It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Power Struggle with Subtitles

“Okay, guys! Naptime!” Timmy, Anna, Emily, Nigel. Each receives their kiss and hug, and lies down to snuggle under their quilts in their separate rooms. Malli, old enough that she doesn’t nap every day, sleeps on a low cot in the kitchen. As I enter the room, she is standing by her cot.

Hm. This could mean trouble. Let’s see…

“Hey there, sweetie. Let’s get you into that bed.”

“I no have a nap.”

Not necessary a problem. She only naps some days; this may not be defiance, but merely clarifying the expectations.

“That’s right. You don’t have to sleep. You can just have a quiet time instead. Lie down, please.”

“I no lie down.”

Ah. Outright rebellion. First response: Pretend it’s not happening and proceed. This works a surprising amount of the time. Smile warmly.

“Here’s a stuffed toy, and a book. Lie down, lovie.”

Say it like you just matter-of-fact-ly expect this thing to happen. Most natural thing in the world.

“I no lie down.”

Okay. That didn’t work. Time for the direct approach. Take some of that warmth out of the smile. Show something a little sterner, speak slowly and with emphasis, display the iron in my soul.

“Malli, it’s naptime. You don’t have to sleep, but you will lie down. You have a toy and a book. It’s time to rest now.”

No coaxing. Just repeat the expectation. Firmly.

Malli draws herself up to her full almost-a-metre. Her brown eyes are slightly narrowed, stern and unyielding. A blond wisp falls into the glare. Surprisingly, it manages not to disappear into a sizzling puff of black char.

I say No.”

You little bugger, you! You honestly think that carries any weight right now? Okay, Mary. Don’t laugh! Don’t, don’t, don’t laugh. Hands gently on her shoulders. Strong eye contact. Voice friendly but completely firm. Got it all together yet? Okay, then…

“Well, I say Yes.” Okay, so I laughed a little, but in combination with the body language and tone of voice, it looked like insouciant self-confidence. “And guess what, Malli? I am the boss here, not you. Now, get into bed, silly girl.”

Don’t wait for compliance. This is the time to pull rank. Lift her up, lay her down, and put the blanket over her rigid body. Okay, now. Is she going to fight this? Any violent struggles happening? … Ha! No. She’s probably lost enough battles of will by now. She’s learned the futility of resistance.

Time to be a gracious winner. Leave her her self-respect. “You want a stuffed toy?”


Heeheehee… She’s two. I may be a gracious winner, but she’s not about to be a gracious loser!

“You want your book?”


“Wow, I guess you must be very tired, then.”

No harm in reinforcing the idea. Because she obviously is. Okay, though. Victory is tenuous enough that she might just pop up out of that cot the second I leave the room. Getting her in a second time would not be pretty, so I think I need to stall a bit.

“I’m going to make my lunch now. Have a nice nap.”

Turn my back. Move quietly about the kitchen for a few minutes. Don’t look at her – that’ll just make her think you expect her to get up. Ears are peeled, though! And in four minutes…

Malli has settled into the steady-stare-and-slow-blink phase of falling into sleep. I slip quietly from the room.

Heh. “I say No.” I think she honestly thought that would work. Little monkey. Heh.

March 8, 2007 - Posted by | power struggle, sleep


  1. Ahh, the naptime power struggle. We go through that at home all the time. My favorite is at bedtime when Grace tells me over and over again that she isnt tired. 10 minutes later, I hear her snoring! Arent kids great!? πŸ™‚

    Comment by So Called Supermom | March 8, 2007 | Reply

  2. man, i’m taking notes to use some of this on my high school students when they don’t want to do work. “well *I* say yes.” ha! love it. πŸ™‚

    Comment by lara | March 8, 2007 | Reply

  3. Mary, I love it when you validate my parenting style! Seriously, change “Mali” to “Maya” and you could have been at my house. I needed a “yay, me” moment today, and thanks.

    Comment by Allison | March 8, 2007 | Reply

  4. Great job (as usual). I wish I had your talent. But I’ll keep reading; I often learn something new. Thanks!

    Comment by abogada | March 8, 2007 | Reply

  5. I know you’re consistent with this technique, and that’s why it works. I love how you approach Mali matter-of-factly about it. This is something I strive to do, but sometimes fail at. But I do keep trying. πŸ™‚ I always appreciate your stories to help keep me focused on the positive solutions.

    Comment by mamacita tina | March 8, 2007 | Reply

  6. Yeah. Sometimes my husband tries it on too.

    It never works. Heh heh.

    Comment by z | March 8, 2007 | Reply

  7. Confession time. I find similar exchanges with my 2-year-old hilarious and often prolong it just for my own amusement. (The rebellion in his eyes, the hand smacking the couch/carpet – it’s just too cute!) It’s bad, I know.

    And I’m a firm believer in leaving the room while you can still claim victory. *lol*

    Comment by Kat | March 8, 2007 | Reply

  8. Bookmarked for when Archie turns two!

    Comment by Heath | March 8, 2007 | Reply

  9. I was wishing there would be a violent struggle…so I can get some tips on what to do at our home. πŸ™‚

    Comment by Judy | March 9, 2007 | Reply

  10. This. Was. Invaluable.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Her Bad Mother | March 9, 2007 | Reply

  11. Ha – we have plenty of those types of discussions about sitting still at dinner, putting on snowpants, etc. at my house, but so far, she’s still in crib, so I just chuck her in with water cup, doggies, and books and let her be for an hour and a half. She doesn’t ever climb out. I’m not sure why, but I’ll take it and ride it ’til the wheels fall off!

    Comment by kittenpie | March 9, 2007 | Reply

  12. See, not many parents get the whole “No discussion” part. I have horrified an acquaintance by saying “Because I say so, that’s why.”
    Turns out, kids actually listen if they know you mean it!

    Comment by Tammy | March 9, 2007 | Reply

  13. New parents suck as authority figures, a lot. I know. I is one.

    Comment by mo-wo | March 10, 2007 | Reply

  14. ah..sister. it’s been awhile. and yet of course here i am learning from you again. and with humor.

    Comment by jen | March 11, 2007 | Reply

  15. So I’m dying to know. Are all of your parenthetical/italicized comments in the story the way you are actually thinking at the time, or are they for our benifit because they are natural to you?

    I have had similar conversations often with my short people only I don’t remember thinking at the time, “don’t coax just repeat,” I just do it. Okay, I have often told myself, “Don’t laugh, don’t laugh, don’t laugh…” but that’s the only one.

    Comment by carrien | March 13, 2007 | Reply

  16. S-C Supermom: Yes, kids are great. Do they know what’s good for them? Not always!

    Lara: Teens and toddlers can be frighteningly similar! Bet you’re noticing that, huh?

    Allison: Yay, you!!

    Abogada: Partly it’s talent/natural ability. Partly it’s twenty years experience. Glad it’s useful!

    Mamacita Tina: Your blog portrays a woman whose parenting I respect. If you’re not 100%, it’s because you’re human. Who’s 100%? They’d probably be hard to like…

    Z: This one made me snort into my tea. Thanks for the giggle.

    Kat: It’s not right to play with their little heads, but sometimes it’s so fun!

    Heath: Maybe he’ll be one of the sweet ones, who essentially never has a tantrum. They do exist!

    Judy: I think it’s almost always necessary, at some point, to enforce things physically with a child. By physically, I do not mean spanking! But if you say “Sit”, and they stand, and you ask them a second time, and they still stand, then you will have to sit them down. Gently, but implacably. You won’t have to do this often to establish who’s the authority, but you will almost certainly have to do it a few times. Once it’s established, though, the violent physical resistance becomes a thing of the past.

    Her Bad Mother: You have a feisty, smart one, just like Malli. I’m not surprised it resonated! You’re welcome.

    Kittenpie: She never climbs out? Either because she’s a naturally compliant kid, or because she knows where that line in the sand is. I suspect it’s the latter, in which case? Well done!

    Tammy: I respect the children. I expect them to respect me. Some things are open for discussion. Naptime is not. Period. And, yes, I also say, “Because I said so.” Sometimes, that’s absolutely allowed.

    Mo-wo: Like any other skill, it’s part innate and part practice. Bet you’re getting lots and lots of practice these day, oh Mommy of Two!

    Jen: Thank you.

    Carrien: Good quesion. No, I’ve been doing this so long that I rarely need to think these things through consciously any more. So, you’re right, italicized stuff (except the ‘don’t laugh!) was for your benefit.

    Because much is instinctive, when people ask how I do this or enforce that, it can be difficult to explain in any methodical way. Giving the rationale/sub-text to my responses to the children is an effective way of explaining. I think!

    Comment by MaryP | March 14, 2007 | Reply

  17. Where were you when my kids were small????

    Comment by Jen | March 15, 2007 | Reply

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