Claire Lerner CLAIRE LERNER, MSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and child development specialist. She served as the Director of Parenting Resources at ZERO TO THREE for more than eighteen years. Lerner has been a practicing clinician for over thirty years, partnering with parents to decode their children’s behavior and solve their most vexing childrearing challenges. She also provides training to local preschools and pediatric residents. Lerner is the author of hundreds of parenting resources, including books, blogs, podcasts, and videos. She writes a column for PBS Kids, and her work has been published by several parenting publications. She has also served as a content expert for numerous national daily newspapers. Lerner is the mother of two very spirited children of her own, Sam (30) and Jess (28), and stepmom of two stepchildren, Justin (30) and Sammy (27). She lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with her husband and two dogs.



[00:00:00] Best Book Bits podcast brings you Claire Lerner, a child development specialist with over 30 years of experience working in the trenches with families. She’s the author of the book, why Is My Child In Charge, which we will be talking about today. Claire, thank you for being on the show. Thrilled to be here.

Thanks for having me. No worries. Now tell me how you got started as a clinical social worker and a psychotherapist, beginning your career as a family therapist. Take us back and what made you starting that career? I always loved kids and I was fascinated about. Development and how we became, the adult humans we become and what the roots of that are.

And also really helping parents understand that from the get-go because at some point early on, I did some work with teenagers and as I started to do histories and try and understand how these problems evolved that were. Much more serious when it came to adolescence, and I started to uncover [00:01:00] all sorts of patterns and signs from very early on where if parents had understood what those behaviors meant and had better tools for supporting their children in their emotional regulation, in their ability to cope with challenges in their building of their self-esteem, and.

Confidence that a lot of those problems could have been prevented. And so I became very passionate about and focused on really starting with the youngest ones and supporting parents in having those insights and those tools. Yeah, absolutely. And there is no catch you on the show today. I’ve got two small kids myself.

I’ve got a four year old and a little girl going on too as well. And I can tell you parenting is very challenging. They don’t teach you how to make children. That’s natural. But parenting is one of those things that it’s like you get thrown in the deep end. You try to replicate what you were taught, as your parents taught you, or how your parents raised you [00:02:00] and how your family did as well.

But it’s just one of those issues that I’m now reaching out to experts like yourself to find out how can I improve parenting? It is this relationship as well. Talk to me about zero to three. What is zero to three and what’s your what do you do with that organiz? So zero to Three is a large national nonprofit that is devoted to promoting the healthy development of babies and toddlers.

And so they do that by educating parents, by educating and supporting professionals. So that could be anybody from a pediatrician. To a childcare provider anybody who is in some way influencing the life of a young child. And then they also do a lot of policy work to encourage legislation that supports families with young children and gives them the supports and the resources they need to help their kids get off to the healthiest start.

and I actually no longer work for zero to three, [00:03:00] but I was there for 22 years. And it was a major foundation of my, my professional development and my understanding of the science behind. Early childhood and how to best understand what children need to thrive that I now implement every day when I’m in the trenches with families.

At zero to three, I was doing a lot of training. I was writing a lot about the translation of the science to actual practical parenting skills, and now I’m back in the trenches with families, every day Really puzzling through you. Why is my child in charge? Why is bedtime three hours? Why can’t I get my child to agree to get dressed in the morning and get in their car seat?

Why will they not sit at the table and eat a meal? So I’m basically using that foundation and that knowledge to inform my practice every day. Yeah. And that’s something we’ll deep dive onto is today as well. [00:04:00] When did the book come out and what made you motivate to write this particular book?

Why is My Child in Charge and I love the title by the way. Definitely grabbed me because my children are in charge and I want to be in charge. So yeah. Tell us a bit about why you wrote the book. Let me just say, To give credit where credit is due. I did not come up with the title. I have a very brilliant close friend who’s done a lot of work in communications and when she interviewed me about why I wrote the book and what problem I was seeking to solve, she was able to like just distill it down to, oh, so the kids are in charge and the parents are really struggling with that.

Credit to Leslie Rotenberg, my close friend who came up with that. Why I wrote the book is a really good question. Because as as any parent knows, this field is like flooded with a caffe of voices and content and blogs and Instagram and. Thousands and thousands of experts providing [00:05:00] guidance on how to get a child to sleep, right?

How to get them to cooperate, how to get them to stop. engaging in sibling rivalry and the many many maddening things that happened in the early years. So I never intended to add, right? I if I was going to write a book, it was going to be because it was additive. And what happened was in my practice as parents would come to see me, sharing with me these very vexing challenges often.

Were rooted in power struggles. It was a just a power struggle over everything. Screen time suites, bedtime routines getting through morning routines to get to school. It was endless. And as I tried to figure out where were the pitfalls, like where were things going off the rails, why was it hard for parents to set and enforce a clear limit that.

In a quiet moment, they knew [00:06:00] was an important limit. Like they know that kids running around the house at 11 o’clock at night. It’s not a healthy thing. But somehow two books turned into five books turned into 10 books turned into sleeping in mom and dad’s bed, even though that’s not where mom and dad want them and I.

in seeking to understand what the root cause was, because just guidance is rarely helpful. Do this, take these five steps to get your child to stop having a tantrum. Take these five steps to get your child to sleep at night, are rarely helpful because they’re formulaic. , they don’t take into consideration the unique child.

They don’t take into consideration the parents and their context and their beliefs and values or the whole context of the family. And so I. , I started to really in the trenches, figure out with each individual family where things were going awry, and what I identified in that process were eight key [00:07:00] consistent mindsets that led parents down a path to just pa perpetual power struggles and in helping parents.

Tune into those mindsets, become aware of them, and help them make important mind shifts, which of course we can dive into. That was the key that unlocked their ability to be the parent they wanted to be, to thread this seemingly elusive needle of being that loving, warm, connected, validating parent. while also setting the clear limits and boundaries Kids need to thrive.

Like I’ve never met a family where absent limits and boundaries were happy and joyful. Like it’s just not possible because then parents are just stressed and exhausted and angry and frustrated all the time, and that infects the whole family. And of course, all that does. Is [00:08:00] breed more acting out because the system is stressed.

There’s no clear limits or boundaries to help scaffold the child learning to make good choices. And , that’s when I decided to write the book because I felt like it was adding, it was offering a new insight that I didn’t see out there. And so that is what the book does. It lays out, as from having read it, these eight key mindsets and with tons of stories from the trenches about.

These mindsets lead to increased distress and power struggles and how making the mind shifts when you apply it to sleep feeding, tantrums. All the chapters that I go into showing families how changing your mindset enables you to create a, an approach. [00:09:00] To. Being that loving parent while you’re also able to help kids get to sleep on time, to have the evening, you need to have to refuel to get yourself to work and your child to school on time to help them manage their big emotions when they can’t get what they want, when they want it.

So That’s why I wrote the book. Yeah. Ex thank you for expanding that and Wow. Yeah. Three decades of working in the trenches with family. Is It definitely shows and one of the biggest joys of being a parent is when both kids are asleep at night and you can sit back and relax, have a cup of tea, and watch some tv or read a book and go, ah, the day is over.

It’s like a being a parent, it’s like having two jobs. One, you go out and work for the money and the other one is just to make sure you’re managing a household. And it definitely is stressful. And one of the things you said, Which I love from the book was, it was about the parent changing the mindset because at the end of the day, the child doesn’t know any different.

They don’t know there’s a problem. They don’t know their caus in all this stress for the parent. At the end of the day, it’s if the parent can change their mind shift and implement some [00:10:00] tools and some strategies and some things that work to balance that out. And at the end of the day, it is a relat.

Between the parent and the child too, which will deep dive into that in a second. But one of the first complaints and the most common complaints you get is my child won’t listen. My wife, he pulls her hair out cuz my son, my four-year-old son doesn’t listen to her, but he listens to me. You know what do we do?

Basically? What? What’s the question? Why won’t children listen to their parents first? I would reframe. and think of it as, it’s not necessarily the child isn’t listening and that may be an issue, like they may actually not be tuned into what you’re saying, and that’s one issue we can address. But more often than not, what parents are really saying is, my child’s not cooperating.

Like they may be listening that I’ve said it’s time to clean up toys, or it’s time to get in the car seat, or it’s time to get ready for bed, but they’re. Getting with the program and taking action to follow through. And that’s often when parents are playing. My child won’t listen. I’ve told him 50 times, if he doesn’t do [00:11:00] X, Y, or Z I’m taking away, there’s no PAW Patrol.

I don’t know if they have Paw Patrol in Australia, but it’s a very popular show here. And It, that is really the problem that’s at play for most parents. So I will say that there are times when a child literally is tuned out and they haven’t processed the direction. So there’s different strategies.

If that’s the issue, then that’s pretty simple. You make sure you go, you make eye contact, you get on their eye level, right? And you say, Michael, I know you’re. So much fun playing this video game, but it’s time now to put it down and to get ready for bed, and I’m gonna help you do that. So that’s step one is that you just make sure that they’re not diverted and that they are actually processing the direction, because that’s one foundational problem, right?

Is that your child hasn’t even processed the direction. And then part two is whether they actually. With the [00:12:00] direction. So when it comes to cooperation, here was my major insight. That is one of the mindsets I focus on most in the book because I would say almost 99, if not a hundred percent of parents who come to see me, and I’ve seen thousands of families over the years.

The main issue at play is that the parents, All of their strategies. Are focused on trying to get the child to change their mind and change their behavior, and that’s the one thing you have no control over. Like this is the most humbling thing that nobody warns you about when you become a parent. We come into parenting thinking, we’re gonna make our child do this.

We’re gonna make them go to bed. We’re gonna make them pee and poop on the potty. We’re gonna make them, and we have the power to do that. But the fact is. They are human beings, like they are the only ones on [00:13:00] earth who control what they say and what they do, right? You can’t like mind meld with your child and get them agree to pick their body up and come to the table or to get into the car seat or to stop having a tantrum.

You what? What parents control is the situation, meaning how they scaffold. And how they respond. So what’s happening when there’s a lack of cooperation is parents are nagging, cajoling, bribing, trying to use logic. Don’t you want to be awake tomorrow and have so much fun and have energy? So don’t you wanna go to sleep now?

And the kid’s no, not really. I’m good. I’m gonna be up for the next few hours. So or we nag and nag. And they obfuscate. And they obfuscate. And that. the most maddening scenario for parents because they end up feeling oh my God, like how is it like I run a corporation?

I [00:14:00] literally supervise 500 people. So effectively, how is it that my three-year-old is literally running the house like bedtime is now three hours? Because he won’t accept a limit on books or a limit on cuddle time. So the mind shift to make is to stop trying to control your. Because that’s the one thing you can’t make happen.

And let me just for fun so your listeners know they’re not alone. This is this recent example just completely illustrates the problem of parenting by trying to get your kid to change their mind through threats or bribes or rewards. So this. completely vaxxed at bedtime with his three and a half year old who refuses to stay in her room, right?

She’s gone from the crib to the toddler bed and all hell is broken loose because now she knows she can get out of the room. And so they’ve tried everything. It’s nag, bribe, threaten in and out of the room 50 times and it’s 10 [00:15:00] o’clock at night and the parents are exhausted and angry, and everybody is suffering.

and and it’s eroding their relationship. It’s like the one time of day parents have to feel connected to their kids, right? To go through a beautiful bedtime routine and really enjoy it. And these parents are miserable. And it’s, this is very true for many families who come to see me, which is why I share the story.

So finally the dad uses his Trump card and he literally says, if you don’t stay in your room, I’m taking your. Okay. Like her favorite doll in her bed, and this little three and a half year old turns around. She walks into her room. She doesn’t just grab the levee, she grabs all of her dolls and she hands ’em to her dad.

So you see it’s have at it. Knock yourself out. What else do you got? She’s basically saying, Take the doll. I’m still not gonna stay in my room. So you see it, [00:16:00] the kids are in it often for the power, and knowing that you want something from them becomes fodder for their power. They’re not sociopaths.

They’re amazing human beings who already. Being sentient, being sometimes for only 24 to 36 months have already figured out what they want and how to get it, because they’re very strategic. From reading the book, another mind shift is not senior child is like a fascist dictator, manipulator.

Their strategic, they want what they want. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s in their dna, and they’re going to use any tool to get it. So if they wanna stay out of their room and running around the house, they are going to do whatever they need to do or whatever they can do to make that happen.

It’s up to the parent to. A strategy and a limit that doesn’t allow that strategy to work. So [00:17:00] we have to stop trying to convince them to cooperate because they may never get convinced. They may keep upping the ante. You wanna focus on what you control. So in this scenario, what got this family recalibrated and was life changing, was basically saying, ma.

We love each other. We love our bedtime routine. It’s always hard to say goodnight. We totally get it. It’s never gonna be enough books. It’s never gonna feel like enough cuddle time. You’re gonna wanna stay up all night. We totally get it. We don’t blame you. We don’t expect you to like our rule. But as your mom and dad, were in charge of safety and health, and so we’re gonna explain to you exactly what to expect.

Remember, you’re not trying to convince. , you’re just explaining cuz you’re a great parent. What’s gonna happen? We’re gonna read this many books. We’re gonna cuddle for this long. [00:18:00] We’re gonna say our special mantra and then we’re gonna say goodnight. And your job is just to get your body to sleep, which you’re so good at.

And the one rule is you need to stay in your room. Because it’s not healthy to come running in and out all night. The doctor said it’s very important that you stay in your room, so your two great choices are to stay in your room and the door can stay open. That’s one great option. Option two is, You come out, no problem.

We escort you back in one time. And here’s our door helper. And door helper, which is basically some way to create a boundary so the child can’t come running in and out. And door helper is our helper and she helps you stay in your room. That’s it. You decide what’s better for Matilda? Is it better for you to have your door open and stay in your room?

That’s one option. Or is it better to use door helper? You decide. So you see the whole shift is. , I love you. I’m an amazing parent. I’m setting a really important limit [00:19:00] because it’s the absence of the limit that is damaging to kids and families. It’s not the limit, it’s the absence of it that creates this chaos and these power struggles.

So I’m not saying it was easy, the parents had to follow through. They sat on the other side of the door humming. They just told her, I’m gonna listen to some music. They didn’t respond to her because that just keeps the interaction going. She. Yelled and screamed and banged at the door. They stayed calm.

They were the rock. They kept, they stuck with the limit and within two nights she was a champion sleeper. She understood that this was the limit and it was life changing. They, there was more love between them. They enjoyed their nighttime ritual instead of like dread. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

They could enjoy books, they could enjoy cuddle time. The parents had their time to refuel, have their glass of wine, watch their episode of succession, and now you have a happy family. But it’s [00:20:00] all it. You need to come up with a plan. that gives your child choices within limits, and if they can’t make the healthy choice, then you need a strategy to ensure that it happens.

That if they don’t hand the iPad over, you say, no problem. I’ll be a helper. And you take it as calmly as you can. You let them have their meltdown. You acknowledge that it’s really tough, and if they need space to be upset, no problem. So let me stop because I know that’s a lot. No, it’s great. No, just to recap to go back.

I like how you said get their full attention, get down to their level as well. Maybe even change the environment as well. So get their full attention, get down to their level. And then you talk about corporation as well. So we can’t change their behavior, but what we can do is communicate in a way that, that.

It is firm. It is loving, it’s understanding. Don’t be too analytical about it. I like the thing about giving two choice. So with my kids as well, let’s say my kid wants lawyers all the time and he wants [00:21:00] something that he’s not allowed to have, but he give ’em another opportunity. He can’t have that. But how about this?

And how about that? Our brains are very specific. We work with the information that we give. So if you don’t give them an alternative, that’s just gonna stick with that one alternative. 50% of the time they’ll go for something else. And one thing that I’ve really found as well with parenting, you need to tell your child what’s going on or what’s happening, or you recap the day and how they’ve been like, get, they, they have to process information as well, is to help them process things as well.

We’re processing the next steps. We’re going to bed to do this, we’re gonna do that. We’re gonna have some milk, we’re gonna read, we’re gonna do that and then tomorrow and get ’em excited about tomorrow we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do that. And what do they do today? So you gotta get their. Off the moment now, take ’em back into the past, let ’em recalibrate the day, consolidate memories, talk about tomorrow again.

I’m excited about that. And then just go through that natural routine of, bedtime, putting them down and all that stuff too. So yeah, as a parent, I’m finding the more you interact with your child as a relationship as well, and as a human, we. I think that’s the way to go as [00:22:00] well.

But yeah, a lot, lots to unpack of what you just said. Then the other big issue I think a lot of parents face as well, it’s like meltdowns, big emotions, tantrums children that just explode through there. And yes, we have highly sensitive children, which you can touch on as well, and why that’s a little bit different, but how do we deal with meltdowns?

How do we deal with tantrums and how do we deal with peak emotions as parents? So I think that this is where, like that important mind. It needs to take place in order to be able to effectively manage the meltdown in a way that again, threads that needle of being loving and being your child’s rock, while also creating boundaries.

So the first mind shift is like your child is not melting down on purpose. There is so much brain science now that shows that when the child is triggered by an emotional reaction, [00:23:00] which could be something unexpected happens, you show up to pick them up from preschool when they expected grandma. They want, they wanted their sandwich cut in this direction, and you cut it in this direction, right?

You put their chicken too close to the rice. It could be anything. You’re not giving them another episode of their favorite show when they’re triggered into upset mode. Their, what we call their downstairs brain takes over. So even though your child knows, like you’ve told them about the limit, or they know that it’s not okay to grab from their little brother or sister, or you’ve prepared them that you’re going to the grocery store and you’re not gonna be getting chocolate.

And they’re great about it in theory, until they actually see the chocolate and then, They want the chocolate. And when you say that’s not an option, they get triggered. And when they get triggered from their downstairs brain, which is their impulsive, reactive [00:24:00] brain, right? The frontal cortex the upstairs brain is the part of their brain that enables kids to calm themselves, manage their emotions, think through their feelings.

during the tantrum, they’re flooded with emotion and that frontal cortex is not working, and so they’re losing it. And sometimes it can become physical. Sometimes it’s just they’re throwing themselves on the floor. But the first thing to remind yourself is, I have a great kid. Having a difficult moment.

That’s what I really encourage my parents to think of it as. Whatever your expectation now that they were gonna be able to manage not getting an extra sweet after dinner or not getting an extra book at bedtime, they’re not able to manage in that moment. It’s too hard for them. So you wanna have compassion for that.

These are hard things to learn to accept. At the same time, you want to not. [00:25:00] Delve in and. What I would say is the biggest pitfall for most parents is that they’ve gotten from social media and from reading a lot about child development, that kids need compassion. They need empathy. They need you to validate their emotions not to judge their feelings, right?

Like you could get on board with why would a child be happy that you’re limiting bedtime? Who’s gonna be happy about that? So you acknowledge. That feels uncomfortable or is a disappointment. But then you also need to set the limit and allow space for the meltdown. And that’s often where the problems actually take place, is that parents are often doing too much in that moment.

They wanna talk to their child, they wanna get them to talk about their feelings, and it’s overwhelming to the child in that moment. They’re doing it out of love. But [00:26:00] in, in reality. It’s only adding oxygen and dysregulating often the child more, or they’re trying to talk their child out of it. They’re trying to use logic. You got chocolate last time and you al already had chocolate this morning. The child’s brain is not in a rational state at that moment. So the more you try to use logic, I get video every day from families so I can actually see what goes on in their homes so I can really tune into what these parents are dealing with.

And I see every day kids, the parents like, I know you’re really upset. I’m not upset. Stop telling me, it’s time to take your deep belly breast. And they’re like, stop telling me. Then you take belly. in that moment. What they need is, I know it’s a tough moment. It’s really hard when you expected we could go to the playground and we can’t.

I totally get it. If you need space to be unhappy about it, it’s totally fine. [00:27:00] I can help you calm, I can help you find something else to do. But if you can’t do that right now, no problem. And then you just give them space. The more you try to make it all better, talk about their feelings, try and get them to problem solve or.

Or minimize their feelings, make them feel like they’re overreacting, the worse it gets. So tantrums are be to be expected. Your kid’s not misbehaving, they’re not spoiled. They’re a great kid having a hard time managing some kind of limit. They need you to hold the limit because that’s what helps kids eventually learn.

To adapt and to be flexible, and that’s when you start to see the reduction in tantrum. So they need you to completely validate, but also hold the limit and give them space to weather the storm so that when they do calm down, you’re like, Wow, bud. That [00:28:00] was tough. That was really hard. You really wanted that extra episode, and it wasn’t possible, and you were able to calm yourself and be flexible.

What would you like to do now? Yeah. It’s perfect. That’s I can’t add too much to that. . It is hard being a parent with . Tell me this, right? So parents come to you about their kids, but they’re really coming to you about themselves. What do parents want? Mostly? Is it a decrease in stress, the environment, more sleep.

They want a plus kids. What do parents really want from your experience working with not kids for three decades, but parents, what do parents really want from you? What they want is they want to be really empathetic, connected. Parents, they wanna be close to their kids. They want a strong bond.

They want to respect them, they want to give them choices. Like those messages from the last 20 or 30 [00:29:00] years as the brain science really exploded and we started to understand how deeply feeling young kids were and how deeply they are. Did by their early experiences and how important the quality of the relationship is to make them feel good about themselves, to let them know that all feelings are welcome, all feelings matter.

That message has gotten across, and parents really want that, and they’re doing a great job of that. In those quiet moments, the challenge becomes especially with this sort of gentle parenting movement, What I see in my practice is that it they’ve, the parents have misinterpreted the messages and they’ve bifurcated these ideas of love and limits.

It’s almost like I’m either loving my child and we’re connecting and we’re bonding or. I’m being mean and setting limits and like doing [00:30:00] something they don’t like or taking something away from them they don’t like or limiting something they wanna do. And that’s like the mean, bad parent that causes stress in my child.

That makes me feel bad because I don’t want him to feel stressed. I want him to be happy all the time. and so they don’t get comfortable with the limit, part of the love. So what I’m helping parents do is see that it’s hard to be the loving parent you wanna be if you’re not in charge. Like being in charge isn’t being a fascist dictator telling your kids what to do, telling them to go to their room when they’re not getting with the program.

That’s not what this is. This. kids need limits and boundaries so that they’re safe and healthy and they go to bed on time and they get to school on time and they can’t be destructive. And there is a way to do it. It’s all the way you do it if you [00:31:00] do it in a loving way. In some of the examples I’ve already given, right.

That is loving. That’s like your child isn’t gonna say thank you so much for limiting screen time. So my mind and body can do more fortifying things. Like they’re never gonna say that, but it’s what they need. So you don’t wanna you don’t want to judge your limits based on your child’s reaction.

They’re not gonna like it because you’re limiting something that they want. So what I’m really helping parents do is get comfortable being that loving parent they wanna be while they’re setting limits, because it’s the parents who get comfortable with that. Don’t misinterpret the distress as being harmful to their child.

That’s the, just their child saying, I don’t like that. You’re not getting me a toy at Target. Okay, why should they be happy about it? But your response is, I know Charlie, it’s really hard when you can’t get something you want. I totally get it and [00:32:00] I feel you. , but today is not a day. We’re getting a toy, and if I need to help you get into the cart and calmly get into the cart, no problem.

I’ll be a helper. And you stay their rock and you set the limit and they survive what they didn’t think they could survive. And then you are building the resilience and the grit. , and that’s what those parents want. When you ask me what parents want, they want to be connected to their kids, and they also want their kids to have resilience and grit and be able to muscle through challenges and manage losing and manage the failure.

That only happens with limits. If you always let your child win a game so that they’re happy, that child is never going to be happy because you’re not helping prepare them for real life where they’re. Not always going to be the winner. They’re not always gonna get what they want. So when I’m really helping as parents see that I can get them to their [00:33:00] end goal.

But it’s hard work, as you say, Michael, because mostly because it requires tolerating a lot of pushback and knowing how to do that in a way that is gentle and calm and loving. Yeah, said. Thank you for that. The biggest issue we’ve got in our household. Dinner time or eat in. Why won’t the kids eat what we want them to eat?

That’s good for them? And why do they continually want to eat crap and shit and all this stuff? What, what’s going on with children and eating? How do we overcome this? Or is it just a phase or ? That’s the biggest one. We want them to be healthy and nutritious. We know what’s good for them but they seem to be okay living off crap.

So how do we help that situation for parents and kids and meet somewhere in. What’s what’s some advice on that? So again, like if you think about it, I don’t know about you, but like I would eat, salt and vinegar, potato chips, the entire bag every day after lunch if I wasn’t an adult and knew that wasn’t really terrible for me.

So again, like mind shift, [00:34:00] these are not kids who are being bad or misbehaving. They want what they want and they are going to. The things that taste good to them, which are often going to be, the salty things, the sweet things. It, it depends. So that’s just one thing is you wanna, again, recalibrate.

Like when you are feeling like your child’s manipulative or they’re working your last nerve, or they’re purposefully, trying to manipulate you, it’s gonna put you in a harsh, negative state of mind. and you’re going to respond to it in a way that only gets your child’s haunches up and turns it into a big power struggle.

So that’s one thing. The other thing I would say about food, and it’s a complex, tricky subject that we don’t have like ample time to really dig deep into, but it’s important to. help all of your listeners know that it is very important to tune into whether this is really a real sensory based issue or whether it’s just a power struggle.

What I mean by that is [00:35:00] there are some kids who would enjoy a range of foods if they were presented to them and there were limits, right? So those are the kids where the way it works best is you say to them, I know you would like to eat potato chips and french fries and chicken nuggets all day long.

Totally get it. I’m not trying to convince you not to like that or to like our rule, but since we are in charge of health and those aren’t healthy foods, This is what we’re giving you for dinner. These are your choices. And I, on my website, I’ve got a lot of articles about this. I have a whole chapter in the book about it.

But you set the limit and you make the other things extras, and you basically say, these are growing foods. We’re never gonna force you to eat. Because forcing eating is almost always a recipe for. Much [00:36:00] bigger eating problems and much more digging. There’s a lot of research that shows that the more you try and control your kids’ eating, the more you try and get them to eat, the less they eat because it just becomes a power struggle and they weaponize it.

I’ll only come to the dinner table and eat that if you let me bring my tablet. And as one dad said, they extort you because they figured out you want them to eat so badly, you will pretty much do anything. So instead, you. We’re gonna have a family meal. Our job is to give you growing foods. This is the minimum amount of growing foods that your body needs in order to be able to have an extra, okay.

We’re not forcing you to eat. If you choose not to eat the growing foods, no problem. You can choose and usually I I would I do think it’s helpful to, to have them get an extra, but the extra would maybe be strawberries or blueberry. So if they choose not to eat the minimum amount of growing foods, that’s an option.

If they do eat the minimum [00:37:00] amount of growing foods, then they get to choose and then you give them a choice of whatever you think is appropriate, right? The cookie, a handful of potato chips, whatever the extra is so that you’re teaching them. There’s like a natural consequence, but you’re not forcing. It goes back to the two great choices.

You’re two great choices are this. If you choose to eat the growing foods, which we’re not making you do, but if you choose that you do get an extra because your body has gotten the growing foods they need. If you choose not to eat the growing foods, no problem. That’s your choice. We’re never gonna make you eat.

Only you can decide what you put in your mouth, but then the extra. Is a fruit choice. You decide, and then, so what I’m trying to do is get parents out of the power struggle because when you’re bribing, cajoling threatening, all it does, especially for the really fierce kids, is they’re in for the fight and they will go to the nth degree to show you that you’re not the boss of them.[00:38:00]

There are kids who have sensory issues around food that are real, like they’re not making it up. They have real aversions. Sometimes it’s to smell, sometimes it’s to taste, sometimes it’s to texture, and. If you sense that your child has a real sensory aversion, it’s very important to explore that either with an occupational therapist are usually the best suited in our area.

There are a lot of occupational therapists who. Work with kids through a very fun intervention where they’re exposing them and helping their systems get comfortable with these foods, which is why we never force no matter what. But some kids need more exposure and more help getting comfortable with foods that they initially are reversed to.

Sometimes it’s the way they look. and that’s an important underlying issue you really want to [00:39:00] understand before you do any kind of intervention around food. And let me just say that in my book and in my, on my website, I do talk a lot about that, for those of you who want to learn more and at the end of the day, yeah, thank you for sharing that.

It made a lot of sense. I like the idea of giving them two choices and talking about growing foods. Then if they don’t want to eat that, give ’em an option, which is still good as well. Kids are just kids and kids are gonna grow. When does it, when do you stop working with children and parents?

Is it up to the ages? Was it six, was it, or, I think I, right now I cut it off at seven only because at least in my area in DC there are a lot of clinicians who work with older kids, elementary school agent above. There are not a lot who work with very young children. And because there is such demand, I have.

Cut it off at seven. So I cancer the families of the younger kids. Yeah. Understand. One last one, last questions might be an odd one and people might not talk about it, but what about a [00:40:00] child that gets anger and rage and just lashes out and hits parents or just in those moments of frustrations? Especially the mother, not the father, but, what do we do as parents when a kid becomes not violent, but they, they.

And it’s hang on a second. We gotta put a, we gotta put a stop to this. What do we do as parents to do with rage and anger? So I’m gonna answer that in a sec. I just wanna say that while I end at seven, just for people who are listening, I, the content I put out, while my stories may be of younger kids, , almost always, they are very applicable, like the same mind shifts, the same roadmap.

I’m offering The process of how do I respond and scaffold this moment to support my child is very applicable, definitely to elementary school kids and even to older kids. So I just wanna put that out there. So you’re raising a really important issue, Michael. And actually it’s like a major conundrum for many parents who come to see me because [00:41:00] what they’ve heard is that you all like you have to stay connected.

So you can like creating space or giving your child a break. I don’t even call it timeout anymore, and I’ll explain that. I is detrimental to your child and harmful to them because you’re giving them the message that like, I don’t care about your feelings. Go away. I don’t like you right now. That is not the case at all.

It’s all the way you do it. And the reason I raise it is because if you have a child who’s a really big reactor and gets triggered to the point that their body is literally acting before their brain, that’s the way I talk about it with kids and parents that. , you’re a great kid having a difficult moment, and your feelings are so big and overwhelming that your body is acting before your brain.

I know you don’t mean to hit or kick or spit or whatever they’re doing. You really want in a [00:42:00] quiet moment, not in the heat of the moment, in a quiet, because in the heat of the moment, their brain is. They just need a boundary and space to get back to calm. So in, not in the heat of the moment, if you have a kid who’s a big reactor like that, the messages they need to hear are, we adore you, we are your people.

We get you. We know that you are a deeply feeling person, and that sometimes when your feelings are so big, your body acts before your brain and you do not mean to be hurtful at the same time. We need to make sure that we keep you safe. I make the focus on the child, not on protecting everybody else from them because that’s very triggering and very shaming and it doesn’t help.

They don’t end up learning the lesson because they’re so overcome with shame that they can’t even think clearly. So I’m saying to the child, I know you don’t mean it. I still need to help you be. Because we can’t do things with our body [00:43:00] that are hurtful or make other people feel uncomfortable. So here’s what we’re gonna do.

When your body is acting before your brain, I’m always gonna give you a chance to. to do something else that is not harmful. So my go-to is always, do you need to hit? Great. Here’s a punching bag to hit. Do you need to kick? Here? Are things you can kick? Do you need to pull? Do you need to spit? Here’s a bowl.

Like literally, I know you don’t mean to do that. Let me help you find something else if that works. Awesome. gold star parenting. You’ve said, I get you. I’m not gonna let you do that. I can’t let you be hurtful. I’m gonna help you find another way If that doesn’t work right, the belly breaths, the, the having them jump up and down 10 times, they can’t access it.

They can’t take advantage. You say, I know, but I’m gonna be a helper. We’re gonna take a safe space break. And basically what the safe space is it can be their room because. Not punishment you. This is a space you set up with them with beanbag [00:44:00] chairs and a kitty tent and exercise bands tied to bed posts where they can pull it and let it go and everything made by Nerf and all sorts of fidgets and beanbag things.

And you’re basically saying this is your magical, amazing space where when your body is acting before your brain, you can be to do whatever you need to do in a safe way. , I like. This is for situations where like you, your presence is not helpful, right? Like you go there with them and if you can be there as a safecom presence, great.

But a lot of the families report that. The child is so wound up that they’re continuing to punch at and spit and clot their parents. That’s detrimental. That is not a helpful situation for anyone. Parents are only human. It is so triggering that. I don’t know any parent who can stay calm in control [00:45:00] when their child, when they’re literally being attacked, they need to beat their rock.

And the only way to do that is to create a boundary. So I just, parents go on the other side of the door and they hum and they just say a mantra so the child knows they’re there and you’re creating a boundary to prevent. , like literal, physical, back and forth, that is so detrimental to kids and families where parents are like begging and pleading kids to stop scratching, hitting, punching, kicking, and the child literally can’t.

So it’s an unrealistic expectation. So I find that’s my version. of taking a break, and it has been lifesaving to many of the families I worked with who felt like their hands were tied and were literally for long periods of time in like fisticuffs with their children. I hope people aren’t listening to, don’t have parents and thinking, I never want kids.

Kids are beautiful. They’re angels, [00:46:00] they’re great. It’s just literally 15% of the time they’re demons. So we are just trying to sway that balance and through there as well. Claire, thank you for, All the work you’ve done with families and children over the decades as well, and thanks for being on the show.

And where can people find more about your work and where can people find the book as well? The best thing to do is my website is like one stop. Shopping. There’s not a lot to buy. The only thing I sell is my book, but you can access it on the website. My website is just learner child development.com.

I’ve got hundreds of blogs that are free. There’s a whole section on the book. You can follow me on Instagram. That’s really largely the platform I use to communicate regularly. And I do have a free newsletter that comes out every three weeks that you can also access through the. Perfect. Again, thank you for being a guest on the Best Book Bit podcast and yeah, thank you for writing a great book and enjoy the rest of your day.

And to my audience out there, go follow Claire, read her book, follow her advice, and do have children. And at the end of the day, kids are kids. They grow up to be teenagers, adults, and walk [00:47:00] back at the kid years and think, oh God, oh I wish we could go back. But yeah, that’s it. Okay. Enjoy the rest of your day and I’ll speak to.

Thanks so much, Claire. Okay. Thank you, Michael. All right. No worries. Bye. Bye.



Claire Lerner CLAIRE LERNER, MSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and child development specialist. She served as the Director of Parenting Resources at ZERO TO THREE for more than eighteen years. Lerner has been a practicing clinician for over thirty years, partnering with parents to decode their children’s behavior and solve their most vexing childrearing challenges. She also provides training to local preschools and pediatric residents. Lerner is the author of hundreds of parenting resources, including books, blogs, podcasts, and videos. She writes a column for PBS Kids, and her work has been published by several parenting publications. She has also served as a content expert for numerous national daily newspapers. Lerner is the mother of two very spirited children of her own, Sam (30) and Jess (28), and stepmom of two stepchildren, Justin (30) and Sammy (27). She lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with her husband and two dogs.

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