Reasoning with a Very Young Child (1) - It's Really Possible!

Part (1) of the series: Reasoning with a Very Young Child

Reasoning with a child aged three and under? Is that really possible? Surely, they’re not developmentally capable of responding to reason? Aren’t punishments such as smacking or time-out, and rewards such as star charts, the only way we can only get young children to learn, and to change their behaviour?

My lived experience (and that of hundreds of parents I’ve met through parenting classes) is that yes, you can reason with children - from a very young age. And yes, it is possible for them to change their behaviour, without parents resorting to rewards or punishment.

You just need to give them the chance.

Reasoning with a Very Young Child (2): When Your Child is Unhappy

Larissa Dann: posted 29 June 2015                                                       Image from Shutterstock

Part (2) of the series: Reasoning with a Very Young Child

Very young children can respond to Active Listening and reasoning by becoming calm, and even finding a solution to their difficulty. 

Active Listening

Active Listening is the best way I have to show empathy, and is the first skill I turn to when my child is unhappy. Firstly, I have to recognise the cues and clues that my child is not OK. Often ‘naughty’ behaviour is simply a signal that things aren’t going well for my child.

I then need to remember that there is a reason for them to be unhappy. For example, they may need my attention, or something happened at childcare, or their basic needs (food, water, rest and toileting) have not been met.

Now, I need to listen to my child, so they can talk about their unhappiness. This will help me to understand what is happening for them, and help them to understand themselves. I try to guess their feelings, and the reason they feel that way. I put these into a statement such as “You’re feeling . . . because . . . ”. For example “Sounds like you’re feeling frustrated because your toy truck’s wheels fell off”.

Reasoning with a VeryYoung Child (3): When Parents are Unhappy with their Child’s Behaviour

Larissa Dann: posted 29 June 2015                                                           Image used under license from Shutterstock

Part (3) of the series: Reasoning with a Very Young Child

Giving your very young children a reason for your upset can help them understand and empathise with you.  They may even come up with a solution to help you (which may mean changing their behaviour).


When I am unhappy about my children’s behaviour, I need to avoid blaming or putting down my child with a ‘you’ message. Examples of ‘you’ messages might be: “you’re just being naughty”; “you’ve been told 1000 times” “you’re old enough to know better”.

Instead of ‘you’ messages, I need to use an ‘I-Message’ when I’m upset with my child. A three part I-Message looks something like this: “when . . .(describe child’s behaviour) I feel . . .(a feeling word) because . . . (describe how you have been affected) “. For example “When I see the toys on the floor, I feel concerned that I might step on them and hurt myself”.

Reasoning with a Very Young Child (4): When Parent and Child are Unhappy

Larissa Dann: posted 29 June 2015                                                 Image used under license from Shutterstock                  

Part (4) of the series: Reasoning with a Very Young Child

Understanding your own reasons for being upset, and helping your very young child understand a reason for their upset, leads to problem-solving where both of you are OK with the solution.

No-Lose Conflict Resolution

When I try my best I-messages (followed by Active Listening) and discover that both of us are still feeling dissatisfied, I need to try Problem Solving.

The Trouble with Time-Out

Discipline - the perennial parenting problem. Discipline (the verb) can mean either ‘to teach’, or ‘to control’ (Gordon, T. 1989). In our quest to parent effectively, to do the best by our children, ourselves and our family, we think carefully about the best way to discipline our child.

If we use discipline to control, then we rely on reward and punishment to change our children’s behaviour. 

This article questions the use of one of the most commonly used punishments - time-out. The majority of the parenting books we read, parenting websites, parenting courses, or parents we know, suggest time-out as a benign punishment.  Most schools and childcare centres rely on time-out to discipline children. 

During the years my daughter attended childcare we had several discussions around her fear of punitive time-out. Her distress, and my experience as a parent educator, drove me to investigate the effects of time-out.

Three Ways our Assumptions Affect Relationships with Children

Larissa Dann.                      

Here is a challenging idea: the way we think about children, and the assumptions we make about their intentions, will shape our response to them.  Ultimately, our presumptions influence our relationships. 

Children and Play – past, present - and future?

Larissa Dann  

One of the best aspects of being a parent is reading to my kids. As a family project, we decided to  read some ‘classics’ together.  Which meant me reading out loud to my children.  The books we chose were from bygone days, timeless in their description of the human condition.  To my surprise, I discovered the tales were also beautifully illustrative of a life that, to today’s child, is almost as alien living on Mars! This set me to reflecting on the differences in the way our children play today, compared to the way children occupied themselves in the not-so-distant past.

To Tell or Not to Tell: Discussing Your Parenting Skills with Your Kids.

By Larissa Dann.  Posted February, 2015

As a parent educator, two common questions that participants ask during a course are: “Should I tell my children I am doing a parenting course?” and “Should I tell my children about the things I am learning in this course?”

Every parent who reads a parenting book, or attends a parenting class, will have their own thoughts and feelings on whether to share what they’ve learnt with their children.  Their decision will be based on their experience, their family, their children, and their level of comfort with the new skills they are learning.  But what do the kids think? Read on at

When a Choice is Not a Choice

When children are encouraged to make choices, it can help them feel empowered - that they have some control over their lives. However, are all choices really choices? Do we, as parents, grasp for the ‘choice’ parenting tool because it is quicker and easier than the alternatives, and because we feel better about offering our child options, rather than look for a reason for their behaviour? Is giving a child a ‘choice’ the same as giving them a ‘say’ in their lives?

This article focuses on those times when we offer our child a choice as a means to end a conflict .  At these times, choices may not work.  Read the full blog:

Secrets to Sorting Sibling Squabbles

Is sibling conflict and rivalry one of the constant stressors of your life as a parent? Do you tear your hair out with frustration as you hear your children yell at each other, yet again?  Are you overwhelmed by the thought of holidays, and the seemingly inevitable squabbling siblings?  Or perhaps you simply wish to enhance the relationship your children already have, to enable them to love and support each other throughout their lives?

Read on to see how you can assist your children to resolve their own conflicts, and help them develop a sibling relationship of respect and empathy, using effective communication skills. The article includes an example to help illustrate the steps being put into practice.


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