It’s Not All Mary Poppins

It’s just for the day, it’s just for the day

A friend of a friend’s child is here for the day. He’s just turned four. A veteran of a small home daycare in his own city and a year of pre-school, he is well accustomed to group care. There was a possibility that it might be for the rest of the week, but only today was confirmed. I do a certain amount of this during the summers, taking on kids for a day here and there between school and daycare, between gramma and grampa’s visit and the family summer vacation.

There was a possibility that it last more than just today. Until I spent a half-day with this child. So far this morning, we had this…

– Emily plays a game: she hits a hanging balloon with one she found on the floor. Visiting boy (VB) comes along, shoves her to one side, forcing her to watch while he plays the game she devised, and then tells me, “Emily is not letting me play.”

…just for the day, just for the day, just the one day…

– I reprimand VB for some small misbehaviour. He wanders away, scowling, over to where baby Lily is holding onto the chair. Holding on, that is, until he shoves her head violently back, causing her to topple to the floor.

…just for the day, just for the day, just the one day…

– I let VB decide which vegetable we will eat at lunch. He chooses carrots. Then refuses to eat them. When he is cheerfully told he can therefore leave the table, he demands the sandwich he sees the others eating. When it is cheerfully explained he must eat a carrot stick first, he glares at me, then picks up his milk and deliberately upends it.

…just for the day, just for the day, just the one day…

– After he has finished wiping up the milk, he quietly drops the wet cloth on my foot.

…just for the day, just for the day, just the one day…

– VB holds a toy out to Rory. When Rory reaches for it, VB pulls it away and grins. This happens twice, as Rory becomes more upset. When VB sees me heading in his direction, he says, quickly, “The baby is trying to steal my toy.”

…just for the day, just for the day, just the one day…

“I’m faster than you.
I can do that better than you.
My picture is nicer than yours.
My tower is taller.
You can’t do this, because you’re too little.
Fifteen? I can count to fifty!
I have TWO of those.
I’m stronger.
I’m smarter.”
(Yeah, maybe, but you’re not nicer…)

It’s a damned good thing I don’t have to like a child to do my job.

But it sure makes my work more fun.


July 13, 2010 - Posted by | aggression, behavioural stuff, manners, Peeve me, the dark side | , , , , , , ,


  1. Grrrr – try counting slowly 10 – 9 – 8 ….

    Thankfully I have a house full of distractions. I turn away from him and focus on something — someone — happier. But, gah. I’m counting the minutes now… Oh, and he doesn’t nap. But he’s having a quiet time, dammit!

    Comment by Darcy's Mom | July 13, 2010 | Reply

  2. Wow. What a brat. He wouldn’t last half a day in my home.

    He’s quite something.

    Comment by K | July 13, 2010 | Reply

  3. You are a lovely and giving human being.
    I could not do what you do.

    I’m lovely insofar as I haven’t ranted, or said out loud any of the things I’m thinking. Oh, and he’s still alive. But really, I think ‘lovely’ overstates the case today…

    Comment by Dani | July 13, 2010 | Reply

  4. Ugh, I feel terrible for you. And there’s no point in disciplining him too much, he’s not going to change in another half-day.

    So you’re saying I can’t just leave him on the Quiet Stair for the last four hours of the day?

    Comment by Nev | July 13, 2010 | Reply

  5. I hope you have an excuse ready if they ask for more days. Or, since there’s no chance he’d be permanent anyhow, you could tell them the truth. Might be interesting.

    I’ve been thinking along those lines all afternoon. If they want more days, I’m going to tell them. Question is, how exactly do I phrase it? You want it to be useful, if difficult info… though odds are good they’ll just dismiss it anyway. (What could I know of their darling after only one day?)

    Comment by jwg | July 13, 2010 | Reply

  6. how exactly do I phrase it? You want it to be useful, if difficult info… though odds are good they’ll just dismiss it anyway.

    “Sorry, but VB has difficulty sharing toys and treating the younger kids without causing them harm – insert Lily falling here – he does not take direction well and I do not want to disturb the disciplined dynamic I have now… ”

    Put it that way, and it’s pretty obvious. Thank you! And in fact, I’ve had pretty much that exact conversation about two years ago regarding a different child. I can do this!! (Of course, THAT mom, though she’ll never know it, caught me a glass of wine into my evening when she called. Enough to say what I might not otherwise, but not so much so as to say anything I’d regret later… 🙂 )

    Comment by suzie | July 13, 2010 | Reply

  7. Looong time reader and lurker here… If you do tell them, I would love to know how you did it.

    Tell you what: If this family doesn’t need me after today, I’ll tell you about the conversation I had with the long-ago family I was telling Suzie about in the previous comment. How’s that?

    Comment by Dimitra | July 13, 2010 | Reply

  8. Another phrase to contemplate: VB doesn’t seem to be adapting well to our rules of sharing toys, treating others respectfully, etc.

    Not sure it would hit it home to the parent, or have an effect. Might be a gentler option – not that I’m advocating that in this case.

    I suspect it would have been too mild… and I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have managed not to sound sarcastic. As it happened, they won’t need me again, so the conversation didn’t happen.

    Comment by Laura | July 13, 2010 | Reply

  9. I cared for a 4 year old like this 12 years ago. Unfortunately it was for several months rather than a day (and was one of the catalysts in me thinking I’d had enough of day care). At the end of his time with me I was so relieved I wouldn’t have to see him again.

    I now work in admin at a local senior high school. Oh yes, he’s one of the students who enrolled this year. 4 months into our school year many of his teachers feel the same as I did about him 12 years ago. And his mother? Well, she still thinks he is sunshine and light personified. Eeergh.

    A few years back, I was quite sure I was done with daycare. I wasn’t enjoying my work any more, I was depressed on Sunday evenings, I was biting back irritability far too much… and then a particular child graduated from the daycare. Suddenly, work was fun again! Sundays were nice! I had energy and a sense of humour again! I knew he was a challenging kid, but I’d had no idea he was poisoning the work environment to that degree for me. It was a good lesson: there really does have to be a good fit between caregiver and child. For everyone’s sake!

    How sad to think that this child is still so awful so many years later. Whether you blame nature or nurture, I think it’s inarguable that if his mother were a little more grounded in reality, her son might have gotten better training/help/support for his… behavioural challenges.

    Comment by Maisy | July 13, 2010 | Reply

  10. What a horrible little child. Can we blame the parents, or are some kids naturally just real jerks?

    Nature or nurture? My answer to that is usually, “Yes.” I think parents often take on far too much responsibility/credit for things that are purest nature; at the same time, I think parents have a lot more power over stuff like this than they often realize. Yes, I think both those at the same time. Nature? Nurture? It’s nearly impossible to tease these things apart.

    Here’s my gut feeling: You get a child who is a package. A complete package… but an unformed one. You have a fair amount of input over the end result, but you cannot change the raw materials you’re working with. A child born with a short fuse with always have a short fuse, but that does not for a minute mean that they can’t be expected to learn to control and manage their temper. It does mean that this control will always be more of a struggle than Mr. Born-Mellow over there… who will have his own challenges, flaws, and weaknesses.

    As for this child? I can’t make any judgments on this particular child at all. I had too little time with him to form an impression of where parent/child, nature/nurture responsibilities began and ended.

    Comment by IfByYes | July 13, 2010 | Reply

  11. That’s the question, isn’t it – we would like to think that the parents must have done something to create this. But I don’t find that the behaviour described in this post is something most parents successfully curb in their children. The malice, the attempts to “play the system” (the tattling, etc.) – it seems to me like really unusual behaviour in a 4-year-old, the kind of problem most parents just don’t face. And that leads to another question – what, if anything, can be done to “fix” a kid like that, one whose primary source of enjoyment comes from tormenting and manipulating others? It’s a bit scary.

    It’s such a tough one. Malice. Who teaches malice? (Well, yes, you can readily teach it through consistent modelling, but most parents I’ve seen with malicious children are not, as far as I can tell, malicious themselves.) Malice is generally innate.

    However, though you may never remove that tendency to malice from a person, it’s the parent’s responsibility to do their damndest to discourage it, to modify it, to teach other ways to respond, to develop empathy in their child. Will you end up with a truly gentle, empathetic adult? Probably not. But you might manage to avoid producing someone people cross the street to avoid.

    Some things are outside the influence of parenting, no matter how effective. Mental illness requires therapy and/or medication. But it is also true that societies with strong individualist values (as opposed to communitarian) produce more sociopaths. Hm…

    (On a vaguely-related note, this is a fascinating book. I read it when I once rented a room for six months to a young woman who turned out to be a sociopath. They are not necessarily frightening, but they are certainly unnerving people.)

    Comment by bea | July 14, 2010 | Reply

  12. No need to thank me. If I were to thank you for all the lessons from your blog on how to handle people ( kids are people too) which I implement in my workplace, it would take a long time….

    Kids and adults are really not that different.

    Really? You’ve found some of my stuff useful in your job? I’m delighted to hear that! (Thanks again!)

    Comment by suzie | July 14, 2010 | Reply

  13. I did. Especially the tips on controlling tattling, tantrums and correction.

    Heh. This makes me grin, and once again confirms that I prefer working with toddlers, who, after all, have their age as an excuse for that behaviour.

    Comment by suzie | July 15, 2010 | Reply

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