Q: I am having a really hard time with my 6-year-old daughter. She’s glued to my side and wants to be with me wherever I go. She doesn’t want me to leave her at bedtime now either. Being the youngest (she has two older siblings), she seems to thrive on being the “baby” and wants me to do everything for her.

I have to admit, I have spoiled her and catered to her every need, which I’ve loved doing until now. This year has been tough on me and my two older kids — I can’t get any space for myself and I can’t ever get any time with my other kids, who also want some attention.

A: Consider what your daughter’s behavior is telling you. This has served a purpose for both of you, until now. She could be sensing you’re pulling away, expecting her to be transitioning into a more independent stage.

Given that you want to create more space for yourself, it makes sense to do this by first connecting with her. Validate her feelings by letting her know you understand how much she likes being the baby and how important it is for her to stay close to you. Then dig deeper, for she may have some fears or anxieties under the surface that keep her needing to stay “glued” to you. When you empathize with her feelings and perspective, she will feel heard and understood, hopefully sharing more about any possible insecurities.

Let her know you will always be close to each other, with special time to cuddle and talk, AND that her siblings also need to have some time with you. Acknowledge you understand it’s hard for her to share the time with them. This brings connection and supports problem-solving: “Let’s figure out how we can make this work better. We both want special time together; I also want some time with your brother and sister, and I need some time just for myself.”

She may not like what you’re saying, and that’s her right. You can still fully accept her ambivalence, fear, insecurity or sadness without agreeing with how she expresses those emotions. As long as her feelings are validated, she will feel heard, and can begin mastering ways to be more independent.

Q: My ex-wife is impossible to get along with. Every time I pick my kids up, she starts an argument, which ruins the first part of my parenting time. My kids are upset and I feel really angry. I think she’s still mad about the divorce and can’t let go. Can you offer any advice on how to deal with her?

A: Whatever the reason for the arguments, you don’t have control over your ex-wife’s behavior; however, you are responsible for how you respond. Children should never be caught in the middle of their parents’ post-divorce battles, nor should they have to witness hostility during parenting transitions. They become the casualties, feeling hurt, sad, angry with their parents’ fighting. They worry about each of you, at a time when they should not have to assume that responsibility, witnessing both their parents still struggling. It’s confusing and distressing for them, preventing them from having a stress-free childhood.

My suggestion is for you and your ex-wife to meet in a neutral place, where you can address how to communicate in a mutually respectful and effective way. If meeting alone isn’t realistic, consider getting some co-parenting consulting/coaching to improve communication and gain more effective tools for behaving in the best interests of your children. It’s not fair to children when parents sustain their hostility beyond the breakup of the family.

Seeking the help of a third party to facilitate progress might be the best course of action. However, if that’s not possible, think about how you can change your own communication. If she “starts an argument,” try simply saying quietly to her: “I know this is important to you. I’m willing to make time to hear your concerns when the children are not around. Let’s agree on a good time to talk about this.” This helps reduce the contention. It’s important that she feel acknowledged, heard, respected. Although, from what you’ve said, her approach isn’t helpful, your job is to work on defusing your own triggers, disengaging when she’s angry or aggressive. Just breathe, pause, don’t react. Let her know discussion of any important issues needs to be deferred to a time when your children are not present.

Q: I had a recent parenting consult with you. I know you helped with how to use connective communication, trying to speak to my kids better and listen to their feelings. It would help me to reinforce what you said about using “and” instead of “but” and I’m sure it would also help other parents. Could you go over that again in your column? Thanks.

A: We hear BUT more than enough times. It seems we’re unaware of how that emotionally “erases” connection. It provides a superficial acceptance of what’s being said. Ex: “I get you’re really mad, BUT I’m sure she didn’t mean it that way.” Or, “You’re sad your friend can’t come over, BUT tomorrow is a new day.” Or, “Yes, you are doing better in school, BUT your grades still need a lot of improvement.”

The usual “Yes, but” undermines connection, erasing the initial acknowledgment. This conveys “I know best” or “your feelings aren’t important.” That three-letter word, BUT, delivers a powerful impact. It’s part of our vocabulary, integral to our usual communication. “Those pants look good, BUT I prefer the gray ones.” So are “those pants” something we really don’t like? Probably there’s no intentional dishonesty. “Those pants” will pass, although they’re just not the right ones.

We want to connect to our children, with this type of communication like a foreign language, requiring considerable practice. It demands our full attention, to stop what we’re doing. When we’re triggered, it’s impossible to disengage, blocking connection. When our child is having a problem and we are unable to step back, we can say something like: “I understand this is hard for you, and I want to give you my full attention. I need to come back to this in a few minutes.” Using “AND” reinforces connection. An example of how BUT sometimes negates emotional connection: “I get how disappointed you are, BUT you can’t speak to her that way.” We’re focused on how someone else is being spoken to instead of hearing our child’s disappointment, blaming her for doing it wrong. Try instead: “I get how disappointed you are and you really wanted to let her know that.” Then provide some space in which she can decide when and how she might want to brainstorm some alternatives.

Sharing something about ourselves can illustrate we truly empathize: “I hate cleaning my room too. It’s always the last thing I want to do!” Try offering something in fantasy that isn’t possible in reality: “Wouldn’t it be cool if someone magically did the work while you’re sleeping!” This communicates we hear, understand, and unconditionally accept the emotions behind the resistance, without adding “but” to the end of that statement, which changes everything: “BUT there is no one to magically do the work and you need to get going with your room!” The difference is all about connection.

Please send me your questions.