How to Be Assertive with Your Toddler

How can parents show a toddler they mean business without yelling?

When we need our child to cooperate, we can elicit cooperation through silliness and playfulness “Don’t get in your carseat because you’ll sit on my imaginary friend Marvin!” We can be more effective in helping our child listen if we reallyconnect with our child. It works best when we stop what we are doing, kneel down, make eye contact, hold their hand or put your hand on their arm, and give a simple instruction “It’s time to put your shoes on.” And then have a symbol or gesture that you and your child come up with that lets you know your child has heard you, like a thumbs up or a silly handshake. If a child continues to beg or ask for you to change your mind, use empathy with a boundary “I know you really want to stay at the park and you’re sad to leave, but I’m not changing my mind.


How does yelling affect a toddler?

We should never make our children afraid. They have a biological instinct that prompts them to go to their parent if they are afraid, and if the parent is the source of that fear, it’s very confusing and creates a lot of stress in their nervous system. Yelling is often quite frightening for children, and activates the threat detection part of their brain that can cause them to shut down or go into reactive fight mode. We should always be safe people that keep our children safe. If we find ourselves yelling at our children frequently, it’s important to make changes that help support our own self-care so we have the capacity to be patient, or we may need to work through our own history that may be contributing to us being reactive with our children. If we want our children to respect us, we need to stay calm and in control of ourselves, and be safe people for them. We feel fear, not respect, for people who are unpredictable, scary, or highly reactive.

“Parents have two primary jobs when it comes to keeping their kids safe and making them feel safe. The first is to protect them from harm. The second is to avoid becoming the source of the fear and threat.” - from the upcoming The Power of Showing Up (January 2020), co-authored by Dr. Tina Payne Bryson and Dr. Daniel Siegel


If a parent does lose it and yell, what should they do to recover the situation?
All parents will find themselves being reactive, or yelling from time to time, and the most important thing we can do when we have ruptures with our kids, is repair. When we handle ourselves in ways we don’t feel good about, it’s crucial to make things right with our kids. When we apologize and repair, we can teach our kids how to make amends when they make mistakes in relationships.


Recess is a Need

Can I soapbox for a moment? I just got an email from a frustrated mom whose 1st grader is being punished at school for a mild altercation. The punishment is losing recess.  While far worse punishments happen in schools everyday all over the world, this kind of punishment of a 1st grader shows us how much work there is to be done to help all of us at least consider archaic ways of thinking about discipline.   As I was responding to her, I decided to share my response to her with y'all because I know so many of you are fighting these battles at your own kids' schools. This is what I wrote:

"Recess is a need, and to me it’s not that different from not allowing a child to eat lunch.  Removal of recess also often leads to more behavioral problems because it doesn’t allow the child the opportunity to move their bodies, which regulates their nervous system and emotions.  It’s also important to argue that the play that happens during recess, with the problem solving and social navigation, etc. is just as much learning and part of education as is the curriculum.  

More than taking away his recess, the problem is how the school is thinking about discipline. Unfortunately the majority of schools still use what I think is an archaic approach to thinking about discipline.  Most schools still use a punitive/short-sighted approach to behavior, where they completely miss the opportunity to build skills.  There are certainly exceptions, like the AMAZING Momentous Institute in Dallas.  

I’d suggest giving them our book 'No Drama Discipline' that lays out the whole approach and the science behind it.  But if you want a short quick thing, here are a couple of videos I did on the approach in a nutshell:  

  • (VIDEO: 20 min) Overview of No-Drama Discipline Principles - Click here to watch

  • (VIDEO: 5 min) No-Drama Discipline in a Nut Shell - Click here to watch

Also, click here to read a letter that Dan Siegel and I wrote in 'No-Drama Discipline' that outlines the approach.

Here are a couple of other resources specific to schools (click the names below to learn more):

I am not able to respond individually to most people who write me, but I am so passionate about shifting this thinking in our schools.  I’m in fact keynoting at an educator’s conference on this in Atlanta (click here to learn more) in a few weeks along with Lives in the Balance and others.

Good luck to all you parents who are asking schools and significant others and grandparents and babysitters to at least consider another way to think about kids' behaviors and how to respond to these behaviors.   We can do this.  We can start shifting culture and reclaim the original meaning of the word discipline--TEACHING & building skills.  It's what parents and educators are SUPPOSED TO DO.

THE YES BRAIN: On Sale Now!!

Today's the day! THE YES BRAIN is here! 

Dan Siegel and I passionately believe in this book.  We often are asked how to help kids and parents, and ultimately people want to know how to help their kids be successful and happy, and do well in the world.  This book is our answer to how best to help kids and ourselves do well in the world.  It offers the opportunity to cultivate curiosity and connection in our culture, and to help families and kids all over the world.



A Note to Our Child's Caregivers

A Note to Our Child's Caregivers - BLOG.png

The below letter is an excerpt from No-Drama Discipline by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. If you're a fan of No Drama Discipline and want the people who help you care for your children to know about your discipline approach, then keep reading. This letter was written for grandparents, friends, babysitters, nannies, and other caregivers who haven't read the book.

You are an important person in the life of our child or children.  You're helping determine who they’re becoming by shaping their hearts, minds, character, and even the structures of their brains!  Because we share this incredible privilege and responsibility of teaching them how to make good choices and how to be kind, successful human beings, we want to also share with you how we handle behavioral challenges, in hopes that we can work together give our children a consistent, effective experience when it comes to discipline. 

Here are the eight basic principles that guide us:

  1. Discipline is essential.  We believe that loving our kids, and giving them what they need, includes setting clear and consistent boundaries and holding high expectations for them—all of which helps them achieve success in relationships and other areas of their lives. 

  2. Effective discipline depends on a loving, respectful relationship between adult and child.  Discipline should never include threats or humiliation, cause physical pain, scare children, or make them feel that the adult is the enemy.  Discipline should feel safe and loving to everyone involved.

  3. The goal of discipline is to teach.  We use discipline moments to build skills so kids can handle themselves better now and make better decisions in the future. There are usually better ways to teach than giving immediate consequences.  Instead of punishment, we encourage cooperation from our kids by helping them think about their actions, and by being creative and playful.  We set limits by having a conversation to help develop awareness and skills that lead to better behavior both today and tomorrow.

  4. The first step in discipline is to pay attention to kids' emotions.  When children misbehave, it's usually the result of not handling big feelings well and not yet having the skills to make good choices.  So being attentive to their emotional experience behind a behavior is just as important as the behavior itself.  In fact, science shows that addressing kids' emotional needs is actually the most effective approach to changing behavior over time, as well as developing their brains in ways that allow them to handle themselves better as they grow up. 

  5. When children are upset or throwing a fit, that's when they need us most.  We need to show them we are there for them, and that we'll be there for them at their absolute worst.  This is how we build trust and a feeling of overall safety. 

  6. Sometimes we need to wait until children are ready to learn.  If kids are upset or out of control, that's the worst time to try to teach them.  Those big emotions are evidence that our children need us.  So our first job is to help them calm down, so they can regain control and handle themselves well.

  7. The way we help them be ready to learn is to connect with them.  Before we redirect their behavior, we connect and comfort.  Just like we soothe them when they are physically hurt, we do the same when they're emotionally upset. We do this by validating their feelings, and by giving them lots of nurturing empathy.  Before we teach, we connect.

  8. After connecting, we redirect.  Once they've felt that connection with us, kids will be more ready to learn, so we can effectively redirect them and talk with them about their behavior.  What do we hope to accomplish when we redirect and set limits?  We want our kids to gain insight into themselves, empathy for others, and the ability to make things right when they make mistakes.

For us, discipline comes down to one simple phrase:  Connect and Redirect.  Our first response should always be to offer soothing connection, then we can redirect behaviors.  Even when we say "no" to children's behavior, we always want to say "yes" to their emotions, and to the way they experience things.

Autism & The Whole-Brain Child & No Drama Discipline Books

Here is a recording from Barbara Avila's Synergy Autism Podcast.  In it, Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson discuss how concepts in The Whole-Brain Child and No Drama Discipline books relate to those with autism.  They were joined by Corinna Gilligan, a mother of a teen with autism.  

Click on the link below to listen:

How to talk to your kids when they witness a scary event

Last summer a freak accident occurred in our community where a huge tree fell near a children's museum, injuring several children.  I'm grateful to Hanna Lim, who wrote the post below on her Lollaland blog, where she included some suggestions I offered at the time.

I'm reposting those recommendations now with Hanna's permission, hoping they might be helpful to you when your kids witness or hear about something scary or traumatic.  As always, it all comes down to "The Four S's":  helping kids feel Safe, Seen, Soothed, and Secure.


When [Freak] Accidents Happen

Posted on July 29, 2015 by Hanna Lim

I'm not sure if you heard the news, but "a 75-foot-tall, 75-year-old pine crashed without warning at around 5 p.m. just outside the Kidspace Children's Museum and fell onto kids at a summer day camp Tuesday, injuring eight children, two of them critically, fire officials said." (  

Well, my two daughters (ages 6 and 7) were attending that camp and apparently standing less than 20 feet away from the tree when it fell.  When I arrived on the scene I was immediately notified that camp was being held directly under and near the tree when it fell.  The staff notified each parent whether his/her child(ren) was safe, and the police kept us all well-informed and calm as we waiting over an hour for our children to be released back to us. My girls are safe and unscathed, but my eldest was sobbing before bed as she shared with us that she saw her friend, Joy, get hit by the tree and go to the hospital.  I believe Joy's still in critical condition, so our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all the children who were injured.  

I am so thankful to the camp counselors and Kidspace Museum staff for keeping our children safe and in good spirits.  Thank you, also, Pasadena Police and Pasadena Fire Departments for your incredibly fast response.  You were all absolute rockstars.  

This was such a harrowing experience.  At least 1 firetruck and 1 ambulance passed me on my way to pick my girls up yesterday, but I thought nothing of it, until I pulled up to the scene.  I teach my children to say no to strangers, look both ways before crossing the street, but what can prepare them for freak accidents like these?  Nothing, really.  I guess it's all about how we choose to deal with the aftermath.  

Please say a prayer for all the children and families involved, and take a moment to peruse the resources listed below.  Finally, let this be another reminder to cherish each and every moment and live life to its fullest.  

The school psychologist at my children's school, Dr. Tina Bryson, suggests the following resources and steps to guide parents in talking with their children about the incident.

Helpful books/videos:

  • Verbal First Aid and The Worst is Over by Prager and Acosta
  • Trauma-Proofing our Kids by Dr. Peter Levine
  • Below find the link to a video with a few practical ideas from the book Verbal First Aid:

Steps to guide parents in talking with their children:

  • Soothe and comfort—non-verbal touch and holding as well as assuring words “The worst is over.  You are safe.”  
    • sometimes returning to things that settled your child when he/she was younger are good to pull back into your routine—a song you would sing to them or an old bedtime ritual can be comforting and help them feel safe
    • parents may need some additional self-care or support to be able to be a calm, assuring presence to their children since these experiences can be secondarily traumatizing to parents as well
  • Acting out behavior or heightened sensitivity or reactivity is to be expected for some children.  Consider these signs that they may need soothing, connected time with parents, slowing things down with lots of connection in order to soothe their little nervous systems.  
  • Name it to Tame it.  This is a technique in Dr. Tina Bryson's book The Whole-Brain Child, where we help children tell their stories about something scary.  When we help our children tell their story, the story should have the facts as the child remembers them, the emotions the child felt and feels, and a message of safety and resilience “There were lots of people who came to help.”  “You are safe.”  etc.
  • The most important thing is to help them feel safe and to assure them that you will listen, answer questions, and keep them safe.  Follow their lead on the questions and telling the story.
  • Help them find a way to do something active.  Draw a picture for someone who helped them, for someone else who was hurt, etc.  Give them a job that allows them to “help”.
  • Seek out professional help if your child’s distress begins to impact their appetite, sleep, or if their emotions begin to become overwhelmingly intense with feelings of depression or anxiety or panic.
  • Keep in mind that terrifying experiences are not always traumatizing.  There are many factors that contribute to whether or not a child is traumatized, but it’s important that parents don’t project their own trauma and that kids don’t hear their parents talking about “trauma”.  Pay attention to how your own child is experiencing the event.