It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Rules, Principles, Empathy – and a little waffling thrown in at the end

“Leave me aloooone!” Arthur’s voice rises above the steady buzz of play.

Two little boys hover around the loveseat upon which Arthur wriggles, black purse on his lap. He scootches further back into the cushions, his whole body a wail of protest.

“Leave me aloooonnnne!” George and Darcy look at each other and crowd even closer, giggling.

Hmmm. This is bullying, and I have no tolerance for that. The boys may not be doing it consciously, but the impulse is the same, and it needs to be stopped.

“George. Darcy.” My voice is calm but forboding. They stand back a pace and look at me solemnly. “What did Arthur just say?”

“He said to leave him alone.” George offers.

“Exactly. He asked you politely to leave him alone. Please listen to Arthur.” That was the rule. Now for the principle: “If you do something that makes someone sad, you need to stop if you can. Do you have to be with Arthur?”

The boys have the grace to look chagrined. “No.” Good. Rule and principle accomplished. Now for some empathy.

“If you said ‘No’ to me, and I kept doing it, would you be happy or sad and angry?”

“Sad and angry,” offers George.

“Scared.” This is Darcy. Pretty aware for a three-year-old. Good lad.

“That’s right. So Arthur asked you to leave him alone, but you kept crowding him. Do you want to make your friend sad and angry and scared?” (All evidence indicates the answer is “Yes”, but let’s move them past that, shall we?)


“Well, then, you need to say sorry to Arthur for not listening, and then you need to go off and find something better to do with yourselves, all right?”

“Okay.” The boys offer their apologies, which in this house are accompanied by hugs. They move to play with the blocks in the next room. Arthur pops up on a spring, throws the purse to one side, charges down the hall.

“Hey, guys! Wait for me!”

April 17, 2006 - Posted by | Arthur, behavioural stuff, Darcy, George, manners, socializing


  1. Bryce does this sometimes – he demands personal space and wants to be in control, but he also doesn’t want to be left alone.

    I love the way you handled the boys…could you come teach my kids those qualities, too?

    Comment by Kristen | April 17, 2006 | Reply

  2. Outstanding lesson. I am a new reader and I am taking notes. I find my 3 year old, like Arthur, likes to be sure he can exercise control over his personal space — which he sometimes takes to be the whole house, master of his domain, if you will! These attempts to exercise control are intriguing. We are walking a fine line now between recognizing his need for independence and control and recognizing everyone elses need not to me dominated by a three year old! Just when I thought I was getting the hang of things….

    Comment by Liz | April 17, 2006 | Reply

  3. We have so many talks about personal space – same thing. Elcie especially has turned into a touch me not.

    Sometimes even the girls being in the same room is enough to set her off at which time I have to remind her of the rights of others as well.

    Teens – how many more years?

    Comment by Granny | April 17, 2006 | Reply

  4. I know that Arthur isn’t generally the quietest of kids, but maybe he just needed a little bit of quiet down time?? But he was content to have the boys in the same room, just not squishing him on the couch. I loved the way that you handled the situation- explaining to the boys using terms they understand why it wasn’t okay to squish Arthur especially once he said no.

    Comment by Angela | April 17, 2006 | Reply

  5. I heart you, MaryP!

    Comment by Candace | April 17, 2006 | Reply

  6. Yup. Every time. Girl Terror is in the habit of howling “I’m having ALONE time!” over and over, and even seeking out her brother to tell him to leave her alone. It makes me crosseyed.

    Comment by AverageMom | April 17, 2006 | Reply

  7. geez i forget about all these things.

    i need to borrow me some kids for a few days to get back in the groove of how insane it is to be a mother of a small child.

    Comment by kimmyk | April 17, 2006 | Reply

  8. I’m with Candace!

    Comment by mo-wo | April 17, 2006 | Reply

  9. Wow, you are sharp to note the presence of bully-impulse and which you have very rightly pointed out that we should stamp out the seed before it grows into something more unmanageable. 🙂

    Comment by Queen Bee | April 17, 2006 | Reply

  10. Great story (and lesson), Mary!

    May I ask you for advice? How soon is it reasonable to expect toddlers to be able to help put away their toys?

    I ask Q (13 months) to bring me a toy to put in the box, and depending on the day, he (1) understands and brings me the toy, (2) understands but wanders off anyway, or (3) doesn’t understand what I’m asking. I figure that I should continue encouraging him to pick things up . . . maybe he’ll catch on this decade?

    Fun news: just this week, he’s started using his baby signs! “More” and “all done” are the two best so far.

    Comment by Lady M | April 18, 2006 | Reply

  11. Kristen: Thank you. I’m all for personal space. Sometimes, when a child is cranky, I try setting them apart from the other kids, just to see if what I’m seeing here is a crowded kid. Everyone needs alone-time, even Arthurs.

    Liz: Hello, and welcome! I’m glad you liked this one. That struggle between the rights/needs of one and the rights/needs of others never entirely goes away. What is adolescence but a constant cry for their rights and independence? (Of course, they tend to blip right over their family members rights to the very same things, but such is the struggle!) Start standing up for yourself, and helping your children see the balance NOW, and you will struggle less later – when the stakes are so much higher.

    Granny: Yup, it’s a lifelong issue, balancing your needs against those of others, though, one prays, they get more reasonable about it as they enter adulthood!

    Angela: Could be. He could still see them from the couch, though: the “next room” is adjacent, and joined by an archway almost as wide as the room. Or he just changed his mind in the two minutes our conversation took.

    Candace, mo-wo: Thank you!

    AverageMom: Well, of course she does. Alone time isn’t nearly so fun if the other guy doesn’t know what he’s missing! Sheesh… (Makes me cross-eyed, too.)

    Kimmyk: You have two teens, do you not? I’d say you have your own brand of insanity over there. But if this makes you feel better, that’s a good thing!

    QueenBee Years of experience. The bully-impulse is part of human nature, I think, but if it’s not identified and trained out, or redirected to something more positive, it can become a big problem.

    LadyM: Thirteen months is not too soon, but I’m not surprised it’s kind of hit and miss just yet. When he complies, I’m sure you give him lots of praise, beaming smiles, maybe even a round of applause. Positive reinforcement for this kind of behaviour generally comes naturally for pround mommies! When he doesn’t understand, you can move him close to you and show him what you mean, then reward him with praise, etc.

    If he’s deliberately refusing, you put your hand over his, and “help” him do as you asked. (He may very well struggle and holler – ignore this and continue in the task.)

    When you have put the item(s) away, you give him a beaming smile and say thank you, just as if he’d done it entirely voluntarily. This has a twofold purpose: it teaches him that when you say something, he may as well do it on his own; and it teaches him that when he does as you ask, he gets lots of lovin’.

    Comment by Mary P. | April 18, 2006 | Reply

  12. Thank you, Mary!

    Comment by Lady M | April 18, 2006 | Reply

  13. ha, I love it. Leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone, hey, where you guys going?

    Comment by kittenpie | April 18, 2006 | Reply

  14. Kittenpie: Thus proving that ambivalence is not the exclusive province of the mature.

    Comment by Mary P | April 18, 2006 | Reply

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