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A Tale of Two Mothers

Updated: Mar 25

Recently, while shopping for a gift for my granddaughter, I unexpectedly had an opportunity to observe two mothers (separately) also shopping in the toy department. Each mother was accompanied by two children with both sets of children appearing to be between the ages of 4 and 7. The manner in which each mother responded to her children could not have been more different. 

Initially, I heard the first mother say to her children, “Now, remember, today we are only looking for gifts for Seth and Zachary, not the two of you.  Do you understand?” Both children responded “Yes” simultaneously. The three then proceeded to look at various gift possibilities, with the children excitedly sharing suggestions with their mother. After a few minutes, two items were selected and all three headed to the checkout.  


A short time later, the second mother appeared with her children. Not knowing whether she was looking for gifts for her children or someone else, I simply observed her moving through the toy department, picking up various items, studying them, and placing them back on the shelf. The children were sometimes by their mother’s side and sometimes running to other aisles. Any call to return to their mother was short-lived. Within moments, the two were off again. At one point, the mother called three times, escalating in volume and threatening punishment. The children would frequently pick up a toy and take it to their mother, asking, “Can we get this?” or stating, “I want this.” In spite of responding “no” to every request, the children continued begging repeatedly. Finally, with the begging and whining increasing, the mother snapped (loudly) at the children, informing them that they were leaving the store. She headed to the door with her children proclaiming their intent to “be good.”  


Later that day, I found myself reflecting on the two scenarios I had observed. I didn’t, however, spend time pondering why the two sets of children responded differently to their mothers. I already knew. They responded differently simply because they could.   


At its core, childrearing is all about teaching expectations and holding children accountable. During my years as a classroom teacher, I had countless dialogues with parents who were clearly doing an admirable job in the childrearing department yet were concerned that some of the not-so-pleasant behaviors they were seeing at home might also be evident in the classroom. Even after sharing that their child's behavior in the classroom was very appropriate, the response would often be something like, “I wish we could say the same is always true at home.” I reassured many parents that appropriate behavior in the school setting is actually evidence of successful parenting outside of school.  


Home is a child's safe space. Engaging in periodic meltdowns while learning to appropriately regulate emotions is the reason all children need a safe place to ‘let their hair down.’ That being said, by the time children enter kindergarten, they are quite capable of understanding and demonstrating acceptable behavior. 

Helping children develop adequate self-control is accomplished when parents consistently:  

  • say what they mean 

  • mean what they say   

  • speak with steadfast authority  

  • hold their children accountable 


Both children and adults perform best when expectations are clear. The first mother explained the shopping expectations to her children ahead of time. She reiterated the purpose of the excursion in a calm, authoritative tone. Had her children not followed her directives, she likely would have left the store and abandoned the mission. 


Though many parents can identify with the second mother’s unproductive attempts to control her children, such does not have to be the case. Parents who make the decision to expend the time and energy necessary to 'nip negative behaviors in the bud', earlier rather than later, attest to the fact that family life is much less stressful. Their testimony: Obedient children are happier children. 


© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, December 2023






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