It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Cause and Effect

Nigel. He trundles through his days with a grin, mostly. He hasn’t the effervescent, hair-trigger laugh of little Anna, but he’s a stable, amiable, reasonably easy-going little guy.

Except when his mother’s about. Then he’s temperamental, whiny, and prone to tears. Before you all start nodding your heads sagely and trotting out that old chestnut “Isn’t that always the way? They behave better for everyone else than for parents!”, let me describe something for you.

Yesterday morning, on our way to the library, Nigel stumbled and fell. This is hardly unusual. Nigel can trip over dust motes. An unexpected draft topples him. The rush of neurons caused by a sudden thought zipping through his brain overbalances him. In short, he is not the most coordinated of tots.

I give him a kiss and set him on his feet. I notice that he has grazed one knee slightly, but since he doesn’t appear to notice, I’m not so foolish as to point it out to him. There’s no grit in it, it’s not even so deep as to bleed. Meh. We’ll wash it when we get home.

Which we do. Nigel is mildly distressed when he sees the scrape. In less than a minute, though, I’ve convinced him that getting a bandaid is FUN. Which, when you are two years old and you get to decide whether to decorate your body with Elmo, Harry Potter or butterflies, it IS.

Thereafter, he forgets all about the wound. The bandaid gets lots of attention. The other children clamour for one, but Nigel sets them straight.

“You don’t get a bannaid unless you get a bo-bo. Only I get a bannaid!”

Mummy arrives at the end of the day, greets him with her usual affection. Nigel shares with her the highlight of his day, his voice ripe with pride.

“Look, mama! I gots Elmo on my knee!”

“Oh, no!” Mama’s voice drips pathos and concern. “Did you get a bo-bo?”

The pride of accomplishment vanishes from his face, instantly replaced by misery. “Yeeeeeah! I gots a bo-bo! I falled dow-ow-ow-ow-owwwwn!”

I have tried to explain to this mother the strategy of responding to a bo-bo as if it’s an adventure. I’ve tried to explain the idea of leading the way emotionally by your reaction. Mother can’t bring herself to do this: she sees it as emotional manipulation.

I see it as teaching/modelling a certain attitude/response. However, even if I were to accept this idea: if my response has him happy and proud, and hers has him in tears – are we not both ‘manipulating’? Are tears the only ‘genuine’ response? And which ‘manipulation’ has the most positive result? What is inarguable is that Nigel is responding to the unspoken expectations of the adult’s responses. Parents have far more influence over their tot’s emotional responses to things than they often realize.

And Nigel? The boy who’d been full of pride and satisfaction five minutes before? The tears and wailing echoed down the street even after they’d vanished from sight. His mother’s soft coos of reassurance faded sooner.


May 11, 2007 Posted by | behavioural stuff, Nigel, parenting, parents, whining | 11 Comments