The Daily Groove

Beyond Right and Wrong

Children are born knowing that feeling good is more important than being "right." They know their emotions are their Inner Guidance, and they trust it.

So why do they sometimes rebel and seem to care more about being right? One possibility is that you may be telling them something that contradicts their Inner Guidance.

For example, if you say "It's time to go," while their Inner Guidance tells them to stay, they know you are talking crazy talk!

If you say "You shouldn't touch that," while their instinct is to explore, one of you is lying... and it's not them!

You can end conflict and transcend right/wrong thinking by tuning in to your Inner Guidance. Give it some time... The heart is slower than the head, but it's wiser, too.

If you go deep enough, you'll find the place where your Guidance and their Guidance overlap — the common ground where everyday miracles are born.


I'm so confused about this topic when it comes to safety issues. How do you encourage them to 'not do' something that is potentially dangerous to them? Such as: running towards/into the street; touching the stove; reaching for things in a pool; climbing out a 2-story window and onto the roof...!

I do trust and belief that my Inner Guidance has answers for me/us, but the above examples are all real - and I feel as though I can't wait for my heart to catch up with my toddlers actions!

Re: Confused

Your confusion began when you were your child's age and your parents, teachers, and other well-meaning people taught you that Inner Guidance is untrustworthy. So naturally you won't have faith in your child's Inner Guidance, either. And since you've probably over-relied on external guidance (as most of us do) since before your child was born, that mistrust is somewhat justified. In other words, when you and your child are disconnected from Inner Guidance for a long time, you become dependent on external guidance.

So, you need to give yourself some time to re-familiarize yourself with Inner Guidance, and then you'll know when you can trust your child to follow his or her own Guidance and when you can "trust your mistrust," so to speak. Meantime, err on the side of safety and use mildly unsafe situations (where the worst that could happen is minor "owwies") to practice expanding your trust.

And when you do override your child's impulses, be as centered and matter-of-fact as you can be, rather than getting all excited about the danger and amplifying your fear. That's the kind of interaction that confuses children, because after a while they can't tell the difference between their natural fears (Inner Guidance) and the fears put on them by others (external guidance that they've internalized).

Many of my Daily Groove writings are about different ways to connect with Inner Guidance more clearly, so there's a lot for you to explore here.

Re: Beyond Right and Wrong

This is the part of this article that was confusing to me:
If you say "You shouldn't touch that," while their instinct is to explore, one of you is lying... and it's not them!

When I tell my child that they shouldn't touch the space heater because its hot & could burn them; I'm not lying! That's absolutely truthful, they just don't KNOW that information yet. Because someone is ignorant of a fact doesn't make the fact less truthful. They haven't encountered that particular item in their short life yet, and it is my job to educate, guide, & protect them. And in that instance, acting quickly (i.e. following my head) when my 1 yr old reaches out unknowingly for something that could permanently scar him, is the ONLY way to go. There really is no inner guidence in me saying it would be okay to let him touch the heater...

Re: Beyond Right and Wrong

When I tell my child that they shouldn't touch the space heater because its hot & could burn them; I'm not lying!

I think you've missed my point, which is admittedly not very obvious... When you prohibit your child from touching the space heater, you are overriding his Inner Guidance with external guidance. The child's impulse to explore the properties of the heater feels true to him — it IS his truth. Your prohibition of his exploration may protect his fingers, but it would also leave him in a bind which, if he could verbalize it, might go, "I must explore, but I must also stay aligned with my mother who says I shouldn't explore... I can't win!"

A good question to ask yourself regularly would be, "Are there more than two ways to respond to this?" Either/Or thinking severely and unnecessarily limits your options. In truth there are more choices than either ignoring his peril or setting a limit.

One of the best things you could do would be to say, "Yes, we can explore the heater together." Then you could let him see how you approach the heater cautiously, how you sense the temperature with your hand without touching, or you tap it to test the temperature instead of grabbing it, and how you respond to the sensation of heat and say "hh- hh- hot!" Then you can let him try, and you'll be right there to protect him if needed.

If the heater is so hot that it could cause severe burning and disfigurement, I suggest you remove it from his environment altogether, or place it out of reach. But a minor (first degree) burn is not the end of the world, and it could be a valuable (if painful) learning experience.

In dangerous situations where there's no time to be creative, you can take immediate action to protect him, regroup (get centered), and then follow through in a more creative/partnership way, as in the example above. At no point in the process do you need to tell him that it's "wrong" to touch heaters. Once he understands the properties of heaters, he will be guided from within not to touch them except with extreme caution.

Re: Beyond Right and Wrong

Hi, Scott.
I have a 22 month old daughter named Annalise Joy.
Ever since she was about 8 or 9 months old, if she grabbed something she shouldn't have, I would stick out my own hand and say, "Give me that, please." She respectfully gave it to me, and I would respectfully tell her "Thank you!"
Today, she says please and thank you like a champ. Respect begets respect. I think my way was so much easier than snatching something away.

With regards to "Time to go."
What if you are having fun somewhere, and they are about to close? I've never had this problem with my daughter, (We go places early, I guess), but I work weekends at the children's museum and I always feel bad when we close, and kids don't want to leave.

* * *

My daughter tasted hot food a couple times in the past and spit it out. She now understands whenever she sees smoke coming out of something that it's "hot". (She'll even say, "hot"), and wait until it cools to eat it. They learn from experience more than from you telling them things. As far as going into the street, I don't really think you should be near any kind of busy street with a toddler in the first place. Personally, I avoid it.

Re: Beyond Right and Wrong

What if you are having fun somewhere, and they are about to close?

I said the phrase "it's time to go" is crazy talk to a child because children don't assign arbitrary meanings to times — especially when the arbitrary meanings contradict their felt, in-the-moment experiences. In their experience, it's NOT time to go, it's time to play! And it will continue being time to play until they feel like going.

I'm not saying you should never go unless the child feels like going, but I am saying that the phrase "it's time to go" often subtly invalidates the child's own truth.

Actually, the problem isn't with those words, it's the tendency of adults to assign power to the abstract notion of time rather than taking responsibility for their choices. If you use the phrase "it's time to go" as a shorthand for "I made an agreement to go at this time, I feel good about keeping my agreement, and I know that you (my child) are capable of handling this transition..." THEN your child won't think you're crazy. But she still might let you know that she'd rather stay and play. :)

Re: Beyond Right and Wrong

I admit, when the museum is closing, I tell children, "It's time to go!" but I say it really cheerfully.
I never thought about it as being a negative thing, because to be honest with you, the majority of moms taking their children to the museum will be outright threatening and demeaning when telling their kids to go.
Maybe, "The museum's closed, we can come back tomorrow" is better...