It’s Not All Mary Poppins

It *should* be shocking

“Do you want to go to the park?”

A grandmotherly sort walks toward me on the path by the river, pushing a largish child, four or five years old, in a stroller.

“NO!” The response is loud, abrupt and petulant.

The grandmother stops the stroller, goes to the front so that the can give her granddaughter a stern glare and says, “You do not talk to me like that, young lady. You say, ‘No, thank you, grandma,’ in a friendly voice. Do you understand?”

HA! I wish.

She does nothing of the sort. She is neither shocked nor offended. Being shouted at and disrespected by a five-year-old is an everday, non-exceptional thing, so it seems. In the same mild tone, she offers,

“Would you like to go play at Katie’s house?”

“Naa-oooh.” This time, it’s a sneer. Oh, Grandma is soooo stupid. Such a drag to be ferried about by incompetent help. Poor princess’s life is such a trial.

“Would you like to…” Grandma’s voice fades into the distance, but the child’s response, a loud, indignant “NOOO!” is clearly audible as they move away.

What is wrong with this scenario? Let me count the ways.

It’s a mild annoyance to me that the child is in a stroller. And while yes, I understand that there are five-year-olds who genuinely need a stroller, they are not the norm. Moreover, I have seen this child before, charging around full-tilt for hours in the park. There is no hidden disability here.

More significantly is the litany of choices grandma proffers for the child’s dismissal. This arises from the misapprehension that it’s the adult’s job to entertain, that it’s the adult’s responsibility to prevent the child’s boredom.

Wrong. The only person who can prevent me from being bored is me. Same for the child. I’ll offer a suggestion or two to a bored young child, to help shake them from their rut. One or two. If the child (politely!) refuses one or two helpful suggestions? They are on.their.own.

So that irked me. You are creating a dependent monster here, grandma, the kind who’ll come up whining “I’m boooooored” and then exasperate the snot out of you by refusing to engage in any activity while simultaneously demanding that you DO SOMETHING to alleviate their ennui. It’s a vicious circle, an endless loop. You just don’t want to be there.

So not happening in my house. (You know why? Because it bores me.) Strangely, my children hardly ever suffer from boredom. Imagine.

But the biggest thing that irked me was that this woman didn’t react to the rudeness. She wasn’t shocked. She wasn’t offended. She just took the disrespectful treatment as if it were acceptable. I see this all the time, and every time it shocks me. What are these people thinking? Why would you let someone — anyone — treat you that way? And what are you teaching that child? If you act like it’s acceptable, can the child be blamed for thinking that it is?

You never, ever accept disrespectful treatment from your children. Just, never. They’re tired? They’re hungry? They’re a little under the weather? Then you say, “I know you’re tired/hungry/feeling sick, but you may not be rude. Use a friendly voice, please, and your good manners.” And then you put them to bed/feed them/tend to their ills. But you do not, under any circumstances, let them treat you like sh*t.

How would that grandmother feel if, years into the future, her granddaughter’s husband shouted at her like that?


If it’s wrong, it’s wrong, and we need to deal with it right from the very start.

February 29, 2012 - Posted by | aggression, manners, parenting |


  1. BRAVO!

    I just jumped right up and did the 90s-style fist pump “YES” over this post.

    Because exactly.

    Comment by Hannah | February 29, 2012 | Reply

  2. I agree with everything you’ve said except about the stroller. I have a 3 year old who towers over plenty of 5 year olds. He can run around the park for hours and leap off dangerous walls and what have you.

    However, he also takes a nap every afternoon, in the stroller. He naps while I go pick up his older sister from school. I also do not have a car, so if I need to go long distances, which is hard on little legs no matter how fit and healthy they are, we take the stroller.

    Not all of us with bigger kids in strollers are bad parents who are letting our kids lounge around in comfort.

    Comment by suzanne | February 29, 2012 | Reply

  3. Completely agree….very good post. We give the daughter suggestions/options but then let her choose and play by herself. Same outdoors…we take her to the park/library and let her explore. And we do not tolerate rude behavior.

    Comment by Shachi Thakkar | February 29, 2012 | Reply

  4. I love this post. This scenario is all too common today, and it does a disservice to children. Teaching them to speak properly with the correct tone and mannerisms is part of their education on the path to being productive, healthy adults.


    Comment by Michelle | February 29, 2012 | Reply

  5. Exactly!

    But … if you should decide to become an online parent advisor, please consider this case.

    My husband and I both agree with you on how to deal with disrespectful treatment, and we thought we were successful. We have on video our son, on his fifth Christmas sweetly saying “Thank you, Mommy, thank you, Daddy.” for his presents and asking his Dad nicely for help in opening the packages. Then sometime before his 7th birthday, please, thank you, excuse me, and sorry stopped coming and were given grudgingly only with prompting. He is now 8 and we are still having talks about polite communication, at least once a week.

    I’m still trying to figure out what happened.

    How frustrating! Worse that it doesn’t seem to be a passing phase, either. I don’t have any words of brilliance for you. Kids do ebb and flow, you will have to revisit lessons you thought learned long ago, but usually that means a few days to a couple of months at most. With the behaviour lasting this long, my thoughts go outside the family, to school. Is he happy there? Is he keeping up with the work? Does he feel competent? Is he managing socially? Is there bullying going on (which children do hide from their parents)? Or perhaps it’s his friends: is he in a group that would discourage civility as un-cool? Have you spoken to his teacher(s)? A note on teachers: sometimes one teacher will see something another missed. Gym teachers, for example, often see a different class dynamic than a regular classroom teacher.

    I know I usually tell parents the ‘why’ doesn’t matter — because it usually doesn’t! — but in this case I suspect it does.

    Comment by Judy | February 29, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Mary.
      You’ve given me some more avenues to explore.

      Comment by Judy | March 15, 2012 | Reply

  6. Yes! We’re trying to re-train a 5 year old who started out trying to make jokes but has now shifted into sassing. Ugh. Mulotiple daily repetitions of “you may use polite words or you may be silent,” and “that was not a funny joke; that was disrespectful.” Thank goodness the toddler still easily responds to “Right now you may not say that. Right now you may say, “Yes, Mama” and go do XYZ.” It stinks when more than one needs training at a time.

    Comment by Samantha | February 29, 2012 | Reply

  7. I have been having some success with my three-year-old with acting like he has just made a misstep when he speaks rudely, and we do a “do-over.” So if I say, “would you like some meatballs?” and he replies “NO!” in a rude voice, I say, “Let’s try that again. You can say, “No, thank you, Mummy.” I find it helps him sometimes to be supplied with the right script. So when he just asks for milk in a demanding/whiny voice, we do the same thing: “Let’s try that again in your polite voice. ‘May I have some milk please?'”

    Yes, I use scripting all the time, for all sorts of things. So much of politeness is, in fact, scripted for us. If they know the forms, they’re more likely to practice them. This is not teaching them hypocrasy, either: Studies show that feelings often follow behaviour — act happy, you feel happy; act considerate, you feel it.

    Comment by Jaimie | March 6, 2012 | Reply

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