It’s Not All Mary Poppins

It’s not the ‘what’ but the ‘how’

Sometimes, in my job, the trick is to look beyond the facts under my nose to the larger picture. Seeing the forest for the trees, as it were. Nowhere is that more obvious than in conflict.

Because toddlers and conflict? People have done studies to track the number of conflicts a toddler has in a day. Staggering. And also inevitable. The thing we’re after is not conflict avoidance (no, no it’s not), but conflict management. Not me managing them, either, but them managing their own selves. Stop snorting. We’re in the business of raising adults, remember? It’s a long-range project, with long-term goals…

My old mantra: “You may be angry, but you may not [insert anti-social behaviour here],” which I start when they’re about 15 months old, and which, applied unceasingly over the years, reaps enormous benefits when they’re 15 years old. Trust me on this.

Whereas once I might have tried to explain how they didn’t need to be having this particular conflict, maybe even that it was a silly thing … waste of air. And not in the best interest of the larger picture, which is to teach them how to manage their anger and to manage their behaviour in conflict.

I’m sure there are things I get annoyed about that wouldn’t bother you at all. I’m quite sure that if you tried to tell me why I didn’t need to be annoyed, I would probably only get annoyed…

So. We don’t often get into the substance of the conflict. But we do worry a lot about the style.

Noah and Nissa are squabbling over toys. This is routine. Nissa is a strong-willed little thing and Noah much milder, but even mild-mannered Noah can be pushed only so far. Today he’s decided to stand his ground.

“No, no, no! It’s mine!”

Nissa’s response is instantaneous — a long, loud howl. She is not saddened, she is OUTRAGED. She wants the toy he is playing with, and she wants it now! How DARE he thwart her will???

The howling is all the more aggravating because this girl has been talking in sentences since she was 16 months old. Sentences of three and four words. Now she’s up to… um… lots of words. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lo…

Let’s just say that, for little Ms. Articulate, the issue here is not an inability to express herself verbally.

“Nissa. Use your words.”


It takes four and a half minutes on the quiet stair, during which time Noah gets to play with BOTH toys — both toys directly in her line of vision — (what? twist the knife? me???), but she does finally concede to speak rather than shriek.

“I can has a toy, Noah, please?”

“Sure!” (Told you he’s a mellow little dude.) “You can have this one.”

“No. I want DAT one.” (And Nissa’s not. She’s made one concession already, dammit, she’s not making another!)

Noah looks at the toys in his hands.

“Okay. Here you go.”

She snatches it. I take it from her and give it back to Noah. “Take it gently, Nissa, and say thank you.”

We try again. A civilized transition is accomplished. Each tot settles in to play, Nissa with her blue plastic wrench with a yellow screw mechanism… and Noah with… his blue plastic wrench with a yellow screw mechanism.

Yes. Yes, I know.

Big picture, big picture, big picture…

January 5, 2010 - Posted by | aggression, manners, Nissa, Noah, parenting | , , , , , , , ,


  1. Good one. Must practice that more. Or at all. Sigh.

    Comment by Mwa | January 5, 2010 | Reply

  2. Hahaha!! Yes, it is a process, isn’t it. What makes sense to them can just seem so bizarre sometimes…

    Comment by Rosie_Kate | January 5, 2010 | Reply

  3. Happy New Year and welcome back. Selfishly, I missed these nuggets of wisdom!

    Thanks for starting my day off so well.

    PS – can I pass this on to some emotionally challenged adults who did not benefit from this type of training as children. Never too late to learn I hope 😉

    Comment by Darcy's Mum | January 5, 2010 | Reply

  4. You are a saint. I would have changed to Hulk long time ago in this scenario.

    May be that is why I dont have kids 🙂

    Comment by Suzi | January 5, 2010 | Reply

  5. That’s a great point – it drives me crazy *what* my two fight about, but I need to let that go and focus on *how*.

    So what’s step 2 if Nissa wants the toy that Noah’s playing with, and you get her to ask nicely, but Noah doesn’t want to give it to her (assuming only one toy)? I hate getting involved in details of taking turns, “he’s taking too long a turn” and all the step 2 squabbling, but how can I help them with the next part?

    Comment by lynn | January 5, 2010 | Reply

  6. HAHAHA! I am laughing aloud over the end, here. They are so, so crazy, kids are.

    Comment by kittenpie | January 7, 2010 | Reply

  7. […] teach kids to eat their veggies, to use their words, to sleep, to share, not to hit, bite, scream, kick, nor eat their friends’ boogers. I keep […]

    Pingback by Fun? Wow! « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | July 19, 2011 | Reply

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