Thursday, September 10, 2009

combating the brat

Last month, when we were in South Carolina, we went swimming every day.

One afternoon, we went to the community pool in my mother's neighborhood. When we arrived, we were the only ones there, with the exception of a five-year-old girl named Rebecca. Once we were in the water and playing, Rebecca asked if she could use Elizabeth's pink goggles.

Elizabeth, being the great sharer that she is (with children outside of her own family), happily obliged. But when 20 minutes passed and Elizabeth sweetly asked if she could have her goggles back, Rebecca wouldn't cooperate.

So Rebecca's father stepped in and said, "Rebecca dear, those aren't your goggles. You must give them back now, OK?" Rebecca replied, "NO. I WON'T GIVE THEM BACK. I AM USING THEM." And a scene ensued. A rather ugly scene. And rather than pluck the goggles from his daughter's hand, the father - who it turns out is a psychiatrist - told his daughter that if she didn't comply, she would be disciplined.

Because I am interested to see how other parents handle their children who are acting difficult, the father had my rapt attention. Especially since he was a psychiatrist and had received training on behavioral science. Surely he knew exactly what to do.

Everyone watched as the father approached his daughter and looking in to her eyes firmly said, "Rebecca, I am going to count to three and if you don't give the goggles back to Elizabeth, you are going to have ONE consequence."

Rebecca tried to swim away.

The father caught up to her and said, "ONE..." long pause. "TWO...." long pause. "THREE!" Then he said, "Miss Rebecca, you now have ONE consequence."

OK then! This should be fun!! What happens after one consequence - I wondered?

Rebecca still didn't hand the goggles back. So the father repeated the process until he was up to three consequences. By now, several minutes had passed and Rebecca's brat defiance level had increased ten-fold. My daughter was patiently waiting for her goggles to be returned and I debated getting involved. But then, I considered that the father was really trying to work the situation the best he could and I should sit back and take notes.

Eventually, he pried the goggles from his daughter's grasp and returned them. But within a matter of seconds, Rebecca took the goggles OFF my child's head. Because, as she screamed across the pool, she "WASN'T DONE USING THEM!"

There was a lot more drama and eventually - after several more minutes passed - the father took Rebecca from the pool. Rebecca's mother was sitting in a chair, and had been making small talk with us, when the scene began to unfold. She got up and started to pack up their gear as the father draped a towel around his screaming daughter's shoulders and then, turned to put on his shoes.

In that time, Rebecca threw the towel off her shoulders and jumped back in the pool. The father stood on the edge and patiently told her that she needed to get out. When several more minutes passed, he jumped in after her, and once he got close, she swung back her arm and slapped him.


Not only was I in disbelief, our children were in disbelief.

William, Carolyn and Elizabeth had turned to stare when Rebecca ditched her towel and jumped back in the pool, and when she struck her father, they audibly gasped.

Then they started with their commentary, "OH MY GOODNESS! Did you see what that little girl did? OH MY GOODNESS. She just hit her Daddy. SHE HIT HIM. OH MY GOODNESS. She is throwing a fit. That's not good. THAT IS NOT GOOD!! She is a NAUGHTY child!!"

The father carried a screaming Rebecca out of the pool. He told her that she was up to five consequences. He summoned his wife to help him towel her off and put on her shoes. And then, the two parents carried her - by her flailing arms and kicking legs - out of the swimming area, while yelling over their shoulders to me, "Goodbye! It was nice to meet you! Enjoy the rest of your visit!"

They were seemingly oblivious to their child's behavior. Like this is something that happens every day, and this is how they respond? They just pick their out-of-control child up by her arms and legs and retreat, while calmly repeating, "That's one more consequence, sweetheart. Would you like another?"

I was stunned.

Charlie was stunned.

Our children were stunned.

None of us had ever seen anything like that, before.

But then, a few days later, when we were at the beach, I saw an almost identical situation.

This time, it was a five-year-old boy who got in to a fight with his seven-year-old brother. Since I had been watching the kids play, it was clear to me that the five-year-old was in the wrong. He had stomped on his brother's sand castle and then tried to hit him with a truck when the brother retaliated by hitting his leg.

The mother tried to get her kids under control, by separating them. She took the seven-year-old down to the water and the five-year-old picked up a handful of sand and pelted his three-year-old sister in the face. When she tried to hit him with a long-handled shovel, he smacked her over the head with a pail. I was jumping out of my chair to intervene - when the mother came running back to break up the fight. She talked calmly to her children while they ran around her - trying to hit each other.

For a few minutes, she tried to diffuse the situation by sitting down and talking to her kids. But when the five-year-old started to swing at her, she patiently stood up, and walked back to the water's edge. It was at least another 20 minutes before she collected her belongings and tried to leave the beach, while the kids threw punches at each other and her.

I couldn't believe that any one would tolerate that kind of behavior. It took every ounce of self control to not get up and get those children in line, MYSELF.

I think that if someone tolerates poor behavior from their child - they will soon be tolerating poor behavior from their adolescent. And then their teen. And they might wonder at some point, why no one enjoys spending time with them anymore and in fact RUNS the other way when they see them coming.

In my opinion, there really are no excuses. And people who condone bad behavior and don't lay down the law are not only doing a disservice to themselves and to the people that have to be subjected to their offspring ... they are doing a disservice to their child.

Kids need to know how to act. They need to know who is in control - and they need to learn at a very young age - it isn't them. They need to know what is acceptable and what isn't. And I'll be the first to say, a child hitting an adult or calling them names is not acceptable.

Now, I'll be the first to admit, my children are far from perfect when it comes to their behavior. We have our fair share of issues. But I would never - and I mean NEVER - tolerate that kind of disrespect towards me - or any one else. At the first sign of our children disobeying me, they are REMOVED from the situation, immediately.

What that means is I do not allow where I am, or who I am around, to dictate the way that I respond to my children. And my children know it.

Or rather, I should say everyone knows it, except Henry.

At 26 months old, our little house ruler is learning that he isn't the ruler of this house. He is going through a phase of defiance and non-sleep and screaming and obsession that makes me want to shove in some earplugs, grab a bottle of wine, crawl in a hole and hide.

I don't remember the triplets being nearly this difficult.

Then again, they were off the apples by the time they were two.

(Edited to add: Has any one ever had to NEGOTIATE with a child regarding breastfeeding?? Doesn't that signal that it might be time to stop?!)


If anyone is interested in appearing on the show SuperNanny, I recently received an e-mail from the Casting Producer, Shannon McLaughlin. They are currently looking for new families for the next season. You can contact Shannon at 323-904-4680, extension 1178, or via e-mail at

You know, it just occurred to me. I'm not sure why she contacted us...

Perhaps I'm not doing as good of a job as I think I am?


Did someone nominate our family?!



  1. Just a quick note. One of my Grandchildren kept jumping on me while in the pool, I told him to stop several times, THEN I gave him a choice. "If you do this again Billy, I will dunk you three time, and you will come up twice." He is now twenty four, going into the army next month, and he still remembers swimming away from his crazy Grandmother who held him under the water for about fifteen minutes.(slight exageration) BUT... he never fooled around with Nana again. I will not mention the cute ten year old Niece who decided she didn't like Math. Her Mom had a long closet, she is now a Geoligist.

  2. When my mother witnesses parents who try to "reason" with an out of control child she says "They're talking to the wrong end."

    When I was pregnant with our first, a friend who had teenagers told me "Our goal was to try very hard to raise our kids so that others enjoyed them as much as we do." I'm starting to see success in that theory with our own children.

  3. Does no one spank their children anymore? If I misbehaved as a child, I received a swat on the butt.

  4. as the parent to a violent 4 yr old who I really struggled with controlling..... please understand that just because the parent appears calm or ignoring a certain behaviour, doesnt mean they arent handling (or trying to) the situation. Just because he gave her chances, doesnt mean he didnt handle it at a time she'd calmed. Just because he didnt handle it the same as you doesnt mean he wasnt right..and OFTEN us parents of these way too rambunctious children-- ARE EXHAUSTED by the time we are out in public and we just want to ENJOY our child and hope they straighten up so we can do so.

    All of that said...the above mentioned 4yr old is now a wonderful and polite (not always) 10yr old who I cant remember the last time tried to swing at me or called me a name. I seriously questioned my parenting at 4, but as my now 5yr old tests me, I look at my 10yr old and remind myself I got through it and have a decent child who I LIKE... not a disrespectful one.

    All that said. I often am afraid someone will call Supernanny on me.

    I expect my children to listen and respect me... but they often do not..sometimes I'm so exhausted I let too much go... it gets frustrating and tiring arguing/fighting all the darn time. But again... my 10yr old is not that child that I am doing so with, and he was 5yrs ago.

  5. I totally agree with you! Children need to know who is in charge... PERIOD! Shayna knows it, although lately she thinks she's in charge!

  6. I secretly like it when I see these types of situations because I'm reassured that my parenting isn't nearly as bad as I sometimes think it is!

    Yes, I had to negotiate weaning with my 1st child at 2 years old. First, no "maymay" unless the sun was out, then, no "maymay" unless we were at home without guests, then only before sleep, finally only "maymay" for 10 (long) seconds on each side- she would vigorsly nurse whiile I counted to ten and then she would pop off and say "just a little bit mama?" with her fingers pinched close together. It really broke my heart, but I had another baby coming in 6 short weeks and I knew I couldn't be a tandem nurser! After about 2 weeks she finally gave it up (without tears) and when the new baby came she had completely forgotten about the "maymay", she didn't even remember that she had called it that! Now she's 5 and I just finished nursing her baby sister at 8 months, I had hoped to nurse longer, but she was just not that in to me!

    I really enjoy your blog, Jen. I found it on The Grady's blog, are you friends with Kim and Jeff? I grew up with Kim.

  7. I see both sides. (Gee, how Switzerland of me) I agree with The Swimmer's comment that just because he was handling things in a drastically different manner doesn't necessarily make it wrong.

    Do I think his daughter was out of control? Hell yeah, but I'm the parent who has calmly stood in the mall silently as my daughter had a full on tantrum on the floor for all to see. I've also carried said child out of a toy store, kicking and screaming, after trying at length to remain calm and help HER get calm.

    Yeah, I could have put my foot down earlier I suppose in each instance, but I did what I felt was necessary in each case to get her (and me!) through those breakdowns. From the outside, I probably looked like the worst mom ever.

    But. My kid was really only hurting herself. Once it starts to impact other kids (violence, not giving stuff back), the gloves come off.

  8. Jen, I come from an abused childhood. Before I became a parent I always said I will never hit my child. That being said, I'm now a parent. I do spank my two year old and I hate it. He is a VERY strong-willed child and there are times that reasoning with him just doesn't work. But I struggle with spanking him because where is that line, yanno? I have horrendous memories of physical abuse that I will never overcome and will never forgive my father for. The idea of creating those type of memories for my son terrifies me. I really wish I could discipline with force and he would just LISTEN. But he doesn't. I struggle with this daily.

  9. Good for you! There is nothing worse than chilldren who are big BRATS! Hitting parents and siblings? Never! Good for you for not giving a gazillion chances - I don't know why parents tolerate such behavior!

    Bridget :)

  10. Thank you for posting about this. More and more, I am frustrated with other parents ignoring their children's behavior. I understand that some children are more difficult than others. But ignoring the unacceptable behavior, especially in public, condones the behavior. Your story has several points that we can all learn from.
    1. Threats of consequences should be followed by real consequences. Otherwise, the child knows they're empty threats.
    2. Use situations like this to illustrate unacceptable behavior to your own children. Then they can appreciate when Mommy and Daddy get so "grumpy" when they act like that.
    3. Praise, Praise Praise! Be sure to praise children when they are behaving correctly. My parents have gotten into a habit of rewarding well-behaved children in restaurants with a compliment and a dollar (if it's ok with their parents)

    Sometimes the adult staying calm does help to diffuse the situation. In our house, we try to stay calm until our daughter pushes us too far. Then she goes to time out. On occasion, she gets a swat on the hiney when she's being particularly disrespectful. She has also gotten time out in public places (swimming pool). That worked wonders. I think she was more embarrassed than anything.

    I think the key is to decide what is and is not acceptable behavior and sticking to it. Make sure spouses, and other caretakers are on the same page. Consistency goes a long way in winning the battle!

  11. This really isn't an issue of spanking or not spanking. It's more of an issue of who is ruling the roost - in this case - the child. There is a post on my blog about what happens when you let the child rule the roost and then they become teenagers. Whether you spank or not the adult must be the one in charge and the little one needs to know that.

  12. I was so relieved to see Monkey Momma's comment. I lived through an abusive childhood as well, although my poor siblilng received the worst of the physical abuse. I also swore I'd never hit or belittle my child. However, I also have a very strong-willed 2-almost-3-yr old that has recently begun to try and hit or throws things or breaks them on purpose. I've resorted to swats on a couple of occasions and have cried and become ill each time. While the swats have worked, it stresses me out very badly. Thankfully, removing him from whatever situation is causing him to feel like he has to behave this way usually works 100 percent. And thankfully my spouse is 100 percent on the same page as I am.

    Please just remember that no one situation, or child, is like another and be thankful that your methods work with your children.


  13. Jen, I started reading your blog when I was pregnant and I have ALWAYS admired your parenting style ... there are times when I look at my 13 months old, thinking, WWJ(en)D. :-P (your sleeping school worked wonders btw) I agree with you entirely that too many parents nowadays try to argue with their kids and make them "understand" of why they shouldn't behave a certain way ... you cannot ARGUE with children at that age. They need strict guidance to not forget who is in charge. I also strongly believe that this should be done without any spanking or hitting though ... It always infuriates me at how many people associate good discipline with this harsh punishment.

  14. I witnessed my 5-yr-old sister smacked my dad across the face because she was mad at him for telling her to clean her room up. My 3-yr-old daughter was standing right there as it happened, and we both gasped in astonishment. He didn't respond at all, as if being slapped by his 5-yr-old childwas a normal occurence. I was so angry at him for not reprimanding her that I grabbed my daughter and left. I can't understand how a parent allows such behavior.

    *No one* is not allowed to hit in our household - our daughter may not hit us, and we do not hit her. We hope that providing an example of how to deal with frustration/anger/fear without physically harming someone will help her in the long run.


  15. Consistent and immediate application of consequences works wonders, without the slippery slope of a 150-lb human teaching a 50-lb human not to hit by hitting her.

    Consistency is hard on a parent...but not as hard as the impact of our hands. Consistency takes stamina when we parents would rather lash out or give up.

  16. Yes, I applaud this post. Too many parents take permissiveness too far in the name of 'patience'. I agree that children need to know who is in control and where to draw the line.

    While I agree that parenting in public is not always easy, and I do handle things differently in public than I do at home, calmly allowing a toddler or small preschooler to throw a 20-minute tantrum in a store is completely different than calmly allowing a child to hit their parent or sibling.

    And to those commenters who equate hitting/abuse and spanking, there is a difference. There is such a thing as lovingly spanking a child. I was slapped in the face as a child, and I pray that I will have the self-control to never abuse my child that way. That being said, I believe that spanking can be the most loving thing we do for our child, in a context of controlled discipline, and not as an angry response.

  17. The links you post in your blogs that lead to your other blogs (also containing links) ensures that I get absolutely NOTHING accomplished. *laughs* I can't stop reading.

  18. Just thought I'd share that I have negotiated breastfeeding before. I never thought I'd be nursing past a 2nd birthday, but when it happened, I figured I had a right to say how often and how long.

  19. The problem with those people, who are so calm, is that they are medicated out of their gourd and are unable to express enough emotion to show how F'NG PISSED OFF I would be if my kids acted that way. My kids know that their mother has a line, and if they cross it, I will go all sorts of postal on their ass.

    You know what I'm talking about, don't ya?

    If no matter how escalated a situation gets, if a parent never shows ANGER, then I think it's just abnormal. I think kids keep pushing to see CAN I MAKE MY PARENT FLIP OUT?

    My kids don't have to do that, because both of their parents are AHHHHH....FREAK OUTs, so they are scared to death to push too far.

    Fear. A little bit of fear goes a long way. I am in charge and they know it.


  20. Aunt Grace, I love you! You are my hero.

    I have no qualms about spanking my children. When they need it, it happens. Go for it anon's...just try.

    I too have a degree in early childhood behaviors. And I'm sorry, some of that crap doesn't work! I have four kids...three of whom responded extremely well to the redirection and removing, etc, without so much as a question asked or a tantrum thrown. But the youngest...whoa golly...

    She is something else. Neither my husband or myself hits, her siblings don't hit, but that girl came out of the womb tearing me apart and hitting the nurses around her. She took a little wooden bat to my son when he was six and she was 18 months, and laughed as he received stitches. Seriously.

    We monitor TV, Computer, and the sort. She is just by nature, very outgoing and hard headed.

    Which comes to my other comment. My dad said I was the SAME way. Imagine that. He said growing up I was spanked so much he thought it bordered on abuse. But what I remember wasn't abuse, but rather discipline and damned if I didn't do that again! I wasn't scared, I just KNEW not to. And so does my daughter.

    Way back was totally OK for parents to spank a child. Up in northern AK, it still is.

    As an adult, Hey...if the shoe fits.

    That's my twelve cents.

    P.S. my six year old is wonderfully sweet and kind...but awfully stubborn. But she KNOWS WHO'S BOSS.

  21. Hi i'm from mexico my name is Damaris and i'm on med school about a year ago i had a homework about multiple pregnacy and i found your blog, hope doesn't boder you but i've follow it since then and i found really amazing what you can write sometimes and the cancer founds ofcourse, though im only 20 and (i think) far from beeing a mother is never to soon to look how running a family really is. My goal is to have eight kids (crazy as it sounds) but ofcourse only if a can give them the propper education and time and i totally agree with you about kids hitting their parents sometimes parents don't want to confront their children and is propably one of the bigest mistakes a parent can make cause the kid will have it his way. I bealive when a children its out of control the parent should "ignore him" and inmediatily, like you say, take them away from the situacion but is also very important that when the crazyness is over you talk with your kid about it so perhaps next time he wont act that way or well im exagerating by saying that the next time and it probably by the hundred time but it would work plus you are incentivating your childs criterion.
    Sorry if i misspeel some words i'm not that good at writing and congratulations for the amazing family you and your husband are raising up.

  22. Like other commentors, I find discipline to be so tough. Very mentally and physically challenging! We do do time outs and spanking, and swats on the hand and removal from a situation, and anything else I can think of that might reasonable help/fit the situation.

    One thing that I think has really been good for my 2 two year olds is for my husband and I to reinforce that they are to listen to ALL adults, not just us. So if my MIL, Mom, aunt or babysitter at the gym tells the kids to do or not do something, I enforce that also. It has made my kids understand that at this young and tender age, they have lots of people available to help and guide them, and that takes some of the pressure off of me to not always be the one saying no or not now.

    The funny thing about discipline-so many people disagree with controlled spanking that I have always felt criticized by watchful eyes on the few occassions I have had to publically spank my kids.

    I think having multiples causes you to figure out your discipline strategy pretty quickly. My kids weigh almost 60 lbs together and I simply cannot pick up both of them and carry them out of a store, restaurant, etc. I think I am firmer because of that, and the genuine fear that something bad could happen to them (running out in front of a car, etc) if they did not learn to really obey me from a young age.

    Ugh, I could go on and on!

    Good luck with Henry. No advice here!

  23. I think the woman sitting in the chair was the Shrink's girl friend and so kept her distance. I saw him the other day with another gal and no child. I feel bad for the child because no body wants to be around a child that is not in control.
    When I went to the pool with Michael last week, a gal there said "Oh here comes Mary Foley--everybody out of the pool." She was refering to a time when I had John Emmet here and he was out of control and I made him get out of the pool while I swam. That was 25 years ago and she still remembers it.
    Good luck with the little H.

  24. I just spent hours in a hospital waiting room waiting and hoping for good news on my husband's surgery.
    After 5 hours he came out fine but most of the time my sister and I were sitting in the waiting room there was a 3 year old being nothing less than a monster while his parents said things like "now, now we don't behave that way"

    I CANNOT TELL you how tempting is was to turn to this child's parents and (NOT VERY POLITELY) ask them to remove their child from the area. It was like being in hell. Not knowing if my husband was going to make it through a dangerous surgery and have to deal with this child who's parents were oblivious to his behavior.

    It makes me want to cry just thinking about it. Fortunately Larry came through just fine but that child is going to have big troubles as he grows.

  25. Children must understand through love and disipline that there is a line they shall not cross. There is absolutely nothing wrong with spanking, and its only a bunch of spoiled liberals that try to guilt parents in this country into "child lead" families. Compare the crime rate in Thailand who spank there kids and cane adults with that of the US. The reality is we need to draw the line and use spanking as one of the tools to teach earlier on what is acceptible and what is not. I would rather spank when they are young than to have a police officer club or shoot them when they are older. Kids need to be taught that there is an ultimate authority, no negotiations, and that no means no. I use the FRAM Oil filter slogan: "You can pay me (spank them) now or Pay me (have police spank them)later."