It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Unexpected Ally

Nigel is saying “please”! And “thank you”! Routinely – and with a smile!

How, you may ask, did Mary achieve this, so quickly? So painlessly? So effectively?

Fact is, Mary didn’t.

Remember our 23-minute standoff? Nigel is one very smart and even more tenacious little dude. He did not, as many – most! – children would, take that experience and decide, “Hm. Mary does not cave like I expected. Perhaps this means Mary is not to be trifled with.” (Because toddlers do not hesitate to dangle their prepositions when necessary.)

Many children would have begun to take this lesson. Nigel did not. Instead, Nigel decided that his response to the struggle would be to cease speaking to me when in the high chair. At. All.

“Hey, sweetie! Want some apple?”


“My, you drank that water quickly! You must be thirsty. Want some more?”


“Malli is using blue paint. Would you like red paint, or green?”


“Everyone else is having a cookie. Want one?”


(Oh, but meantime? Meantime, is parents are all excited. “Hey, what have you done to Nigel these days? He’s suddenly morphed into Polite Boy. ‘P’eas’ and ‘gank oo’ and ‘toe-wee’ and ‘kooz me’ all over the place!”)

It is clear I am being punished. I can handle this, though. I don’t even have to get into it directly. This one is easy: no Good Thing will happen in the high chair until there are Words Spoken.

“Everyone else is having a cookie. Want one?”


“No? Okay, then, away you go and play.”

No second chances. He can stand and watch the others eat their cookies. This was a total set-up – I hardly ever give the kids sweet treats: that’s the province of their parents.

He stood and watched the others eat their cookies, but he did not whine or fuss. He took the consequences of his silence on the chin. Gotta love a kid like that, but I could see this was going to take us a while.

Enter Malli.

“Hey, Malli. Would you like some more asparagus?”

“Yes, please.”

“Oh, Malli! What Good Manners you have. You said ‘yes, please’, just like a very big girl. Good for you!” Malli gets a hug. And more asparagus, which she loves. Nigel takes all this in.

“Nigel, would you like some more eggs?” Not asparagus for Nigel. He eats those things on sufference, but scrambled eggs? Loves ’em. It pays to pick your motivation carefully.

“Eggs.” Hey! A word! A spoken word! From the boy in the high chair! But I’m not stopping yet. I may be pushing my luck, but I’m sticking to my principles here.

“Can you ask nicely, like Malli?” Big warm smile at Malli.

A slight – very slight – pause. I hold my breath. “Yes, eggs, please.”

HA! And that’s it, folks. The wall of silence had been breached, never to return.

Peer Pressure is My Friend.

© 2006, Mary P

October 5, 2006 - Posted by | food, manners, power struggle, socializing


  1. As I’m reading this, and admiring your formidable powers of psychological persuasion, I say to myself, “Who does Mary P. remind me of?” And then it hits me – it’s the Others. (Did you watch the premiere of Los last night?)

    Comment by bubandpie | October 5, 2006 | Reply

  2. Well don. Somtimes many can be better than one (only sometimes mind)!

    Next pleae can you tell me how to teach mstr A about volume control. Everything is at max volume at the moment:-( Very polite max volume, but a shouted please is still a shout!

    Comment by Juggling Mother | October 5, 2006 | Reply

  3. and peer pressure stays friendly in a lot of ways. just yesterday, some other teachers and i were talking about verbal harassment (in various forms) in the classroom. we were talking about how important it is for teachers to step in immediately and make sure the students know that their behavior is completely unacceptable and won’t be tolerated. but we’ve also seen instances where a student makes a derogatory remark and before the teacher can even remark on it, a fellow student says, “hey, that’s not cool – we don’t say things like that here.” students remember it better when they know what they’ve done isn’t acceptable to anyone, their peers included. seeing that kind of peer pressure warms my heart, it really does.

    Comment by kari | October 5, 2006 | Reply

  4. Aw. I know he was being stubborn, but I just love his dedication to his principles. And that he came around with a fit. What a good guy.

    Comment by Kristen | October 5, 2006 | Reply

  5. “Peer Pressure is My Friend” is also the motto of Japanese preschool and elementary school teachers.

    Love the Nigel stories!

    Comment by L. | October 5, 2006 | Reply

  6. Oooh, I love peer pressure. Peer pessue potty trained Pumpkinpie.

    Comment by kittenpie | October 5, 2006 | Reply

  7. What a great story. Even better that Malli became an ally despite her best intentions. 🙂

    And kittenpie, how cute: “peer pressure pottytrained pumpkinpie.” Just don’t say that three times fast!

    Comment by stefanierj | October 5, 2006 | Reply

  8. Oh my gosh, I bow to your brilliance. God, I wish I had read this before i started having kids.

    Comment by Jenorama | October 5, 2006 | Reply

  9. Peer pressure – love it! What you call motivation, I’ve been calling bribery. I think I prefer motivation. 😉

    Comment by Andie D. | October 5, 2006 | Reply

  10. Nice going. It doesn’t matter what we call it – it works.

    Comment by Granny | October 6, 2006 | Reply

  11. Bubandpie: Now that you’ve explained privately who the “Others” are, I can say…’thanks, I think’. 🙂

    JugglingMother: Volume control has to be one of the hardest behaviours to modify! There are things I try with tots, but with only partial success.

    A teacher friend of mine swears by something called a Whisperphone – an inexpensive headphone affair that’s intended to be worn while reading in class, so a child who still reads aloud can whisper the words and still hear himself in the class. The teachers in her school have particularly loud children wear them for a few days (or longer as needed). My friend says they put these things on loud 5- and 6- year-olds, and it works dramatically to quieten them – because they are, in effect, shouting in their own ears! (Now there’s justice for you.)

    Instant feedback solves the problem, she says. I tried it on Arthur, actually, but it’s designed for bigger heads, and didn’t stay in place. Would it have worked if it had? Who knows?

    Kari: Teachers have long yearned to harness the power of peer pressure. The more effective ones manage it well – but it’s an art, not a science!

    Kristen: Yes, he is a good guy. As I’ve said before, I like the feisty ones, the ones with spirit. Nigel’s spirit is very largely positive, too. Not a nasty bone in his body, far as I can make out.

    L: Now I want examples! Nigel’s getting more airtime now that he’s becoming verbal, the older kids have left, and the babies aren’t doing much other than being cute little babies. Which is cute and all, but only so much story-weaving potential there.

    Kittenpie: “Peer pressure pottytrained Pumpkinpie.” LOL Glad to hear it – though I don’t think I could say it!

    Stefanierj: Yes, I was using Malli’s good manners for my own ends. Totally. Whole-heartedly. Shamelessly.
    I’d be nuts not to! (This is why siblings can be so useful. Except, of course, when they gang up on you…)

    Jen: Gee, thanks. You’re not so devious as me, perhaps? My sweetie often says he’s glad I’m on his side, because he’d hate to have me as an enemy – he’d never know I was coming till he was lying on the floor… heh.

    AndieD: I joke about that ‘motivation-bribery’ continuum all the time. One woman’s bribery is another’s motivation? Nah! It’s ALL motivation, baby!

    Seriously, though, I think it genuinely was motivation in this instance, because he was expected to eat those scrambled eggs anyway. It wasn’t a special treat to woo the words from him. Just regular old lunch!

    Granny: Yes, it does. A lot of us perform pretty well for the ‘bribery’ of our paycheques!

    Comment by Mary P. | October 6, 2006 | Reply

  12. WOA!!! you GO, girl! i LOVE that! i tell you, the firm and friendly thing really works.

    Comment by kyra | October 6, 2006 | Reply

  13. How I wish all parents/care providers would work on manners. It doesn’t take that much time, just needs consistency.

    Comment by Mamacita Tina | October 6, 2006 | Reply

  14. Luckily you have Malli as a peer and not another toddler of the same callibre….

    Comment by Pendullum | October 6, 2006 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: