It’s Not All Mary Poppins

At least it’s a quiet one

Nissa is a boomer.

No, not the demographic. The volume. It’s a term I adopted from a previous client who, when I told her that we’d been working on her son’s “inside voice” (which was ear-shatteringly non-existent), chuckled and said, “Well, we’re a family of boomers, so it’s not surprising.”

In fact, the dad in that family was pretty soft-spoken. Perhaps the others were all too busy booming to notice? Maybe he boomed more in private, but I always kind of pictured him at the edges of things, ducking around the waves of volume surging through the air.

Nissa’s parents, too, are boomers. Both of them. They are cheerful, enthusiastic, energetic… and LOUD. The only time inside voices happen with them is when a child is sleeping upstairs. I have to be quick with the announcement. Dad has woken a sleeping baby within 45 seconds of arrival.

They may not have noticed, but children have been sleeping upstairs a LOT lately. In fact, it is possible that Mary has, on occasion, when seeing them pull into the drive, quickly bundled a baby into a highchair out of sight in the kitchen, tossed a handful of Cheerios onto the tray, and hoped that would keep him/her quiet enough to fake a nap… I’m not saying it has happened. I’m just saying it could’ve.


So Nissa booms. And Mary teaches inside voice. And Nissa booms some more. We have had some success. Nissa now understands the concept, at any rate, and does actually apply it from time to time, but you can see it’s not natural.

BOOMING is her natural state.



We’d just finished baking biscotti, and the children were all going to get a piece to dunk in their milk. Of course, as with every social interaction, this is a Teachable Moment.

“Emily, would you like some biscotti?”
“Yes, please.”
“Okay. Here you go!”
“Thank you!”
“You’re welcome.”

(You start with the kid you KNOW is going to do it right. Peer pressure/modelling. Very useful tool.)

Then you go on to the second-most reliable.

“Noah, would you like some biscotti?”
“Yes, please.”
“Okay. Here you go!”
He reaches out. I hang on, don’t say anything, but don’t let go, either. He pauses, a little puzzled, then comprehension dawns.
“Thank you!”
“You’re welcome.”

And so on through the children, with varying degrees of prompting, until…

“Nissa, would you like some biscotti?”
“— —–”

Puzzled? It’s just that I’m not sure how to write ‘air’. Her lips moved, but no sound emanated. At all.

“Pardon, Nissa? Did you say something?”
“— —–”

The creativity of the power struggle never ceases to amaze me. If she’d been a normally quiet child, I’d have lip-read and accepted this. But this is Nissa, a confirmed boomer. Nissa, who has trouble with ‘inside voice’, has now damped it down to air-and-lip-movement.

“I’m sorry, sweetie, but if I can’t hear you, I can’t give it to you. Let’s try again: Would you like some biscotti?”

“— —–”

Little so-and-so!

“All right. I guess you don’t want it, after all.” I scan the room and see that Tyler has almost finished his piece. “Tyler, would you like some more biscotti?”

Tyler can hardly believe his good fortune. “Yeh, pliss.”
“Here you go!” I move my arm with the treat in it toward him.

“NO!!! THAT’S MINE!!!”

Nissa is OUTRAGED.

I turn to her, my face radiating surprise. “Oh, you do want some?” Now I’m radiating pleased warmth. “Well, that’s good, because they’re very yummy.” And then, as if we haven’t been through this before, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, “Nissa, would you like some biscotti?”

“— —–”

Nissa did not get any biscotti.

February 8, 2010 Posted by | food, Nissa, power struggle | , | 8 Comments

too much empathy

Nissa, trotting along the hall, takes a small tumble and looks up, checking for response from any adults in the vicinity. Typical toddler behaviour.

And of course, my response is practiced. In situations like this, you don’t ask them how they’re feeling, you tell them. A beaming smile and a cheery comment shows the child this wasn’t a biggie, and they pop up and trundle happily on their way.

Except there’s a parent in door (not Nissa’s), who is in Nissa’s direct line of sight. A nice parent. A kind parent. A well-meaning parent. A parent who is about to annoy the heck out of me. She crumples with doting concern, her voice oozing pathos. “Oooo, sweetie, are you all riiiiight?

Great. So instead of my hearty “you-can-handle-this” message, Nissa’s getting the limp “oh-you-poor-delicate-flower” message. I wince and wait. It takes less than a second.

Nissa crumples into tears. Whyever not? She’s just been informed that’s what’s expected, and furthermore, been told that any tears will be enveloped with great swaths of time and attention. Having ensured the tears, the nuisance parent mom can now utter words of consolation. “There, there, little Nissa. You will be all right.”

Yes, she will. In fact, she was fine until you told her otherwise with all your ooey-gooey empathy. There is a time and a place for empathy. It is smart, however, if you don’t want to be knee-deep in tears all the damned time, to make sure that what you’re empathizing with is what the child’s actually feeling. In this case, the mom projected the tears into that pause between stimulus and response. When she looked up for adult response, Nissa wasn’t unhappy. She was surprised, certainly. But she hadn’t yet decided how to respond.

In that instance, why on earth wouldn’t you nudge them in the direction of cheerful resilience?

Meantime, the mom is still oozing, and Nissa is lapping it all up, her wails getting louder as mom’s fluttering reassurances continue.

Bah. Hustle out that door, woman, so Nissa can stop crying.

Thank you so much.

January 7, 2010 Posted by | Nissa, parents, Peeve me, socializing, the dark side | , | 13 Comments

It’s not the ‘what’ but the ‘how’

Sometimes, in my job, the trick is to look beyond the facts under my nose to the larger picture. Seeing the forest for the trees, as it were. Nowhere is that more obvious than in conflict.

Because toddlers and conflict? People have done studies to track the number of conflicts a toddler has in a day. Staggering. And also inevitable. The thing we’re after is not conflict avoidance (no, no it’s not), but conflict management. Not me managing them, either, but them managing their own selves. Stop snorting. We’re in the business of raising adults, remember? It’s a long-range project, with long-term goals…

My old mantra: “You may be angry, but you may not [insert anti-social behaviour here],” which I start when they’re about 15 months old, and which, applied unceasingly over the years, reaps enormous benefits when they’re 15 years old. Trust me on this.

Whereas once I might have tried to explain how they didn’t need to be having this particular conflict, maybe even that it was a silly thing … waste of air. And not in the best interest of the larger picture, which is to teach them how to manage their anger and to manage their behaviour in conflict.

I’m sure there are things I get annoyed about that wouldn’t bother you at all. I’m quite sure that if you tried to tell me why I didn’t need to be annoyed, I would probably only get annoyed…

So. We don’t often get into the substance of the conflict. But we do worry a lot about the style.

Noah and Nissa are squabbling over toys. This is routine. Nissa is a strong-willed little thing and Noah much milder, but even mild-mannered Noah can be pushed only so far. Today he’s decided to stand his ground.

“No, no, no! It’s mine!”

Nissa’s response is instantaneous — a long, loud howl. She is not saddened, she is OUTRAGED. She wants the toy he is playing with, and she wants it now! How DARE he thwart her will???

The howling is all the more aggravating because this girl has been talking in sentences since she was 16 months old. Sentences of three and four words. Now she’s up to… um… lots of words. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lo…

Let’s just say that, for little Ms. Articulate, the issue here is not an inability to express herself verbally.

“Nissa. Use your words.”


It takes four and a half minutes on the quiet stair, during which time Noah gets to play with BOTH toys — both toys directly in her line of vision — (what? twist the knife? me???), but she does finally concede to speak rather than shriek.

“I can has a toy, Noah, please?”

“Sure!” (Told you he’s a mellow little dude.) “You can have this one.”

“No. I want DAT one.” (And Nissa’s not. She’s made one concession already, dammit, she’s not making another!)

Noah looks at the toys in his hands.

“Okay. Here you go.”

She snatches it. I take it from her and give it back to Noah. “Take it gently, Nissa, and say thank you.”

We try again. A civilized transition is accomplished. Each tot settles in to play, Nissa with her blue plastic wrench with a yellow screw mechanism… and Noah with… his blue plastic wrench with a yellow screw mechanism.

Yes. Yes, I know.

Big picture, big picture, big picture…

January 5, 2010 Posted by | aggression, manners, Nissa, Noah, parenting | , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

It’s my Christmas miracle

Nissa, as I’ve said before, is a busy baby.

And four-year-olds (as I know I have mentioned previously but can’t find the posts, dammit) have a fondness for the Rules which can make them a tad officious. Little police-men and tattlers of the daycare. Nigel, who is with us today, is very definitely four. He’s always been a bit anal, with a strong tendency to get anxious when things aren’t done PRECISELY as they have Always! Been! Done!!! Put anxiety-boy plonk in the middle of the RulesRUs stage, and you have a recipe for a day filled with tattling, power struggles, recrimination, finger-pointing, shouting, stomping..

I brace myself. Practice my deep breathing. Dust off my practiced anti-tattling sentences. (“Is anyone bleeding? Is it dangerous? No? Then you don’t need to tell me.”)


“No, Nissa, you can’t do that. Let’s colour.”
“That is too small to put in your mouth. You can have this crayon instead.”
“Nissa, I don’t think you’re allowed to stand on the couch.”
“Hey, Nissa. I can put your bib on for you.”
“If you spit out that playdough, I will make you a snake.”

Once in a while, you get that perfect, near-miraculous combination of the Rule-bound 4-year-old who can express the rules with sensitivity and respect (!!!) and a 19-month-old who has stars in her eyes and will do ANYTHING that Big Boy says.

And then, my friends? THEN you have achieved Nirvana. If only for the moment.

December 7, 2009 Posted by | manners, Nigel, Nissa, socializing | , , , , , , | 8 Comments

It sounded good in theory

“You don’t hit me!” William’s voice is thick with indignation. “Hitting is bad! No hitting!”

Nissa watches his frothing with a mixture of curiosity and concern.

“All right, William. You’re using your words, and that’s good, but you don’t need to shout. Nissa, did you hit William?” Nissa is young enough that she doesn’t yet lie. Ask her a question and, if she understands it, you’ll get a straight answer. Or, in this case, you get silence, which amounts to the same thing. The girl, Canadian though she is, is pleading the fifth. So, yup, she hit him, and on purpose, too.

“Hitting is wrong, Nissa,” William continues. “Hands are for hugging, not for hitting. It doesn’t matter what happens, you don’t hit.” He’s being a bit pompous, but I let him. He’s saying all the right things, though the self-righteousness is a bit thick in the air.

“Even if you’re mad at me, you don’t hit. Even if I hit you first, you don’t hit!”


“William. Did you hit Nissa?”

“Yeah, but she shouldn’t hit, no matter what!” His righteous indignation surges like a wave, propelling the inadvertant confession past his lips. Oops.

“And what about you, mister?”

His eyes widen as he realizes his error.

You know, life would be so much easier if everyone ELSE followed the rules. You could get away with anything!

December 1, 2009 Posted by | aggression, Nissa | , , | 7 Comments

Potty woes

Not the kids. Parents. Over-enthusiastic parents.

“Nissa’s so excited about using the potty!” exclaims her mother, very excitedly. “She sits on it even when she’s fully clothed, and she says ‘poo! poo!'”

Much as I hate to quash this enthusiasm, I know a few well-placed questions likely will. Nissa is 17 months old, and while it’s not impossible, it’s exceedingly unlikely she is anywhere near ready for potty training. It’s not impossible, and I know it, because I’ve seen a child fully trained at 19 months. Wet and dry, night and day, able to get himself to the potty without prompting, without adult intervention at all, except for help with hand-washing afterward. I’ve seen it. Once in 14 years.

She likes to sit on the potty. She also liked to stand in it and drop toys in it. Does that mean she’s ready to use it? Your three-month-old delights in kicking out against things held to the soles of his feet. Does that mean he’s ready to walk?

She’s on the way. She’s not there. Or, almost certainly not. I tell these eager parents that most children this age don’t have control over the sphincter muscles. They may be aware of the goings-on in the diaper, but they can’t control them.

“Does she know in advance that something is coming?”

“Well, sort of. She’ll say ‘poo! poo!’, but you have to get her there RIGHT THEN, because once she tells you, it’s pretty much happening.”

Dad laughs as he describes how, the previous evening, Nissa had been playing at his feet in his study. “She’d just finished her bath and was naked. I hadn’t dressed her yet because this email, it would just take a couple of minutes, right? So then she starts staying ‘poo! poo!’, and I grab her by the armpits and race to the bathroom, but the poo is falling onto the stairs as I run. Plop, plop, plop!”

Mom and Dad laugh together, beaming with affection.

Yes, well. They’re describing the problem, all right. She knows what’s happening when it’s happening. She doesn’t know in advance that it’s coming, and she can’t stop it once begun. She just recognizes the sensation.

Which is good! That is one of the intial steps: to know what’s happening and be able to label it. She feels pee and she correctly identifies what’s happening. She feels poo and can tell you about that, too.

But until she can actually predict its arrival and hold it in long enough to make it to a potty? Wasted effort. Any and all parental efforts that result in the stuff being deposited in a potty are evidences of the parents being trained, not the child. (And me? I do not need to be potty trained.)

I say all this (about the muscles and the necessity of being able to predict and hold). Respectfully, kindly. Mom’s jaw firms a bit. Dad scowls. This is not what they want to hear. Mom carries on, enthusiastic.

“Well, we won’t push it, but we’ll keep on with the potty. At least we’re getting her used to it, right?”

To my mind, plopping a child without muscle control onto a potty is pushing it, but so long as Nissa’s not being stressed out, so long as it’s an entertaining game for her, there’s no harm in it. But really? At this point it’s a pointless exercise. I certainly don’t have the patience for it.

“So long as she’s enjoying it, sure.”

“And she can use the potty here?”

(Won’t be pushing it, they say, as they push…)

“Sure. Any time she wants.”

Which is what we’ve done all along. What she does with it is play. She’ll be using it when she’s got control over those muscles and is developing some personal interest in the thing, rather than playing a fun new game with mommy and daddy.

In, oh, 10 or 12 or 15 months or so…

October 14, 2009 Posted by | Nissa, parents, potty tales, power struggle | | 12 Comments

Riches untold

864729_lucky_numbers_1“Here’s some apples for Nissa.” A small heap of apple bits pours onto the table in front of the girl.

“And some apples for Noah.”

“One, two, free, sebben, TEN!” He’s at that endearing stage where he knows that numbers and actual quantity are somehow connected, but just exactly how is still pretty fuzzy.

As Noah ‘counts’ his apples, his pointer finger waves vaguely over the heap. There is no one-to-one correspondence in this boy’s life just yet, either. “Free, two, five, sebben, TEN!!”

First the rote counting, then the one-to-one. Everything in its season.

Noah continues counting, because really, there are a lot of small apple pieces in front of him. He understands that much.

“One, two, free, sebben, free, sebben, TEN!!!”

But somehow, he’s not encompassing the masses of apple bits, and he knows it. “Free, sebben, TEN!!”

Nissa’s been taking in his dilemma, silently. (Rather astonishing for the river of verbiage that is Nissa.)

Noah tries again. “One, two, one, two, one, free, sebben, sebben, sebben, TEN!!!”

Nissa sits up and throws her arms wide. SHE has the solution.


Startled at first, Noah’s face brightens. “Touzan?”


Noah beams at Nissa, at his pile of apples, and declaims along with Nissa. “Touzan!!!”

“Touzan!” Now THAT’S a number!

September 29, 2009 Posted by | Developmental stuff, food, Nissa, Noah | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Five minutes of Nissa

“Nissa! FREEZE! Tyler’s fingers are in that door! Don’t shut it!”

“Spit that out. What is it? Eeew? Where did you FIND this?”

“Out of the doggie’s house, you. You know you’re not to go in there.”

“That’s Tyler/Noah/Emily/Timmy’s book/toy/game/puzzle/article of clothing/body part. Give it back, miss.”

“Indie doesn’t like it when you sit on her head. Off.”

“Noah doesn’t like it when you sit on his head. Off.”

“Tyler doesn’t like it when you — Nissa! Stop sitting on people’s heads!”

“What on earth is Tyler’s boot doing on the dining room table? … What’s that, Emily? Nissa did it? Did you see her? … Well, unless you saw her, we can’t really… oh, never mind. I’m sure you’re right.”

“Did you fall off the bench, sweetie? I will kiss it better — and YOU will stay off the bench, silly girl!”

“Those are not your shoes. Put them back in Emily’s bucket, please.”

“Blocks stay in the kitchen, sweetie. Back you go.”

“Off the stairs, young lady.”

“We sit on the couch, we don’t jump on it.”

“Nissa, if you keep swinging on the sheers, you are going to pull that whole curtain rod down on your head. Let go.”

“I am reading THIS book to everyone. We will read that book later.”

“No, THIS book. I will read that one next.”

“OW! Nissa! That hurt. Books are not for shoving up my nose. I am holding that book now.”

“We are playing Sleeping Bunnies, baby. You can be a bunny, or you can play a different game over there, but you cannot drop blocks on their heads.”

“Where is your other shoe, Noah? We can’t go out until we find your other — oh, thanks, Emily. Where did you find it?” (Three guesses, first two don’t count.)

“LOOK at this puddle! How you can get so much water out of a leak-proof cup, child, I will never know. Here’s the rag, baby. Wipe it up.”

“Goodness, Tyler. How did you get that red mark on your forehead? Did you bump yourself? You did? On Nissa’s head? When she was hugging you? Oh, look, Nissa has a red mark, too…”

“Did you pinch your fingers? Well, that’s what that elastic band is for hon — to keep your fingers out of that cupboard. Away you go!”

“Oh, Emily, what a fabulous block tower! Did you do that all yoursel–oh, Nissa!”

“You SIT on the tricycle seat, baby. SIT on it!”

… Or maybe that was just three minutes. I tend to lose count…

July 30, 2009 Posted by | health and safety, Mischief, Nissa | | 9 Comments

Astute AND cute

walk“Okay, everybody. Hang on.”

We’ve packed our drinks and our snacks. We’ve visited the potty, or had diapers checked/changed. We’ve put on shoes and hats, we’ve gathered sand toys, we’ve grabbed the diaper bag, we’ve hauled the stroller down off the porch. (The two-seater. With so many older toddlers, I’m not using the four-seater much this summer.)

The rain has stopped!! The sun is shining!!! It is tropically humid (ugh), but, after days and days of being housebound, we are ready to GO!

As I buckle Nissa into one seat of the stroller and toss a bag or two into the empty seat, the other four arrange themselves around the stroller. There are four hanging-on spots: front right and left, rear right and left. (Well, five, if you count me, but given that I propel this little circus, I’m no mere hanger-on. I’m the flippin’ engine.)

There is a small kerfuffle when both Tyler and Noah attempt to inhabit the same six square inches of space on the rear left. You know how sometimes you watch toddlers do things, you know they’re going to do them, you know it’s just one of those toddler things, but you still find yourself wondering WHY? WHY do you not see there’s someone there already? WHY do you try to fit in the same spot, anyway? And when the first child objects to being stepped on and squashed over, WHY do you object to his objection?

I’m not even exasperated. I’m just curious. How DO their wee minds work? (Or not.)

“Not there, Tyler. Noah’s already holding on there. You go to the other side.”

(Bet you thought that was me. Sure sounds like me, huh? Not this time. That was Emily. Because she is smart and articulate and Knows The Drill. And Tyler is her Baby Brother, and she is quite the mini-mum.)

Tyler trots round to the other side. He’s used to doing what his sister tells him. Emily nods her approval. There. NOW we are ready.

We have the two Big Kids (almost four!!) at the front, the two Middle Ones (almost two!) at the back, and Nissa, resident kamikaze baby, securely strapped in. There is a method to this.

The Big Kids can be directed verbally, so they can be at the front, out of arm’s reach (though not by much). The Middle Kids are responsive to verbals, but they’re impulsive and slower to register verbal instructions and so often need a hand to guide — or grab — them. And Nissa? If I let Nissa walk to the park, she’d run under a bus, eat something poisonous, and fall down a manhole before we even got to the end of the block.

There’s no way on God’s green earth I am letting that child wander free by the river… Emily, as she does from time to time, appears to be reading my mind.

“I can be up here, because I am a Big Girl.”

“That’s right, Emily. You and Timmy are both Big.”

“And Tyler and Noah have to be back there, close to you, because they’re not big.”

“Right again.” That seems to be the end of the conversation, so, curious, I give it a nudge.

“And Nissa?”

Emily laughs, a high-pitched river of giggles. “Oh, Nissa HAS to be in the stroller, because she is a Cuh-RAZY baby!”

July 29, 2009 Posted by | Emily, health and safety, Nissa, outings, the things they say! | | 4 Comments

Nissa Prevails (Get used to it, Noah)

hands1“Han! Han! Han!” Nissa chases the meandering Noah, her arm outstretched. “Han!”

He stops and turns toward her.

“Han! Han! Han!”

His normally somber face breaks into a smile as he holds his hand out. They clutch hands, absolutely delighted with their small selves. Communication! This whole ‘words’ thing, it actually works!

They trundle around, linked awkwardly at the hands, pleased as punch. Then Nissa has another idea.

“Han! Han! Han! Han!”

Noah pauses, uncertain. Aren’t they already holding hands?

“Han! Han! Han!” (What Nissa lacks in vocabulary, she makes up for in FOCUS.)


She reaches forward and grabs at his other hand. Toddler-style, his first impulse is to pull his hand away.

“Han! Han! HAN! HAN!”

But Nissa persists. This is the way of Nissa.

hands2“Han! Han!” She makes a second lunge and grasps his other hand.

Nissa prevails. I suspect this is the way of the future around here.

Now they stand facing each other. Noah is smiling again, albeit a little uncertainly. He’d get with the program if he knew exactly what it was. He glances down at Nissa’s little face, with its sparkling eyes and ever-present drop of drool on the centre of her lower lip. Which lip, as is usually the case, is curved into a smile.

Then she drops her glance to her feet, and, still holding hands, starts to run furiously on the spot, her purple slippers pounding the floor.

Noah is still a bit bemused. WHAT is this girl doing? But, being a amenable frame of mind, he starts to stomp his own small feet, too. And wow! This is FUN!

“Dan! Dan! Dan! Dan!”

Nissa. I knew I’d love this kid.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | Nissa, Noah, the cuteness! | , , , , | 5 Comments