It’s Not All Mary Poppins

I’m not really THAT patient…

Oh, my. I’ve given you all a false impression. I mean, yes, I did really do this – mostly. I might have exaggerated just a teeny bit when I posted, just for effect, you know.

But do I usually do that?

Um, no.

In the face of constant, unrelenting questions and comments, I have a few strategies. First, of course, I answer fully and respectfully. A kid asks a question, a kid deserves an answer. How else do they learn? (Well, besides experience, o’course: sticking beans up their nose and bobby pins in sockets, just to see what will happen…)

A question deserves an answer. Unless…

…you’ve answered the exact same question within the previous 90 seconds. (They might get one repeat if I deem they truly didn’t grasp it the first time.)

…you’re quite sure the question is designed only to keep your attention, (particularly when your attention needs to be on this boiling water you’re straining off the vegetables, or this diaper you’re changing, or the ants you’ve discovered swarming the weeks-old apple core in the back of the closet.)

…you’re on the phone.

…this is the second child asking the identical question, because they weren’t listening the first time, or because they saw that “hey! that question gets attention!” I don’t mind giving them attention, but, please, a little originality would be appreciated.

…you’re kissing your sweetie.

…you’re bored. (What? You don’t get bored? You’re a better woman than I am. Or perhaps you just need less mental stimulation…)

You may have other criteria for ignoring questions. These are mine. You’re welcome to share yours!

So. We assume the questions have reached the nails-down-a-chalkboard level of intolerability. This may be ten minutes of repetition, if you’re a saint, or it may be two repeats (45 seconds) if you’re PMSing. I generally max out at about four. Four repeats, not four minutes. If I’m listenig. Which I’m not always.

So, what can you do?

1. Tune them out. Having done this for a couple of decades (including my own kids), I am a past master at tuning it out. If you can do this, it works pretty well. Of course, you have to be able to bear with two or three or four minutes of “Mommy?”… “Mmmooommmy?”

If you can tune that out, they will very often wander off in disgust. Really. Many parents only discover this with the birth of baby number two. Caught between the wails of a newborn and the bellowing of a toddler, and choosing the likely more urgent need of the newborn, they discover, before they are finished with the newborn, that the toddler has… found something else to do!!*

Assuming ‘something else’ isn’t potentially lethal, the problem is solved!

2. Switch roles, version 1. “YOU know. I told you.” Then ask their question right back at them, and generally, they’ll tell you the answer. HA.

3. Switch roles, version 1.1. Ask them a question over and over and over again. So it goes like this:
“Mommy, what is that noise?”
“Joey, why are elephants gray?”
“Mommy, what is that noise?”
“Joey, why are elephants gray?”

At which point Joey will likely decide that you have lost it and wander off to mine the back of the closet with apple cores. And yeah, it’s playing with their heads a little, and as a joke it has a limited lifespan, but for a few repeats, it’s kind of entertaining… Hey. When you’re bored enough…

4. Be honest. “Mary needs quiet. No more questions. Go play with your [fascinating toy in another soundproofed room].”

5. Be honest, with feeling. “Oh, for heaven’s sake. Off you go and play.” Because it’s okay to be less than saintly. Really. (You ever stopped to consider what tended to happen to saints? Eeeww…)

And then go relax in a quiet room with a soothing beverage.

*Failing a newborn, I would think that headphones would be very useful. Not that I’ve ever used them.

August 6, 2007 - Posted by | behavioural stuff, parenting, the things they say!


  1. I tend to tune Ian out, or beat him to the question after I’ve answered it, making him answer it himself. I think having him verbalize it helps him process the question and answer, and remember it better afterwards.

    Comment by mamacita tina | August 6, 2007 | Reply

  2. okay, that last part made me think of something that happened to me today. normally i take a (MUCH-needed) 15-minute break around 10:30am, and then lunch around 12:30. unfortunately, today, my lead teacher was busy doing other things until around 11:30, so by the time i could have taken a break, it seemed useless. we decided i would just add 15 minutes to my lunch break. well, this meant that by the time i got to go to lunch, i was near insane from 12 insistent voices alternating between asking these repetitious questions and screaming/crying. when i was leaving, she said, “i would tell you to go have a drink, but we can’t really do that.” i winked at her and said, “what you don’t know won’t hurt you…”

    how’s that for a soothing beverage? 😉

    Comment by Lara | August 6, 2007 | Reply

  3. I’m pretty much of the switching roles v.1 variety. Sort of “Do you remember what I told you? And what was that? Can you tell me?”

    Comment by kittenpie | August 6, 2007 | Reply

  4. Today I came up with a new option. My 2 year old was asking me in the car, “where we going?” when she knew perfectly well, and I’d already answered several times, that we were going to her daycare. As usual. So instead, this time I said “to the moon.” She loved that answer, and talked about cars going up to the sky, and rocket ships, the rest of the way to daycare.

    Comment by lynn | August 7, 2007 | Reply

  5. Yup. My tactic is usually to say “What does it look like I’m doing?” or “Where do you think Daddy is?”. Still the neverending repetitive questions get to me.

    Comment by nomotherearth | August 8, 2007 | Reply

  6. I’m also a role switcher.
    Kiddo: Where’s Daddy?
    Me: Riding his bicycle
    Kiddo: Where’s Daddy?
    Me: Riding his bicycle
    (repeat 5 times)
    Kiddo: Where’s Daddy?
    Me: Where’s Daddy?
    Kiddo: Bicycle!

    Comment by Lady M | August 9, 2007 | Reply

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