A lesson learned

NS May 1st, 2009

Is three too young for a child to learn about losing things? I don’t think so.

Last Friday as we walked back from the shops, The Noble Child kept dropping her sunglasses. On purpose. After repeatedly bending over to pick them up (with a baby strapped to my chest and a rucksack full of groceries on my back, no less) and putting them in my pocket for awhile, I gave her one last chance to hold onto them and not drop them. Not two minutes later she looked me square in the eye with a glint of mischief that I know my own mother would tell me was identical to the one in mine at her age. I wasn’t backing down though, oh no. She held the glasses at arm’s length and waited to see what I would do. I calmly looked on and reminded her that if she dropped them again, they would be gone for good as I wasn’t picking them up again and neither was she.


There they went, onto the pavement.

We walked ten feet and she wailed that she wanted them. I refused; again, quite calmly. A massive tantrum, complete with writhing on the ground and snot-faced crying, ensued. I stood and waited for her to finish, asking her to move out of the way of passing pedestrians so she wouldn’t get kicked. That I wasn’t losing the plot and getting fed up only seemed to confuse her. She’s seen me lose my cool enough times to know that I can usually only be pushed so far before my voice becomes raised or I get really, really annoyed. But on that day the sun was shining, I had a friend on her way over for a visit and was going out that night for the first time in a very long time. Nothing could ruin my happy mood, not even a public tantrum about sunglasses. I whistled and tapped my foot cheerily while she wrapped up the theatrics.

She finally picked herself up and crossed the street, only to fall down again in tears as she saw the sunglasses get further and further away. It took us nearly a half hour to get home in what should’ve been a ten minute walk, and £10 was wasted, but I hope that maybe a lesson was learned. The Noble Husband thinks she’s too young to have understood and that I’m insane to have thrown away a good pair of glasses for no reason, but I’m pretty sure she won’t forget that soon. Days later she was still saying in a very sad voice “My glasses are all gone. Mummy not let me pick them up.”

Yes, darling, they are. And I know I seemed unreasonably mean about it. That’s the dirty work of childrearing, the part that doesn’t feel good. Tough love and discipline aren’t many people’s favourite aspects of parenting but it’s something that must be done. All I can do is hope the messages sink in and that when she looks back forlornly at those sunglasses in her mind, she’ll remember that I was there, holding her hand as she cried.

11 Responses to “A lesson learned”

  1. mothership says:

    so hard, isn’t it? I think she’ll remember it and probably not do it again. This is the age of testing boundaries and she just met one. It will be comforting, in the end. i see so many children who are able to shift their parents boundaries, here, and they are not happy kids, and they are also APPALLINGLY behaved. They grow up into members of society who do not contribute, do not take responsibility for themselves and don’t understand how to respect other people. Yes, it all starts here.

    And, I have tagged you at mine. Sorry!

  2. the bad aunt says:

    The last line was so touching. Only a loving mother could have written that one.

  3. A Free Man says:

    I don’t know if 3 is too young to learn that lesson, but I’ve been thinking about using a similar technique with my 19 month old. I guess I’ll wait. That game is just SOOOOOOOOOO frustrating.

  4. Sarah says:

    Hmm..if she was looking at you to see if your limit would ‘stick’ – I would say she is old enough to learn. It seems like she was testing your words, and your carrying through teaches her the limit and that you will keep her safe. Having recently spent a week with my 3-year-old niece, I know everything (and I mean *everything*) is about learning boundaries (each lesson coming with said tantrum).

    If she isn’t old ‘enough’ – her remembering this event will probably make it less likely she’ll do it again, which may save you a tiny bit of sanity later which will only help her. As for TNH, I think it’s easy to see the sadness afterwards and not the incident causing it. If he were lugging TNB, groceries, bending over every three seconds, suddenly three may sound EXACTLY like the time to learn this lesson!

  5. Good for you, that’s hard to do especially with a baby in tow.

    Highlighting your blog on mummy bloggers this week…

    Also — let me know if you want to put anything on expat mums…

  6. joanna says:

    This is a hard lesson but one I have had to teach my kiddos too – although I would have a VERY hard time “throwing away” the money. Children who have boundaries are freer (and happier) in the long run.

    P.S. I have been (finally) catching up on your blog and I have to tell you again (if I haven’t told you before, I meant to) that I really, really enjoy your writing! I am inspired by your ability to write as much, and as well as you do with the babes at home. Working from home is so hard – I am trying to make that happen with my journal workshops and freelancing. What IS your secret??

    I loved the blog about the being touched out – I remember that so well! I have wanted to scream (and I have) sometimes.

    And omg, I relate to trying to be Bree Vandercamp but failing miserably. American birthday cakes are repulsive as far as I’m concerned, but thank god for them (florescent pink frosting and all)!!

    I can’t comment on all I just read (in my marathon catch up) – I have my own blog to attend to – but I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate and relate to your musings!

  7. Parenting. Looks like there is a lot to look forward to… Wow! for staying calm and whisteling.

  8. I think you handled that situation perfectly, and agree that it will be a lesson learnt. I went through similar line drawing with my son at 3, and those lines have definitely been remembered.

  9. sticking to the boundaries you set. So hard. How often do I hear words come out of my mouth and then think – DAMN IT – please do what I say. I don’t want to have to …..

    well done you. She’ll have learnt a lesson. But she’ll be busy finding another boundary to push.

  10. Cave Mother says:

    Sounds perfectly reasonable to me, I hope I would do the same in that situation. I am, at this moment, sh*t scared of all the tough decisions that will come with parenting a toddler in the future. Having said that, I am a trained teacher and your approach sounds exactly like the approach I would take, as a teacher, to impose a boundary.

  11. Iota says:

    Good for you, following through like that. And now when you are in a similar situation, you can say “remember what happened with the sunglasses and how sad you were to lose them”, and hope she remembers enough to apply the lesson.

    A couple of years ago, I walked out of the Pizza Hut in Alamosa, Colorado, without ordering, with my kids, because they were behaving so badly. I’d like to say that since then, if we are eating out, I only have to say “remember what happened in the Pizza Hut in Alamosa”, and they will stop any bad behaviour. Alas, what happens is that I use the line, and they look at me blankly and say “what happened?”