Kids that Won’t Clean Up: The Magic Toy Library

Last year I told you all about my daughter (then six) and her fantastic talent for what we call ‘Poopcrastination‘. Since then, not only her allergy to tidying become worse, her baby brothers have become mobile and impressively destructive. Yep, my name is Mom… and I have three kids that won’t clean up. After a couple of months of swinging between embracing the chaos, and chasing them around like a headless chicken with a sponge and trash bag in tow, I’m done. I’m worn out and have come up with a plan of action.

kids that won't clean up FB


I touched on this a few weeks ago… I am in purge mode, in a quest for mild minimalism. But the household is working against me… Between Husband, addicted to buying random junk from Walmart, and my three kids who have gone wild with Arizona-summer-cabin-fever, it feels like two steps forward, one step back.

I continue to work on the ‘tidy up game’ with the twins, they’re totally into it but unfortunately it’s so much fun they insist on throwing everything they’ve just tidied away in order to clean up again… the video explains what I’m talking about:


They’re only 20months old so for now we’ll cut them some slack on the tidying. But do they really need to throw everything? I swear I’m bringing up two olympian shot put throwers. However, my real problem is my darling Elsie. She has many talents, but tidying up is not one of them. No exaggeration here – many times we have spent an entire day trying to get her to tidy a few toys off the floor. A five minute job becomes a five hour job. 

Tried, tested and failed remedies for kids that won’t clean up:

  • Share the tidying up – results in Mom tidying and Elsie playing while pretending (badly) to tidy up;
  • “If you tidy up we can go out to crazy golf!” (She loves crazy golf… who doesn’t). Results in tears and no crazy golf;
  • “Tidy up before lunch please,” Ten minutes later… “You’re not having lunch until your play area is tidy.” Results in rolling around on the floor, screaming and crying due to extreme hunger… even though it’s not even lunch time yet. (Don’t mess with Elsie’s food… she’s like her father).
  • The trash bag method… “You have 10minutes to tidy up, then I’m coming up with a trash bag. Anything still on the floor goes in the bag.” This method worked a few times, until she called our bluff. Everything went into trash bags and she had to earn the toys back through the following week. Trouble is, the toys were in such a jumble, Mom had to spend ages sifting through the bags to find out what went with what in order to return ‘the box of Shopkins’. Plus the drama caused by American Girl doll Julie entering the trash was quite traumatic for all, including Julie… ugh, back to the drawing board.

It doesn’t happen very often, but occasionally the words of my mother-in-law pop into my head. Some time ago, when I was talking about tidying up, she said

“When we were children, we were only allowed to play with one toy at a time.”

In that moment I didn’t think much of it, after all, some of the best games are those involving a Shopkins/Barbie/Toy Kitchen mash-up. I often see Elsie creating a picnic for all her toys, or allowing My Little Ponies to sinfully shack up with Calico Critters. I consider myself a creative, and I hate the idea of dampening my daughter’s imagination… but I’ve reached the end of my tether. 

Kids that Won’t Clean Up… Enter the Toy Library

Elsie loves the library, always has done. So rather than telling her all the toys were going to be separated and shut into a cupboard, I told her we were going to create a toy library.

“What do we do when we go to the library? We take back the books we’ve finished with and check out new ones.”

kids that won't clean up magic toy library

Elsie was instantly sold. No more sea of toys on the floor, no more open boxes for the twins to take handfuls from and throw across the room. 

Two Weeks Later

I’ve tried so many things, I’m going to be honest… I didn’t hold out much hope for the magic toy library. But, it has worked wonders and delivered unexpectedly positive results. The toy library came just in time too, because I managed to trip over the dividing baby gate in our playroom and demolish it in the process; so the twins are now on the loose full-time. They love it; because there’s more stuff to throw, whoop! But, slowly we are removing more and more stuff, to allow one big space for simple games… all three bouncing on Elsie’s bed together has become a favorite.

A slightly unexpected side effect… all three are playing together; a total mom win,  even if some of their activities are questionably dangerous. It may be a coincidence; the twins are just reaching a more playful age. But I would suggest that removing Elsie’s toys from the play room has encouraged inventive, creative play that works for all ages. Perfect for kids that won’t clean up because there is minimal mess to tidy! The dress up box is still out, because all three love dressing up and it’s much easier to tidy up than Shopkins and Barbie’s wardrobe.

So, we may have lost the opportunity for a toy mash up, but we’ve gained the opportunity for siblings to play together, awesome result I’d say. Now when Elsie checks out a box, she tends to bring it to her brothers… they love seeing what she’s going to pull out!

And the checked out toys do make it back to the cupboard… most of the time.



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The Twin Pecking Order: Dominance and Submissiveness in Twins

Despite looking particularly identical recently, the Twins could not be more different on the inside. As their personalities grow, the difference between them becomes more apparent; and it feels inevitable that only one emerges at the top of the twin pecking order. It’s natural as part of the animal kingdom, that there be dominance and submissiveness in twins, isn’t it? But unfortunately for Arthur, he’s at the bottom of the twin pecking order, often literally underneath George’s bottom.

twin pecking order dominance and submissiveness in twins fb

The boys were born at 36wks with only an ounce between them in weight and half an inch in length. This is rare… usually one twin will naturally grow larger than the other, and with twins sharing a placenta this can lead to problems with Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. As the boys continued to grow after birth they continued to amaze their pediatrician by remaining completely identical. By their three month appointment they were exactly, to the ounce and inch, the same size. Maybe it’s mysterious twin personality stuff, maybe it’s George’s love for carbs, but once we broke into solid food, George’s weight took the lead, and with it came his dominance.

Personalities Forming the Twin Pecking Order

Arthur is a very busy chap, inquisitive and adventurous, and always getting himself into trouble. If you hear a crash in the background, 80% of the time it’s Arthur, hence the recent finger chopping incident. George on the other hand is charming and cuddly, and generally gets into less trouble than his brother. That’s until you leave them alone. If left in their play space together I will hear screaming from Arthur and wonder what on Earth is going on. When I investigate I often find George sitting on, lying on, and generally crushing his brother in any way he can. This is an improvement on the biting we used to have, at one point poor Arthur was covered in teeth marks. We’ve had kicking, shoving, and all round bullying… yet you would think butter wouldn’t melt if you saw him in the flesh.

Despite all the brotherly love/abuse, Arthur never retaliates. I’ve never once seen him do the same back, and never see the same bite marks on George. It seems they have worked it out between them… George is the boss, and occasionally he needs to remind his minion of his superior status. So, is this twin pecking order anything to worry about? 

Dominance and Submissiveness in Twins

The twin pecking order is normal and natural, although some cases are more severe than others. It is often advised that twins be separated at school into separate classrooms, to allow each student to flourish and maintain individuality. 

‘The challenge with twins is that you have a dominant and submissive twin… If you keep them together in same classroom, the dominant twin will continue to speak for the other sibling and make decisions.’ (Marie Doyle to Renée M. Grinnell, PsychCentral.com)

twin pecking order dominance and submissiveness in twins sad

A study of Inter-twin Relationships and Mental Health describes three categories of dominance between twins:

1 Physical Dominance:

Classically, the bigger twin is the more physically dominant. It’s basic human nature, and particularly applicable to boys as they hit puberty. It happens often with singleton siblings too… the older is bigger, and enforces him/herself through physical dominance.

2 Psychological Dominance:

This one’s interesting… while boys tend to use physical dominance as they hit puberty, girls tend to use psychological dominance. Enforcing opinions, mannerisms and decisions through manipulation; psychological dominance is the one to worry about. It has been shown that if psychological dominance continues into adulthood, the submissive is more likely to suffer with depression and other psychiatric problems such as anorexia; but it’s not all plain sailing for the dominant either:

‘Psychologically dominant males and females of same-sex twin pairs expressed greater nervousness than did their co-twins.’ (Inter-twin Relationships and Mental Health)

3 Verbal Dominance:

As language develops, it is not uncommon for one twin to talk for the other. The verbally dominant twin may respond to questions directed at their co-twin; and they may ask questions and explain situations for their submissive partner. The submissive can become dependent on this verbal crutch, leading to delays in their own speech development.

‘It has been recorded that twins develop distinct roles within their relationship in which each specializes in a specific set of skills. One of these is speaking.’ (Twin and Triplet Psychology: A Professional Guide to Working with Multiples)

What Causes the Twin Pecking Order?

In the animal kingdom, it is often the physically small, sickly type that naturally becomes the submissive. It seems us humans are not much different:

“Perinatal complications appear to be predictive of submissiveness” (Inter-twin Relationships and Mental Health)

Despite being born of good size, Arthur spent a very short time on oxygen when he was born. He also suffered with reflux more than his brother as a newborn. Could these small differences be the reason he now has to bow down to his brother?

Should Parents Worry?

I have previously talked about Twin Escalation Syndrome, which seems related to finding the twin pecking order. Personally, I’m not too concerned about my boys, I see them as a complimentary pair… Arthur has a glint of the clever mischievous type in his eye, George is the protective bear type. So I see them as a team… the Brains and the Brawn… Pinky & The Brain (please tell me you’ve seen Pinky & the Brain?).

Pinky and the Brain
Source: looneytunes.wikia.com

“Many studies of sibling interactions among twins indicate that twins are asymmetrical in their relationship and enact complementary roles relative to one another.” (Inter-twin Relationships and Mental Health)

We have managed to curb the biting with stern tellings off, but the sitting/crushing continues. Another twin mom told be her identical twins had a sudden role reversal as they hit school age, so we will see how their complementary roles develop!



Double Trouble: Twins Behaving Badly

As I previously mentioned in ‘Toys for Twin Toddlers‘, my boys’ first birthday brought with it a sudden surge of squabbling. Unfortunately it hasn’t improved, and we have a major case of twins behaving badly. They’re adorable when they play together, giggle and cuddle each other, but they’re pretty infuriating when they fight over everything in sight, including Mommy cuddles. So… what’s happening, is it to be expected, and will it ever end?

twins behaving badly

Twins Behaving Badly: High Chair Theft

The double trouble pretty much started when they started feeding themselves. The temptation to snatch a little snack from your brothers high chair is just too much. The grass is always greener, and you’ll be sure his mac n cheese tastes better than yours. Drinks too, why bang one cup on your chair when you can grab your brothers sippy cup and have a full percussion kit? To start with there was little reaction from the inflicted twin, but as time went on they soon realized this is pretty annoying, especially when you want two cups to play with yourself.

Things have got progressively worse, and I even caught George stealing Arthur’s ham to feed to the dog below him last week. Naughty George, although quite genius – you wouldn’t want to waste your own ham on the dog now would you? Obviously this is easily remedied by increasing the distance between their high chairs, although Arthur has mastered the high chair shuffle which really is quite a talent.

And it’s not just high chair theft we’re dealing with either, I Tweeted this a couple of months a go…

Yes, poor George thought his brother was coming in for a kiss, when in fact he was after the cracker hanging out of his mouth at snack time. I now see why George wanted to feed Arthur’s ham to the dog.

Twins Behaving Badly: The Airplane 

Despite the success of their shared toys, there is still always something to fight over. Santa made the grave mistake of thinking the Little People airplane was of equal stature to the Little People tractor and trailer. I assure you it is not. Everyday we have tug-of-war over the darn airplane, good job Santa. They will fight over the plane until one gives up and cries, only so they can press the pilot’s chair which plays the exact same tune as the farmer’s chair on the tractor… I’m happy they’re both aspiring pilots though, does that mean I’ll get free upgrades?

Twins Behaving Badly: Just Outright Territorial

The TV seems to be a hot spot for the Twins behaving badly. Despite the 40″ screen it seems there is only space for one of them to stand immediately in front of it at the TV stand. One will barge the other out of the way with an impressively tough butt smack, knocking their brother to the ground in a snotty pool of tears.

Then there’s Mom and Dad, the best prizes of all. When Arthur comes for a cuddle he will glance around to get his brother’s attention, just so he can pass him a smug grin… “Look, Mommy is cuddling me and not you.” Of course this is retaliated with the immediate requirement for a double cuddle, just darling you might think. And yes, there’s a moment when you have two adorable bundles in your arms, a head on each shoulder. Living the twin mom dream.

But it quickly gets competitive. Who can get closer to Mommy’s face? Who can climb higher onto her shoulder and get more direct body contact? It seems winning this Contest of Mom Hugs depends on three things:

  • Maximum height reached while climbing Mom;
  • Amount of eye contact with Mom;
  • Surface area of baby body making direct Mom contact;

Because it is impossible to take a photo during a Contest of Mom hugs I have constructed a diagram to help.

oh… what lovely cuddles…

As you can see, at this point I can still see out of one eye, but soon the second baby will catch up and it will just be a big bundle of competitive face hugging.

Twin Escalation Syndrome: It has an Actual Name

“Twin Escalation Syndrome (TES) is the tendency for multiples to intensify and expand their behaviors in reaction to each other. For example, when Twin A cries, Twin B cries louder. In turn, Twin A cries even louder. And so on… Until the parent are crying the loudest of all.” (Pamela Brindle Fierro, verywell.com)

Yep, that pretty much sums it up Pamela, who goes on to say it’s ‘incurable”… sigh.

But, all is not doom and gloom, Pamela does offer sensible suggestions on how to control TES:

  • Separation. Now I’m sure no-one is suggesting this as a permanent measure, but I did find it necessary on occasions when Arthur’s screaming was so loud it used to make George cry. More on that here in ‘A New Challenge Every Month‘.
  • Distraction. We find the ‘high five’ works well at the moment. And if all else fails there’s always Cheerios.
  • Reduce Competition. Hmm… this is a tough one. It’s not like I’m sat there saying “look, George is covering more of my face that you are.” I can see when they’re older I can explain it is time for George’s cuddle, and time of Arthur’s cuddle, but for now I think I’m just going to have to deal with the face scramble and referee where possible.
  • Remain Calm. Well, yes, wouldn’t that be nice.

If there’s no cure… Will it ever end?

I’m pretty sure the answer here is no. Twins are inherently competitive, even though it is common for one to be dominant over the other. The identical twin NASA astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly claim there is no competitiveness between them, however in interview with Time magazine…

“Scott flew first,” Mark says,
“but I flew twice before he got his second flight. Then I flew my third before he did.”
(Interview with Jeffrey Kluger, Time)

Come on boys, you’re both grown men and successful astronauts, time to stop fighting over the Little People airplane.

Bon’t worry, I can’t leave without some twin cuteness…

Despite all the whining and fighting, the Twins do absolutely adore each other’s company and make the best play companions (when food, the plane, TV or Mom are not involved). Even the dog agrees…

Have you got competitive twins or siblings? If so, do share!




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One Messy Mama

Pumpkin Wars: The Six Year Old Competitive Streak.

With Halloween on the horizon, yesterday afternoon I managed to find myself in the middle of some competitive carving. This is the fourth year my daughter and I have carved pumpkins together. Normally she would help design and draw, but she hasn’t really had the ability or strength to carve. Last year she gave it a good go but it was pretty terrifying and she tired of it quickly – phew. But this year, at the grand old age of 6½, she has totally upped her game. There is a determination that wasn’t there before which seems to have given birth to a competitive streak. Suddenly we had a game of Pumpkin Wars on our hands…

The look of a determined winner…
Elsie’s Rules for Competitive Carving:
  1. Mom has to do the gooey insides bit because it’s disgusting;
  2. Don’t touch my pumpkin (apart from the gooey insides);
  3. Don’t even look at my pumpkin until it’s finished;
  4. Stay on your side of the table with your own pumpkin;
  5. Until I need help popping the eyes out because they’re stuck;
  6. Then return to your side of the table until I’m finished.

We have competed a number of times recently. Only the previous day we had friends over to make pizzas. “We’re having a pizza making competition!” She said excitedly. That’s not what I said but that’s what she heard. A few days before we had sat down to try out her ‘How to draw Manga’ book from the library. “We’re having a Manga drawing competition.” She said. Note how she tells me what’s already happening rather than making a suggestion. So where did this sudden competitive streak come from?

What the Experts Say

Because I occasionally like to back my waffle with a bit of science, I thought I’d do some research and find out whether this sudden surge of enthusiasm for winning was normal.

“The chronic competitiveness of 5- and 6-year-olds is often hard for parents to handle. We tend to be embarrassed by the boasting common at this age and concerned that our children might be perceived as arrogant or insensitive.”

Thankyou Karen Levine from Parents Magazine, I feel so much better knowing my daughter’s pumpkin carving trash talk is normal. “My pumpkin is gonna be so much spookier than yours,” could really hurt someone’s feelings.

The New York Times offers expert views for and against competitive behaviours in children, including quotes from experts such as:

 “The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that competition is destructive, particularly, but not exclusively, for children… It’s a toxic way to raise children.” (Alfie Kohn)

Shit Alfie, I wish I’d know that before embarking on two days of competitive pizza making and pumpkin carving. We’ve had such an intoxicating weekend I almost feel hungover. Mr Kohn is quite convinced that competitiveness can ‘promote anxiety, damage self-esteem and performance, and lead to disengagement.’ We’re screwed… totally screwed. Another week of this and she’s going to be a quivering mess.

However, luckily for me, not everyone is quite so pessimistic. David Johnson, a professor at the University of Minnesota believes than when competitive behaviour is combined with co-operation, it creates a healthy environment for support and success. So teaming up and encouraging each other to do better is good. And it’s OK to have a winner as long as the loser is also encouraged…

“The creativity, the innovation, the quality of product all goes up as you nurture talents and performance of others,” (Prof. David Johnson, University of Minnesota.)

Oh good, I do feel better. I was getting plenty of encouragement from my opponent while carving. “I bet your pumpkin is looking super spooky Mommy.” If I’m honest the tone was a little cocky and patronizing but I’ll totally take it.

The Result

At the end of the competitive pumpkin carving, of course there had to be a winner. Daddy was out at the shops and so it was decided that he was to be the judge on his return. However after leaving the room for a few moments I returned to find this…


Ignore the washing up in the background and the cat trying to squeeze it’s head into the pumpkin to get the flickering electric candle… I haven’t got time to be full glamour all the time you know. What we’re looking at here is the crowns. It seems Elsie couldn’t wait for Judge Daddy to get back from the shops so had crowned herself winner of the pumpkin carving competition. She made it very clear that she was given the gold crown and I had been awarded the silver crown for coming second. “Well done Mommy.” Then she pointed out the certificates she had placed beside each pumpkin…


So… I got a ‘nice try’… does that count as ‘nurturing talents and performance of others?’. She was certainly very pleased to be crowned first place and who could argue with her… she had just carved her very own pumpkin at age six!

We may need to curb the competitive streak at some point, but for now I think I’ll let her revel in the toxicity of her win, sorry Alfie. Happy Halloween!


Why are you still naked? – Kids that can’t keep their clothes on.

Source: triumphinstitute.com.au

Although I’m proud of my daughter for being a non-conformist, certain social etiquettes have their uses… such as covering your mouth when you cough, not kicking dogs, and wearing clothes. It is the latter that I’m having trouble with. If she hasn’t worked out in 6yrs that hanging out in the buff isn’t always appropriate, will she ever? It seems I have one of those kids that can’t keep their clothes on.

I’m no prude, and I can cope with the nakedness at home, most of the time. But when you’ve managed to get clothes on in the morning why do they need to come back off? Why does going to the bathroom involve full nudity? It’s like a fashion show at home because every time my daughter goes to put her clothes back on as requested, she gets a fresh outfit from her room. All the extra washing is her punishment for me not letting her wear her birthday suit.

We seem to slowly be going off sleepwear too. She used to love her PJs and has quite the selection, but now likes to sleep in just her underwear. She would probably rather sleep naked but then she’d end up eating her breakfast in the nuddy, and I really don’t want bare butts on my kitchen chairs. Maybe I am a prude? Maybe breakfast should be more like this:

Source: PureNudism.com

On a serious note, I struggle a little when we’re in public. I don’t want to body shame her. I don’t want to suggest there’s something dirty or wrong about a naked body. But there are safety issues to think about, and general social norms. I have found it quite different here in the US than in Europe, where it is very normal for young kids to run around naked on the beach. In France you would see little girls wearing pretty frilly bottoms for swimming, rather than the two piece bikini which seems popular here in America. I’m not entirely sure when toddler nipples became so offensive but apparently people feel they should be covered up.

When we first moved across the Atlantic my daughter was four, and it wasn’t such an issue. Now she’s six, and getting undressed and taking the scenic route to the restroom at swim club no longer seems OK. And I can tell by the looks from other parents, it’s not socially appropriate either. According to Dr. Ann of theparentingdoctor.com “at around 5 to 6-years-old, kids feel shame, but still do not know exactly when and where it is appropriate to be naked”. Oh good, so there’s hope yet of not having to walk her down the aisle naked in 20yrs because she now lives in a naturist colony. I would be left walking her down the aisle because my husband has already said he’s not going to the wedding if that’s what happens. It good to discuss these things so we’re prepared.

Photograph taken by Elliott Erwitt at a naturist colony in 1984. Source: Time.com

Turns out, I am not the only one that has a ‘naked’ child. An article in the NY Times talks in depth about how different families and their attitude to being naked shape how their children feel about being naked. “Ms Dominguez, an optician, said she was stunned when the friend’s mom told her that Hayden, who turns 6 next month, was not welcome back because he had undressed and urinated in the yard.” Oh dear, poor Ms Dominguez and her boy have been banished from playdates for his naked activities. This does not bode well.

In reading this article I felt a little horrified by it’s accusations. There’s a possibility that it was us as parents that have caused this naked loving affliction. Was I really one of those naked parents? I’ve really never seen myself as the tree-hugging type. I rarely wear heels and even more rarely shave my legs, but I assure you it’s just plain old laziness, not a need to be at one with nature. When I was 11 I bumped into my friend’s naked Mom on the way to the bathroom in the morning. I was horrified… put some clothes on woman! Am I now the naked Mom?

I will continue my quest to keep clothes on my child. It doesn’t help that we now live in the desert and it’s hot all the time. And of course anything to do with  butts is hilarious, so we get the ‘booty dance’ at any given opportunity. We’ll work on the flashing in public and hope that at some point shouting “Why are you still naked?” will become a thing of the past. If not, maybe she’s destined to appear on “Naked and Afraid”? If you haven’t seen this show you have been missing out. Contestants have to survive 21days without food or clothes with a stranger in some kind of harsh natural environment… Genius. Here’s a taster – this is what becomes of kids that can’t keep their clothes on:

Poopcrastination: A child’s guide to difficult questions.

Source: today.com

Listen up kids… My daughter is six and she is an expert in avoiding chores, homework or basically anything she thinks is rubbish. Here’s her guide which I’ve aptly named Poopcrastination: A child’s guide to answering difficult questions.

1. When your parents ask you to tidy your room, just tell them you “need a really long poo.” Mom let’s me read books while I sit on the toilet so I can just wait until my legs go numb.

2. When Mom asks you why you haven’t brushed your teeth yet, say “I’m sorry Mom, I got really distracted talking to myself.” It’ll buy you another five minutes of pulling faces in the mirror before she actually gets angry.

3. If you’ve already started ‘tidying’, just put the toys in and back out of the box multiple times. It’ll look like you’re working hard even though you’re actually playing peekaboo with your My Little Pony Equestria Girls.

4. At the suggestion of pretty much anything you don’t want to do, just flop dramatically onto the floor, exhaling loudly and say “I’m too tired.”. This works anytime you want to use the word ‘bored’. Just replace with ‘tired’, it’s pretty much the same thing but goes down better with the Olds.

5. I knew my brothers would come on handy at some point… When you’re asked why you haven’t put your clothes on yet, just say “I was playing with my brothers, they needed cheering up.”. It’s very important being a big sister you know.

6. When you’re asked  why you lost a reward penny at school,  just say “I can’t remember”. If you can’t remember it didn’t happen, right? This response is also perfect for questions such as “How did you do in your math test?” and “Did you eat all your lunch?”.

7. When you go upstairs to get on with your duties, make sure to take the cat with you. You can silently play for some time before Mom realizes you haven’t even started yet. Kitty love is important too you know.

8. If Mom shouts upstairs “How’s the tidying going?”, be sure to reply with an over-enthusiastic “GREAT!”. You might buy an extra five minutes before she comes to check just how great it’s going.

So just in case you haven’t already mastered the art of procrastination, try some of these techniques to drag out any five minute job and turn it into an all day thing.

Enjoy your poopcrastination children 🙂

Whiplash – Knowing when to break your kid’s balls.

If you haven’t seen the movie Whiplash, put it on your must-see list. It’s about the relationship between an extremely strict and ruthless college teacher and one of his talented music students. The poor kid is hammered down until breaking point, but ultimately becomes a better player and stronger person for it, despite the literal torture. I’m not condoning treating any human being the way depicted in this movie but it did come to mind when I had to make a parenting decision this week. How do you know when it’s time to break your kid’s balls?

My 6 year-old daughter has just started ‘playing’ the recorder in school music lessons. She has a sheet of music she needs to work on at home using the notes B, A and G. So we started with just learning these three notes… total disaster. As soon as we try to move from B to A she freaks out. Crying, arms flailing around, “I can’t do it!” and “it’s too hard!” on repeat like a broken record. My daughter has always been the dramatic theatrical type so this kind of reaction wasn’t totally unexpected. But how was I going to handle it? She had been walking around the house for the past week just blowing into this instrument, so she has had plenty of time to mess around and have fun with it, but at some point if she was going to learn how to play, she was going to have to put in the hard work. So I had a choice to make – Either we call it a day and start fresh tomorrow, or I open a can of Whiplash on her ass…

I stand up like I mean it, and in my best authoritative teacher voice I say:

“Stop. Now. You are going to pick up that recorder. You are going to hold it up like you mean it. You are going to know you can do it. And you are going to sit there for as long as it takes to play B, A and G. You are going to keep playing for ten minutes, and if I hear any crying, any whinging or moaning you will play for another ten minutes. You will get it wrong, and wrong again, but you will keep playing until it is right… Understood?”

She looks at me in horror and I silently waited for a reaction thinking this could go either way… I’ve either created my daughter’s first therapy session or this might, just might work. She says nothing (pretty much a first for her) and just picks up the instrument and starts to play. She gets it wrong and before she gets a chance to say anything I remind her “do it again.”. So she does.

I walk away, listening in while folding washing, and let her keep playing until I hear it – she hit it – B to A. I shout “that’s it. Do it again.” She plays solidly without a word for ten minutes. For a talkaholic 1st Grader that has the attention span of a demented frog that is impressive. I breathe a sigh of relief that Ball-Breaker Mom worked out, and go in for a high-five. She was so pumped she could do it, she ran around the house screaming “I did it, I can play the recorder!” and I felt pretty pumped too.

I’m not normally Ball-Breaker Mom but sometimes I wonder whether my softer approach is a conscious decision or whether I am guilty of taking the easy option. “Don’t worry Sweetie, we’ll try again tomorrow.” would have diffused the situation quickly and easily, but she would have felt defeated and we would have faced the same, possibly worse problem the following day. I believe she responded well because I gave her my undivided attention for that moment and I said it like I meant it because I cared. I wanted her to succeed, not because I particularly mind if she grows up being able to play the recorder, but because I want her to learn not to give up, and work hard, and that things aren’t always easy but they are worth fighting for.

There is obviously a line, but deciding when to cuddle and step back, and when to break their balls is all part of the fun of parenting. I would just suggest that occasionally your child needs to know you care enough about what they are doing to bust open a can of Whiplash. And watch the movie, it is awesome and will crush and fill your heart at the same time. Here’s the trailer…

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