It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Acceptance and Appreciation

I have two simple living-type books on the go right now: Sarah Ban Breathnach’s “Simple Abundance“, and “Frugal Luxuries” by Tracey McBride.

Simple Abundance is in the form of a devotional or a day book — a series of entries, one for each day of the year, each with a few short paragraphs containing a thought to chew on for the day. For all that I find it a bit dated in some ways, I quite enjoyed January’s entries. I have flagged in February, though. This month’s entries have not been speaking to me as January’s did. That’s okay. I’ll keep at it and see what emerges in the coming weeks.

So, when the Sarah BanB pages weren’t giving me much to chew on, I switched to Frugal Luxuries, another meditative book, though not a year-long project.

And this week, McBride presented me with these lines:

Accept others as they are, and allow them to be themselves… While acceptance allows you to relax and behave freely, appreciation can actually raise the value of an item or individual. Make a habit of seeking out and appreciating the blessings in your life. I have found that by consistently appreciating people (and things), their value increases.

It was one of those thoughts that leaps off the page and stays with you. It’s a good thought. A wise suggestion. Particularly good to keep in mind with family (which is the context of those sentences.)

My children are all adults now (some more thoroughly adults than others, but all technically adults, and all doing well in their various stages of adulthood). I think we have done pretty well with acceptance and appreciation, so far. And Wonderful Husband and me? We ace this. It’s a second marriage for both of us, and, having been through the traumas of a failing and failed marriage and the awfulness that is divorce, we really, really appreciate each other.

So, as I mulled over that nugget of thought, I considered it in terms of my daycare kids. And as I did, I realized “acceptance” is a nuanced thing. Yes, we accept our babies, our children. They are what they are. We also love them to bits, and delight in their strengths and in the joy they bring into our lives. That’s be the appreciation part.


We are responsible, as parents, for the outcome of our kids. We have to be clear about where they are, sure. That’d be the acceptance part. But we also want to help them, to facilitate their development. Is he very shy? We want to teach him confidence and social skills. Is she too pushy and demanding socially? We want to help him develop consideration and awareness of other people’s needs.

For years and years and years, we work to tweak, improve, buff and polish, steadily increase our children’s potential.

You know what? That can make it really hard — really hard! — to accept them for who and what they are in this minute. It’s easy to let the things we’re trying to mold frustrate us, and lose sight of the things we truly appreciate. On the flip side, you don’t want to appreciate your child so much that you can’t see the areas in which he or she needs to grow and develop.

Huh. Now that’s an interesting thought.

There’s a push-pull as a parent, isn’t there, between the future focus necessary to help our child achieve their potential, and the present-time focus of accepting/appreciating who they are, right now. Well, when we’re not exasperated beyond belief by their behaviour, right now…

Acceptance: it is what is it
Appreciation: and I value it.

I have a child who is a challenge to me right now. I am committing to apply these principles to all the daycare children … and that one in particular. It will help us both to enjoy each other more, I’m sure. It will also bring more satisfaction to my days, even as I tackle the behaviours that so irk me.

Acceptance and appreciation.
Acceptance and appreciation.
Acceptance and appreciation.

My new mantra.

February 28, 2013 Posted by | books | 2 Comments

Food, food, food

I love food.

I like cooking. I like eating. I love just about everything about food. I love the smells that fill my home as I cook, making it warm and welcoming. I love the bright colours of fruits and vegetables. I love the textures. (Well, except for the ones I hate, but texture! Important to food!) It appeals to all the senses, even as it nourishes, fuels, satiates and fills.

In my world, food is a Good Thing.

Which is why I am so dismayed to see food horribly, horribly abused in our culture. And I’m not talking here about poor quality food and edible non-food items, though I don’t think much of them.

I’m talking now about how we use food, and particularly how we use it with our children. I’ve spoken before about my experiment — now ranked as a success — in reducing the amount of snacking amongst the daycare kids. A few people had questions, based on some ubiquitous parenting wisdom. Toddlers have tiny tummies. They need to refuel more often, don’t they? And what about blood sugar? Don’t you get behavioural issues if they blood sugar dips?

My immediate answer is “I haven’t seen any of these problems in the 5 weeks we’ve been doing this.” However, much as I love the stuff, I am not a food expert, so I consulted with a couple of dietitians I know. Their response: 1. Yes, we do feed children too frequently. 2. If feeding schedules are consistent, children can learn to gauge how much to eat based on their awareness of the next food opportunity. 3. Toddlers have tiny tummies, but they also have tiny bodies. Their food needs are proportional, though you’ll likely need to make occasional temporary adjustments for growth spurts. 4. They weren’t aware off the top of their heads about studies suggesting snacking prevented behavioural outbursts due to low blood sugar. One of them did a quick search through a database and informed me that the studies which do address this issue focus on children with diabetes, not children with normal blood sugar regulation.

If breakfast includes a decent protein source, I was told, they can usually get to lunch. If breakfast is cereal and milk, toast and jam, a piece of fruit? There’s probably not enough protein in the splash of milk in their cereal to hold them, and the rest is pretty much all carbs. Quick energy, but not lasting energy. Kids who have a high-carb, low-protein breakfast will crash before lunch. So. Put peanut butter on that toast. Fry up an egg. Put ground almonds on the cereal. Give them firm tofu cut into fingers to dip in some yogurt. Give them an ounce of cheese. That punch of protein can make all the difference.

So that’s the input from the professionals.

But mostly? Everywhere I go, I see, snacking is used as a distractor and a bribe. A child is teetering on the brink of an outburst, getting to the point where they’re going to need some firm and focussed parental attention to move them past the rising likelihood of bad behaviour … and we hand them a container of Cheerios. “His blood sugar’s crashing,” we say.

And I wonder. Is it?

There are many things that affect a toddler’s behaviour. Sleep is a huge one. Get enough sleep into them, and their behaviour is exponentially better. Boredom. If they’re bored, they get fractious. Impatience. They hate having to wait for anything, at any time. Illness. Teething. Physical discomfort — they’re too hot, too cold, itchy. Their age. The fact that they’re two just means a certain baselines contrariness. And yes, sometimes hunger. Their behaviour does deteriorate when they’re hungry. But they are not hungry nearly as often as we feed them.

Feeding is used to distract.
To appease.
To divert.
To comfort.
To reward.
To praise.
To soothe.

I would argue that it is used for those things more often than it is used to actually nourish a body or satiate a hunger.

He’s cranky?
Feed him.
She’s doesn’t want to wait in line at the bank?
Feed her.
The siblings are squabbling?
Feed them.
You want to talk on the phone for five more minutes?
Feed them.

What are you using food for in those instances? It’s a sedative. A quick fix for an inconvenient situation. There are other fixes: a special toy that’s only used for these occasions. Crayons. Little cars. Sticker books. Sing a song. Play a clapping game. Or simply a level glance and a firm, “I know you’re bored, but you can wait quietly for another five minutes.”

Did I do any of those food-inappropriate things when my children were little? Of course I did. I did it without even thinking about it. In fact, packing that well-stocked diaper bag with the Cheerios and the apple slices made me feel not just prepared, but competent — a better parent! That, however, was 20 years ago. I’ve been tending toddlers for a long, long time, and have had more time to think about these things than most people ever get (or want to!). These days, I don’t pack snacks at all. Water bottles, yes (and for the littles, milk bottles). Snacks? No. With five children.

Now, when you go out, and you pack snacks, I’m not suggesting you kill yourself with guilt over it. No one achieves parental perfection every moment of every day, and somehow, children all over the globe live to grow into healthy, happy, functional adults despite having suffered fallible parents. Popping food into your kid for some reason other than nutrition every so often is not going to damage them. Once in a while, no harm done.

But. As a daily event? Even several times a day? It sets the child up for a bad relationship with food. Where food isn’t enjoyed for its wonderful satiating quality. It isn’t enjoyed because it looks, smells, and tastes sooooo good, even as it nourishes and fills. No. Food is consumed, mindlessly, because I’m bored, sad, tired, discouraged… or happy, content, proud of myself. Food becomes associated with activities that don’t need to have anything to do with eating: watching television, reading, sitting in the car, travelling, walking…

Food becomes quite detached from its primary purpose: nourishment. We need to stop doing this. We need to stop using food as a drug, and start savouring it as food.

Feed your children less often.
Enjoy your food more.

February 27, 2013 Posted by | controversy, food, health and safety, parenting | , , | 9 Comments

Caillou: New Baby, or, The Weirdness

So. About that Caillou book.

Where were we? Let’s see…

Page 1: Caillou is happily anticipating the arrival of his baby sister.
Page 2: Mommy and Daddy go to the hospital. Is he excited that his sister is on her way? Is he happy to spend the night with gramma? Noooo… Drippy little Caillou plops his thumb in his mouth and is “lonely”.
Page 3: The baby appears and disillusionment sets in. The baby can’t do anything! (Drippy little Caillou’s parents obviously did a poor job of preparation.)
Pages 4 – 7: Caillou’s behaviour deteriorates, from pouting through passive aggression and non-compliance, through regression right onto to active aggression, culminating when he bites his baby sister.

Caillou’s parents are galvanized into action! Daddy comforts the baby, while Mommy tackles Caillou. And here’s where it gets weird. Just you watch.

Mommy: “You think your sister is sweet enough to eat. But if you do, you will no longer have her to love. You can bite an apple, but not your baby sister.”

He thinks she’s sweet enough to eat?? Does this delusion nitwit honestly think her toddler bit the baby because he thinks she’s edible? Seriously?

I think Caillou’s mommy is one of those “Good Mommies”. Bad feelings don’t exist in her universe. I bet when Caillou manages to get under her skin by repeated whiny, manipulative, aggressive behaviour, she isn’t ever, ever angry, she’s only “sad”. So very sad. And Caillou is never angry, hostile, or jealous. Oh, no! He is just tired, or over-stimulated. Or, in this case, hungry.

Okay, Mommy. Time for a reality check. Caillou is thinking a whole big bunch of things about his sister, you bet. However, I would bet lots and lots of good money “my baby sister is sooooo sweet” is not one of them.

He may only be 21 months old, but Mommy? He knows the difference between a human being and an apple. That’s why, when he wanted to express his anger and aggression, he threw a doll around his room. A baby doll. Not, you will note, an apple.

“But if you do, you will no longer have her to love.”

Wait. Just wait now. You’re suggesting that Caillou is trying to ingest his sister, in her entirety?? That he wants to completely consume her? You think that bite wasn’t a simple act of aggression, but only the first morsel of lunch??

She’d rather believe her son was aiming for cannibalism than aggression?? A little bog-standard toddler aggression arising out of jealousy and anxiety?? So her thought processes were, what? “My baby would never act aggressively! Nooo. He must just have been trying to eat her. Like an apple. Yes, that’s much better.”

You know what? That’s WAY, WAY CREEPIER, Mommy. Waaaay creepier. Caillou the Cannibal. Ew.

Wonderful husband listened to me read that page and snorted. “Now, now, Caillou,” he chirped in a blissed-out Nice Mommy voice. “You can’t have your sister and eat her, too!” (Yes, I know I’ve just put down the red carpet for some seriously creepy Google-searchers. Won’t they be disappointed that it’s just whiny little Caillou and his delusional parents?)

“You can bite an apple, but not your baby sister.”

Okay. We’ll let that one alone. It’s a reasonable enough thing to say to a young toddler. Also “You are a person, not a wild animal. People don’t bite.” Or, “You may be angry, but you may not bite.” Or, “Caillou! You just hurt the baby! See how she’s crying? Poor baby Rosie! I need to go spend time with her and help her feel better. You can sit over there alone.” Or, after the above, “You can come help me make her feel better. Poor, poor Rosie!”

It’s odd how most of the book is devoted to describing Caillou’s growing unhappiness and eventual aggression, but the parents’ response does not address the issue of his feelings at.all.

In fact, and I just realized this, there is never any discussion of Caillou’s feelings. It is simply a list of actions. Caillou does this, that, and that other thing. Every one of them negative, until the very last page. Nor is there any discussion of the results of those actions on other people. (Empathy for poor crying Rosie? Noooo.)

Good lord. What an enormous gap in the narrative of this book! Caillou is a little guy. He looks to be less than two. So…
– He doesn’t know what that turmoil of feeling inside him is. He needs someone to label them for him. He needs someone to show him how to control and channel them. In simple and concrete ways. (Not someone to deny that they even exist!)
– He quite likely genuinely doesn’t know that other people have feelings, too. Not like he does, at any rate. Rosie’s tears were a prime opportunity to introduce him to the notion, and to plant some seeds of empathy.

So, in a book that’s all about a toddler’s negative emotional reaction to the advent of the attention-sucking interloper of a new baby in his perfect world, there is not one single reference to the feelings that precipitate all the actions. Only the idea that it’s understandable if you might want cannibalize your sibling because she’s so sweet.

What a weird book.

February 26, 2013 Posted by | books, eeewww, parenting, socializing | , , , | 12 Comments

Menu Monday

First Course: Orange-ginger broccoli*
Main Course: Fettucine carbonara*
Dessert: Muffins

First Course: Parmesan tomatoes*
Main Course: Farmer’s Omelette
Dessert: Bananas and walnuts

First Course: Almond beets**
Main Course: Macaroni and Cheese
Dessert: Apple slices with peanut butter

First Course: Coleslaw (red cabbage, rutabaga, carrot)*
Main Course: Polenta with cabbage-peanut stew
Dessert: banana bread

First Course: salad*
Main Course: Singapore noodles
Dessert: fruit fool*

*Starred recipes again from my new cookbook, Michael Smith’s Fast Flavours.

**This one is from Cook’s Illustrated magazine, an excellent magazine to which I have a subscription because I love not just the recipes, but the educational aspect of their articles. I’ve learned a lot from their articles: how flavours meld, how to bring out the best, varying techniques. I’ve been able to follow a recipe since I was ten; now I’m learning how recipies — and food — works. It’s terrific!

However, I strongly, really, truly object to their restrictive practices re: their website information. I could give you all a link to the recipe, but there’d be a whacking great pop-up in the middle of the page requesting you to sign up for a 14-day free trial of their site before you could see the recipe hiding behind said obnoxious pop-up. (And may I say how I object that, even as a subscriber — with a three-year subscription, yet — to the print magazine, I am not entitled to view the recipes on their site without paying still more? Obnoxious, I tell you.)

Chef Michael
is way classier. (Also less grasping.) Neener, neener. AND his recipes are usually simpler. So there. 😛

As ever, if you see something in this week’s menu that interests you, just ask and I’ll post it.

February 25, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Consistency? What’s that?


9:00 a.m.
Poppy: Can we go outside?
Mary: Not right now, sweetie. Rosie’s sleeping.

10:00 a.m.
Poppy: Can we go outside?
Mary: No, lovie. We’re painting right now.

11:00 a.m.
Poppy: Can we go outside?
Mary: Right now I’m making lunch.

Poppy: Can we go outside?
Mary: No, now we are reading books, and then it is naptime.

Poppy: Can we go outside?
Mary: Afraid not, my dear. Rosie and Josh are still sleeping.

Poppy: Can we go outside?
Mary: You know what, lovie? Now it’s ice-rain out there. We can’t go out in that.

Poppy: Can we go outside?
Mary: It’s all icy out there. It wouldn’t be safe or fun.

Poppy: Can we go outside?
Mary: Well, we’re getting you ready to go home, love. You’ll have to ask daddy.

8:00 a.m., as Poppy comes in my front door.

Mary: Leave your snowsuit on, sweetie! We’re going OUTSIDE!!!
Poppy: Why?

February 22, 2013 Posted by | individuality, Poppy | , | 3 Comments

My Grandmother would call it “Giving Them Ideas”

We went to the library yesterday. Brought home a great heap o’books. Now, when at the library, I do generally glance through the books they toss on the table, and discreetly remove the ones I know I would find mind-numbing beyond belief, or simply annoying. When Poppy tossed in a Caillou book, I let it stay without reading through. I know some people love to hate Caillou, but I find him generally harmless. Insipid and whiney, perhaps, but harmless.

Until today, that is.

And this book? Was Caillou: Baby Sister, which is VERY COOL, because Poppy is getting a baby sister in the summer. (We all found out it was a sister a week or so ago.) So, can Poppy bring home a book about getting a baby sister? Of course she can! How fun!

So I sit down with the children, and we start reading through the mondo pile o’books. We get to Caillou. I begin. Caillou pats his mummy’s big tummy, and looks forward to baby’s arrival. Mummy and Daddy go off to the hospital, leaving Caillou with gramma.

Is he excited about the even he’s awaited so long? Is he eager? No. He sticks his thumb in his mouth and he “feels lonely”. (Yes, Caillou’s a bit of a sap.)

Mummy and Daddy return, and Caillou is surprised. The baby can’t walk or play. “She’s just a baby.” Um, did no one tell him this? Yeesh.

Next page, Caillou is jealous.
Then he pouts.
The he refuses to look at the baby.
Then he regresses.
Wets the bed.
Wants a bottle.
Wants to be rocked to sleep.
And then, in a startling bit of active aggression (instead of his usual passive version) he
BITES the baby.
Then he goes into his room and beats up on his baby doll.

And then, on the very last page, after a whole book of Caillou being a little shit, he hands the baby her bottle, and discovers she is funny! She is very small and smells nice.

Last sentence of the book:
“Caillou likes being a big brother.”

Um, really? You know, I am not convinced by this. I very much doubt your toddler would be, either. I did not finish reading the book to the tots. After two or three pages of negativity, I had had enough. (I read it later, on my own, to discover what I’ve just shared with you.)

“Goodness, Caillou is being mean, isn’t he? I don’t think I want to read a book about someone being mean to a baby.” The children all nodded sagely, because a guiding principle at Mary’s is “Big people take care of little people.” Being mean to a baby is shocking, people! Shocking and utterly reprehensible. And then I hid the book.

Of course it is important to prepare a child for a sibling’s arrival. Let the older one know how helpless the baby will be. Disabuse them of any idea of being presented with a fully-developed playmate. Talk about crying and pooping and sour milk. And also talk about what they might do with the baby. Pat her head, fetch burp cloths, jiggle a toy…

Of course it is important to acknowledge a child’s feelings, both positive and negative, as they arise. A new baby very often does make the older child feel displaced. An older child can feel resentful, jealous, might indeed wish to be a baby again, and cause reams of delighted laughter, from the entire world, for farting. I mean, really!


But while you can and should prepare the child for the helplessness of a newborn, and you can and should suggest ways that they can be involved, I do not for one second think you should be telling the child how they might respond emotionally in a negative way. Small children are extremely suggestible. Tell a child, “You might feel jealous. You might think that everyone loves the baby more than you,” and you will pretty much ensure that your child does just that.

If you’re going to plant seeds, why not make them positive ones?

“You will spend the night with grandma. Won’t that be fun? You LOVE sleepovers at Grandma’s house!”
“The baby will be soooo teeny, it will be like having a doll that wriggles and makes funny noises.”
“When the baby cries, we will try things to make her happy and stop crying. Maybe you could tickle her toes.”

I find it interesting that the author of Caillou has decided not to make these types of positive suggestions, and thus plant seeds of resilience and possibility. No, she has decided that it’s more helpful to tell your child all the ways he might hate the new baby.

Honest to pete.

(And don’t even get me started on how Caillou’s parents respond when he bites his sister. Actually, that part is screamingly funny in a dark, dry way, and deserves its own blog post.)

If, in fact, your child responds in a negative way to the new baby, you deal with those feelings as they arise. A wise parent is prepared for that eventuality … but why would you suggest to your child that you expect those behaviours? You, the adult, may indeed be expecting them. You probably should anticipate some negativity, at least for a while. For that matter, Caillou’s lengthy list of rotten behaviours is good preparation for the parent. (But, whatever you do, don’t use Caillou’s parents as role models for how to respond. Lordy.)

But to plant the seed for your child? To, in essence, actively make suggestions for how to respond negatively?

That’s just nuts.

My fall-back New Baby book is Mercer Mayer’s “The New Baby“. I don’t always like the sibling dynamic in the Little Critter books, but this one is very good. The older brother does discover that babies don’t do much on their own, that they cry a lot, and don’t play like older children do, but he makes all these discoveries in a cheerfully exploratory way, as he tries to interact positively with his new sibling. Then mom makes a bunch of helpful suggestions which he tries, and on the last page, the big brother is showing his wee sister off to his friends, who think he’s “SO LUCKY!”

Accurate information presented positively (imagine!) with a believable happy ending. Much better.

How about you? Any “New Baby” books you particularly love? Or loathe?

February 22, 2013 Posted by | aggression, books, parenting, Peeve me, socializing | , , , , | 10 Comments


Poppy comes to me full, her face solemn. I have heard a squabble rising in the kitchen but have opted to remain uninvolved. I am not surprised to have a small emissary of concern at my elbow. (Had it been Jazz, it would have been an emissary of Righteous Indignation and Most Grievous Outrage. I’m rather glad it’s Poppy.)

“Jazz not touch the scarey dragon!!”
“Does she want to touch the dragon?”
“Oh. Do you want her to touch the dragon?”
“Then I don’t understand what you’re fighting about.”
“She says there isn’t a scarey dragon.”
“Is there a scarey dragon?”

So the situation of grave concern here is that there’s a non-existent dragon that Poppy does not wish Jazz to touch, and which Jazz is not, in fact, touching.

Well, you can SEE THE PROBLEM, can’t you?!!!

February 21, 2013 Posted by | Jazz, Poppy, quirks and quirkiness | , , , | 2 Comments


Everyone knows that a good way to get children to try new food is to involve them in its preparation. We know that. We don’t necessarily do that.

But you know? It’s winter. If the temperatures are at least -15C (without a wind), we go outside. But as you can imagine, at -15, the tots don’t last neeeearly as long as they do at +15C. And in January and February in Ottawa, we get more than a few days a whole lot colder than -15. So. A lot more indoor hours to fill, and, I know you may find this hard to believe, but even crafty Mary gets tired of crafts!!!

Why not, I thought, fill some of those hours with food preparation? I have a weekly menu. I know what’s on the list for that day and the next. This could be fun!

Very often, even when we do involve kids, they’re baking, not cooking. They’re making cookies and muffins and cakes. All fine for teaching a certain set of kitchen skills, but nothing to do with familiarizing them with foods they might not otherwise choose to eat. What kid needs to be coaxed to eat cookies? (And if they do, why on earth would you?? If you’re coaxing your child to eat cookies, stoppit right now!)

Now, I’ve done real cooking with the children before, but sporadically and infrequently. It’s time, I decided, to get systematic about this!

So as of this week, in the hour between arrival and our outing, I thought we’d hit the kitchen. On Monday, we made muffins, of course. Yes, I know it’s baking, not cooking, but Muffin Monday is a tradition, thanks to Hannah! No messing with tradition!

Tuesday: They helped make the green bean dish, because apart from chopping the onions, it’s simple, simple, simple.
Wednesday: Baked apples! They can drop the goodies down the core of the apple. Also, because Thursday’s tofu needs to marinate, they’ll help me mix the marinade and put the slices of tofu in the pan.
Thursday: They can help make the cheese sauce for the cauliflower. (Shall I send them home knowing the word ‘roux‘, just to show off??)
Friday: Veggie frittata cups. They can choose one veggie each, I’ll chop them all up, they’ll spoon the veggies into the muffin cups and pour the egg mix over top, I’ll put it in the oven. Teamwork!

I like it. What are the advantages? It…
– keeps us busy
– fills in time we can’t be outside
– it’s companionable
– familiarizes the tots with their food
– making it more likely that they’ll eat their food
– gives them kitchen competence
– and builds a sense of teamwork…

all in a happy atmosphere of relaxed camaraderie.

And if they’re really, really good? I’ll let them do the dishes, too.


February 20, 2013 Posted by | food, health and safety | , , , , | 6 Comments

Tattling Strategy

Tattling and whining, the two banes of life with toddlers. Worse than power struggles over veggies and naps, worse than dawdling and contrariness, worse than snot, spit, puke and shit.

Of those two, tattling and whining, for me at any rate, whining is worse. Now, I loathe tattling. I loathe it almost as much as I loathe whining, but on balance, there’s just something about that off-key, see-saw, drawn-out tone of voice that just grates, you know? Gets right under the skin. So hard, nigh impossible, to tune out. (Which is THE WHOLE POINT of whining, of course.)

I have a tattler in the ranks. Ugh. All toddlers tattle at one point or another, but some kids? Some have an absolute passion for it. It’s their damned vocation. That’s what I’ve got these days. A dedicated, passionate tattler.

The only thing worse than whining is tatting done in a whine. Guess what? My current tattler is one of those. (Making her, as Hannah suggests, a whinitter? a tattlewhinge?) I think I’m going to adopt “tattlewhinge”. So evocative.

And these days, the tattling-whinging is constant. Absolutely constant.

“Grace is sitting on the beeeeh-ench! Daniel hit meeee-eee! Poppy won’t shaaaay-yare! He’s too cloooo-ooose! She’s too faaa-aar! They won’t… they will… they aren’t… they are…”

Whine, tattle, whine, tattle. All.Day.Long.

Aside: Now, some tattling is appropriate, of course. I just don’t tend to hear it from this child, but when I do, you can BE SURE that I am warmly appreciative!

“Rosie is standing on the table? Oh, no! That is dangerous! Good for you for telling me, so we can keep Rosie safe! Good job!”

I have strategies for tattling, of course. Strategies which will work, in time, so long as I have the persistence (which I do) and the patience (less bountiful some days) to see it through. Still, I can’t stop thinking about it. Not obsessing! I swear. Thinking. Mulling it over. Running scenarios through my mind. (Scenarios which do not include duct tape, I swear.) Musing. Cogitating.

Okay. Maybe obsessing, just a bit. But from much thinking comes actual insight! The insight came as I was ranting venting obsessing talking it over with Emma.

“She’s not trying to solve a problem, she’s just trying to get someone else in trouble, or use me to get herself some vengeance. I refuse to be her Enforcer.”

Suddenly I heard what I was saying: “She’s not trying to solve a problem.” I heard, and I had my lightbulb moment. When you have a problem, what should your response be? Why, to solve it, of course. To fix it. Make it better.

So, with that tiny bit of insight, I can reframe my response to a tattle into a clean, methodical, logical set of steps. It goes like this:

Kid tattles.

1. I ask “What’s the problem?”
Note: this is not said in a sarcastic tone. The question is quite sincere. Let’s get to the root of the problem — let’s identify the problem that needs to be fixed. Toddlers are often surprisingly poor at this. They know how they feel about what’s happened — NO LIKE IT!!! GRR! — they usually know what they want done in response — GIVE IT TO ME! NOW! — but they often can’t identify what event caused their feelings. And they very, very rarely manage to understand that the other party has a similar and equally valid set of needs.

So the first step is to identify the problem. Which, even if they can identify it, is often not quite as they see it. (The problem, stupid Mary, is that HE WON’T SHARE!!! No, actually, my little dumpling of sweetness, the problem is that he won’t abdicate the toy the second you demand it.) The problem, from my dispassionate adult perspective, is that you both have equally valid, conflicting desires.

I try to be sincere and kind about the problem, from their perspective. “You really, really want that toy! But you know what? She really, really wants that toy, too! And you can’t both play with it at the same time.” (We’ll assume it’s a toy that doesn’t lend itself to co-play.) “That’s a big problem!” Because, really, from their perspective of self-focus, immature empathy capabilities, and general life inexperience, it is a big problem.

All right. Having identified the problem, we go on to step two. “That’s a big problem,” I say,

2. “How can you solve the problem?”

The first proposed solution will be obvious: “He has to GIVE IT TO ME!” (Duh.)
“Yes,” says kindly party-pooping Mary, “but if we do that, you will be happy, but he will be sad. We need to try to fix this so you’re both happy.”

We continue, with me trying to draw it out of them, rather than impose it upon them. Sometimes this step is done with all children involved, sometimes with just the tattler. It depends on what the precipitating CRISIS!!!! was. (I treat their event as a Big Problem when I discuss it with them out of respect for their developmental phase. This does not mean I actually believe it’s a Big Problem. Because WHO CARES if the pink shoelace is beside the book or on top of it? Me?? I think not.)

2b. What happens if that doesn’t work?
This is preparing them for the future, when (as a result of my diligent and skilled assistance!) they are solving problems BEFORE they come tattling to me. Or even — and oh, my heart beats a little faster at the thought — INSTEAD of coming tattling to me. [Insert giggle of sheer giddiness.] So what if they come up with a solution, and it doesn’t work? They tried something, and there’s still a problem?

Because these are toddlers here. Even if, by some sudden burst of maturity, one of ’em actually manages a constructive, calm, co-operative response to a conflict/problem, that is no guarantee at all that the other kid will be equally sensible. In fact, odds make it strongly unlikely. So. If their wonderful fix-it idea doesn’t work? THEN they can come to me for help.

However, I expect them to try to fix it before they ask me to help.

So. When the child has come up with a solution that seems viable, I

3. See that it happens.
I don’t implement the solution. I watch and support the implementation, stepping in only when absolutely essential.

There. That’s the initial response. Emphasis on identifying shared problem, and the expectation that they try to fix it on their own.

When we’ve been through this enough times that the drill is understood, I retreat even further from involvement, hand over even more of the process to the child.

Kid Tattles, Phase Two.

1. What have you done to solve the problem?
“You know you are supposed to try to fix the problem first, before you talk to me about it. What have you tried?” Again, not angrily. Just asking. Because of course they have tried to fix it!!!

If they have tried something, they get much praise for this. Then I help them brainstorm another response. I will intervene if their solution was perfectly appropriate and the real problem is that the other child is acting like a two-year-old. (It’s a chronic issue with two-year-olds…)

If the response is “nothing”, I instruct the child to think of some ideas to fix it, and get back to me. I often look puzzled as I say it. “You haven’t tried anything yet?

If the response continues to be “nothing” many repetitions later, well after the expectation is 100% established, the tattler will be In Trouble for not trying to solve their own problems. Now I am no longer puzzled, but annoyed.

“You know you are to try to solve your problems. You know the rule: Try to fix it first! Off you go to the quiet stair and think about how to solve this.”

I like it. It gives ownership of the problem to the child, it teaches them some clear steps for resolution, it has a trajectory of decreasing adult involvment/increasing child autonomy.

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Peeve me, socializing, whining | , | 4 Comments

Menu Monday

Vegetable: Green salad
Main: chicken pot pie/chickpea pot pie
Dessert: granola muffins

Vegetable: green beans and tomato*
Main: beet-rice bowl
Dessert: apple and pear slices

Vegetable: orange-ginger broccoli*
Main: Egg noodles with mushroom/red wine sauce*
Dessert: baked apples*

Vegetable: cauliflower with cheese sauce
Main: Curried couscous*, ginger-baked tofu
Dessert: stewed pears with shredded coconut

Vegetable: veggie frittata cups
Main: Caribbean rice and beans*
Dessert: bananas

*All recipes marked with an asterisk come from Michael Smith‘s new cookbook Fast Flavours, which I received for Valentine’s Day!

As ever, if there’s a recipe you’d like to see, just ask!

February 18, 2013 Posted by | food | , , | Leave a comment