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Brené Brown Has Basically Never Yelled at Her Kids, and Did This Instead

Oprah Magazine logo Oprah Magazine 6 days ago Samantha Vincenty
Brene Brown, Brene Brown are posing for a picture: Vulnerability researcher and 'Dare to Lead' author Brené Brown gave advice on handling tough toddlers on Russell Brand's 'Under the Skin' podcast. © Getty Images Vulnerability researcher and 'Dare to Lead' author Brené Brown gave advice on handling tough toddlers on Russell Brand's 'Under the Skin' podcast.

There's a reason Brené Brown's work has inspired millions (including Oprah and the characters in Wine Country), from her bestselling books to her famous TED talk (41 million views and counting). Her message of self-compassion is wildly popular thanks in part to her ace storytelling skills; Brown infuses her lessons with wit and funny anecdotes that often involve her own past mistakes. But what presents as homespun Texas wisdom is actually backed by hard data, the product of years of Brown's groundbreaking research on shame and vulnerability. She's earned fans' trust with both charm and cred.

Brown is also Mom to two kids, 20-year-old Ellen and 14-year-old Charlie, with Steve Alley, her husband of 25 years. When she speaks or writes about parenting, people listen. The researcher recently dropped more pearls of parenting wisdom-including the reason why she "can probably count on one hand the number of times I've raised my voice."

On a visit to comedian Russell Brand's Under the Skin podcast, Brand asked Brown for advice on how to discipline his "intense" two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. As a new mom who knows I've got some choppy waters ahead of me when my son becomes a toddler, I was all ears, too.

"Between three and six you've got real power struggle issues," Brown tells Brand, because kids are establishing their own separate sense of self. "It's appropriate for them to try different ways of being-that's their job." Her husband Steve, a pediatrician, would point out these tug-of-wars are actually a crucial developmental milestone. But it's tough to celebrate your kid asserting their tiny personhood when they're having a screaming tantrum in the freezer aisle.

Brown and her husband's winning strategy? Choice theory. They'd give their kids two options, and it led to powerful lessons about consequences.

When her son Charlie threw his peas on the floor as a toddler, Brown would say, "Charlie, you have two choices: You can leave your peas on your tray, or you can be done eating. What do you choose?" When he continued to hurl his food, her son had made his choice and dinner was over.

The key to enforcing choice theory is follow-through, which is easier said than done. 

When Brand asked how many times a parent needs to do that before their child learns the lesson, Brown says that a better question is, "how many times to you backslide before they don't believe you? You have to backslide once before they know you're full of s---."

Backsliding, Brown explains, "instills a sense of insecurity about place and self." So as tough as it can be, you're actually doing them a favor by standing your ground.

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Brown is the first to admit that she, like many parents, still struggled with anger when her young son pushed back ("it had me in the closet enraged, texting Steve, "now what the f---- do I do?"). But as the product of a volatile household, Brown vowed to keep a lid on her own anger, because "I don't know, if I go there, where I'd stop."

In the midst of a parent-toddler standoff, Brown says she'd give herself a "time out."

"It's okay to say, 'Daddy and Mommy have to walk away right now,'" If hysterics and leg-grabbing follow, Brown recommends "removing them lovingly" and then doing exactly what you said you'd do. Because so much of the kids' challenging behavior is attention-seeking, she says, they get the message that their method isn't working.

Brown tells Brand about one more "scary thing about parenting" that she learned in her research, which she considers a game-changer in her own family: As with so many relationships, it's all about establishing boundaries and sticking to them.

"Children learn boundaries from observing how you hold [boundaries]," Brown says.

Giving in, Brown realized, might teach her daughter that she, too, should consent to demands in the face of pressure later on in life. Brown uses a dark yet effective example of the future consequences she imagined whenever her daughter tested her will, which helped her to stand her ground.

When Ellen would push and say, 'I really want it, I really want it!' Fast forward to her in the back of a car: She's sixteen, she's on a date. He's saying 'I really want it, I really want it!'...I modeled and taught her to give in when it's too hard to say no."

This entails an ongoing, often-exhausting series of encounters with your kids. But when it comes to teaching children about choices and boundaries, Brown says, it's best to start as early as two years old.

Listen to Brené Brown's full conversation with Russell Brand here.

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