It’s Not All Mary Poppins

One Masterful Momma

Alice has had her hug and kiss goodbye from mummy and now sits on my knee as I kneel in the entry hall. Her mother and I exchange a few more bits of information. Alice stands, moves to go into the next room, then hesitates, changes direction, and moves to her mother, begins to hold up her arms.

“Time for you to start your day, love!” says mummy in a cheerful voice. “I’ll see you tonight!” Her smile is warm as she waves goodbye and leaves. Baby Alice turns to the next room and finds a toy. Everyone plays.

I LOVE this mother! Love her, love her, love her. You know why? Because what she did up there? That, my friends was perfect tantrum-avoiding parenting.

Did you catch what happened? It was so small, so innocuous, that you might have missed it. In fact, I’ll bet many parents would assume that the reason little Alice has so few tantrums is merely that she is the dreamed-of “easy child”. I don’t think so. Alice is a sunny child, but she’s just as capable as any toddler of having a full-throttle tantrum. Zach, another sunny one, has been having some doozies lately. So what happened?

We were in a transition. Transitions need to be handled with skill, or they become an outrage of tantrum in very short order.

Your child approaches you with their hands up. What do you do?

Alice’s mum did NOT pick her up.

Step #1: Do not pick the child up after you’ve handed them over to the caregiver. No second hugs, no extra smooches.

Ninety percent of my parents – of any parents – would, without thinking, scoop the child up. But what is your goal here? Your goal is to get out that door without tears or fussing. Your goal is to leave with your child happily waving bye-bye, or so involved in play that they barely notice your departure. If you pick that child up, you are taking several backwards steps on the out-the-door-and-on-to-work continuum. You are retreating from your goal.

If you don’t pick up that child, how do you respond to the child?

Step #2: cheerful, casual confidence.

Of the 10% who don’t pick the child up, eight of ten of them evidence distress of some sort: they apologize, they worry. “I sorry, sweetie, but daddy has to go now.” You child has emotional receptors a hundred times more sensitive than yours. They hear sorrow, they hear anxiety, and they respond by – surprise! – getting sorrowful, or fearful, rapidly followed by rage that you would leave them in such a sad and scary place.

Alice’s mother did none of these things. Her tone of voice was cheerful and matter-of-fact, her smile warm. She did not evidence either anxiety, regret, or guilt. Her tone and manner conveyed her confidence that daycare is a happy place, and that her daughter has every ability to manage this transition.

Step #3: Leave promptly. With a smile.

And finally, of the 2 in a hundred who have managed a) not to pick the child up and b) to be cheerful, one of them will hover to see if the child can manage it, thus undermining the confidence they were attempting to provide their child. “I know you can do it — but I’ll just stay here in case you can’t.”

Alice’s mum left, immediately. She did not hover to see if the child managed it. She expressed her confidence by following through. “It’s time for you to start your day now.”

Alice heard her mother’s confidence, absorbed the atmosphere of cheer, and went on with her day in a wholly natural and unfussed way. There was no tantrum. Be aware: in that critical moment of indecision, when she turned back to her mother for the second hug-and-kiss, Alice was 100% primed for a tantrum. It was there, ready and waiting to happen. There was no tantrum because Alice’s mom is one masterful momma.

Is it any surprise I love this woman?

November 23, 2005 - Posted by | Alice, parenting, power struggle, tantrums


  1. Masterful momma indeed!
    I’m still an apprentice.

    Comment by LoryKC | November 23, 2005 | Reply

  2. My lil one went to daycare for a mere 3 weeks before I quit taking her… I thought I was going to need anti-depresants to drop her off. It was horrible!! I’m sure her caregiver HATED me!! I always did the extra hugs, kisses, and tried to keep her from crying… never worked! She’s never been back to a caregiver. But, I will keep this in mind for my future children!

    Comment by Nancy | November 23, 2005 | Reply

  3. I do all of this every week when dropping LMB off at her nursery. It’s agony inside. She still screams her head off nine times out of ten:-(

    I know she likes it there – I can turn up at any time of the day & she is happily playing, laughing etc, but they tell me she can kick off for anything up to 10 mins after being left! I guess one day she’ll get over it. I hope so.

    Comment by Mrs.Aginoth | November 23, 2005 | Reply

  4. We blow kisses bye-bye if Sweet Boy is paying attention but 9 times out of 10 he’s off to play before I even have his coat hung up….. It would hurt my feelings except he does this adorable, “Mama. HI.” thing when I arrive to pick him up….. But he’s 18 months and the tantrums shouldn’t begin until he magically turns 2, right? Right?!?!?!

    Comment by Homestead | November 23, 2005 | Reply

  5. Lory: As with any skill, some are born naturals at whatever; the rest have to learn through trial and error, but we all get better with practice!!

    Nancy: Yup, you probably were a trial to your caregiver. 🙂 It’s a common enough pattern, though. A parent wants to comfort their child, of course, but what they don’t realize is that their efforts to comfort are only making it harder on their baby.

    MrsA: She doesn’t go every day, does she? It’s often much more difficult for a part-time child to make the transition. At least you have the comfort of knowing the little monkey is perfectly happy once she settles in. It’s that transition thing again.

    Homestead: It’s funny how they ebb and flow. I’ve seen kids who’ve been coming perfectly happily for months suddenly start kicking up a huge fuss, apropos of absolutely nothing, far as I can make out. Toddlers just LOVE to push your buttons, and if you give them one (anxiety at leave-taking, for example), they just go to town with it.

    As for the age thing? Hard to say when it starts. For some it’s as early as 13 or 14 months, some almost a year later. But if handled well, the negativity is often over by two and a half, (sooner if they started their negative phase early) and virtually always by three.

    A boy who blows kisses when he thinks of it sounds like a boy who’s going to give little, if any, trouble in this arena. Take all the credit for that you like!!

    Comment by Mary P. | November 23, 2005 | Reply

  6. Parents who actually believe their child can survive without them rock! They are going to raise happy, confident children.

    Comment by chosha | November 27, 2005 | Reply

  7. Chosa: I agree. So far my own, and those in the daycare, seem to be proving me right!

    Comment by Mary P. | November 27, 2005 | Reply

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