It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Soft Heart and Brick Wall

I have two dogs. The older is a largish (about 60 pounds) husky-lab mix with gorgeous amber eyes and a gentle demeanor. The younger is a mid-size spaniel mix of some description, with long feathers and a feistier disposition.

Little Ms Feisty gets in trouble a whole lot more than Ms. Biddable. You would not know that from their respective responses to the scolding.

The big one (Indie) snoozes on the window seat in the living room. The small one is counter-surfing in the kitchen, tip-toeing on her hind legs, nose at the edge of the counter, trawling for crumbs. Someone was making a ham sandwich there earlier, and maybe they left some in reach???

“Daisy!” I bark. “Down!”

Daisy immediately gets down and slinks away looking guilty. Indie slumbers on, unperturbed.


Nope. Not like that. Not at all. What really happens is this:

Daisy gets down, yes, but fixes me with a “What’s YOUR problem?” look, and casts looks back at the counter that indicate that the second my attention is diverted, she intends to be right back up there. If she had a middle finger, I’d be getting it. Indie, on the other hand, slips down off the window bench (where she is absolutely allowed to be) and slinks away. Her whole body radiates: “I’m so sorry, I’ll never do it again! Please don’t hate me!”

Pssht. Dogs…

Dogs … Dogs, and toddlers. I have precisely the same dynamic with Daniel and Poppy.

Daniel slams a car into the table leg again, dinging the wood and making an unholy racket. “Daniel, I’ve told you before not to do that. I told you if it happened again, you would have to stop playing with the car. Now you need to give me that car and find something else to do.”

And we’re off. By the age of three, with two years of Mary-training under his belt, any other child in the daycare would hand over the car. Reluctantly, perhaps, but they’d hand it. But this is Daniel.

“Give me the car please, Daniel, and we’ll find you something else to do.”
“I don’t want to.”
I hold out my hand, he hides the car behind his back.
“I know you don’t want to, but I didn’t want you to keep bashing my table, and you did anyway. Give me the car.”

“Daniel, you can either give me that car on your own, or I will take it from you.”
“I don’t want to! I don’t want you to have the car!”
I pull his arm out from behind his back. He tightens his grip on the car.
“Then I will have to take it.”
I take the car from him and send him to the quiet stair — for defiance, not for bashing my chair.
“When I tell you to do something, Daniel, I expect you to do it on your own. If I have to make you, you sit on the quiet stair.”

Exit Daniel to the quiet stair, howling. (Where, surprisingly, he stays. The one rule he keeps without resistance. Weird, I know.)

So Daniel is Daisy — feisty and defiant.

And Poppy? Poppy is poor Indie, slinking away to hide in a corner. When Daniel is being scolded, or suffering some natural consequences, or howling in outraged indignation that Mary actually followed through on the promised consequences (which should not come as a surprise, geez) … Poppy suffers. Daniel is probably suffering too, in his own way, but that doesn’t bother me. That’s self-inflicted and well-deserved. But poor Poppy? She doesn’t deserve this level of stress and angst. And no matter how calmly I deal with the situation, it’s a conflict, and Poppy is stressed.

Nor am I always calm. Most times, I manage all this calmly. But some days, if it’s been the 47th repeat of this pattern in a single [expletive deleted] morning, my intensity cranks up jest a titch. Yesterday afternoon, I actually shouted.

If you knew me in real life, that would tell you a lot. I never shout.

I shouted. Daniel howled. Poppy ran to the far corner of the room, yipping out a strangulated, “O-oh, dear!”, and burst into tears.

Oh, the guilt.

I leave Daniel howling on the quiet stair. He’s had all the attention I have any intention of giving him for a while. It’s arguable he got more than he should have. His howls are not distress, anyway, but astonished and angry regret at having lost the battle. I take Poppy gently to another room where Daniels roars are somewhat muted. We snuggle. I comfort and soothe.

I promise her — and, more importantly, myself — that there will be no more shouting.

Tonight, when I have time and space, I will strategize.

For Poppy’s sake. For my own.

And, whether he believes it or not, for Daniel, too.


December 5, 2013 - Posted by | aggression, Daniel, Poppy, power struggle |


  1. My god, Daniel *is* Louis. You have my very deepest and most sincere sympathy. If it got to the point where you shouted, it must have been a very bad day indeed. 😦

    With Louis, the only thing that has worked is giving him one chance, and only one chance, to comply. So, at the point where he says “NO!” in response to “give me the car” (working with your example), I take the car, march him to the quiet chair, and say “I asked you for the car, and you wouldn’t give it to me. I need you to sit quietly for a while.”

    And then I walk away. Ignore, ignore, ignore. For me, the frustration stemmed from having my verbal instructions defied / argued with – so I stopped giving them to him. He knows the rules – repeating them endlessly was giving him all the power in the situation.

    Over the course of months, it was slowly getting better – then his parents finally came on board with the same methodology, and the improvement was dramatic. We still have our moments, but nothing like those horrible months when I honestly thought I’d have to fire him for everyone’s safety & sanity.

    Hopefully this will help Poppy too, because it will cut down on the amount of direct conflict.

    Exactly my thoughts. Like you, it’s the deliberate defiance that sends my blood pressure skyrocketing. After that rotten day, I decided, “I have to disengage,” and came up with pretty much exactly that strategy. One chance to comply, then a quick, silent trip to the quiet stair. No fuss, no muss. Well, he’ll likely fuss, but then I’ll go on to stage two of your excellent advice: ignore, ignore, ignore.

    On the flip side, and contrarily, he likes to please… sometimes. When the demon on his shoulder isn’t shouting too loudly in his ear. If I can get that urge to please to the top of his hierarchy, and I’m hoping giving the negative stuff as little feedback as humanly possible will do that, we’ll all be much happier.

    Comment by Hannah | December 5, 2013 | Reply

  2. Awww, Poppy. Such a sensitive mite. Not a bad thing in a person but overwhelming as a toddler to be so empathic. Same could be said of Indie.

    I think it’s wonderful that despite his initial defiance, that Daniel still respects the boundaries of the “quiet stair”. It just proves that, like Daisy, he’s a tester of limits but not an outright breaker of rules.

    All that being said, now that my kids are grown, this post reflects exactly why I have cats and don’t do daycare.


    It’s odd. The quiet stair is the one and only limit he respects without resistance… though the other day he stood up in front of it, so even that’s not sacrosanct.

    Your last sentence made me laugh out loud. Ha!

    Comment by Sheri | December 5, 2013 | Reply

  3. […] described last week the challenge that Daniel is presenting. “Contrary” is not sufficient to describe this boy. All two-year-olds are contrary, or […]

    Pingback by Getting Better! « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | December 10, 2013 | Reply

  4. […] of them. We don’t need to, not only because it’s exhausting for me, but because it taints the atmosphere of the daycare for the other children. (It may be exhausting for Daniel, too, but I worry less about that. If the conflicts carry a […]

    Pingback by Lateral Thinking « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | December 18, 2013 | Reply

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