10 Challenges Parents Face: Practical Solutions From Dr. Becky

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Good Inside" by Becky Kennedy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you tired of your child’s whining? Are you concerned about their lying? Are you ready to move past putting out fires and address the root of the behaviors?

No, you’re not a bad parent. And, your kids are actually good kids. Parenting is just hard. If you wish it came with a manual, Good Inside might be just what you need. Dr. Becky Kennedy’s book can help you make changes in your child’s behavior while building a positive relationship with them.

Keep reading to learn how to address 10 common challenges parents face with solutions from this clinical psychologist and mom.

Challenges Parents Face

Kennedy suggests specific approaches for handling each challenge so that you can foster behavioral change without jeopardizing your connection to your child. We’ve chosen to describe some of Kennedy’s most representative strategies when dealing with each of these challenges parents face. But, many strategies are applicable in more than one situation. For each challenge, we’ve highlighted strategies that apply Kennedy’s key tools: boundaries, empathy, validation, connection, playfulness, and confidence-building.

Challenge #1: Getting Your Child to Listen

Kennedy argues that if you believe your child doesn’t listen to you, the issue isn’t listening, but cooperating—in other words, your child isn’t complying with your requests. When your kid doesn’t cooperate, it’s likely because they’re feeling disconnected from you or because you’re asking them to do something they don’t want to do. The latter is the nature of parenting, but there are ways to make your requests less confrontational and more engaging.

To make your requests less confrontational, Kennedy recommends using the following tools: 1) validation, 2) connection, and 3) playfulness.

Validation and Connection

Acknowledge that you’re interrupting your child’s activities, or that you’re asking for something they don’t like. Then, Kennedy suggests involving your child in the decision-making. For example, give her options, like tidying up alone or with your help, or brainstorm ways to make the task more agreeable, like playing music while tidying up.

Kennedy recommends building your connection with your child before asking her to do something. Regularly spend at least 10 minutes one-on-one with your child (each individual child, if you have more than one) with no devices or distractions. Observe her play, describe what she does, or mimic her activities. Don’t ask questions or give her instructions—this is her time!


Kennedy also suggests sprinkling some silliness onto your asks, especially the less enticing ones. For example, close your eyes and say that if the task is done by the time you open them, you’ll run around the room in a victory lap.

Challenge #2: Dealing With Tantrums

Kennedy explains that tantrums are episodes in which a child is feeling emotions more powerful than what they’re able to process, and they become dysregulated as a result. Tantrums aren’t misbehavior—they’re a moment where your child’s body gets out of their control. They’re important for your child’s development because they shape the foundation of them knowing what they want and being able to ask—and, if necessary, fight—for what they want.

To help your child learn to regulate her emotions without squashing her emerging will and assertiveness, work with the underlying urge. Kennedy suggests using two tools: 1) empathy and validation and 2) connection.


Ensure that you’re calm and have perspective on the situation. Kennedy urges you to remember that your child’s meltdown is developmentally appropriate and not a reflection of your parenting.

Validation and Connection

Validate what your child is feeling and how powerful and important it is. Kennedy explains that putting your kid’s urge into words tells her that you understand what she’s experiencing, even if you can’t allow her to have what she wants. At the same time, tell her that you’re right there with her, and stay present until the tantrum subsides.

Dealing With Aggressive Tantrums

Sometimes, Kennedy says, tantrums become aggressive if the feelings are so intense that the child becomes frightened at her own loss of control. The stress hormone cortisol floods her body and sets off aggressive behavior like kicking or biting. Aggressive tantrums are also developmentally normal, but they need a different approach.

When your child’s tantrum takes an aggressive turn, Kennedy recommends using two tools: 1) boundaries and 2) validation and empathy.


Enforce the necessary boundaries to keep everyone safe. Tell your child that you won’t let her continue the aggressive behavior, and, if necessary, Kennedy explains you might have to use your body to stop her without hurting her. Give her a safe and acceptable outlet for her urges. If the tantrum continues, take your child to a small room and sit there with her. Model calm behavior through deep breathing and a soothing voice. Stay there with your child until the tantrum subsides.

Validation and Empathy

Kennedy suggests that after the tantrum, once everyone is calm, you should talk about what happened with your child to validate her experience and show her how she eventually rode out the tantrum. Narrate to your child what triggered the tantrum, how she felt, what her body did, and what you both did until her body regulated.

Challenge #3: Navigating Sibling Relationships

Sibling relationships can be challenging for children and elicit unwanted behavior, such as fighting or whining. Kennedy argues this is because siblings can feel threatening to a child’s attachment needs since they can see your attention going to someone else. The difference in abilities and in the parental involvement other siblings require can also be frustrating to children. 

To help your children manage the emotions that sibling relationships generate, Kennedy suggests using the following tools: 1) empathy, 2) confidence-building, and 3) a combination of validation and boundaries.


Give your children the opportunity to complain about their siblings to you—just not in the presence of the aggrieving sibling. Kennedy says that this will give them an outlet for their emotions without harming the relationship between them. Don’t let the complaining turn into name-calling, as this is dangerous and destructive.


Explain that you’ll give each child what they need, not give them each the same thing. Kennedy argues that this will help avoid comparisons in the short term and, in the long run, it will help your children define their wants and needs for themselves, not in reference to other people.

Validation and Boundaries

When an argument is brewing, Kennedy says you should be an objective narrator. Describe what you’re seeing and how each must be feeling, and pose questions to prompt them to problem solve without you. If a situation turns physically or verbally aggressive, step in decisively: Announce that you won’t let them hurt each other, then separate them. Decide which sibling needs you most urgently and tell the other sibling that you’ll be with them soon and that you know they need you, too. Then help each one regulate their emotions using the strategies for tantrums.

Challenge #4: Coping With Defiance, Whining, & Lying

Parents often see defiance, whining, and lying as signs of lack of respect, but Kennedy argues instead that they’re symptoms of an underlying emotional discomfort. When your child engages in these behaviors, use empathy and connection to validate what they’re feeling, and to foster a relationship in which they don’t need to resort to those behaviors. Kennedy recommends three tools for addressing each behavior: 1) boundaries, 2) validation, and 3) connection.


Kennedy argues that a child who’s being defiant is feeling an urge she can’t express in a healthy way. If your child is being defiant, calmly enforce the boundary and then see if there’s an alternative, acceptable way for her to express the urge.


Kennedy believes children whine when they feel powerless, overwhelmed, or disconnected from you. If your child is whining, express her emotions in a neutral, non-whiny, voice. Then, consider what you can do to tend to her need for power, calmness, or connection.


Kennedy argues that a child who’s lying wishes for something that isn’t possible. It can be a desire for a fantasy to come true, to separate herself from something that might threaten her attachment to her caregivers, or to be independent. If the lie is about something that’s not possible, restate the lie as a wish. If it’s a desire to protect her attachment to you or to be independent, help her feel safe by telling her what you’d do if, hypothetically, you knew the truth about whatever she’s lying about.

Challenge #5: Dealing With Fearful, Anxious, & Crying Kids

Fears, anxiety, and crying—even “fake” crying—are expressions of vulnerability. Kennedy explains that when children perceive a threat, their bodies feel fear or anxiety. When they feel sadness, they cry. When they feel disconnected from their caregivers, they pretend-cry to secure that connection.

Kennedy argues that parents often shut down these expressions of vulnerability because they trigger uncomfortable feelings related to their own vulnerability. You might try to convince your child to stop being sad, anxious, or afraid, or even shame her for feeling that way. But this teaches her that these feelings are wrong and to be avoided, which leaves her unprepared for real life. Instead, support her through those feelings so she develops the tools to work through them in the future.

To help your child learn to work through her vulnerable feelings, Kennedy suggests the following tools: 1) confidence-building, 2) validation and empathy, and 3) playfulness.

Confidence-Building, Validation, & Empathy

Kennedy suggests starting by naming the feelings your child is experiencing and letting her know that it’s okay to feel them, even if it’s uncomfortable. Then, help her brainstorm strategies to deal with a fear or anxiety, and practice the strategies with her when you know a challenging situation is coming up. Share similar feelings you’ve had in the past and how you worked through them. Let her know you’re glad she’s sharing this important information with you.


Take advantage of your child’s favorite stories and characters to start conversations about emotions. For example, Kennedy recommends pointing out when fictional characters cry and talking about how they must be feeling, or role-playing challenging situations using your child’s stuffed animals.

Challenge #6: Encouraging a Hesitant & Shy Child

When kids are shy or hesitant to join in an activity or group, parents often worry that they’re underconfident. But, as we’ve seen, Kennedy believes that confidence is about being sure of what you feel and what does or doesn’t feel good. A kid who takes her time before joining a group or activity is giving herself time to build trust in the group and situation—this shows that she’s confident about who she is and what feels good and safe for her.

If your child has a tendency to be shy or hesitant, Kennedy suggests using the tools of validation and confidence-building.

Validation and Confidence-Building

Kennedy reminds you that hesitancy can be an important life skill as your child grows into a teenager and adult who will face unsafe situations. Refrain from calling your child shy, for example, because children will identify with the labels we assign them. Instead, describe how she’s taking her time to feel comfortable. Tell your child that she’ll know when she’s ready to jump in and that there’s no rush. This demonstrates that you trust her and that she can trust herself, too.

Challenge #7: Handling Frustration & Perfectionism

Children need to develop frustration tolerance because, as Kennedy explains, learning requires making mistakes and being okay with not knowing everything at first. Kids who have a tendency toward perfectionism need extra help with this because their self-worth is deeply tied to their achievements.

To build your child’s frustration tolerance, Kennedy suggests using the tool of confidence-building.


Kennedy says you should encourage a growth mindset. Be patient when your child gets frustrated and takes a while to figure things out, and be okay with getting frustrated when you’re doing something difficult.

Kennedy also suggests that you praise kids for what’s inside them, not the outcome. She suggests that instead of saying “good job,” you remark on how hard they worked or ask questions about the process. This centers their experience instead of the product and teaches them to look inside for validation.

Furthermore, Kennedy suggests that you reframe your role in your child’s learning: Don’t think of yourself as the teacher of the skill but as the coach showing your child how to cope with the struggle of learning.

Challenge #8: Encouraging Bodily Autonomy & Healthy Relationships With Food

According to Kennedy, bodily autonomy enables a child to say “no” when they don’t feel comfortable with something, even if the boundary makes others upset. It’s the result of a child trusting her internal cues and feeling confident in enforcing boundaries because she knows they matter. To foster your child’s developing bodily autonomy, Kennedy recommends using the tools of validation and confidence-building.

Validation & Confidence-Building

Assume that your child’s experience is true. When your child expresses discomfort, hesitation, or some other negative feeling, Kennedy urges you to believe her. Don’t tell her she’s exaggerating or being silly. Remind her that only she can determine what feels good or bad in her body. Describe what she’s feeling to help her learn how to explain it herself later on. When you’re not sure what she’s feeling or what’s triggering her discomfort, Kennedy suggests you simply say there’s something in the situation that feels bad to her.

The Boundaries of Bodily Autonomy at Mealtimes

Bodily autonomy also plays out during mealtime struggles. Kennedy explains that, as a parent, you feel responsible for nourishing your child, and you might see her refusal of Brussels sprouts as your failure to live up to that responsibility. But, your child is learning to exercise control over her body, and she sees your insistence on eating that vegetable as a threat to her bodily independence.

Kennedy suggests that you explain to your child the limits and options she has during mealtimes, according to her role. Your job as a parent is to decide what food is available to your child and when and where she can have it. Your child’s job is to decide whether she’s going to eat it and how much of it she’s going to have.

Challenge #9: Soothing Separation Anxiety & Bedtime Struggles

As we’ve seen, children are evolutionarily wired to attach to their parents because this ensures their survival. Separation anxiety—which manifests as crying, tantrumming, and other behaviors that happen when you say goodbye to your child—is a result of this wiring. Kennedy explains that when you separate from her, she’ll need to retain the sense of safety your presence gives her without having you with her. At bedtime, separation anxiety is compounded by the fact that your child needs to feel safe to fall asleep.

To deal with separation anxiety, Kennedy suggests using these three tools: 1) connection, 2) confidence-building, and 3) playfulness.


Progressively increase the distance that feels safe during bedtime. Start by sitting on your child’s bed, gently stroking her hair until she falls asleep. After a few days, move to the foot of the bed, and so on until you’ve gradually moved to the other side of her open door. Kennedy recommends that each time you’re going to move, you let her know about it that morning so she can mentally prepare.


Build a routine. Kennedy explains that knowing what to expect during this time will make it easier for your child to cope, which can help her feel more confident about facing the time away from you. Talk to your child about what the separation will look like and what you’ll say and do. When it’s time to separate, model confidence. If you project nervousness, your child will pick up on it, confirming her suspicions that it’s not safe to be away from you. Kennedy argues that if you project confidence, she’ll still be upset—but she’ll see that you’re sure that it’s okay for her to be away from you, so it must be.


Kennedy suggests that before you separate, you hug your child tight and playfully “check” her to see if her tank’s topped up with enough parental love. Hug her several times until she’s all “topped up” and then give her an extra hug so she has “extra” parental love to tide her over until your next moment together.

Challenge #10: Raising Deeply Feeling Kids

Kennedy warns that some kids—those she calls “deeply feeling” kids—might not respond well to her strategies. Some kids feel their emotions more intensely than others, and as a result have more intense reactions: their tantrums, for example, are more frequent, challenging, and easier to spark than other children’s. This is compounded by the fact that these children also notice the comparative intensity of their feelings and reactions, and they fear that they’re unloveable and that their parents won’t be able to deal with them. This fills them with shame and fear, which only serves to make their reactions harsher and make it harder for parents to find ways to approach them.

Kennedy suggests using the tools of boundaries and playfulness to deal with a child who has very intense emotions and reactions.


Kennedy argues that a child with intense emotions and reactions fears that her outbursts will be too much for others to deal with. By calmly enforcing boundaries, you’re showing her that her reactions aren’t too much for you to deal with and that you’re still able to be her caring leader and keep her safe. What if her reactions are too much for you to deal with? Take her to a safe place where she won’t hurt herself or anyone else, then let her know that you need to take some calming breaths but that you’ll stay close by and come back soon. Step away, collect yourself, and come back when you’re ready.


Get creative to explore your child’s feelings. Kennedy explains that children with intense emotions easily fall into shame when discussing their feelings because they get overwhelmed by the intensity and by the intrusion of others into their inner world. Instead of trying to get her to talk about her feelings, tell your child that she can close her eyes and even hide while you ask questions. She just needs to show you a thumbs up or down to let you know what her answers are. This will help your child slowly feel more comfortable expressing her feelings.

Exercise: Apply Kennedy’s Strategies

Kennedy’s strategies can help you navigate your child’s challenging behaviors and make positive changes in the long term.

  1. What’s one of your child’s challenging behaviors you’d like to work on? How do you usually deal with it? For example, maybe your child is often whiny and the way you’ve been dealing with it is by taking screen time away whenever they whine.
  2. Investigate the challenging behavior. What situations, emotions, or experiences usually trigger it? Is there a specific part of your child that seems to get rattled before this behavior shows up? For example, maybe your child is very extroverted and starts whining when you’re working and not giving them your undivided attention.
  3. Investigate the challenging behavior’s impact on you. What emotions come up in you when it happens? How did your parents deal with that behavior when you were little?
  4. Which one of Kennedy’s strategies could you use to deal with the challenging behavior? Remember that you should expect long-term, sustainable changes, not quick and easy fixes. So, consider what self-regulation strategies you might need to implement alongside Kennedy’s strategies.
10 Challenges Parents Face: Practical Solutions From Dr. Becky

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Here's what you'll find in our full Good Inside summary:

  • A parenting manual to help you build a positive relationship with your child
  • Why time-outs, rewards, and serious conversations don't "fix" kids
  • Strategies to deal with ten common parenting challenges

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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