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The Power of Discord in the Development of Resilience

Discord is built into the human experience and is hardwired into our children’s development.

This ongoing parental dance of attunement and misattunement, meeting our child’s needs and denying some wants, offers many opportunities for developing resilience throughout development.

Whenever we offer the following, we invite discord, dis-equilibrium, disturbance, and dissatisfaction into our relationship with our children.

  • Choose a need over a want.
  • Choose a cuddle of reassurance instead of feeding or taking them into bed with us every time they wake in the night.
  • Choose what is in the family’s best interest over the child’s desires.
  • Every time we say not now – tomorrow after breakfast.
  • Every time we respond rather than fix.
  • Every time we hold a boundary or set a limit.

Parent/child discord and harmony happen throughout our child’s almost two decades of living in our home. The child experiences powerful feelings of discord, disequilibrium, dissonance, or disconnection. 

Home is the safest, most loving environment we will ever offer our children.

In the home, our children learn that their needs fit into a larger system and that there is a hierarchy. As parents, we provide safety, security, care, and feeding. We do this in the following ways: we irritate, disappoint, and frustrate our children. Since this is a relentless part of parenting, RIE encourages parents to let the environment (gates, cribs, safe and contained play space) do some of the work. As children meet these limits over time, they develop a healthy relationship with disappointment. This is an excellent preparation for real life. 

  • We provide order and stability over the chaos and entropy that is the hallmark of rapid and dynamic development in the early years. Somewhere in toddlerhood, we want to start titrating the good and bad news that grownups are in charge. Then, the day’s routine grounds the child in knowing what is happening next and what is expected. This fosters safety and security in the physical and emotional environment. 
  • Discerning need vs. want for the child. It takes almost two decades to learn the difference between a need and a want, and some adults never learn this. Knowing the difference is a quality of resilience. When we choose the overall need for family well-being, such as – everyone getting to sleep all night in this home – the child can have an opinion. This opinion can be respected. We can’t make them sleep. However, we can offer the optimal environment for rest to happen, and they get to participate in sculpting and attending to this environment. This goes a long way in reassuring the child that he is capable, competent, safe, and secure. 
  • Boundaries and loving limits. It takes years to embody both the physical and emotional boundaries we manage in our homes, from the crib to the gate at the stairs and the firm – here, hit this. Gentle with your sister. Embodied boundaries are essential to resilience. It is the deep knowing that boundaries keep me safe AND offer me freedom at the same time. Boundaries enable me to understand the difference between being safe and feeling safe and that these are two different realities. A child who knows the difference understands when they are being emotionally or intellectually challenged or when they need to walk away from an interaction. They take responsibility for themselves and don’t blame their condition on others, as if society’s job is to make them feel safe. Children with embodied boundaries will not be a target of abuse. They will not be susceptible to bullying. And they will choose healthy relationships with peers and partners. 

These learning moments, starting in infancy, are not traumatic. Missed timing and out-of-synch moments with our beloveds are not abandonment. Stepping away from the discord now and again in favor of self-preservation is healthy if we state what we are doing and where we are going and reassure the child we will be back. This is the opposite of neglect – as long as we initiate repair. It is a loving act to protect our loved ones from saying or doing something we might regret. This is modeling respect for them and self-respect through self-regulation. Sometimes, we do it skillfully, and sometimes, not so much. I have yet to meet a family that has not had a blow-up, a storm out, or a bad scene of an unbridled emotional outburst. This, too, calls for repair. These moments are part of the care and feeding of our intimate family relationships. This is part of the beauty and the mess of the family. This prepares our children to live among others, in dormitories, in shared houses with peers, in shared homes with partners and spouses, and eventually their own families. 

We tend to the relational field whenever we are attuned to the child’s needs. Our child learns to care for the self by watching us when we engage in self-care. We are sending a message in the loving hold of the home that although most of the time I have your back, sometimes you have to have your own back. This is a both/and proposition. We get it right, and we miss it. Then we come back together and get it good enough. In turn, our children will learn to have reasonable expectations of others.

The ongoing repair is not only in our relational interactions but also in the holding environment of the home.

When we hold a child, this is not just a physical event. We also hold the changing emotional states and reflect to the child that all of these are okay to experience in the safe and loving hold of the relational field.

  • frustration
  • disappointment
  • irritation
  • anger
  • sadness
  • loss
  • grief
  • fear
  • insecurity

What do we do with this swirl of human emotion that, in reality, we would rather not feel?

We do the hardest thing I have ever asked of myself and the hardest thing I ask parents to do.

We self-regulate to the best of our ability. Practice makes progress, and we never have to become perfect or even excellent at it. I am a living example of good enough. My children will be the first to tell you that truth. And I will be honest: they are both better at struggle, disappointment, and boundaries than I am. We set the intention to hold a more substantial container for the child and become their emotional anchor. Our body, our presence reflects to the child – I can handle your storm. 

We use every tool that continues to deepen the bond.

  • Touch.
  • Soothing voice.
  • Singing.
  • Hold if the child wants to be held.
  • Stay near in silence if the child pushes us away.

We manage the feelings that arise around our helplessness and ineffectiveness. We try not to take it personally, and sometimes we fail. We try not to get irritated when we do all of this well, and they still insist on collapsing into a puddle of tears as they kick and scream for something they cannot have.  Sometimes, we get authentically irritated and frustrated in the face of their behavior, and that is OK, too. The child also learns from our impatience because in reality – that is precisely how the world will respond to that behavior if it continues outside of the home.  So they might as well see the truth in the safest place they will ever be. In our home.  The place where they will start to build the self and the ego. We want ego development to be as integrated as possible. A strong sense of self includes the understanding that we all have likes and dislikes and both positive and negative personality traits of being human.

Infant Self Soothing – They are not as fragile as you think!


The Power of Discord: why the ups and downs of relationships are the secret to building intimacy, resilience, and trust

How can we create more meaningful and intimate connections with our loved ones? By using moments of discord to strengthen our relationships, explains this original, deeply researched book.

You might think that perfect harmony is the defining characteristic of a good relationship, but the truth is that human interactions are messy, complicated, and confusing.

The good news, however, is that we are wired to deal with this from birth ― and even to grow from it…”

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