It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Let’s Make an Association – but could we make it one that works for everyone?

Coffee shop on Sunday. Young family with two-year-old boy at the next table. Two-year-old starts to act up a bit. (The worst thing about this family is not the slightly fractious tot, it is the mother, whose loud, carrying voice is impossible to tune out.)

It is two in the afternoon, prime nap hour. The tot – whose name, the entire coffee shop has come to discover, is Robbie – is, to my mind, showing the effects of fatigue. His volume, negativity, and aggressive behaviour with his parents is not extreme, but it’s rising, and totally in keeping with a tired tot.

Parent eventually twigs to this.

“Robbie, are you tired? Because you’re sure acting tired.”

Ah, good. Parent has noticed. Home to a nice comfy bed for weary Robbie! Except… Parent leans in toward child and scowls. Voice is stern.

“Robbie, if you don’t stop that, you’ll go Straight To Bed.”

Damn. I recognize this dynamic. Parent knows what the problem is, but parent wants to spend a little more time, and is trying to coax/manipulate/threaten their way to another ten minutes. Who says toddlers are the only ones who do this?

Robbie starts kicking his mother’s chair.

“Robbie. Did you hear me? You be a bad boy, you’re getting a nap.”

All right. Let us pause in this happy scenario, and consider the dynamic. Child is tired and needs a nap. Parents are enjoying their coffee and want to stay. Child begins to misbehave because of weariness. Parent attempts to rein in the rising negativity — by using as a punishment the very thing the child most needs!

You know, I’ll bet he puts up a heck of a fight when naptime arrives. Why shouldn’t he? He knows it’s the punishment for ‘bad boys’. Not only is this particular nap being unnecessarily postponed, but parents are ensuring that every nap be resisted and resented. This is known to parenting experts as “shooting yourself in the foot”.

Contrast this with a similar scenario in a different coffee shop the week before. Weary, fractious tot, mild but increasing misbehaviour. Parent turns to tot, smiles and says,

“Looks like we have a tired boy. How about we go home for a nice nap?”

Child protests a bit. He’s two, he’s tired – of course he’s going to protest. At this point, he’d probably protest if you offered him a cookie. Parent doesn’t blink, just smiles with greater affection as they poke the child’s arm into his coat sleeve.

“I know, you like being out. We’ll go home, have that nap, and then you’ll feel so good. What will we do after your nap?”

And out they go, planning the wonderful things that can happen when you’re rested and refreshed.

This was terrific. There wasn’t opportunity to say anything to this family, though I did send them a smile. The child was fragile enough that if I’d interrupted them to comment, he might well have escalated into a true tantrum. What did I want to say? I wanted to congratulate them on how well they handled the Nap Issue. Nap is not a punishment, it’s a positive thing, something that makes us feel better! The parent didn’t enter into the child’s negativity by threatening or scolding, but observed and diagnosed — then acted on the diagnosis promptly.

It was lovely to behold. When we talk about naps at Marys house, they’re always “nice naps”, or “lovely naps”. Always. When this second family left, their child was drooping a little forlorn against daddy’s shoulder, but he was calm. With a couple hours’ snooze in him, he’ll be bouncing and happy again, and everyone – maybe even the little boy – knows it!

And poor tired Robbie? When he left the coffee shop yesterday, he was on his way to get Greg from the arena, pick up a treat at the grocery store, and then go see Nana!

Poor Nana.

Poor Robbie.

February 12, 2007 - Posted by | outings, parenting, sleep


  1. Love this post! How true, how true. Yes, we parents have the power to set up naps as a positive or a negative. I hope to make it positive for my kiddos! Thanks, Mary for reminding me.

    Comment by mamacita tina | February 12, 2007 | Reply

  2. Yeah, what a contrast! Yay for “lovely naps!” As soon as my toddler settles into her nice nap, I think it’ll be time for one for Mommy today!

    Comment by Ms. Huis Herself | February 12, 2007 | Reply

  3. oh naps I remember those, my five year old doesnt have them any more, if he ever drops off after school on the sofa, every minute is worth an hour later on, I let him sleep over teatime once and he was awake till 1am, quite happy, sat in his bed reading to himself but 1AM!!!

    Comment by jenny uk | February 12, 2007 | Reply

  4. It’s not like the other mother has a frigging clue…

    Comment by drmike | February 12, 2007 | Reply

  5. Ooh, naps ARE lovely! Lately it’s only happening about 50% of the time of weekends, but we always have a nice quiet rest time even if there is no sleep – a few books and a white noise maker and a dim-ish room, a cup of water, blankets, and her trusty doggiebaby. We also have a short storytime first, to set the mood for sleep. I’m all for naps!

    Comment by kittenpie | February 12, 2007 | Reply

  6. I dread days (usual weekends) when I know we have to squeeze the daytime nap into two powernaps in the car due to family commitments. Hubby takes the “he’ll be all right” approach, but it stresses me out to see the toddler being out of sorts because he’s overstimulated. And then I’m supposed to deal with the tantrums!

    Comment by Kat | February 12, 2007 | Reply

  7. I have made a point to never threaten sleep when my son is being naughty. And naps, they are lovely…I only wish I got more of them!

    Comment by Redhead Mommy | February 12, 2007 | Reply

  8. Mamacita Tina: It’s an easy mistake to make though! You just want that extra few minutes, and you know you can probably squeeze a teeny bit of cooperation from them with this threat – but how counter-productive!

    Ms. Huis: I can’t think of the number of times I’ve stared in bemusment at an obviously weary child fighting a nap with all her might, while I’m thinking “I’d KILL for a nap right now…”

    Jenny: Your boy has stamina! Even with a nap, I can’t stay up that late!

    DrMike: As I said to the first commenter, it’s an easy mistake to make. Both parents were with the tot, so I don’t think it all comes down to the mother.

    Kittenpie: I also use quiet time for a few months after naps have been outgrown. It’s a useful transition – both for the child, who may still need that down time even when they don’t need an actual nap – and for the parent, who definitely needs the down time!

    Kat: Both days, every weekend? Could you perhaps arrange things so that he gets one good nap over the weekend? (Or, failing that, arrange that mum gets to be away for three hours or so late Sunday afternoon and past the tot’s bedtime?? If dad’s so confident that ‘he’ll be all right’, then it should be just fine, right??)

    Redhead Mommy: Naps ARE lovely. Why don’t the kids see it that way???

    Comment by MaryP | February 13, 2007 | Reply

  9. tsk- tsk on Robbie’s parents! Talk about shooting themselves in the foot, why not shoot themselves in the head?! Maybe THAT’LL clue ’em in. Duh!

    Comment by Mama's Moon | February 13, 2007 | Reply

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