The Wonderful Husband and I have a date night each week. Thursday evenings we wander over to our local pub, sometimes just for a drink, most often for dinner. The server knows us, we often see people we know, but though we may wave a greeting to a neighbour, we don’t stop to visit. We go there to chat with each other. It’s quiet, it’s friendly, it’s our style.
This week we weren’t able to go on Thursday, so we deferred till Friday.
Well, now. Our quiet neighbourhood pub is a totally different place on a Friday at 6:30, let me tell you! We had to wait in line! Okay, only for maybe 4 minutes, but still: that never happens! And when we were seated, there were no tables in the front of the upper half. This means we had to sit in the back of the upper half. The section where they sit families with children.
My heart sinks, a bit. Are you surprised? You wouldn’t be alone. Lots of people assume I’d enjoy that. “You work with kids! You must love them!”
Well. I do love them, of course. But while it isn’t like many other jobs — it’s one of the few jobs where falling in love with one’s clientele is considered dedication, not a faux pas — it is also a job, like any other. Who brings their work to date night?
But you know, that’s not the key issue. Nope. It’s because they tend to behave so badly. And it is so hard, as a pro, not to be watching the bad behaviour and say oneself, “That? Is so UNNECESSARY!” Every time I see poor behaviour being ineffectively addressed, or, even more often, not addressed at all, I itch to get over there and FIX IT. Which I can’t, of course. So I sit there and twitch.
My expectations are reasonable. I’ve been working with kids for close to thirty years (if you include my own, and why wouldn’t you?). I know what one can reasonably expect of a 2-year-old, a 5-year-old, a 10-year-old.
I wish more of their parents did…
So. Friday night. Date night. Which also appears to be Family Dinner Out night in my neighbourhood. Now, I am not one of these people who says restaurants are for adults only. It depends on the restaurant, of course. Unless your child has absolutely impeccable manners, you don’t take them to a quiet, upscale, expensive restaurant, and spoil other diner’s evening. But a place like this, a casual, friendly, neighbourhood pub? Of course kids can be there.
Rather than refuse them entry, I think it’s important to get kids out and into the wider world. In fact, I take my tots out to lunch at a local restaurant about once a month. I do this for our enjoyment, of course, but also — perhaps even primarily — so they can learn and practice the expectations of dining out. We talk about the rules and regs on our way in. “Sitting still”, “inside voices”, “please and thank you”. All those things are reviewed prior, and practiced during. In a cheerful, upbeat, aren’t-we-so-BIG way.
They love it. And the other diners? Well, first, there aren’t a whole lot of other diners. I have Tiny Tots in Training here, so I choose times when the restaurant won’t be busy. But, the other diners, because they can see us cheerfully practicing, even when we don’t quite hit the mark, even when someone’s volume creeps too loud, or someone tries to slip out of their chair, or forgets a please… because they can see the calm, cheerful (and at least momentarily) effective reminders, because they can see a whole lot of social training going on, they generally cut us the necessary slack. And, we keep it brief. We go in, we order, we charm the server, we eat, we leave.
So, unlike the children at the pub last week, my tots do not leave their chairs to dance in the space between tables. (Any attempt to leave the chair is caught mid-slither!) They do not swing on the backs of other people’s chairs as they pass. They speak — at least, are consistently reminded to speak — in quiet voices.
Two tables down, two families were sharing a large corner table. Their two little girls, about 5, were obviously excited to be together, and excited to be out. They were very cute. They were also appallingly LOUD. They did not speak to each other, they shrieked.
I was annoyed, but not at the children, but their parents. Have you people never heard of INSIDE voices??
One little girl saw someone across the room that she knew. Grabbing the back of the chair of the diner at the next table — not one of their group — she slithers from her chair, and skitters across the room to say hi. A server does a quick two-step to avoid her sudden dart. No adult stops her, no one reminds her that “we don’t touch other people’s chairs”. Nor do they intervene when the other little girl joins her, similarly using the adjacent diner’s chair to steady herself. Nor do the parents at either table anything at all when the girls go back and forth between the two tables several times.
This is not the fault of the children. They appear to be good-natured, happy little people. But they are not being taught the parameters. No adult of the three families now involved took it upon themselves to give an elementary Civilization/Socialization 101 lesson.
But that wasn’t as bad as the family at the other end of the room, who had two adorable little boys, about 5 and 2, I’d say. It seems that the little boys had come to the end of their main course, and had decided upon ice cream for dessert. So dad sends them after the server.
Do you catch the inappropriateness of that? If you want something from a server, what is the protocol? Do you get up out of your seat and hunt her down? Well, perhaps, if the service were absolutely, utterly execrable. But under normal circumstances? You flag her down with eye contact, or a raised hand and an ‘excuse me’. And that is what he should be teaching his boys.
Dad, however, does not call the server over to the table. He does not call her over so as to have his little boys ask politely for their ice cream. So they can see how one gets food in a restaurant.
No. He sends them over to where the server is currently interacting with another patron. Me, as it happens. They tug her sleeve. Her sleeve, which is holding a pitcher of water. “Hey! Hey, over here!!” says the adorable 5-year-old, cheerful, lively, loud. And let me underline: these children were seriously cute. Which is why, I think, doting daddy thought their behaviour was cute, instead of what it was: abysmal.
The server looks down into his excited, smiling, face. “I would like ice cream!”
She smiles back. “You would? Well, sure. I will bring some to your table in just a minute.”
The boy beams up at her. “Thank you!” he chortles. I wish that were true. No, he did not. Instead, he looked at his little brother. “Ice cream! Ice cream!”, he bellows. Little brother, being two, thinks this is great. So now the two of them are leaping up and down in the middle of a crowded, busy room, screaming “ICE CREAM!!!” into each other’s faces. From his table at the far end of the room, Dad grins at them. Aren’t they just so cuuute?
Cute, maybe, but far from civilized. And, you know? You can be adorably cute and unutterably rude all at the same time. These two have that nailed.
But is it their fault? Of course not. How can they know, if they’ve never been taught?
I look at the server. “Excuse me. May I have some ice cream, please?” I say. The server knows I’m not asking for ice cream, and grins all over her face, grateful to have someone voice her feelings. Wonderful husband chimes in. “I can? Oh, thank you!” We all grin at each other.
It is entirely possible to take a 2 and a 5-year-old out to a casual restaurant and have them sit in their seat, not shout, and ask for things politely. They won’t manage it all the time, for the whole duration of the meal. That’s normal. They’ll need reminders. Those reminders? That’s called ‘parenting’.
There’s been a big turnover here. Poppy, Daniel and Rosie are off to other adventures — JK for Poppy and Daniel, preschool for Rosie.
(An aside: Preschool, to “get her ready” for Junior Kindergarten, don’t you know. Silliest thing ever. As I recall, JK was intended to ‘get them ready’ for SK, which, at its inception, was intended to ‘get them ready’ for Grade 1. Honestly. What’s next? Intercom to the womb, so we can ‘get them ready’ for life outside?)
But, a secret here? The only one I truly, truly miss is Poppy. Daniel, though a charmer, was also more than a handful. I could manage him, him with his aggression and defiance. Over the course of the three years he was with me, he improved tremendously, but even so, he was a lot of work. And Rosie? Sweet little Rosie came with parents who were, increasingly, a lot of work. So, while I do miss Rosie, I’m pleased to have mom and dad gone.
And in their place?
I still have Daniel’s little sister, Gwen, who is now two. She’s dawning into an absolutely lovely child. You know how some people are just naturally positive? Gwen is one of those. Now, like her brother, she is very strong-willed, but unlike her brother, she is not self-destructively, reflexively defiant. It’s probably an exaggeration to say she can be ‘reasoned with’ very much just yet, but it is fair to say she is amenable to reason. She’s two, and perfectly capable of unreasoning contrariness, but negativity is not her default. She’s sunshine, mostly. Thunderstorms are occasional, and fleeting.
I still have … Oh, gracious. Did I ever give Poppy’s baby sister a blog name? I think not. Hmmm… I think I’ll keep the flower theme in the family, and go with ‘Daisy’. Bright and sunny, but also a bit of a weed. Yeah. Daisy. Good name for this one. (And yes, I’ve given her the same name as my dog. They share a goodly number of character traits…)
Daisy is now 16 months old. She’s got a killer sense of humour for such a wee one, is bouncy and resilient — cheerfully feisty, too. She’s tiny for her age, often taken for 10 or 11 months old, but make no mistake, she’s a powerhouse, this one.
And we have two new tots, Liam (18 months) and Zoe (14 months).
Liam is a hoot. He’s got the most beautiful, engaging smile. When Liam beams at you, it’s because he’s seen something wonderful and he just knows you’ll share the joy. From time to time, he recalls the evil, parent-eating door, and has a moment of sadness, but he’s quickly distracted. He’s a big, solid boy, but gentle with it, gentle in spirit and in actions. He does charge around like a tiny moose, yes, but manages, for the most part, to avoid knocking the others over like ninepins. He’s not a blunderer. And I have yet to see him use his size to push the other children around, which he manifestly could.
Zoe is a cautious one. Though she’s capable of some lovely smiles and has bouts of good cheer, those are not her default. Zoe, sadly, is a whiner. Zoe’s response to life’s little setbacks is to cry. And Zoe’s definition of ‘setback’ is both exceedingly broad and endlessly specific.
Did you know that toddlers fall an average of 17 times an hour? True fact. That’s an average, too, meaning a bunch of tots fall more often than that! And did you also know that in Zoe’s world, an unexpected sit-down on her well-padded butt constitutes a ‘setback’ of scream-worthy proportions? Followed by long minutes of low-intensity grizzling? The girl seems to have no other response to a setback, no matter how insignificant, but to wail. No resilience whatsoever.
She’s cautious, so she probably falls less frequently than average. We’ll say a mere 10 times an hour. Oy. And that’s only the start. She will cry for … gracious. What won’t she cry for? I say again, Oy. Someone walks by too close. I put her in the high chair. I lift her down from the high chair. Another child laughs. Another child looks at her. Or at her toys. Or doesn’t look at her. She’s offered food. She’s not offered food. I put her in the stroller.
And let us not speak of diaper changes, which she greets with screams that would have the neighbours thinking (had I not pre-emptively shut the windows) that I was removing her toenails with pliers. Rusty pliers. Lord only know what will happen should she ever get a diaper rash!
Now that I am sure she’s adjusted to the new environment, and equally sure that the grizzling is more bad habit than genuine unhappiness, I am beginning some basic behavioural training. If I am playing with her, helping her stack blocks on the floor, say, and she begins to grizzle (because someone walked too close? because a dog scratched itself across the room? a dust mote settled on the top block?), I spin on my butt so I have my back to her. Then I ignore the wails. She is passive. She won’t crawl around to the front of me. She sits and wails at my back. *sigh*
But, after a little while, there will be a pause. Now, I doubt she’s tired. This girl is a marathon-calibre grizzler. No, not tired of whining, but puzzled. This is not what grizzling is supposed to do. So there’s a pause, and in that pause, I promptly turn back, smile, and continue with our game as if there hadn’t been a two-minute Grizzle Hiatus. I play with her until the next dust mote offends Her Delicacy and the grizzling starts again. Without saying anything at all, I once again turn my back.
And so we go, in sessions lasting 5 or so minutes, two or three times a day. I’ll use the quick-turnaround strategy at other times when the grizzle is being used instead of communication — this happens many times in a day — but I’m making a point of squeezing in these more prolonged, specifically training sessions.
It’s only been three days, but I can see improvement. On this, the third day, I will first sit back to increase the distance between us, and then pause a moment before I turn my back on her. About a third of the time, that pause is sufficient to make the whining stop, and then we resume our play.
If she can make that much progress in three days, I’m confident that we’ll train the Default Whine out of her. She’ll probably always be the first to whine when she’s tired or hungry. That’s okay. She may never be Miss Suzy Sunshine, but, give me a couple more months and we’ll get her to Polly Peaceable, at least.
It’s a largely pre-verbal group. Gwen chatters up a storm, but she’s only here three days a week, and she’s the only truly verbal one in the bunch. Daisy has some words, her absolute favourite being “Do-GGY!”, said at least 400 times a day, always with the accent solidly on the last syllable. Liam doesn’t offer words, but will occasionally echo, or give one up if prompted. And Zoe? Zoe goes in for vowels, in a big way. A serious dearth of consonants in Zoe’s ‘vocabulary’ just yet, though I have heard an enthusiastic “BA!” when she sees her bottle.
And now Daisy has woken from her nap, and I need to bring her downstairs for a diaper change and a story.
It’s nice to be back. Even if there isn’t anyone out there any more!
Grace to Jazz: I know you want very much to do that, but it will make Poppy sad, so you just can’t, understand?”
Her tone of voice is gently encouraging, but firm. I hear her mother — and myself — in her small voice.
But really? Is that not SO IMPRESSIVE?? I’m impressed. (Also, aaawwww, the sweetness.)
Honesty compels me to note, mind you, that she is less adept at making this distinction when the sad-making thing is something she wants to do…
But it’s progress, and I am proud.
I hear a roar of Righteous Indignation from Jazz.
“Grace! That is not a very nice word to say!!!”
Then pounding footsteps. Jazz thunders into the dining room, where Poppy and I are colouring. Jazz has been into the dress-up basket. She’s draped in two deep purple satin capes, tied at the middle to make a ‘dress’, with a shiny gold scarf wrapped around her above that, a bodice. It is her Princess Dress, of course.
Obviously, she did not get into this rig by herself. I’d helped tie the capes and wrap the scarf some while earlier, at her careful direction. Since then she has been alternatively gazing at herself in the mirror rapturously and wandering about the house rhapsodizing, “I am such a beautiful, beautiful girl!!”
Me, I am of two minds about this sort of thing. A basic part of me wants to repeat my grandmother’s words at her: “Beauty is only skin-deep, kiddo”, and expound upon the more important inner beauties to which we should aspire. But at the same time, I am aware that this is simply an unsophisticated version of self-esteem. It’s crude, it focusses on the wrong thing, perhaps — certainly the lesser thing — but she’s only four. She’s not denigrating anyone else, she’s not being rude or superior. She’s just feeling beautiful.
And really. Wrapped in a purple-and-gold Princess Dress who wouldn’t feel beautiful??
Which is why, even though I’m finding it pretty over-the-top, I let her keep on with it. Little ones are unsophisticated. This isn’t conceitedness, quite. I’m not entirely comfortable with it, though. A half-step in that direction, and she’ll be way over the line. Still, I’ve let her admire herself senseless for the past 20 minutes.
Apparently her own adulation was insufficient, because after a time of happy self-admiration, she sought some from her peers. She presents herself to them, whirling in her princess glory.
“Don’t you love my princess dress?”
They look up from the puzzle they’re doing on the floor.
I confess to a certain amount of wry gratification when, obviously far more interested in whether the piece with the blue bit goes with the piece with the yellow bit, they look up briefly. Grace is the one who speaks. Glancing quickly at Jazz, she says with minimal interest, “No, I don’t.” Then returns to her puzzle.
The score so far:
Vanity: swift kick in the butt
Hence the Roar of Indignation, and the thundering to Mary for Justice! and Retribution!
“Mary, Grace said she didn’t like my dress!!!”
My tone of voice is emotionally neutral. Calm and matter-of-fact. “Well, maybe she didn’t. She’s allowed to say so, if she doesn’t.” (Because, my precious princess, you did ask.)
Jazz huffs in still more indignation.
“My mommy and daddy say you can’t say ‘no’!!”
Now, I don’t believe that for a minute, certainly not in the sense Jazz is using it. Jazz is simply using the age-old strategy of citing other authority figures in her life to try to get the world to cooperate with their whims and desires. (Of course Jazz cites me similarly when she’s at home. You would be astonished at what Mary thinks is A-OKAY!!!) It’s a red herring, and I know it.
“You know, sweetie, it really depends on why you’re saying ‘no’. If Grace said no because she’s feeling grumpy and just wants to be mean, that’s not okay. But if she really just doesn’t like that dress, she’s allowed to tell you so, especially if you ask.”
Jazz is not pleased with this dictum. “She was being mean! She said no!”
“No, I don’t think so. I was watching. Grace wasn’t making a mean face or using an angry voice. She just doesn’t like your dress, sweetie. Different people like different things. That’s okay.” Now, I may choose to address the whole concept of ‘tact’ with Grace later. Or I may not. For now, that’s not of great concern, and I’m certainly not going to reinforce Jazz’s idea that people MUST say what she prefers to hear.
“I want her to like my dress!”
“I understand that. However, it seems she doesn’t like it. That’s just what it is. Different people like different things. That’s okay. The important thing is, Do YOU like the dress?”
“Yes! It is beautiful!”
“Well, that’s what matters then. Grace doesn’t have to like it, so long as you do. So you can say to Grace, ‘You don’t like my dress? That’s okay! I do!’ ”
Heavy stuff, for four years old. Complicated, and Jazz is obviously dissatisfied with my pronouncement, my refusal to DEMAND that Grace stroke her ego.
It’s pretty tough for some adults, come to that. You know what it is, don’t you? It’s self-esteem. Real self-esteem, the type based on what’s on your inside, not your outside. Self-esteem grounded in your confidence in yourself, your worth, your decisions, not based on other people’s opinions and reactions.
I’m raising the bar for Jazz. She doesn’t get it yet, but hopefully, if everyone works at this for the next ten years, she’ll have it when she’s a teen.
When she’ll really, really need it.
Today will be the first day without Jazz.
Jazz is having her family summer vacation now, and from there will be heading off to Big Girl School. Jazz has graduated Mary’s. No, I do not do a cap-and-gown ‘graduation’. You get one of those when you graduate university. As in “have done something to merit the ceremony”. A ‘graduation’ that requires nothing more than reaching legal school age? Not even to have stopped picking your nose and eating it? Pfft.
Now, she got a trip to the local gelato store, and had an ENTIRE small serving of chocolate ALL TO HERSELF. (The small servings are quite large enough that two kids can share, and so they do. Always.) An ENTIRE cup of gelato, and to NOT SHARE?!? Is a Big Deal. Specially when the other kids still did have to share. “This is Jazz’s last day, so she gets a very special treat.” (Which was accepted with nary a blink. They’re such
good well-socialized sweet well-trained all of the above little kids.)
So there was that.
And she got a big card that all the children had decorated. And t-shirt that we all made together. And, best of all!!!! (at least as far as Jazz was concerned) a mermaid doll. OMG!OMG!OMG!OMG! MERMAID! DOLL!!!! (To say it was ‘a hit’ rather understates the case. Hee. Go, Mary!)
So, it’s not as if her departure had gone un-feted. But cap and gown? Puh-heeze. No.
Off she goes, then. Some quality family time ahead, and then the big, broader world of Junior Kindergarten. Where I have no doubt she will thrive. A fish to water. All that.
And meantime, back here?
Well, though I will miss her endearing giggle and impish sense of humour, her funny turns of phrases and her mothering of wee Rosie …
I will not miss the petulance. The tattling. The constant jockeying for top dog position. The whining. The insta-tears. The flouncing. The righteous indignation. Many of those are pretty common to four-year-olds, of course, but all of hers were exacerbated by her state of near-constant sleep deprivation. She’s four on steroids, that one.
Grace is with me for another couple of weeks, before she heads off to her own Big Girl School. Without another four-year-old to bounce off and react to, and, in particular, a four-year-old dedicated to the pursuit of being the first, the best, the strongest, the prettiest … I predict Grace drift away from certain contentious patterns and will happily settle into her more-natural state of easy-going placidity. I predict this will happen pretty much instantaneously.
Except for the whining, mind you. Grace does have a tendency to whinge. But she does not have a tendency to push to the forefront, to trample others to achieve superior status. Not at all. So I predict a lovely, lovely summer wherein I do not hear “Why does SHE get to…”, not even once.
What of the others? Poppy and Grace will continue to mother Rosie. Rosie will, for a short while at least, continue to allow it. Soon enough her two-ness will have reached the point where she will resist such importunity, but for now, it’s all good. Poppy and Grace will play as they do when alone together: calmly, cooperative, and with a constant, never-ending, ceaseless stream of happy chatter (90% Poppy’s).
Daniel? A bit of a wild card. He hasn’t been around much this summer, it being the final couple of months of mom’s maternity leave. The two 4-year-olds tended to resist and exclude him. With a certain amount of just cause, mind you: the boy is loud, very physical, and blundersome, but there was an edge of social cruelty to it I didn’t like to it. They weren’t objecting to just his behaviour: “Don’t push me!!”, but his person, “You go away. We’re not playing with YOU.”
Without the four-year-olds, will Poppy pick up that torch? I’m hoping not. She’s more physical, for one, and finds Daniel’s physicality less troublesome. She’s also more cheerfully social. She’s also not four. Without the fours to lead the way, and in particular, Jazz, I’m hoping she will — or can at least be taught — to engage with Daniel in a way that’s satisfactory to both of them. And of course we’ll be steadily teaching Daniel to not bang, bump, blunder into, blunder through and otherwise manhandle his peers.
(Good luck with that, I sez to myself. Nonethess, ‘gently, gently’ is going to be a prime interaction with that boy for the foreseeable future, I’m quite sure.)
Those are some predictions and some concerns. Some will manifest immediately, some over time. I’m sure there’ll be surprises.
I’m looking forward to it!
So, when I return to work from my two weeks off in August, Grace and Jazz will have gone on to kindergarten. I am often asked if that bother me, the departure of a child. Surely I get attached. Are there tears and heart-wrenching goodbyes?
Will I be sad when they leave?
It’s true, I get attached. Of course I do. I couldn’t do the job well without that! Still, I enter into this knowing my tenure with them is of a specific duration. Only once in a while do I get so very attached to a child I’d happily adopt them. Even then, so long as I’m confident they have a loving parents, I can relax in the knowledge that the child will be happy and thriving without me, and I can wave goodbye with nary a tear. A small lump in my throat, perhaps, but no more.
I never have been one for riotous displays of emotion. Not that I don’t feel things deeply, but I’m not much of a weep-er and a wail-er.
Yes, there are changes afoot, but over the years I’ve noticed I have a minority attitude to change. I don’t resist change on principle, as so many seem to do, mindlessly. “If it’s new, it’s bad!” is the mantra. I’ve never felt that way. I don’t just endure change because I must, I actively enjoy it. When I have to let go of one thing to make room for a new, the appeal of the new thing is enough of a positive that the letting-go is (virtually always) done without overwhelming anxiety/regret/pain. Change is refreshing, energizing, exciting.
(Do I like change for change’s sake? Do I think all change is good? No. I’m quite content to let things chug along in established and traditional ways, so long as they’re functioning well. But when change is inevitable, or necessary, I can and generally do embrace it. With enthusiasm.)
Add to that, that I’m an optimist. I see the positive in pretty nearly every situation.
So this situation, where two long-term children are off to new things?
Yes, they will be gone. Yes, I’ll have days without Jazz’s effervescence and Grace’s kindliness. I won’t see them learn to read and write; I won’t be there when they master the ‘pedal bikes’ they’re working on these days.
But! I’m happy that they have new experiences awaiting them at their respective new schools, each well-suited to the child in question. I’m happy that they have received some solid social grounding here. I can see their strengths: Jazz will dive into the social, and probably be a leader in three weeks. (And I will hope her teachers can manage her queen bee/diva tendencies.) Grace will please her teachers enormously with her conscientious approach to tasks and her intelligence. (And I will hope they’re not too exasperated by her spacey-ness, her tendency to be a beat or two behind a group.)
In the meantime, I’m quite unapologetically happy to be sending the four-year-olds off to school. Because they’re four. They are Rules People. Will I miss the contentious, pointless, reflexive competition and the tattling? Not for a second! Oh, to be free of it!!! … For a year or so, that is, until Poppy turns four.
I am curious to see how Poppy will develop, now that she’ll be The Biggest Kid at Mary’s. I foresee lots of kindly mothering of Rosie … who will put up with it for maybe another three months before the burgeoning two-year-old in her will resist and rebuff such attempts at Control and Dominance. (Because that’s how she’ll see it, I bet, when she gets to be a full-fledged Two.)
I am eager to take on Daniel’s little sister, and to see Daniel for more than the occasional visit he’s had this summer, the final two months of his mum’s maternity leave.
So, I bid the two big girls a fond good-bye, and look forward to a new dynamic in the fall. A fresh start, it feels like. A fresh start … of the same, happy, comfortable thing.
I’d call that a win-win.
I love this! Your little girl loves to dress up? Look at all the options there are!
Let’s kick those vapid Disney princesses to the curb!
Toys from home. Some daycare providers allow them, others don’t. When I first started daycare, I allowed them. Back then, my primary reference point was my own children, and I knew that kids like to show off their stuff. It’s fun to parade your special something in front of an awe-struck gathering. If that were all it was about, though, I wouldn’t have allowed it. Rubbing the other kids’ noses in My Special Something that Only I Can Touch is obnoxious and anti-social.
I never let my kids do that, and they were actually pretty good sharers. Toys in our home, with a few exceptions, were communal. Even the exceptions were mostly determined by the child’s preference. That enormous pile of Lego was Adam’s because Adam was the child who played with them most. (Hours and hours and hours.) The train set, though? Entirely communal. All three played equally.
That’s just what kids did, right? With a little bit of guidance, of course. Sharing is a challenge at first, and territoriality and selfishness need to be addressed, but it isn’t long before they figure out that it really is more fun with friends. Because that’s how it worked in our house. Easy-peasy!
So yes. Daycare kids could bring toys from home. The child would get the pleasure of showing it off, and then the more sophisticated pleasure of sharing that satisfaction, when they share the toys. Okay, so they’d have to deal with the whole “sharing” thing first, but hey! It’s fun to share with your friends!
Hahahah. Sweet, naive little Mary. (Thus proving that even three kids are not enough to make you Truly Experienced. You think you are, but you’re not…)
I hadn’t factored in three important realities:
1. My kids were not all two-year-olds at the same time.
2. My kids were siblings, and so were getting the same message re: sharing all.the.time.
3. My kids were siblings, and so had built-in sharers in their home. All.The.Time.
So, kids would bring toys to daycare and I’d be policing them all the damned time. Policing, negotiating, soothing, trying to coax compromise and unselfish behaviour. That stupid stuffed marmot that little Suzie loved so dearly became the focus of MY ENTIRE DAY.
It was exhausting. I discovered why daycare providers often disallow toys from home. Toys from home are a royal pain in the arse. Not to put too fine a point on it.
So. No toys. Enough!
Ah. The peace! The (relative) lack of conflict and strife! Lovely!
I’m not sure when and why I started allowing toys again. Probably some sweet, biddable child brought something, and I knew it would work with that child. Whatever provoked it, I came back to the other, potentially positive aspects of bringing toys from home: the practice of sharing, the cultivation of generosity, the opportunity for group play. A little Character Development!
Now, however, older, wiser, more experienced Mary has a slightly more pragmatic approach. Toys from Home offers the potential for Character Development, yes, but as any sane parent knows, toddlers (and teens) fight Character Development tooth and nail. They love their undeveloped characters. You have a problem with their character, well, that’s your problem, isn’t it? Sucks to be you, now leave me alone.
Like that. Yup.
So there are boundaries on the sharing. When a child brings a toy at the beginning of the day, they are asked, “Is this a toy you can share?” If the answer is ‘no’, then the toy is put away for the day. This is not a punitive thing, this is not expressed with anger or in a threatening tone. It’s simply fact.
“Not for sharing? Okay, then. We’ll put it in your bin for the day, and you can take it home at home-time.”
Of course, lots of kids, when faced with the disposal of their toy, will have an immediate about-face. “Oh! YES! Yes, I will share!” We all know this is a lie. They just want their toy. However, I take it at face value, and we work out how the sharing will occur.
If there’s any fuss at all when the time comes to actually share, the toy will, with no fuss on my part at all, be put away for the day. This is a one-strike-you’re-out offense.
If the owner of the toy is extremely obnoxious about the not-sharing, particularly if this is not the first time, and they understand the expectations and consequences, two things will happen:
1. The sharing will occur as laid out.
2. When everyone’s had a turn (except the possessive owner) it goes away for the day.
The one exception to this is lovies, those particularly precious toys that are needful for those particularly anxious children, or for naptime. A naptime lovie stays in the child’s bed. An anxious child can have their comfort object which does not have to be shared. However, it must be a genuine comfort object, a thing that’s used all the time, home and daycare, and has been for weeks, if not years. It may not be a different item each day. Generally speaking, a different-every-day ‘comfort object’ is merely power-tripping. “I neeeeed this! It’s mine! See how lovely it is? You can’t touch it because I neeeeed it!” A power-tripping scam.
With the one-strike-you’re-out policy, I am spared a wealth of squabbling. I still have to intervene from time to time, as I do with all the toys, but with the penalty of instant removal of the beloved object, the owner generally learns fairly quickly that if he/she wants to play with it at all, it’s in their own best interest to let it be shared.
And if they don’t, I put it away. Done.
Tantrums about this consequence are rare, but if they happen, they’re dealt with as I deal with all tantrums. By the time a child is old enough to want to bring toys to daycare, they’re usually old enough to not be throwing tantrums any more.
So, I do allow toys from home, and for the most part, it works just fine. The owner is pleased and proud of the attention they and their new toy get, and the other children are thrilled to have Something Shiny!! at daycare. Everyone shares, as best toddlers do, and it’s a lovely, communal, sharing experience. It’s all part of growing them up into the kind, considerate adults we want them to be, and I am pleased to be part of that process.
In the interests of my sanity, I reserve the right to forbid toys to a particular child for a season. I reserve the right to put a toy away without a sharing trial.
Because, for all their manifest benefits as Teaching Opportunities, toys from home really are a royal pain in the arse.
It’s birthday season here at Mary’s. Jazz first, three weeks ago; she’s now four. Then Poppy, a newly-minted 3-year-old. Grace turned four last week, and, after a few weeks’ lag, Daniel will turn three.
Jazz brought her birthday fixing with her. Cupcakes! Icing — in a separate container, so the kids could ice their own, what a cute idea! Pretty little cupcake toppers, little wee princesses on toothpicks.
And, and, and … she brought PRINCESS DRESSES! All shiny and ruffly and sequinned and pretty, pretty, princess.
Two of them.
Let’s see. We have Jazz, Grace, and Poppy. Three little girls, all very interested in ALL THINGS PRINCESS. Thank goodness Daniel was not here that day, or there’d have been a fourth contender for two dresses. Josh and Rosie don’t care yet. (Another heartfelt ‘thank goodness’.)
Now, at the point it would be easy to mock dad. What were you thinking, to allow this? You can’t see the problems this would create? Had he allowed the dresses to make their way to my house merely because he lacked the parental balls to say “no”, I would have been annoyed. But this dad? He’s quite skilled. He can say no, and there will be no tantrum. Jazz being Jazz, there might be flouncing and fussing, but no tantrum, not with dad.
Parents who can’t say a firm, unapologetic ‘no’, and make it stick … well, they’re one of the more aggravating realities of life as a daycare provider. Parents who allow kids to bring things because they ‘can’t’ make the child not bring a thing? It happens a lot, and though I find it annoying (because seriously, your life would be SO MUCH EASIER if you just got yourself a pair) it doesn’t cause me any practical grief. Child comes with ENTIRELY INAPPROPRIATE FOR DAYCARE item — a jackknife, once, if you can imagine! Just a little one, but, people? A KNIFE? To DAYCARE??? Are you insane? And when she stabs someone in the eyeball with it, your excuse will be that you ‘couldn’t’ get her to give it to you? “Couldn’t”? As if it’s optional? It’s a weapon, woman. You are sending an armed child to daycare. You don’t want her to have a knife? You take.it.away.from.her. Yes, she’ll yell and fuss. The kid she stabs will yell louder — and with better reason.
Honest to pete. Boggles the mind.
Another time, it was a teeny-tiny china tea set. “This was my grandmother’s; it means a lot to me; I didn’t want him to bring it, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer; please see it doesn’t get lost or broken.” He ‘wouldn’t take no for an answer’? Oh, honestly. From weapons to precious family heirlooms.
It doesn’t cause me any practical grief, because the parent hasn’t hit the sidewalk before that item is in my hand, and the child being informed, as I put it away out of reach, that they can have it back at the end of the day. No screaming, no tears. It’s gone for the day, end of story. And even if there were screaming or tears, that wouldn’t change the fate of that coveted item, not for a nano-second. (Which, if you can logic it out that far, hapless parent, is precisely why there are rarely screaming or tears at Mary’s: they don’t work. If you don’t reward a behaviour, it goes away. It’s not so complicated.)
However. That’s them. This parent is not ineffectual or hapless. He is not off-loading his incompetence on me. In fact, he’s quite respectful of my authority and my capabilities. He explains carefully to Jazz that although she’s brought them here, it will be up to me whether they get played with here.
I know, some of you are wryly shaking your heads and accusing him off off-loading his problem. Sure he’s telling his daughter I have the final say … how does that prove that he has any say at all?
Here’s another story in dad’s favour: Jazz arrived with a ring not long ago. Just a bubblegum ring, but it was Precious. Her Favourite. “Do you want me to take this with me,” he asked, “so you will not lose it?” (Subtext: like the identical bubblegum ring you brought and lost last week?)
Jazz declared that she would keep it, and she would NOT lose it. Uh-huh. Wise daddy followed up, “Okay. That’s your choice. But here’s the deal, Jazz: if you do lose it, there will be no tears, because you knew the consequences. Understand? If you lose it, no crying. You may be sad to lose it, but that is the risk you’re taking. You’ll have to deal with it quietly and calmly.” He’s not saying this in a mean or aggressive voice. He is simply stating fact. If this, then that. You sure about this?
“I will not lose it, Daddy!” Jazz was supremely confident, cheerfully reassured her poor, worried daddy. In other words, she totally didn’t get it … but you know what? When she lost the ring — we knew she would — she did get it. His arrival reminded her of her Terrible Loss, and she raced to him with tears a-streaming. Daddy followed through on the morning’s conversation, calmly reminded her of her choice … The tears did not last long, because Dad was calm and matter-of-fact. Though he was supportive of her feelings, acknowledging her genuine disappointment, he was not supportive of the self-pity and melodrama. All this done is a quiet, soft voice, and very gentle movements, soft touches. It was masterful, frankly.
So, no. I don’t think this particular parent is wussing out and giving me his parental slack to pick up. Which is not to say those damned dresses don’t cause problems. Within five minutes of his departure, there has been one squabble and a fit of tears. It’s drop-off time, more kids and parents are arriving. I don’t have time to deal with this at the moment. The dresses, in their bag, are hung on a hook.
“We’re going to the park in a few minutes. We’ll sort out the princess dresses at lunch-time.” This also buys me some time to strategize, but there is no magical way out of this. Someone is going to have to — brace yourself here — one of those princess-obsessed, willful toddler/pre-schoolers is going to have to COMPROMISE.
Yeah. I know.
Upon our return, they are presented with Jazz’s princess dresses and another flouncy sort of dress from my dress-up box. Three dresses, three girls! Who wants to wear the one from Mary’s dress-up basket?
Yeah. Like that. NO ONE. Mary’s dress was most excessively coveted yesterday, before the advent of Jazz’s shiny new dresses, but now? Now it is Old News. No one wants that dress.
What to do?
I give them an opportunity to choose to wear Mary’s Boring Dress. Nope. Predictable, but it never hurts to give them the opportunity to surprise you. (As I’ve said before.)
Next stage? I pull Jazz aside.
Now, I know some people have the attitude on birthdays that the Birthday Girl gets whatever her little heart desires. It’s Her Big Day, so everyone defers to her wants.
Now, there are birthday treats, of course. The birthday child generally gets their favourite meal for dinner, and there is dessert — cake’n’ice cream, OF COURSE!! There are also balloons and streamers in the birthday child’s choice of (two) colours. There are lots of ways in which the birthday child is made to feel special.
But does the birthday girl get to run roughshod over her friends, because it’s HER DAY?!??
No, she does not. In fact, rather the opposite. When my children were having their birthdays, they were reminded that, as the host, it was up to them to make sure their guests were having a good time. So, if we were one balloon short … guess who was expected to fork over their balloon?
You got it.
[An aside: Is it any wonder that girls brought up with this mindset turn into Bridezilla on that other “Big Day”? Those people sitting in the church are not your ‘audience’ sunshine, they are your ‘guests’. Your job is not to flaunt your specialness in front of them and demand their servitude to your preciousness; your job is to see that they enjoy themselves and thank them for being there.]
I pull Jazz aside. “You know what I think? I think that YOU are the birthday girl. You have those pretty princess dresses at home, all the time. So YOU can wear them any time you like. But Grace and Poppy? They can only wear the dresses today. So I think it would be very nice if you would let your friends wear your special dresses today.”
And I wait. Because this, what I am asking, is hard, and I know it. I wait with a hopeful, encouraging, warm smile on my face. “What do you think, sweetie?”
Now, I am absolutely prepared, if she refuses, to lay down the law. “I know it’s hard, my love, but that’s what we’re going to do.” With recourse to the quiet stair and various other consequences if her objections are too boisterously anti-social. But I’m giving her the opportunity to surprise me! (I think I’ve said this once or twice already, huh?)
I wait, doing my damndest to radiate good will, and confidence in her generosity and …
Jazz, my prone-to-petulance, my little prima donna … totally goes for it. Her eyes widen, and with a dawning smile, she nods. “Okay!”
I am surprised. The congratulatory hug she gets is tinged with glee. I am SO PROUD of her!
And, because she made this choice graciously and without any hesitation whatsoever, she is rewarded. A trip to Mary’s bedroom, where she gets to choose Special Princess Accessories. Being four years old (she’s FOUR now! FOUR!) she chooses a black made-in-India shawl with long fringes at the end, covered with a swirling whorl of red sequins. Because when you are four, BLING is good. And for her skinny little four-year-old arm? A very sparkly bracelet.
She gets these things not because she is the Birthday Girl. She gets these things because she was Kind, Considerate, Unselfish, and Gracious.
She is growing up.
“I want to be alone!”
I know some caregivers who just don’t allow that. It’s seen as unfriendly, anti-social, inappropriate, and just plain weird. What is wrong with that kid?? “Don’t be like that, Simon. Suzie is your friend! Now come here and help her build her bridge with the lego.”
I am an introvert. I totally get the need to be alone. (We can talk about how the introvert copes with a day spent with in-your-face toddlers some other time.)
So when a child expresses a genuine need to be alone, I respect that. They get to be alone. They do not have to mingle, mingle, mingle, interact every living second of the live-long day. They just don’t. And the extroverts in the group can back off for a bit.
Now, they have to ask politely. Introvert or extrovert, we all need to respect the social niceties. A howl of outrage, a shove and a scream, are not how you get your time away. “If you want to play alone, you ask nicely.”
It puts the caregiver in a bit of a bind, though. You can’t pop them on the Quiet Stair for shoving another child, as you might otherwise do, because in this case the Quiet Stair would be a reward , wouldn’t it? You’ll only train the desperate introvert into bad behaviour. “I need some space!! I know! I’ll just deck little Josh over there!”
What to do? I offer them what they want, in exchange for what I want. “You can play alone at the puzzle table, if you ask politely.” Then I give them the words. Or if they’ve been acting badly to get their quiet, I will require them to play with the others, nicely, for five minutes first. Then they can have as much time as they like, alone.
Because the request to be alone? It can be a real and genuine thing, and you should no more deny it than you’d deny the extrovert his social time. “You want to play with the other kids?? Now, Simon, don’t be pushy! Do this puzzle quietly, there’s a good boy!”
However. There is the desire to be alone experienced by the kid who is feeling overwhelmed and drained, and needs time and space to recharge. That’s genuine and valid, a legitimate need. And then …
Child A flings himself over the pile of blocks. “You go ‘way! I want to play alone!!”
That one’s easy, a clear example of a child who just doesn’t feel like sharing. “Playing alone” is code for “having ALL THE TOYS!!!” It’s not too hard to determine need to be alone from want to have all the toys: Offer the child half the huge pile o’blocks in a private corner. The child who needs to be alone will accept it. The one who just wants ALL THE THINGS will not.
(And if it’s both? He wants ALL THE THINGS, alone? Tough. Half the toys, alone, or none of them.)
And then there’s this:
Child A is in a bit of a snit. Has been all morning. Contrary and prickly, nothing quite right for Her Most Precious Princess. Child A, the Snit Child, plays with the lacing cards in a desultory way. Child B sits down companionably and picks up one of the cards. Snit Child turns her back on Child B with a whine of outrage.
“Noooo! I want to be aloooone!”
Child B, a mellow little thing, gives Snit Child a puzzled look before wandering off with no comment.
Now, if that were the end of it, it could well be that Snit Child has reached the end of her introverted rope, and just needs some solo downtime. But that’s not what’s been happening at Mary’s the past three weeks or so. Just watch what happens next:
Mellow Child B is soon happily involved in some other activity. Snit Girl approaches sidelong, ostentatiously holding one of the Magic Dollar-Store Sparkly Princess Wands. Snit Girl waves it about just within Mellow Child’s line of vision. Predictably, Mellow Child is attracted to the sparkle, and wanders closer.
Snit Child roars her outrage: “Nooooo! You can’t play with me! I want to be aloooone!”
Uh-huh. That’s why you deliberately provoked the attention, because you wanted to be alone. Yeah.
That? That is not valid. That is sheerest manipulation. Snit Child was looking for a conflict, and, when Mellow Child didn’t deliver the first time, she deliberately provoked the attention she wanted to reject.
Now “being alone” is code word for “I’m rejecting you”, or “I control you by not giving you what you want.” It’s really devious. This child has a lot of social savvy. Too bad she’s working it on The Dark Side.
So now poor manipulated Mellow Child really, really wants to play with Snit Child. SC, having achieved her goal of enticing the attention she wishes to reject, redoubles her protests. “No! Go away! I want to be alone!!”
What do I do? I pretend to believe it’s genuine. I pretend Snit Girl has a real and genuine need to be alone. Because, you know, there is nothing wrong with needing to be alone.
“You want to be alone? No, Mellow, if Snit wants to be alone, we will let her be alone.” And then I get Snit Girl all comfy in an armchair, with a blanket and a book and a toy … and then I take Mellow Child a distance away, in the next room but still in view, and snuggle her into my lap for a story. Or take her to the table to colour. Or play clapping games with her.
If Snit Girl genuinely needed time out, this will be fine with her. She’ll stick with her quiet activities, and happily recharge her batteries.
But if she was playing mean girl head games, this will not please her. Mellow Child getting MARY’S attention?? Mellow Child and not her? She will wriggle out of the chair and trot over.
“I don’t want to be alone any more.”
At this point, I can play it either way. “Sure, sweetie. You come sit with us.” The snit has passed, and she’s willing to share time and attention. Good for all of us!
But if she’s been really rotten to Mellow Child, or if I think she needs to be more rigorously deterred from this particular behaviour pattern, I’ll twist the knife just a bit more.
“Oh, no, sweetie. You said you wanted to be alone, and I think you were right. I think you really do need to be alone. Away you go back to your comfy chair. You be alone for a little longer, and when I’m done reading this story to Mellow Girl, maybe it will be time for you go get up. Away you go!” All said in my best, most cheerful “Don’t Mess With Me” voice. (You don’t have a cheerful “Don’t Mess With Me” voice? Find it and practice. It’s an invaluable parenting tool.)
A childcare provider is expected to be a superhuman mix of the Madonna and Mary Poppins, ever patient, loving, kind, always delighting in the sweetness of her charges. I don’t do such a bad job, all in all, and it’s far more likely the parents than the children who strain my sanity most days. But I’m here to tell you: It’s Not ALL Mary Poppins…
If you wish to contact me, my email is notmaryp at gmail dot com
kathleencornelldayca… on Teeny tiny talker kathleencornelldayca… on Foiled by Biology kathleencornelldayca… on Once Upon a Time kathleencornelldayca… on These things are relative… Lori on Menu Monday
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