It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Warring Agendas…

Nigel sits on the Quiet Stair.

Nigel has been compulsively, persistently, un-deter-ably climbing on the arms of the couch. The issue is not the climbing; my furniture isn’t so delicate that it can’t be clambered over. The problem is the boy. Nigel doesn’t merely scramble over the arm and plop onto the cushions. Oh, no. Nigel climbs up and stands, small arms waving, chubby toes gripping and releasing the curved arm of the couch, body wavering, teetering on the brink of disaster. This has been going on for the better part of a week, despite my persistent and unremitting warnings that he will fall and hurt himself, despite my unwavering response of lifting him down with a stern word.

Today, the little monkey managed to make a bridge of himself between arm of couch and neighbouring end table, his feet on the arm, his hands on the table. Had he been arched so that his wee butt was in the air, he’d have been safe, but no. Somehow or other he managed to do this backward, his belly facing up. Can you picture this? His arms are reaching behind him to the table, his feet on the arm of the couch. He’s kind of doing a crab-walk between couch and table, suspended, with no way to get out of this position but to fall.

When I happened upon him, he was just starting to grunt a little with the strain.

I considered letting nature take its course.

WHAT?!?! You would LET a child in your care hurt himself?

Yes, indeedy. He’d been repeatedly warned and redirected, but my warnings obviously had no reality to him. A small tumble might bring the reality home. (I’m not cruel. I wouldn’t laugh.) (Out loud.) And he would get a cuddle along with his “now you know why I said not to do that” debrief.

Nor am I foolhardy. (Unlike Nigel!) Lucky for the boy, he has me evaluating the risk for him. Left to his own devices, he’d have soon lost the strength to maintain that position, and would almost certainly have given his head a nasty wallop on the end table before landing on the floor. The drop to the floor was an acceptable risk; the blow to the head was not, so Mary rescued him.

Well, I rescued him after waiting just a moment, waiting for the look of alarm cross his face. I wanted to see if he would register the danger he was in. Seems he did. Only then did I rescue him, and reinforced what he now knew for himself – that climbing on the arm is dangerous – and a little scary. (Only exactly what I’d been saying for a week, but now he gets it!)

I rescued him.

And plopped him summarily on the Quiet Stair. Where he sniffled in self-pity, and, I’m hoping, a little genuine alarm at how close he came to injury.

What? Two punishments for one offense? Well, yes. For three reasons: first, I’m really tired of this behaviour, and want it to STOP, before he does hurt himself. Second, the scare he got wasn’t a punishment, only a scare. He understands the reasoning for my rule a little better now, but he still broke a rule/disobeyed me. But most importantly, because the Quiet Stair has always been the consequence for this behaviour. Just because he’s experienced a little reality check doesn’t change this. So, yes, the Quiet Stair after the (almost) Natural Consequence.

I haven’t used the Quiet Stair much with this group yet, though, so the protocol is not clear to the others. Nigel knows the expectations (as the oldest, and the most resolute limit-tester, he has the most experience with it), but the others are not so clear.

Compassionate Anna, hearing Nigel’s sniffles, trots over to give him a hug. I shoo her away.

“Nigel is on the Quiet Stair, lovie. He must sit there by himself.”

Behind me, Malli hands Nigel a book through the stair railings.

“No, Malli. No toys on the Quiet Stair.”

Emily toddles toward Nigel, a soft toy in her hand.

Oh, couldn’t it just melt you? All this compassion! All this empathy! What to do? One doesn’t want to undermine the effectiveness of the consequence, but neither does one want to discourage all these noble sentiments in the others. (Bad timing on the noble sentiments, guys!)

“Oh, you guys! Isn’t that nice? You can see Nigel is sad, and you want to make him feel better! What good friends you are! I tell you what. Nigel has to finish sitting on the Quiet Stair right now. Let’s put these toys [I take them gently from the children] right here on the couch [placed so that Nigel can see them from where he sits], and we will read the book together. Nigel needs a little more time to remember that he is not to stand on the couch. [Meaningful stare at Nigel.] When we’ve finished the book, Nigel can come off and share with us. How’s that?”

How’d I do?

1. Empathy encouraged. (check)
2. Compassion encouraged. (check)
3. Discipline maintained. (check)
4. Problem behaviour identified so children understand the reason for consequence. (check)
5. Consequence reinforced. (check)

Not bad, if I do say so myself.

Oh, and

6. Nigel will never again stand on the arm of the couch.

Bwah-hahahahahahaaaa…. I kill myself….

June 11, 2007 - Posted by | Anna, Emily, health and safety, Malli, Nigel, parenting, power struggle, socializing


  1. I also would let my child get *slightly* hurt. (After assessing the situation and determining they weren’t in real danger.) In addition to reinforcing a lesson in a situation like this, I feel that protecting a child from the risk of any injury really just stifles their desire to explore. LS is 19 months old and I let her climb/stand on all sorts of things. As a result – I think – she is an extremely good walker, walks up stairs upright (and almost always has), etc.

    Comment by BookMama | June 11, 2007 | Reply

  2. How do you introduce the “quiet stair”? It’s time for something like that with Oliver. He’s just turned two and gets a little more defiant every day. Telling him “no” generally results in squeals of laughter and continued engagement in whatever he’s not supposed to be doing. He hates working without an audience though so I often turn my back and thus take all the fun out of it. I would like to have other options though, and a “quiet stair” sounds promising.

    Comment by clumberkim | June 12, 2007 | Reply

  3. Gosh, I wish that you were close enough to us for Archie to come to Mah-wee’s house during the day! You are the absolute best. (And I might actually get some work done!!)

    Comment by Heath | June 12, 2007 | Reply

  4. You’re good.

    Comment by Bethany | June 12, 2007 | Reply

  5. Such a great description of what (I’m sure) most mother’s have been through several times. What a beautiful way to handle something that can wear on one’s patience.

    I followed some links to your blog (I’m sorry to say that I can’t recall which one was right before you!). Anyway, they said yours was THE blog to read about parenting. I think she’s right. I’ll be back. :0)

    Comment by Debbie | June 13, 2007 | Reply

  6. Bookmama: I’ve posted on this concept before: that children have to be allowed to take small risks, and the consequences of those risks, in order to learn how to take bigger ones. Life is simply not risk-free, and if we try to eliminate risk from our children’s lives entirely, we are in fact endangering them by leaving them unprepared for the risks they will inevitably face as they grow up.

    Clumberkim: Just turned two is usually the earliest a quiet stair can be used effectively. Generally what I do at first is to put the child on the stair (after explaining, briefly and clearly why they’re going there), and then stand a foot away with my back to them. If they pop right up, as they often will before they understand the concept, I will squat down beside them, and put a firm hand on their upper thigh, to keep them sitting. And then turn away and pretend I can’t see/hear them. I do this until they will sit on their own. Quiet stair time-outs don’t last long at this age: fifteen to forty-five seconds, generally.

    Heath: Oh, thank you! For some reason, I often think you’re in Montreal! But even that’s not close enough. I’m sure you’ll find someone when/if the time comes.

    Bethany: Some days, yeah, I am!! šŸ™‚

    Debbie: Welcome, however you got here!

    Kids can sure try your patience! The couch-climbing is trying my patience, for sure. All that lovin’ of Nigel while he was on the quiet stair, though, that was too cute, and coming up with a good response was fun. A little creative challenge is good for the soul.

    Comment by MaryP | June 13, 2007 | Reply

  7. What do you do when a child sitting on the Quiet Stair (which I first read as Quiet Star!) is refusing to be QUIET. Screaming fit throwing unquiet? I’m taking mental notes.

    Comment by Redhead Mommy | June 24, 2007 | Reply

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