It’s Not All Mary Poppins

In which Mary waxes irreverent

An email exchange between myself and a friend. (The friend is a police officer. You will soon see why this is relevant.)

Me: …grousing about a certain behaviour on the part of a certain child which I am finding rather trying these days.

Him: I couldn’t do your job. Parents don’t appreciate tasers and pepper spray.

Me: Too right! Heck, they can barely tolerate duct tape!


October 22, 2010 Posted by | Mischief | , | 6 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


top marks300What a great family!

Last night I had an interview. The little boy is two and cute, his parents are personable and friendly. Lots of propsective clients could fit that mold. What set them apart, what set them really, really, really apart, is how very, very, very well they manage that boy. I was impressed.

Okay, a confession here: This does not often happen. Now, I often note and smile at loving interactions between parent and child. The look of pride and love on a parent’s face, their child’s beaming response… that’s always a pleasure to see, always makes me smile. But child management? Not so much. When I note parents’ disciplinary actions with their children, I am more often exasperated than impressed. Yes, I am a curmudgeon.

But this family? Wow.

When they arrived, Emma was just finishing her dinner. The little boy started agitating for food.

“I know you’re hungry, but you chose not to eat dinner. That was your choice. No food for you.”

Impressive. Her tone of voice is neither coaxing nor harsh, but simply matter-of-fact. He did A, and the result is B.

Impressive. This is how you prevent picky eaters. This is how you avoid becoming a short-order cook. This is how you ensure years of pleasant family meals. Well done.

(For those of you worrying that he will go to bed hungry, be assured that he was going to be offered food when they got home. His dinner. The one he’d refused.


And the child subsided. Not without protest, but it was mild and brief. Because the child knew — knew — this was a non-negotiable.

Impressive. Obviously, he’s been through this loop enough to know when Mommy Means Business. I’d love to see the parents’ tantrum tactics, because they must have developed some pretty effective ones to have a 25-month-old who responds so well to unwelcome news.

We had our interview. At intervals, the little boy would mention that whole food-hungry thing again, and each time it was dealt with in the same way, sometimes by the mother, sometimes by the father.


It never became a tantrum, it never escalated. We were able to conduct a 30-minute interview with minimal interruptions with a two-year-old in the room. Not just any two-year-old, but a hungry two-year-old.


At the 30-minute mark, however, the little guy had about reached his limit, and the parents knew that. Dad decided to take the tot out to his stroller for a change of scene while mom finished up with me.

Sensible. Not impressive, this one, but another checklist in the “these parents have their shit together” list.

But before he left, they had him tidy up. Now you know what? In that situation, I probably would not have asked that of the child. He was hungry, he’d been really good for 30 solid minutes, he was now getting tired as well. I would have made an executive decision to pick up the toys myself.

He picked up the toys. Quickly and calmly.


And waved bye-bye from daddy’s arms.


He did, however, refuse to blow kisses. Because he is two, after all.

Normal. 🙂

May 14, 2009 Posted by | daycare, parenting | , | 8 Comments