It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Sharing, sharing, sharing

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.

May 2, 2013 Posted by | daycare, manners, power struggle, socializing | , | 5 Comments

That damned stick has two ends

…and Grace, she has such an affinity for the wrong end of it.

Grace. My sweet, gentle, dippy Grace. What is happening to you?

If I had one word to describe Grace, it would be ‘gentle’. She has spent much of her small life so far ‘in the world but not of it’, her big blue eyes not quite focussed on the activity around her, staring off into the middle distance. When she does enter the play or the conversation, she’s most often three beats behind. She has a beautiful, ready smile.

Mostly, Grace is a joy. She’s quiet, peaceable, content to play on her own, content to play with the others. She’s gentle with the other children, she’s affectionate, she’s happy. Grace Plays Well With Others. Three beats behind, perhaps, but well!

Until this week.

There are two armchairs in my living room. One easily fits two toddlers, the other can only fit one. Typically, when the tots pay them any attention at all, Grace and Jazz sit in the big chair, Poppy sits in the other, and Daniel runs back and forth between the two. Up onto Poppy he blunders. Poppy shrieks and shoves him off. Okay, then. Over to Grace and Jazz he goes, attempts to scale the wall of flailing arms and legs and shrieks.

Once in a while Grace or Jazz will feel particularly gracious, however, and one will slide down and let Daniel clamber up. Where he will wriggle and twist and flail and twitch for all of twenty seconds … before sliding down to find something more interesting to do. Because just sitting? In a chair? Is BORING!!! Chairs, Daniel very shortly discovers, are no fun at all.

(He discovers this umpteen times a week, yet it comes as a surprise every time.)

Our story begins at one such moment of generosity. Jazz and Daniel are in the one chair, Poppy in the other. The requisite three beats have passed, though, and Grace, who had been contentedly colouring, notices. Normally, that would mean that Grace would go over and stand by the chair. She would watch and stare. She might whine in my direction, hoping I’ll come and rectify things for her. (The less-attractive extension of Grace’s gentleness is passivity, a tendency to whine about problems without making any effort to resolve them herself.)

Normally she would not charge up to Daniel and say, in a loud and strident voice, “I want to sit inna chair, Daniel. You get down!”

This week has not been normal.

“I want to sit inna chair, Daniel! You get down! Get down, Daniel!”

Of course, in that instant, the chair, the boring chair, becomes the only place in the world Daniel wants to be. Forever! Of course it does. Because Daniel is two. Because Daniel is two and Grace is being rude, rude, rude. His little chin comes up.

“No. I no get down. I stay here.”

Grace leans into his feet, which just clear the edge of the cushion. Leans and thrusts into his face.

“SHARE! You have to SHARE, Daniel!”

I sigh at the cosmic unfairness of it all. Grace’s passivity has been a thorn in my flesh for two years. For two years I’ve been working with her to get her to “use your words”. “If you have a problem, talk to the person, don’t just stand there and cry.” Over and over I’ve encouraged her to take action, to think of solutions, to try alternate approaches. To just stop being so damned passive!!!

“SHARE! You have to SHARE, Daniel!”

No passivity there, no, no, no. Also no manner, consideration, politeness, constructive options, alternative approaches…


I see his legs start to twitch. Purposefully this time. Grace is about to get an almighty kick in the chops if she doesn’t back off. Which she’s not about to do. Though one might argue Grace is currently earning an almighty kick in the chops, it would be unprofessional of me to allow it.

I put one hand on Daniel’s shins, the other on Grace’s shoulder.

“Grace. Daniel does not have to share. It is nice to share, but he doesn’t have to. If you want Daniel to share, you must ask nicely, then wait.” And I walk them through the script. Ask, wait, respond, resolve.

Now, take that event and multiply by eleventy-gazillion. All week, she has been doing this. All week she’d charge up to another child, rip a toy from them, burst into their activity, crowd their space, and otherwise be intrusively obnoxious, and every time they objected, she’d go all, “SHARE! You have to SHARE!!!”

And every time, I’d say that no, while sharing is nice and good, they don’t have to, but what Grace HAS TO DO is ASK NICELY AND WAIT.


Every time. How much of that did Grace absorb? How much made it into that pretty little head?

Grace is sitting in the big chair. Jazz approaches and asks nicely to sit with Grace. And then she waits for Grace to speak before climbing into the chair! Jazz has this “ask nicely and wait” thing pretty much nailed. (Well, right now, in this one perfect moment of time she does. Right now, in this one perfect moment of time, I am pleased.) Ask nicely and wait. Well done, Jazz!

Grace says, calmly and with absolute confidence, because hasn’t Mary said it over and over again all week …

“No, Jazz, I don’t have to share.”

July 24, 2012 Posted by | aggression, Daniel, Grace, Jazz, manners, power struggle | , , | 5 Comments

Halloween Candy

What a lot of good ideas you all had! Turns out most of you are Rationers to one degree or another. Rationers with a side of Hoarders, Rationers who Hide some but not all.

I rather like the new option you provided me, which I’m calling the Traders. I see Anastasia and Bethany’s objection to the “Halloween Fairy” — do we really need another layer of cutesy pretense and complication? — but I do like the idea of giving kids the option of trading in all or part of their candy for a gift. Maybe your child would honestly prefer a new Lego accessory or a couple of books instead of the extra eight pounds of candy. What a good option!

Another terrific idea: Turning the chocolate into a fondu! An idea the whole family can enjoy. Heck, you could throw a party. That way, the chocolate gets shared among many, instead of consumed by one or two, it is eaten with healthy fruit, and becomes a social event for the whole family. A really good option. I suspect gummi worms would not work for this project.

Like Kristy, I’m bemused by all the children who get bored by candy. In my years of daycare and parenting, I’ve only known one child who didn’t have a sweet tooth. Every other kid I’ve known? Would happily devour the entire Halloween bag in a couple of days to a week, given the opportunity.

There’s only one true Glutton in the list, the person who lets the child eat the entire bag, at the pace of their choosing.

And me? I was of the Glutton camp. I understand — and approve of! — the value of teaching a child the skills of impulse control and moderation. However, if the result of that is candy every day? For months on end? That’s not a lesson I wanted to teach my kids, either. Candy is not something you get every day. It’s an occasional treat.

Now, I could have controlled that, too. I could have put the candy aside and let them have some a day or two a week. But that would have been our treats for the entire year. I’d rather some of our treats be a trip to the ice cream store, or dessert after dinner. (We have dessert in our home maybe once a month. Maybe. Sweets are occasional treats.) I didn’t want to be monitoring that damned bag for the entire year.

So, the combined result of principle and laziness … a total Halloween glut. My kids (as I did as a child) came home, dumped their bags out on the living room floor, and together, the three of them, sorted, traded, bartered. And yes, tossed. There were some things that all three of them agreed were gross.

Mum got her share, too, of course. (Chips! Doritos!) Some were set aside for Christmas stockings. And the rest? They took their bags to their rooms, and I ignored them. About a week later, I’d go into their rooms and clean up the wrappers, etc. And yes, for that week, we were especially diligent about pre-bed tooth-brushing!

And so, within a week, it was done. Over. Until next year.

It’s not a solution that everyone would choose, and that’s fine, of course. I’m not telling anyone how they should do it, just telling you how I did it. The result for my kids is young adults who are at a good weight for their height and build, and who eat well and healthfully… and who indulge in treats on occasion. Could you get that result with another approach? Of course! One abberant night in a year does not make a pattern. It’s the consistent lessons and patterns of the other, normal 364 days that teach and train!

November 1, 2011 Posted by | food, health and safety, holidays | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

When the traditions aren’t your values: Re-working traditions

(I first posted this in 2006. It seemed worth re-visiting.)

When my oldest was very little, I noticed something. It happened in the weeks coming up to Christmas. It happened All.The.Time. It seemed delightful the first time, innocuous the tenth time, even the twentieth time, but by the hundredth time, I was beginning to have serious concerns.

I am out in a mall, first week of December. A neighbour, a friend, a little old lady approaches, smile at my adorable tot with her nimbus of blond curls and the grey eyes big enough to swim in, and said…

“And what’s Santa bringing you this year?”

You know what? Even at less than two, I wanted my child to know that Christmas is about giving, not getting. And she was understanding this! We were making presents for family. We were baking treats to give to neighbours and unexpected friends dropping by. The whole while we did this, we chatted about how happy gramma would be, or Mrs. Goodman across the street would be, to receive our gift. How much fun it was going to be to see her smile and be excited.

This was what Christmas was about, for my child. And then every single time we went out in public, ten times an outing, people would loom into her space and ask, “What are you GETTING? What do you WANT?”

This was NOT on my agenda for my child. This was counter to my values, counter to what I wanted for her.

At that time in my life, I was also a more conventionally devout Christian than I am now. I didn’t like the way that Santa had totally upstaged the Baby Jesus. How could he not? Jesus was an unassuming presence, a baby wrapped in strips of worn cloth in a dingy cowshed. The angels offered a bit of glitz and glitter, but nothing like Santa, with his promise of unleashed, unrepentant acquisitiveness, greed and ME,ME,ME, GET,GET,GET.

My solution?

We would not “do” Santa.

Not in the North American sense, anyway. Instead, we talked about St. Nicholas, “a bishop from Myra in Asia Minor (the greater part of modern-day Turkey), who used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering”. We looked at different ways Santa (St.Nick, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas) was portrayed in other cultures.

When we saw him in the malls, they could, if they wished, go sit on his lap, even though they knew The Truth. They knew these men were just nice people being kind to little children. (Not such a bad thing to know, hmm?) I even paid for the odd picture.

Not believing gave us freedom to play with the norms. Haley decided, when she was seven or so, that it made much more sense in our snow-bound country were Santa’s sleigh to be pulled by fire-breathing dragons. Her Christmas artwork that year included a few renditions of this idea. Lyrical, creative, imaginative – and shockingly untraditional!

The kids were carefully coached in not spilling the beans to friends – nor even to those well-meaning adults. It would be unkind. We don’t want to make people sad at Christmas!

So, when those well-meaning people approached with their “And what is Santa bringing YOU?” questions, the conversation would go as follows.
Child: I don’t know what I’m getting. It’s a surprise!
Me: Why don’t you tell Mrs. Sweet about the present you’re making for gramma?
Child, face lighting up in a most gratifying way, launches into enthusiastic description.

Time and again, people would respond with a wave of warmth and admiration for these kids who really did enjoy the giving. (Ironic, when you consider it was these same people who had highlighted the problem of teaching greed so clearly to me, but of course, that was not their intention.)

Now, when I greet a child before Christmas, I ask if they’re excited about it. I ask what they’re looking forward to most. (Happily, it isn’t always the gifts they anticipate!) I ask if they are doing anything special with mommy and daddy, if they will see gramma and grampa, if they have their tree up. I ask about their school Holiday Concert and/or their church Christmas concert. In short, I ask about anything and everything but presents – because Christmas is about much more than presents!

Although I’m not intending to suggest that anyone else follow my example re: Santa, I do think it’s good practice to step outside cultural norms once in a while. Think them through. Determine whether they apply to you and your family, and act accordingly. Sometimes “It’s traditional!!” isn’t justification enough.

December 14, 2010 Posted by | Christmas | , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Easy Friday

Three of the five children currently on the roll here are part-time. While this plays some unfortunate havoc with my bank balance, it has at least one fortunate consequence. On Fridays and Mondays I have only three children! (Yes, “only”, though my husband comments that I am one of a rarified number who would consider three under-twos to be an easy day.) Three, the three youngest — Grace, Lily, and Rory.

I call them Baby Mondays and Baby Fridays.

For now I do, at any rate. It won’t be too much longer before they’ll all turn two, and won’t be babies in that sense any more. Right now, though, they’re babies. The two-year-old drive for autonomy, and with it the two-year-old negativity, hasn’t yet appeared. They bumble about in the same room, each doing their baby thing. They interact a bit, though as yet it’s mostly in terms of watching what the other guy is doing — and occasionally deciding it’s interesting enough to commandeer the toy in question.

And when this happens, when Grace decides Rory’s toy is so interesting that she’s going to take it now, thanks… well, Rory just watches it leave his grasp, and then watches Grace play with it. It’s all good.

Such is the way of the 18ish-month-old. It’s quite lovely.

There are two-year-old clouds on my baby horizon, though, in the form of Lily. Only Lily has a significant vocabulary. In contrast to Rory and Grace’s mostly-silence (punctuated by babble and the very odd word), Lily is a chatterbox.

“Sunny! Cloudy!” She’s really enjoying our weather calendar.

She loves her compatriots. “Wo-wee! Gace! Mawee! Emma!”

She loves identifying things, generally: “Umbagumba cookie!” “Poon!” “Eye-cheh!” “Boot!” “Soo!” “Sippuh!” “Gox!” (She’s into footwear.)

She loves giving directions: “Up, pee!” (This would be a polite request, not a urinary order.) “Sit yap, sit yap!” “Door sut!” “Doggie down!”

Life with Lily is one constant cheerful stream of words, words, words, words. All with exclamation marks! Because why speak at all, if you’re not going to be decisive! And excited! And Full of Purpose!!!

And increasingly, in contract to Grace and Rory’s equanimity in the matter of toy possession, when someone takes a toy from Lily?

Most of the time she responds as do the others: placidly unruffled. “That’s an interesting toy, and now it’s being interesting over there. How interesting.”

The rest of the time, however, you’ll see the gears shift. The toy will leave her grasp, there’s a pause as she becomes aware that it’s gone, and then a “what the hell” expression will flit across her face. And then… does oh-so-verbal Lily launch into vigorous and shrieked verbal protest?

Sort of.


She has “vigorous” and “shrieked” down pat. Sadly, she does NOT use her words, though we all know they are many. Nope. Just shrieks of outrage which quickly settle into grizzles of tears. (She’s more of a grizzler than a passionate cry-er, our Lily.)

It doesn’t happen every time, but it’s happening more often. We all know what’s coming. Soon it will be the default response — for Lily, and most likely for Grace and Rory, too. Though if I were to indulge in a little prognostication, I would say that Lily will be the worst for this, her negativity the strongest and longest-lasting of the three. Rory will go into and out of that phase less deeply and more quickly, with only moderate training needed, and little Grace will, as much as any toddler does, skip the “MINE!!!!” phase altogether, continuing to be as calm, level, and curious as ever. (Feel free to ask me about this in three months. It could be I’ve just publicly and totally blown any credibility I’ve ever had.)

But for now, the babies are still (mostly) babies, I have two calm and quiet Baby Days per week, and I’m loving it.

October 15, 2010 Posted by | aggression, Developmental stuff, Grace, Lily, Rory | , , , | 3 Comments

Why it’s called “home” daycare

“What is that baby doing in here?” Her middle-aged brows draw into a scowl of puzzled disapproval as she eyes the lone 16-month-old amongst the dozen 4-year-olds. She is an Inspector, and this is my first post-baby job. The baby is my daughter. My boss steps in adroitly.

“That’s the teacher’s daughter. Sometimes she comes in for a visit.”

Ooo, slick. In fact, she didn’t ‘visit’; she just stayed with me. (This only happened after my boss had assured herself of my ability to care for them appropriately. This was her policy with all staff with children; and no, not all staff were permitted to have their child with them.)

Fast-forward twenty years or so, to an interview in my home with prospective clients. The mom is a daycare-centre worker.

“How do you keep the toddlers and the babies separated?” she wants to know.

Short answer: I don’t.

Fast-forward to today. Composition of the household on this particular day: Emily, age 4; Tyler, 2.5; Noah, 2.75; Lily, 18 months, and New Baby Boy, 13 months.

“It’s okay,” Emily reassures a frustrated Noah. “Baby Lily can’t help it. She’s just a baaaaybee.” She pats Noah’s back, her voice rich and soothing. “She doesn’t know that hurts. I will kiss it better, okay?”

Noah beams. “Okay!”

“When you’re cleaning up the blocks, let the baby have one. That way he won’t take them out of the bin as soon as you put them away. When you are all done, then you take that last one away.”

Noah and Tyler carry the block bin together over the baby gate and into the kitchen.

“We are coming in here to play so baby Lily won’t keep smashing our building. But we left some blocks for her to play with.”

Emily carries the bin of playdough and playdough toys to the table. Baby Lily clutches one end and staggers with the bin. It looks a little awkward for poor Emily.

“Do you need help, Emily? Is Baby Lily being a problem?”

“No. She thinks she’s helping me.” She leans closer and stage-whispers to me. “She isn’t really helping, but I’m letting her think she is.” She nods wisely and smiles.

“I need that! Here, baby Lily, you can play with THIS!”

“Mary! Mary! Mary! Baby Lily said ‘DOWN!!!”” Noah’s small face radiates delight. “Did you hear? Her said ‘DOWN!!!’ ” He claps his hands. Baby Lily claps, too, and they laugh together.

Noah scoops a spoonful of stew into his spoon. New Baby Boy watches carefully, then picks up his discarded spoon and starts poking it around in his bowl. He doesn’t quite manage to capture anything on the spoon, but it’s clear what he’s trying to do… and equally clear what encouraged him to try.

“If you shout at the baby, you will frighten him. Tell him in a calm voice, ‘Those are my socks’, and then take them gently away from him… Good. Now you give him something else to play with… That’s it! Good for you! Now you are both happy!”

And THAT, Madame Inspector, is what that baby is doing in here…

May 11, 2010 Posted by | daycare, Developmental stuff, individuality, manners, peer pressure, socializing | , , , , , , , , , , | 16 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 not the scissors…

scissors“These scissors don’t work!”

They sure don’t appear to. After ten minutes of unceasing efforts — give the boy points for persistance — the piece of paper Timmy’s working with shows no sign of a cut. This could be because it’s now as limp as a used kleenex, what with all the times it’s been folded within the scissor’s grip. Folded, crimped, bent and crumpled. Over and over and over again… but not a single cut. Not even a tear, though, if he keeps persisting, I’m pretty sure the paper will shortly fade into sawdust, eroded away through sheerest willpower.

Once again we do the hand-over-hand, my hand guiding his. But cutting paper’s a complicated business, a matter of precision and timing, and Timmy is just not quite there.

“It’s not the scissors, sweetie. Cutting is just a bit tricky for you right now. You’ll get it in time.”

“Here. He can try MY scissors.” Emily holds hers out. Because hers, you see, work just fine, as the fringe along the side of her paper attests. The fringe and the snowfall of paper bits on the table, floor, and bench. And in her lap, and in Nissa’s hair. And the fruit bowl and the potted plant…

We all know it’s not the scissors, but I’m not about to discourage generosity when it happens.

They trade, Timmy’s blue Crayola safety scissors for Emily’s green-and-yellow Grand and Toy number with the millimetres marked on one blade.


“Hey! Look! I cutted! These ones work!” Timmy is astounded and delighted. Sure enough, there is a short but undeniable cut in the edge of the paper.

And, from Emily…

“Mary, these scissors don’t work!”


July 21, 2009 Posted by | crafts, Emily, Timmy | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Persistence pays off

goulash“Would you like some goulash?” Anna tips the ‘pot’ (aka cowboy hat) which she has been stirring with a ‘spoon’ (aka rhythm stick) so that Timmy can see the ‘goulash’ (aka wooden puzzle pieces). Timmy loks up from the puzzle he’s completing, peeks into the pot and makes his decision.

“No, thank you.”

“Would you like some goulash?”

“No, thank you.”

“Would you like some goulash?”

“No, thank you.”

She’s hearing him just fine. Nor is there any misunderstanding. He’s answering cheerfully and very clearly, each and every time. But he is also giving the Wrong Answer. Anna tries yet again.

“Would you like some goulash?”

“No, thank you.”

Repetition is not working.

“Okay, I’ll make you some goulash!!!”

Because, come hell or high water, this boy is going to get some GOULASH, dammit! Timmy’s head come up from his puzzle yet again.

“Oh, you’re going to make me some goulash?”



Toddlers are just plain weird.

June 26, 2009 Posted by | Anna, Timmy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Your baby cries: Gut and Head duke it out over Tears

tears1“Can I wear your lion hat?”

It was October, a long-ago daycare Hallowe’en party. Adults with wine glasses mingle whilst toddlers rampage at knee-level. The tots are in their Hallowe’en finery, among them a lion, whom we will call Cecily.

“No. I don’t want you to wear it.”

Clear enough. He does have a costume of his own, after all. Complete with headgear. Mind you, if Cecily hadn’t been empowered by parental presence, she would have been much more likely to try the old Mary’s-house stand-by “In a minute”. Had I not been politely deferring to parental presence, I might have, while acknowledging her right not to share her costume, encouraged her to be a little more solicitous of his feelings. However, parental authority trumps Mary’s (which is as it should be), and in this case, allows the child to be the autocratic despot in my home that, by all parental accounts and available evidence, she is at home. (Which is not as it should be. Oh, well.) And even at Mary’s, Land of Sharing, it is understood that you don’t have to share things that you wear.

“No, I don’t want you to wear it.”

Other child, who we’ll call Ralphie, bursts into tears. Cecily is irked.

“I’m allowed to say no!” (Funny how they can apply the principles from Mary’s house when it suits them. Sharing goes out the window when parents hover near, but the right to say no? That one is never forgotten.)

Ralphie’s tears spur Cecily’s mother to action. She swoops in, squats beside her daughter. Ralphie’s mother tries to deflect, “No, no, it’s okay.” Cecily’s mother wants to do this, though. Needs to.

“Oh, honey. Don’t you think you could let him have a little turn?” Sweetly coaxing, gently solicitous.

Cecily’s eyes dart, a little anxious, a little defiant.

“I don’t want him to wear it.”

“Oh, but sweetie, he’s sad. Look.” Hearing the sympathy oozing from Cecily’s mummy’s voice, little Ralphie’s tears double in volume. As does his volume. Cecily is not unmoved by the tears, but she’s holding firm.

“I’m ALLOWED to say no!” And then she bursts into tears.

Trapped between two wailing children, Cecily’s mother is flummoxed. No matter what she does now, someone will be unhappy. The children, perhaps sensing her uncertainty, or maybe just hitting their stride, get even louder, and, if possible, wetter.

(This sort of thing happens at virtually every single “let’s have mommy and daddy come!” party I throw. This is why, though I continue to host these gatherings, I always do it with an inner sigh.)

Cecily’s mom attempts further appeasement. She is not successful. Cecily’s dad, with the male “can we please solve this and get back to the party” directness, intervenes.

“I think she’s made her point of view very clear. She doesn’t want him to wear the hat.”

“You think?” Mom wavers, uncertain. She casts a sorrowful glance at Ralphie and his copious tears. “But he…” Her glance shifts to her still-wailing daughter (though the intensity is decreasing now that she senses dad is in her corner).

Ralphie’s mother, relieved, steps in. “He’ll be fine. He has his own costume. Come on, sweetie. Why don’t you show me the craft you did today?”

Crisis averted.

Now for the analysis. Why did this situation arise?
– because a child wouldn’t share?
– because another child wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer?
– because the children were overstimulated?
– too much sugar? party excitement?
– too little sleep?
– the disruption of routine?

While any or all of them could be factors, none of them were the root cause. This situation went from tense to tsunami because a parent fell prey to tears.

There were other issues at play, of course. We do want our children to share, we don’t want them to be selfish. We do want them to develop generosity and empathy, we do want them to be gracious. We want these things for many noble reasons, and we REALLY want them EVEN MORE when we’re in PUBLIC, thankyousoverymuch.

But once again: Where it all went off the rails was not with the children’s behaviour, but with the parent’s response to the tears. None of the larger, more important parenting concerns got a second’s air-time, because the mom was high-jacked by the tears.

Let me underline here that I have a great deal of sympathy for her response. It’s utterly visceral.


The urge to leap in and soothe the tears away is as basic, gut-level a parental response as there is. It’s not about being “nice”, about being “responsive” and “sensitive”. Those are things we tack on after our response to the tears. At base, this urge is about the survival of the species.

Think about it.

You have a newborn. If parents (mothers in particular, being the ones with the food delivery systems implanted on their chests) weren’t hard-wired to respond to baby’s cries, I figure it would take two weeks, max, of severe sleep-deprivation before the poor exhausted woman wouldn’t just soundproof the door and go to sleeeeeeeep. And baby, deprived of those necessary night-time calories, would at the very least be in serious risk of dehydration, if not outright malnutrition.

So. That gut-level “FIX IT!” response to your child’s wails is a biological imperative, put there for the preservation of the species.

Ah, Gut. Remember Gut? We talked about him a few posts ago. Your Gut, which is faster to react than your brain; your Gut, which is PASSIONATE and POWERFUL in all its responses; your Gut does not know that this is not life-and-death, not a matter of survival, not necessary for the continuation of the species. Nor does it care. Your Gut only knows that “Baby cries = Bad. Must stop now.”

And humans, when we have a Gut-level response, we react out of that response. We may rationalize our responses, we may come up with reasons that we’re doing what we’re doing, but in fact, we’re responding from our Gut, not our Head.

However. There comes a time for your Head to over-rule your Gut. It is possible, though it takes focus and determination at first — and the courage of your convictions.

A newborn whose cries for food are ignored is in a life-threatening situation. A toddler who has been refused a lion hat… is not. Just not. (No matter how passionately Gut tells you it is life-and-death! It is! IT IS!) A toddler who is encouraged required to share the damned thing is not going to drop dead from the trauma, either. (Which is not to say that she should have been required to share it. Just that it wouldn’t be life-and-death.)

So, in a clearly non-critical situation like this (and most of them are), you need to step back a pace and consider. Since it’s not life and death, what exactly are the issues?

-The base conflict: your child doesn’t want the other kid to wear her hat; this upsets the other child.
– Social pressures, real or perceived: If you support your child, will that make you look like you’re encouraging selfishness? If you support the other kid, will your child humiliate you in public by throwing a full-blown hissy fit? Will either option make you or your child look bad?
– Character-development/parenting issues: You want your child to be kind, considerate, generous, empathetic.
– Competing character-development/parenting issues: You want your child to be confident and self-assured with clear personal boundaries.

It’s complicated! It’s not simple, and I’m not suggesting there is one right resolution to the situation. There are several, each based on different situational realities and parental priorities. Each response has pros and cons, each response will satisfy some and aggravate others.

So. No one perfect response. (There rarely is, darnit.) What I am saying is that you can’t come to a clear and reasoned response, a response which will address even one of the issues listed above, if you’re reacting out of your Gut-level “RED ALERT!” reflex.

What I am saying is that “Good Parenting” does not necessarily mean soothing the tears away. In the process of raising a happy, responsible, well-adjusted, just generally nice-to-be-around human being, tears are pretty much inevitable. A lot of the time, they’re not (or needn’t be) the focus of our attention. A lot of the time, in fact, they’re a distraction from what really needs to be accomplished.

Get high-jacked by the tears, (as we all do, at least sometimes!), and you miss the real parenting opportunities.

February 28, 2009 Posted by | manners, parenting, power struggle, socializing, the dark side | , , | 11 Comments