It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Hugs are Contagious

There has been an altercation, and Zach is crying. Darcy stands to one side, looking very guilty. Even had I not seen what had happened, the evidence is clear. Nonetheless, I play dumb in an attempt to coax Darcy, normally a very gentle and taciturn soul, to understand and express what has just happened. I draw the sniffling Zach onto my knee and put one arm around Zach.

Darcy was the aggressor, though, so I’m not about to give him the first and best attention. I speak to Zach, but of course Darcy is really the intended audience.

“I bet that hurt, didn’t it, Zach?”

“Yeah,” a self-pitying whimper.

“It’s not nice when you get hit. Do you want me to kiss it better?”

“Yeah,” a little perkier now.

“Feel better?” He nods. “Darcy is a big boy. Soon Darcy will remember to use his words when he’s upset.”

Then I turn to Darcy.

“Were you upset with Zach?”

“Yes. He sat onna rocking chair, and that was my chair.”

“You wanted him to move?”

“Yes, and he didn’t move!”

“Did you ask him to move?”

“Yes, but he wouldn’t.”

“So then what did you do?”

Long pause. He looks down at the floor, he looks up to the level of my chin. “I hitted him.”

“You hit him. Was that the best thing to do?”


“What else can you do when you are upset and someone doesn’t listen to you?” (All right, so maybe Zach doesn’t have to vacate the chair just because Darcy demands it of him, but we’re looking at it from Darcy’s perspective just yet.) This is not the first time Darcy has participated in, or overheard, such a conversation, so he doesn’t have to be prompted for the response.

“I can talk to you.”

“That’s right. You can come get me for help. That would be a good thing to do.”

Time to wrap up. Zach is ready to move on, and Darcy has walked through the process with me. I smile warmly at the two of them, snuggled within my arms. “Okay, Darcy. I think Zach is feeling better now. Now tell me, what are hands for?”


“That’s right. Hands are for hugging. Much better than hitting!”

“I can hug Zach.”

“What a good idea!” Darcy wraps his arms round Zach, and they share a smiling hug. I give Darcy a hug, and then he trots off to play.

Zach is unwilling to give up such a good thing. “I hug Arthur now?” he asks, the first time he’s spoken since he was walloped.

“Sure, if you like.”

They hug and laugh into each other’s faces. Arthur looks down at Zach, playing the kindly big brother to the hilt.

“Did that make you happy, Zach?”


April 18, 2006 - Posted by | aggression, Arthur, Darcy, Developmental stuff, manners, parenting, socializing, Zach


  1. Hmm, peaceful conflict resolution. Very effective! Again, I’m begging you to come to my house. You could totally whip my kids into shape. 😉

    Comment by Kristen | April 18, 2006 | Reply

  2. Hands are for hugging. Good (just don’t try it in the USA public schools).

    Comment by Granny | April 18, 2006 | Reply

  3. Hands are for hugging. Love it. We don’t have a hitting problem so much as a tackling problem, but I think this might work. My past approach has been to tell him he can’t tackle anyone unless they’re wearing football pads — which prompted him to share with his brother a play pair of shoulder pads he has.

    Comment by Liz | April 18, 2006 | Reply

  4. Mary P = distributor of sage advice. Why you don’t have your own reality show is beyond me. Yo, internets–can I get an amen on that one?

    Comment by stefanierj | April 18, 2006 | Reply

  5. amen indeed. Dr. Phil, my ass. We want Mary!

    It was so nice that the first thing that happened on grumpy pumpkinpie’s way in the daycare door this morning was a hug from another kid. She took it so nicely.

    Our problem around here is she likes to smack so she can say sorry and give kisses. We don’t seem to have quite got through to her that she can have kisses and hugs WITHOUT the smacking! But somehow it seems wrong to withold affection as punishment for the smack too… sigh. Over a barrel again. Ideas?

    Comment by kittenpie | April 18, 2006 | Reply

  6. Awwww! I’ll have to remember that line “Hands are for hugging, not hitting”. In our house, pushing is more of a problem. That way you can always say “But he just falled over!”

    Comment by AverageMom | April 18, 2006 | Reply

  7. I have had this same conversation soooooo many times!

    the problem is, they don’t seem to remember it the next time they want something the other one has:-(

    And of course Mstr a doesn’t relate not hitting LMB when he wats the car she is holding to not hitting LMB when he wants the drum she is holding, or not hitting LMD when she is on the chair he wants to sit in, so each situation needs the same conversation! We have an awful lot of toys. It gets exhausting. i have no idea how you keep doing it year in year out mary:-)

    Comment by Mrs.Aginoth | April 19, 2006 | Reply

  8. Kristen: We could maybe arrange that. Do you live somewhere warm, exotic? Could I come in, say, February? I’d probably need two, three weeks…

    Granny: We read about that up here. I remember being warned against contact as a young teacher, but we don’t see lawsuits and expulsions of six-year-olds up here. It’s a bizarre phenomonon.

    Liz: That sounds like a reasonable solution to me. If lil brother is wearing the pads, we can play tackle, otherwise, not. As long as little brother knows this is the consequence of putting the pads on! My theory is that rough-and-tumble is a perfectly valid form of play – as long as they don’t expect copious comfort for the inevitable bumps!

    stefanierj: Why, thank you. You mean I could gain my fame and fortune from these humble beginnings? The American dream – ‘cept I’m Canadian…

    Kittenpie: “Withholding affection” is such a loaded term, and, in this instance, inappropriately applied. If you husband insulted you then expected some affection, you would feel no hesitation in telling him, “After what you just said, I don’t feel very affectionate right now.” And you’d work it out from there.

    The other party is younger, but the principle is still valid. If she hits you, deliberately, you may certainly say, “When you hit you, I don’t much feel like hugging you. In fact, I am angry right now.” Then you turn your back on her for a couple of minutes.

    In a couple of minutes, you give her that hug, and reinforce the lesson. “That’s better. I like to hug you now. When you hit me, I don’t feel like hugging you.”

    Otherwise, you’re teaching her that no matter what her behaviour, other people are obliged to be kind to her. You are also teaching her that her behaviour has no influence over others’ reactions to her. Both these notions are false. They are poor life lessons, if you want to raise a loving, empathic (empathetic?) child.

    AverageMom: “He just falled over!”, huh? And that fall wasn’t assisted in any way by those two hands of yours?? They’re all budding lawyers, I tell you, arguing abstruse points of law and procedure…

    MrsA: Ah, but I don’t have to do it year in and year out, you see. Through no fault of his own, your young man has more than usual difficulties making that kind of generalistion.

    As the girls get older, you’ll find that you can say “No hitting”, and they’ll soon realise it applies no matter what the provocation. Which is not to say, tots being the impulsive beings they are, you won’t have to repeat yourself (!!), but not like with Mstr A.

    Comment by Mary P. | April 19, 2006 | Reply

  9. the year in year out thing still applies though, because once you’ve succeeded in teaching Darcy, Zach & Arthur how to e exemplary, loving & empathic children, they’ll bugger off to school & you’ll get a whole bunch of newbies to start all over with:-)

    At least when Mstr A has finally exhusted all possible taking toy scenario’s I’ll be done. Won’t I?

    Comment by Mrs.Aginoth | April 19, 2006 | Reply

  10. Thanks, Mary. I’ve been wrestling with that, because I don’t feel that my telling her that it hurts and I don’t like it and it makes me angry and she needs to apologize to make me feel better was truly enough, when she is hugging me and kissing the spot she smacked at the same time! Crazy kid.

    Comment by kittenpie | April 19, 2006 | Reply

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