher would respond “she’s been doing it every day for weeks.”  

If we continue to do everything for them, when they are ready to try to do it themselves, they will generally respond in one of two ways: a) They will tantrum for greater independence and self-direction, which every human being wants; or b) they will become passive and helpless, which will perpetuate their immaturity and drive a continual need for adult direction and approval.  

If you want to avoid becoming a helicopter parent and, instead, develop great two-way communication with your child and raise your child to be confident and capable, here are my first 2 pieces of advice:

  1. OBSERVE. Observe your young child, without bias, and seek to notice when your child is doing meaningful work.  Don’t feel you need to constantly control them.  The more they do their own active, self-directed work, the more they will learn and the happier and more capable they will be. 
  2. SIT!  Just because you can do the work better doesn’t mean you should do their work for them!  It’s their job to be building skill upon skill– and they love it.  Sit on your hands and let your child do the work!  Not only are they learning and developing important skills, they are also developing a sense of confidence that it’s worth trying and working at something that’s hard for them at first.  And that’s a million dollar lesson you can’t buy for them!

When you allow your young child to do more and more of his own work, you will be empowering your child to be increasingly capable and self-reliant.  And you will be building a parent-child relationship that will be the envy of everyone around!

Next time, I will share more about how where helicopter parenting comes from—and how you can avoid it.

Do you sometimes worry that your worrying attitude about your child is making you more controlling than you want to be?  That it’s not healthy for your child’s development, or for your relationship?

gt headshot pretty smile 2013Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D., the Born for Brilliance Parent Coach

Posted in Babies, Child Development, infants, parenting | Leave a comment