Dear Maxine, 

I’m really struggling with my two year old. He doesn’t do anything I tell him to. I feel like the world’s worst parent because I don’t have any control over him. I can tell him not to do something 15 times and each time he’ll stop and then go straight back to it. Sometimes, he won’t even stop. 

I am at my whit’s end with what to do and I feel like everyone around me is judging me because my son is so badly behaved. Don’t get me wrong, he can be a joy most of the time but sometimes he just gets into this mode where he’s going to do everything he knows he shouldn’t. 

Dear Follower, 

Thanks for getting in touch. It can be so frustrating when our children keep doing the things we’ve asked them not to so. Many. Times! I can totally understand how irate you could be feeling. 

Your question has made me think about the following things and I wonder whether they might be helpful to you. 

  1. Understanding brain development 
  1. Feeling judged by others 
  1. Our children’s ‘defiant mode’ 

Understanding brain development 

There really is not enough about this out there, especially when we consider how much ‘seen and not heard’ expectation there is of children, as well as behavioural advice. 

I’m not sure what your understanding of children’s brain development is and it’s difficult to convey it through reflective questions: sometimes I just need to share information, so here goes. 

The part of our brain that is used to stop us doing something develops late. It is hard work not doing something we want to do. 

Can you imagine if I put your favourite food down in front of you, the thing you feel most satisfied and comfortable eating and you really enjoy? Think of all the feelings of pleasure and excitement that come up when I lay it down. All the anticipation and desire. 

Then I tell you you can’t eat it. Don’t touch. You can look. But nothing near your mouth. How would that feel? Without doubt, we would feel angry and disappointed, even if we don’t show it or are used to ignoring that. 

And what would you do? Are you one who would sneak a bit of it anyway? Or would you sit there, desperately desiring it but not going for it? 

Can you feel what hard work it would be? That’s the same for our children, with anything they think about doing. 

It might not seem appealing to us but they’ve got it in their heads they want to do it and telling them no isn’t always something that can adhere to. 

Window of Tolerance 

Now imagine that I’ve put that food down in front of you and said you can’t eat it AND you’re tired, or hungry or in pain or upset about something. How would that affect things? Usually, it would not help the situation and would make it even harder for us to do what we’re ‘supposed’ to do, right? 

That’s just the same for our children and is why sometimes they can do what we ask the first time and usually they take many, many more reminders. 

So what do you do? 

Remind and redirect. Again and again and again. And again. And again. 

‘Don’t hit the TV, here, come and play with the Duplo with me’ 

‘It’s not safe to climb on that wall, if you want to climb, try this one instead’ 

‘This bed is not for bouncing on, I can see you want to move your body though so let’s jump up and down here’ 

And empathise with whatever comes up. 

‘I know it’s not the same and that feels disappointing/frustrating’ 

‘Urgh you really wanted to do that didn’t you?’ 

Feeling judged by others 

I’m curious about this point you made. It’s something I hear a lot. If our children aren’t doing what they ‘should’ be doing, then it somehow means that we’re bad parents. 

Where do you think that idea comes from? Does it make sense to you? Do you think it’s reasonable to expect us to be in control of our children or would you rather be in relationship with them? 

Where is that judgement coming from? Is it reality? Do people actually say things to you? (And I know people do) Or is it coming from inside you? Are you judging yourself? 

Is there a way to separate your child’s behaviour from your parenting? What difference do you think it would make if you could do that?  

Have you seen my post about feeling judged by others? How does that fit for you? 

Our children’s ‘defiant mode’ 

Do you ever have one of those moods? One where you’re feeling a bit cheeky? A bit playful? Maybe even a bit annoyed? And you do things that are a bit daft? Or that you know you’re not supposed to? Maybe you just get into winding your partner up a bit? Maybe you take it a bit further than they’d like you to. 

Sometimes we’re just in that place. Maybe we’re feeling a bit powerless or maybe it’s playfulness. Maybe a bit of both.  

Have you ever watched your child be in that place? They do things watching you, asking you to react in the way they know you will. Maybe they just want to check that you’re paying attention. Or it’s a bit of a ritual they do this, you’ll do that. They feel comforted by the predictability of being told not to do something.  

The reasons behind ‘defiant mode’ can vary but the fact that it happens is definite. And we have a choice about how we respond. 

First, it’s important to think about what it brings up in you. This can feel more direct and calculated than just they can’t resist. They are looking at you as they throw the toy at the cat. They know they’re not supposed to and they are urging you to notice.  

How does that feel? What does it bring up? How can you respond to that feeling within yourself? Notice it, accept it and allow it without reacting to it? Does that even make sense when I suggest it? Breathe out, count until you feel calm, sing to yourself, growl. Whatever works. Remember, this is about your child and where they are at. 

And what might be going on for a child who seems to willingly choose to do something they know they ‘shouldn’t’.  

Let’s go back to that window of tolerance. What might be making it smaller for your child? What might they be needing? Could they be asking for something that they can’t find any other way of articulating? 

It can be really frustrating when our child has got all of our attention anyway and they still ‘defy’ us. Sometimes, noticing how we feel in response can be a good indicator of how they are feeling. It can be that they are using behaviour to make us feel like they’re feeling because they don’t have the words. 

What do you think they might need in response to that? 

What’s come up for you as you’ve read this? 

How are you feeling? 

What do you think you’ll take away from it? 

I’d love to hear your feedback, either in the comments or on Instagram or Facebook