It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Emily does ‘naughty’. Kinda.

Emily, at four, doesn’t nap every day. She’s a child who needs a fair amount of sleep, so she often does, but not every day. After the others have been settled down for their naps, Emily has a “quiet time” on the couch. She’s to lie there for 20 minutes, quietly. If she doesn’t fall asleep within that time, she can get up. (She has to lie quietly, mind you. If she spends the entire time twitching and flopping and fidgeting, she gets another 20 minutes (and another, and another…) She’s a quick study, Emily. It didn’t take her long to realize it was best just to lie still.)

Yesterday was a no-nap day. That’s fine. Emily understands that nap time is Mary’s work time. If I’m working at house-keeping, she can keep me company, and we chat together, but when I sit at my computer, she is not to talk at me. She’s very good about that.

Pretty much a model child, is our Emily.

Emily generally opts to do crafts during this time. These are not adult-organized crafts. These are let-the-kid-loose-with-the-supplies, free-form crafts. She chooses the bits and pieces she wants to work with, I get her whatever she can’t reach, and she can spend an hour, easily, creating at the dining room table.

(I did say she was a model child, correct?)

After we had been busy at our respective tasks for a good half-hour, I popped upstairs, and when I returned a moment or three later, Emily was veeeeeeery surreptitiously returning something to my sewing box. Her head twisted toward me, her eyes wide, frozen in alarm. Very suspicious. The model child has been Up To No Good.

In her hand is a ball of glossy red ribbon. On the table are several snippets of ribbon. Emily’s stare grows ever more alarmed, her eyes wider by the second.

“Emily. Did you go into my sewing box?” My voice is slow, low, and very serious. Not angry, just serious. My sewing box is, of course, strictly forbidden territory. Normally is it kept far from the children; it was accessible right now only because the less-trustworthy, orally-fixated children were safely tucked away in bed.
“Yes.” Her voice is very, very small.
“You knew you shouldn’t do that.”
“Yeees.” Now there’s a quaver in the voice.
“And now you are trying to sneak that ribbon back in there, so I wouldn’t notice.”
“Yeeeeeees.” The enormous eyes begin to glimmer.
I pause a bit, letting the tension grow. (No, you don’t leap in to save them from the discomfort of the moment. You let them experience it. This is a learning opportunity.)

Now, if this were a different, more impervious child, there would now be a Consequence. Time on the Quiet Stair, or removal of craft time, or some such. Emily is waiting, tearful and fearful, for the consequence of her naughtiness. Only this child is REMORSEFUL. She’s not just sad because she’s about to get in trouble. If that were all it was, the consequence would still be necessary. Emily is also sad because she was “bad” (her word, not mine) and she knows it. She’s absolutely radiating chagrin, shame, remorse. (Way out of proportion to the offense, really — but I’m not telling her that! A conscience is a Good Thing.) But in this instance, with a child who understands the offense and is truly remorseful? I think we’ve done enough.

“I’m not going to punish you, Emily, because I can see you know it was the wrong thing to do.” She nods, somber. “It was wrong to take it without asking, and it was really wrong to be sneaky about it. I think you understand that.” More nodding, more enormous eyes. “You understand it was wrong, and” — here my voice warms considerably — “I’m sure you won’t take my things without asking again.”

“I won’t.”

“Okay, then. Now, you need to say ‘Sorry’ for stealing my ribbon and being sneaky about it.”

“I’m sorry I took the ribbon and was suh-suh-suh-snea-uh-ky.” She’s keeping it together, barely.

“Thank you. It’s okay. Come here, sweetie. I think you need a hug.”

And we do. And we’re done. And THAT is how a model child does “bad”. Heh.

June 4, 2010 - Posted by | Emily, individuality, Mischief, socializing | ,


  1. Oh, this totally reminds me of dealing with my oldest son (now nearly 8). He is a very studious, deep thinker- who is often way harder on himself than I could ever be. I remember catching him with something forbidden when he was smaller – maybe three?- and he was so upset because he new he was being naughty! I ended up not punishing him either….
    On the other hand, my younger son is the one who needs lots of consequences LOL I hear a lot of “i don’t care” from younger DS!

    The “I don’t care!” is much harder to deal with! I don’t envy you that!

    Comment by shizzknits | June 4, 2010 | Reply

  2. This reminds me of an incident I had with my little sister once when she was 4 and I was 11. I forget exactly what preceded the utterance, but she said “shit”. I gasped and before the shocked “Emma!” came out of my mouth she was already crying and wailing, “I said a baaaaad wh-wh-wh-woooord!”

    Oh, that’s cute! She hadn’t quite Emily’s delicate conscience, but she was (is!) a girl with a clear sense of her responsibility for her own behaviour. 🙂

    Comment by secretlysarah | June 4, 2010 | Reply

  3. I was that kid. My mother never had to put me in time out or send me to my room or ground me – ever. Just being in trouble was enough to make me cry, and the few times it happened stand out in my memory vividly as terribly traumatic, without a single punishment ever being meted out.

    Apparently I was an “easy” child, too. Not sure what that means to my mother, exactly, for I certainly remember a few (well-deserved) punishments, but whatever “easy” was, I was it. “And then,” she says, “your sister came along, and I did not know WHAT had hit me.” A lively little thing, my younger sister, or so the family stories would have it. 🙂

    Comment by ifbyyes | June 4, 2010 | Reply

  4. And the fact is, this will be an experience she remembers forever as the time she deserved to get in trouble, but didn’t, and it WILL be a good learning experience. I cannot remember any of the reasons I was ever spanked, but I do remember the ONE time I really deserved it, but my mom came to me and told me “You deserve to be punished, but today I am going to teach you about mercy” Course, I was about 7 at this point. Funny thing, though: I remember that story, my mother does not. She knows it now because I have retold it to her, but she had completely forgotten that lesson!

    I hope it proves to be that kind of lasting, positive memory. That would be lovely!

    Comment by Liz | June 5, 2010 | Reply

  5. She is so adorable!

    I was also that kid – I felt enough guilt I never really needed to be told off – I’d tell myself off.

    I’ll be sad when Emily leaves your group one day – what an angel that girl is!

    If all goes well, I’ll have her for another year, before she heads off to full-day school in grade one.

    Comment by Rambleicious | June 5, 2010 | Reply

  6. Oh, you are a mean woman, Mary P. Poor little Emily!

    It’s terrible how she suffers under my harsh regime.

    Comment by Z | June 6, 2010 | Reply

  7. […] then there’s Tyler Emily, as you know, is little miss sweet and biddable. She takes her mistakes and misbehaviours to heart, rarely requiring anything more significant than […]

    Pingback by And then there’s Tyler « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | June 7, 2010 | Reply

  8. I was just wondering if any of the other children witnessed any of this, and if so how do you explain to them why there were no obvious consequences for Emily’s misbehaviour? I just know that for my children, there would be cries of “that’s not fair!”

    Yes, they did, and no, there was no outcry. The reasons for this would be twofold, I think. First, they’re pretty much all too young to be much concerned with issues of fairness, with the possible exception of Emily. Secondly, they saw how upset Emily was, and at their age, that probably translates to “Emily got in trouble”, even though they didn’t see any punishment.

    Were there children of an age to object, I would use it as a teaching moment. “I punish you so that you will learn that something is wrong. When you can show me you know it’s wrong, and are truly sorry, you won’t need to be punished, either.” Further protestations would probably meet with every teacher/parent/caregiver’s tried-and-true back-up line: “LIFE’s not fair. Get used to it.”

    For even older children, I might try to teach the difference between ‘identical’ and ‘fair’. And with teenagers who are up to the intellectual challenge, the difference between “justice” and “fairness”.

    Parenting is never boring!

    Oh, what am I saying? Sometimes it can be deadly tedious! But a lot of the time, it’s fascinating. 🙂

    Comment by Clare | June 7, 2010 | Reply

  9. Four? And still doing the rest? Weird. Over here, they stop doing that before or around three. The ways of the world are weird and wonderful.

    Comment by Mwa | June 7, 2010 | Reply

  10. that was me as a kid. God, I remember the gut-twisting feeling of doing something that would make parents unhappy even before they knew about it – even if they might never know about it!

    Comment by kittenpie | June 14, 2010 | Reply

  11. […] at five-and-a-half, is the most coordinated, but unlikely to break a rule. Tyler, three-and-a-half seems the most likely suspect. “No, I didn’t.” Emily […]

    Pingback by Another twist, maybe? « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | May 26, 2011 | Reply

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