Don’t Pick Up the Gauntlet!

When we react emotionally to our kids’ behavior, we create unnecessary drama in our lives.


In Hal Runkel’s book, ScreamFree Parenting, he warns us not to pick up the gauntlets our kids throw down at our feet.


A “gauntlet” was a glove worn by knights in medieval times. When one knight threw his gauntlet down, it signified an invitation to a duel. If the other knight picked it up, he indicated that he accepted the challenge.




Our kids invite us into conflict all the time, but that doesn’t mean we need to accept.


It’s not that your kids want to fight with you. They want to make sure they can trust you. They try again and again in many different ways to validate this trust. They ask themselves, “If I lose it, will Mom lose it, too? If she does, then who will be in control?” and “If no one is in control, then how can I feel safe?”


Here’s an example of a gauntlet: Years ago, when Dalia was three, she told me she wanted to take gymnastics class like her big sister, Marissa. Like many kids, both of my girls changed their minds about such things…oh, every five minutes or so. For that reason, I made sure Dalia took a trial class.


She loved it!  She jumped on the trampoline, did somersaults, walked on the balance beam, and came out of the class smiling and talking about all the fun she had had. When she told me that she wanted me to sign her up for the class, we agreed that she would take eight classes, after which she could decide whether or not she wanted to continue.


The next week, in a whimper, Dalia said:  “Mommy!  I don’t want to go to gymnastics!”


A gauntlet! Did I pick it up? No way!


I could have very easily, though. I could have said, “WHAT?! Are you kidding me? We talked about this already! You love gymnastics! Remember last week how much fun you had? I already paid for eight classes and you’re going whether you like it or not!”


Instead, I took a deep breath. I calmly reminded her that she agreed to take the eight classes. Then, in a matter-of-fact, but positive tone, I reviewed all the things she did the week before. I could see the wheels spinning in her mind as she quietly recalled her experiences. By the time we arrived at the gym, she was again excited and ready to play.


Dalia learned in that moment that she could trust me to follow through with our agreement and that no amount of her whining would change that. She also learned that I was not going to allow her to call the shots whenever she felt like it.


Sounds simple, right? It’s not. It can be very tempting to pick up the gauntlet and run with it. It can also feel very natural to become angry and want to react by ignoring, shaming, or yelling.


But with practice, letting the gauntlet just lie there on the floor while you remain calm and connected to your child becomes easier and easier.


What types of situations make you the most reactive?  What is your typical way of getting reactive? Have you ever resisted the temptation to pick up the gauntlet? What happened? Please join the discussion and leave a comment below.


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Showing 5 comments
  • Michael

    Once again you don’t come across as The Wicked Witch of the West…

  • Sharon

    That’s it! Keep cool and either be matter-of-fact or change the subject. It always worked for me! Sometimes I wish my kids were that small again… ♥♫ ♥ ♥♫♫ ♪

  • Gayla

    I love it! You’re right on. And I really like your two little hearts, they fit right in!
    Love, Aunt Gayla

  • Stephanie Howard

    Hooray for Pam & Dalia! I’ve also noticed that if you pick up the gauntlet and have a conversation that keeps re-hashing the issue, the child will get more & more upset. But suggesting an alternate activity helps re-focus their attention. Like if you can’t go to the park because it’s raining, and you meet with resistance about that, instead of continuing to argue about the park and the rain, suggest other things to do like baking, watching a movie, playing a board game, etc. From my experience as an aunt, godmother, and kids’ photographer, offering choices like this is helpful. It’s probably also to my advantage in those situations that I’m not a parent, because it doesn’t trigger the same reactivity in me!

    • Pam Howard

      That’s true, Stephanie. Also, kids tend to test the adults they need the most (primary caregivers) in different ways than they may test the other adults in their lives. That’s why my girls are little angels at school and then “let it all out” as soon as they see me!

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