Acknowledging Feelings

Acknowledging a child’s feelings doesn’t mean excusing his behaviour– says Dr Spock.

The truth is when my kids act out-by which I mean throwing a wobbly in the middle of the supermarket because I won’t put the chocolate they’ve grabbed off the shelves into my trolley (Harry on Monday) or pouring a jug of water over the dog’s bed (Ben yesterday afternoon) – I tend to focus on getting them to behave rather than on why they’re misbehaving in the first place.

Time to try a different tack!

I committed the cardinal sin of putting Harry’s pyjamas on before Ben’s, cue blue murder:

Take them off him, NOW! You have to put mine on first, I need to be the winner! -Ben screamed.

Stop being ridiculous, I’m not getting him undressed again– I said in a trying to stay calm voice.

Yes, you are– said Ben pulling Harry’s trousers down.

Under normal circumstances, I might have tried telling Ben why his behaviour was wrong and if that didn’t work I’d probably have resorted to a Time Out to help him calm down. But according to Dr S I needed to acknowledge his feelings without giving in to him.

I understand you’re cross because you like to be the winner and today Harry was. I’m sorry you feel that way, but I’m not going to undress him just so you can beat him. – I said pulling him onto my lap.
How about I brush your teeth first instead so you can both have a chance to win something?

And tomorrow you’ll put my pyjamas on first– said Ben, sensing an opportunity for further concessions.

Deal– I said giving him a kiss

And Ernie, tomorrow I’ll get you dressed before Blue Bunny– said Harry, not willing to be left out.


Acknowledging Ben’s feelings helped me to diffuse a difficult situation whilst still maintaining clear boundaries.


Is Spock Authoritarian?

I was interested to read a thread about this blog on a parenting forum in which some people said they thought Dr Spock’s approach was ‘authoritarian’.

It surprised me because one of the main criticisms of his message is that it’s too indulgent. The essence of his advice is that parents should be flexible with their children and treat them as individuals.

And I must say, having followed his advice for the last month or so, I’ve been struck by how fair his approach to discipline is.

He’s taught me that discipline’s about teaching children how to behave rather than punishing them when they don’t. If we need to resort to ‘punishment’ it should still be didactic- in other words a consequence of misbehaviour rather than simply a measure designed to upset or humiliate the child.

This seems sensible to me, but I guess the thread on the forum shows that we all have different ideas about how to raise our kids (which makes sense given our kids are all different) and that shows that Spock was right to say:

‘You know more than you think you do- trust your gut’


This piece of advice from Dr Spock ought to make perfect sense:

Effective punishments should teach a child the crucial life lesson that actions have consequences

So why is it that my children (and apparently not just them) seem to be incapable of getting the message? Take this example from when I bumped into a friend the other day:

Me: How’re things?

Friend: Not good. I spent three hours in The Royal Free yesterday because Tom ‘thought’ he’d swallowed a coin.

Me: That’s nothing. The other day Harry shoved a piece of apple up his nose which took half an hour to get out. This morning he stuck a baked bean up there!

What I didn’t tell her was how much Harry was screaming at the time of the apple incident, which is why I couldn’t understand why he did the same thing the next day (albeit with a different item of food).

When I asked him why he’d done it, given how scared having an apple up his nose had made him, he said:

I wanted to see if I could be even braver this time!

Night Time Wanderings

All my good intentions go out the window when I’m woken up at silly o’clock. Strategies I just about manage to stick to during N.D.H. (normal daylight hours) haven’t a chance in the middle of the night and so yes, Dr Spock:

It is silly and quickly destroys a parent’s authority to make threats that aren’t carried out

but maybe at 4am it’s excusable, or maybe it’s not. Here’s what happened this morning- you decide!


Ben keeps a torch by his bed to find his way to the loo in the night. This morning (though not morning by any normal person’s standards) it helped him find his way to me.

I was woken abruptly by him (literally) lifting my eyelid open and shining his torch into my eye.

I’m hungry– he said.

I looked at my bedside clock in horror and ordered him back to bed.

I’m not tired; I want to watch Noddy– said my torturer switching on the television.

The threats started.

Get back to bed now– I said

He ran out whooping, delighted I’m sure, that he’d got a reaction out of me. Our spaniel decided to join in by racing down the stairs in anticipation of her own breakfast and set the burglar alarm off in the process.

Harry woke up.

More threats.

I’m being vague about them because quite frankly I was saying anything that came to mind in a desperate attempt to get the child back to bed. The thing is he he had the upper hand and quickly managed to extract bribes from me instead of the punishment he deserved.

Yes, you can have chocolate milk with marshmallows for breakfast if you go back to your room now.
Yes, go back to bed and we can go out for pizza at lunch. Anything. Just go!

In the end my authority probably was destroyed but I did get a couple of hours more sleep, so maybe it was worth it!

Discipline- The Last Resort

I seem to go round telling my kids to ‘behave’ and expect them to actually listen to me. Some chance-time to listen to Dr Spock instead!

Spock sees punishment as a last resort:

When your system of firmness breaks down

It’s not a method of discipline in itself.

So I guess that means no more Time Outs when I’ve reached the end of my tether. From now on I’ll be doing it the Spock way.

Punishment needs to be:

  • Fair
  • Teach the child something
  • Doesn’t make the child cross

Here’s what happened yesterday afternoon

Ben came home from school with one goal- to wind up Harry as much as possible. 

At tea time he spilled Harry’s juice all over the table and used his teddy bear to mop it up. Then while Harry was crying, he wrote his own name inside the Valentines card Harry had brought home from Nursery.

My system of firmness had broken down- time to punish.

I sent Ben up to the bathroom to wash Harry’s bear and while he was cleaning it I gave Harry Ben’s favourite toy to cuddle.

Aim: To teach Ben actions have consequences.

Result: Ben had a lovely time bathing Harry’s teddy and when I went upstairs to find him, he was drying it with my hairdryer:

This is my barbers’ shop, let’s clean my Sooty when I’ve finished– he said.

For the rest of the afternoon he and Harry were busy barbers cleaning anything furry they could find- luckily they forgot the dog asleep in her basket!

Happy Valentines!

The Secret of Firmness

I’ve talked a lot about the importance of firmness in my last few posts and just now I had a real insight into how to make it work.

I’d snuck up to the study to go through my emails and as usual Harry had come to find me just as I was knuckling down to deal with them.

Not now, Harry, I’ll be down in a minute– I said in what I thought was a calm but firm voice, á la Dr Spock.

I’m going to help you– he said emptying all my paperclips out of a drawer onto the floor.

You’re not helping me, go down and play with Daddy, I’ll be there in a minute– I said.

Harry started revving up into tantrum mode and was about to switch off the computer (so much for helping me) when T appeared.

With an assured sense of authority, he scooped Harry up and told him he was going to fly him down the stairs.

When I went to find them ten minutes later they were running round the room with their arms outstretched pretending to be aeroplanes!

Maybe T’s been reading Dr S in secret!


According to Dr Spock:

When children behave badly, parents may try to suppress their anger for a while but eventually they have to explode.

How true!

This makes the child feel guilty and bewildered.

Here’s what happened with us this morning- though I think I was the one who felt most bewildered by the end!


It started off with me chasing Ben round the room with a toothbrush while he showed me a ‘flying car’ he’d made out of Lego. Then Harry decided to show me how he could break it.

I tried to stay calm, I tried to be firm but in the end I sounded like an extra from a Joyce Grenfell sketch:

Look, Ben we can fix it. Don’t knock Harry over. Ben!

No, you’re not going to break him to teach him a lesson. Why don’t we just build you another one? Come on, you can both help.

Right, let’s leave those bricks there for a moment and we’ll build the rest when we’ve finished Harry’s teeth.

Come here, Harry. Alright, you start and I’ll finish. Right, my turn. Give me the toothbrush. Just give it to me. Thank you.

Harry, would you come back here? Get out of the Lego box. Ben, he doesn’t need you to tip him out. Oh really, look at the mess you’ve made when we’re late.

Harry, just come and sit down please. I can’t do your teeth if you’re running around the room. Pull your nappy back up please. Ben, it’s not funny. Oh for goodness sake Ben, put your trousers back on.
Harry. Come here. Teeth now. OK, downstairs. Right, finally off we go.

Ouch. Who filled my shoes with Lego?

Cue explosion/ bewilderment- mine, not theirs- at this point they were rolling on the floor clutching their bellies and roaring with laughter…….)