“You Took My Scissors Away and Made Me Sad”

Sally has a little box with scissors and glue, and she loves cutting and pasting. She makes beautiful pictures cutting up colored paper and then gluing it together. And then, yesterday, she cut up the couch. I’ll be honest: I was a bit angry. Now, I know kids are kids and these things happen, and I value my relationship with my daughter more than I do the couch, but I was still more than a little upset with her for cutting up my couch. Ouch.

Anyway, I took her scissors away. I told her that if she couldn’t make sure not to cut things that aren’t supposed to be cut, she couldn’t have scissors. I’ll be honest: I took them away knowing full well that I would give them back as soon as I was sure she knew not to cut things like furniture. I took them away because I wanted to make sure she understood how serious I was. But the result was that she immediately burst into tears.

As I tried to calm her, I explained why we don’t cut furniture, and that now I would have to take time and money to fix the couch. In the end, we had a good conversation. She told me that she had cut the couch because it was fuzzy cloth and fuzzy cloth was fun to cut. She asked if I could get her fuzzy cloth that she could cut. She said that we could save up money to fix the couch, and that she would go without ice cream to help save money for it. She said she would try to remember not to cut the couch next time. I told her I would find her some fuzzy cloth to cut, and I gave her the scissors back.

That night we were talking about all the fun things we’d done that day when Sally added “and then you took my scissors away and made me sad.” I reminded her of the rest of what happened and of our conversation, and none of that had been forgotten, but for Sally the biggest take away from the whole incident was that I took her scissors away and made her sad. I had thought that taking away her scissors, albeit temporarily, would impress on her the seriousness of not cutting furniture, but I don’t think that’s what it actually did. I think her main take-away from my taking her scissors away was actually that I don’t have a problem with taking her things and making her sad.

If I had it to do over again, I would not start by taking Sally’s scissors—in fact, I would not take them at all. I honestly think that part of why I took her scissors was that after being brought up on authoritarian parenting I haven’t been able to completely shake the idea that a transgression must be met with a punishment. It’s true, taking her scissors away can be pawned off as a natural consequence of her actions rather than a simple punishment, but that didn’t really change how Sally experienced it. The thing is, this transgression didn’t need a punishment. If Sally was a serial furniture-cutter, or if she was unapologetic and unremorseful, taking away her scissors might have made sense. But in this case, all that was needed was a conversation.

If I had it to do over again, I would simply have the conversation I had with Sally, without starting by taking away her precious belongings. Every child is different, yes, but I know from experience that simple conversations work quite well with Sally. She would have listened while I told her why cutting furniture is a problem and about the expense and time it would take to fix the six-inch-wide hole she created. She would have explained why she cut it. She would have apologized without being prompted, and would have helped brainstorm about how to fix it and where the money should come from. She would have participated happily in a game of which-of-these-things-should-you-not-cut, and her lesson would have been learned—all without being under duress.

If I’d simply had that conversation instead of starting by confiscating her scissors, Sally wouldn’t remember the incident as the time mom took her scissors away and made me sad. Instead, she would remember it as the time I cut the couch and then mom explained why we don’t do that and I said okay and now I don’t cut couches. Sometimes it’s surprising how little it takes to help correct behavior and teach children how to navigate life in a healthy way. Sometimes it’s as little as connecting and having a conversation. And next time, I’ll try to remember that before I threaten to take her things.

How often do we threaten children with punishment when a conversation would work just as well? How often does punishment send different messages than intended? How often do we miss opportunities to teach life skills and focus instead on threatening our children?

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001411188910 Lucreza Borgia

    Why does Sally have scissors that can cut fabric? They make kid scissors that can only cut paper. I’m surprised she hasn’t cut other valuable things or her own hair. Children her age are impulsive and don’t really think through their actions. A child that used to be under my care was of the age of 4.5 when she cut the cord to the modem with her mother’s embroidery snips. When asked why she didn’t have an explanation other than it looked interesting and she fully admitted to knowing that she wasn’t supposed to go into her mother’s sewing bag.

    If your child’s main take-away is that it made her sad, she probably shouldn’t have real scissors. I also don’t expect her to have a real memory of this event in the coming weeks so I don’t feel that a child’s feelings should be given priority over safety and protection of valuable property.

    • Divizna

      Do they? From my childhood experience, my scissors intended for paper could cut fabric just fine. Or my sister’s hair (we were playing hairdresser’s…) Have they invented a type of scissors unable to cut fabric since?

      And, by the way, a kid cutting her own hair isn’t much of a problem. It grows back eventually, and she has no one to blame (my sister had… and has, since a larger version of the photos taken for our first passports shortly after is still proudly hanging on our parent’s bedroom wall).

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001411188910 Lucreza Borgia

        Yes. They are totally plastic with no metal in them.

      • http://aztecqueen2000.blogspot.com/ AztecQueen2000

        Yeah, my kids have used those scissors. They don’t cut paper either.

    • AngieGW

      Maybe because Libby-Anne likes to give her kids real tool that do real jobs. “Kids” scissors that only supposedly cut paper either don’t cut anything well, or cut through other stuff just fine. Giving kids blunt tools just stores up trouble for the future because they have to use a lot more force or different techniques to actually cut – same with knives; sharp knives with good technique is far safer than blunt knives which force poor technique. My 4.5 year old has been confident using sharp scissors since she was 2, and my 19 month old is starting to use them under supervision.
      Sure, accidents still happen, and the wrong things may get snipped (as in this case), but at least the children are learning how to use proper tools.

      • kecks

        “help me to do it myself” (maria montessori…)

      • Christine

        Good scissors shouldn’t get used on paper though. If you give kids good scissors for cutting paper, they never learn how to take proper care of projects. There isn’t a huge difference between decent safety scissors (like the Crayola ones) and regular paper scissors.

      • Leigha7

        Wait, there are “good scissors” and “paper scissors”? We had two pairs of scissors at my house, a small pair that we used for everything and a larger (but otherwise identical) pair that we mostly kept in the kitchen and used to open stuff. I have literally no idea whether these were “good scissors” or “paper scissors,” nor do I have any clue why you wouldn’t use “good scissors” to cut paper or why that would stop you from learning how to take care of projects. I honestly have no idea what that means.

      • Christine

        Given that paper dulls scissors so badly, it’s a bad idea to let any scissors that need to be kept in good condition be used on paper. I wouldn’t be comfortable letting a small child use good scissors without very close supervision anyhow – I’d rather they make sloppy cuts than be given tools that can easily reach bone.

        It’s important to me that my daughter learn how to take good care of tools, and that there are different tools for different jobs. I wouldn’t let her use the finishing hammer for rough assembly, I wouldn’t let her use the smoothing plane on a rough-hewn board, I wouldn’t let her use the good scissors on paper. For me, it goes alongside things like making sure you clean the tool after use, and sharpen/oil it as necessary: you don’t use the tools for jobs for which they aren’t suited.

      • Conuly

        The scissors you use for paper should be kept apart from the ones you use for fabric because paper can dull scissors quite badly.

        And, of course, if you use scissors in the kitchen you will want to keep those apart as well.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001411188910 Lucreza Borgia

        I’m not saying she should never have scissors, just not have them unsupervised.

    • kecks

      yes, they may cut things. i cut a big hole in the new sweater i was wearing that day, while my mum (who was a primary school teacher) looked on. in her classroom. with the whole class of 30 second-graders in it. the students of course asked my mom, wide eyed and really bewildered: “is she allowed to do this?” as far as i remember i never got punished for it in any way and my mom still laughs about this. (i guess there was a conversation about why we do not cut anything but paper involved.)

    • Abby Normal

      Even kiddie scissors that “only cut paper” can cut fabric if you do it right (as I found out when my son tried it on his shirt.)

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001411188910 Lucreza Borgia

        Was the blade pure plastic? Plastic shouldn’t be able to cut fabric at all.

    • Beroli

      I also don’t expect her to have a real memory of this event in the coming weeks

      That’s quite an assumption by itself. I have memories from around that time. If you’re saying that it seems unimportant to you and so Libby Anne should assume her daughter would just drop it from her memory…well.

      Libby Anne, your daughter really is lucky to have you for a mother.

    • Leigha7

      I had full access to real scissors as a kid. I never once cut anything I wasn’t supposed to or injured myself in any way. It seems this is the first time Sally has ever done so, which suggests she’s not running around cutting everything she sees. Some children are perfectly capable of using scissors responsibly, and I don’t think one mistake is proof that Sally is not.

      I actually only used safety scissors a few times (we had metal scissors at school too, past kindergarten or first grade), and they always made me incredibly frustrated because they didn’t actually cut anything. I see no reason to make a kid suffer through that instead of just teaching them how to use scissors properly.

  • AlisonCummins

    You were angry. Perhaps the Libby Anne you wish to be never gets angry at her daughter, or perhaps at all? Still, the truth is that you were angry.

    You may have felt foolish, or betrayed. You may have been concerned that if she couldn’t be trusted with scissors, what else might she not be trusted with?

    You took her scissors and made her sad. Before that she cut a hole in the family’s couch and made you angry. Both of you had feelings you would rather not have and the world did not end. You talked about them and came to a resolution.

    It’s not bad for children to learn that their parents have feelings.

    *** *** ***
    As a child you were only ever allowed to be happy. To what degree have you been able to shake that off? While being always rational (with possible exceptions for happiness) may be a worthy goal, is shame over undesired emotions helpful to you?

  • AnonaMiss

    ‘Taking away something she loves’ was my parents’ major disciplinary technique. It was often something not even related.

    Now, I was a good kid, so the main thing I was disciplined for was poor grades (where ‘poor’ means ‘less than an A’); and generally, whatever they were taking away from me was something that was theoretically keeping me from my schoolwork. I’m sure the lesson they intended to send was that I needed to finish my work before I could play, and if I couldn’t do it by myself, then I wouldn’t play at all.

    The lesson I took, however, was to not get attached to anything that could be taken away; and if I did, to keep it secret from my parents. This of course led to further troubles in my later adolescence and early adulthood, for example when I fell in love for the first time and did my very best to pretend that he didn’t exist. The fact that I had kept him a secret threw up huge warning flags, and they nearly stopped me from going back to college after the break when they found out. Out of concern for my safety, of course, but from my point of view it was just another thing they were trying to take away from me as soon as they found out I was attached enough to be hurt by its removal…

    This was a particular slap in the face as I was an adult, on a full scholarship, and all I needed from them was a ride to the airport. But by FSM they’d take that away for my own good. (Other than the scholarship I was flat broke, as my high school didn’t let you work during the school year; with 0 tourism the local businesses had many fewer positions than students out for summer looking for work; and I hadn’t seen the need to get a job during college, because hey, full scholarship!)

    They actually took me to a child psychologist (at age 18) and made me have a few sessions, and only let me go back to school on his recommendation.

    • sam

      “The lesson I took, however, was to not get attached to anything that could be taken away; and if I did, to keep it secret from my parents. ”

      Me. Too.

      • Ráichéal Silverkiss

        Yes, this.

  • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

    I think it was OK to take the scissors for awhile. Cutting up furniture is a pretty major infraction, and I think your response was appropriate. The main thing is that your response was directly related to what she did. You didn’t take away dessert, or use violence, or anything else unrelated to the event. The only change I might make is to tell her up front that you will give the scissors back later, after you discuss what to do about the couch and talk about the rules for what she can cut. But I think you were overall OK here

    When mine were little, we had “toy jail”, a box out of my kid’s reach. If we asked them to pick up their toys, and they didn’t, even after a warning, then those toys would go to toy jail. And when the kids had been extra good or extra helpful, often we’d reward them by letting them get a toy back out of toy jail. So at my house, the scissors would have done some time in toy jail.

    • John Kruger

      I have to agree that the confiscation of the scissors was pretty appropriate. Aside from the lesson of not damaging furniture, the other important lesson is that you need to be responsible with your belongings if you want the right to keep them.

      My 3 year old still struggles a bit with the idea that he cannot throw an iPad around and scream and carry on to make it do what he wants. I can’t let him use it with that kind of irresponsible behavior, so I take it away. Sally got a small taste of what is going to happen if the scissors continue to be abused. You got her attention and she now understands part of what is at stake. It is also established for certain that that kind of behavior is out of line. If the punishment was vindictive or otherwise intended to terrorize her into submission, that would be a problem, but of course that is not what was going on.

      I can understand how really young kids can misinterpret being punished, but understanding actual consequences of certain actions is an important process for them to go through, I think. As a parent I must head off the particularly bad and irreversible consequences until my kids can understand them and be responsible enough to manage the risks on their own. Part of that is abstract punishments that prevent bad and irreversible natural consequences. If she were capable of making repairs herself or paying for repairs that would be better, but of course she can’t do that yet so you must go with the more abstract teachable punishments.

      • alwr

        Exactly. In child development and educational psychology, we call it natural consequences. The natural consequence of cutting things that should not be cut is that a child cannot have the scissors. And I think if Libby Anne visited a preschool or kindergarten, she would discover that children do not have free access to scissors for their own safety and the safety of the materials in the room. You get out scissors when it is appropriate to use them.

      • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

        What’s appropriate for a school setting and a home setting can be two different things.

    • victoria

      Agreed. In our house, this would’ve been an application of a general rule: if you use something to hurt people or damage property, you lose the use of that something for a period of time.

    • Rosa

      we framed it more in terms of having total access to the scissors being a privilege; if he cut inappropriate things (Tablecloths are kind of irresistable to little kids with scissors, sitting there with the edge of the cloth right in front of them) then the scissors became something that needed supervision; after a while we tried free access again, if he cut inappropriate things they went back on the tall shelf.

      There was never a time he wasn’t allowed to use scissors, once he was big enough to use them. Just times he couldn’t use them without a grownup around.

  • Jackie C.

    It sounds like Sally felt guilty and was repentant – offering to give up ice cream for a child that age means giving it up forever. She knew she hurt something of yours. The “and you made me feel bad” may have been “and I felt bad.” Kids will attribute their emotions to your actions because sometimes they feel so badly about what happened that they don’t want to admit what they did hurt Mom. Or they just need help figuring out where that bad feeling came from. Other kids do it to manipulate their parents into feeling guilty so next time the punishment won’t be so difficult.

    I don’t think taking away scissors for a day is excessive at all. If you took them away for a year, that would be different. Part of what I would have been thinking in that situation is how much will she be tempted, can she resist and how horrible will she feel if she gives in? You know your child best.

    My 4-year-old granddaughter cut off her long hair the other day with a pair of sharp scissors her mom lets her use – playing beauty shop. That is going to be an awesome story in a few years.

    • sylvia_rachel

      My 4-year-old granddaughter cut off her long hair the other day –
      playing beauty shop. That is going to be an awesome story in a few

      You will be enjoying that story for a long time ;) My mom is turning 72 next month, and the family still retells the story of how one of her (many) cousins cut off one of her long plaits while playing beauty parlour when my mom was five or six, and how their moms reacted …

    • SE

      I cut off a playmates long hair playing beauty parlor. My poor mother found out after complimenting Cindy’s mother on Cindy’s new hairstyle!

    • Saraquill

      I was deeply impressed about the giving up ice cream offer. At an age when waiting 15 minutes for a treat is an exercise in torture, giving it up for months or more is monumental.

  • AnotherOne

    One of my kids had impulse issues with scissors, and I did have to take them away. Like Sally, she was too young to fully understand the connection between stuff getting cut up and me taking away her fun scissors that she loved to play with, and so she was angry and sad. But after she cut up the curtains, her hair, and some sheets, I realized she was genuinely too immature to handle scissors (which surprised me; I never had this issue with her older sibling). So they got put away, and when she wanted them she had to ask for them and use them under direct supervision.

    Anyway, I don’t know how old Sally is, but sometimes with really young children parents end up doing something for practicality or safety that the child doesn’t understand. Dealing with issues related to my kids’ undeveloped reasoning skills was one of the hardest parts of parenting toddlers. It got a lot easier when they got old enough to understand something like “If I can’t trust you to x, then I will have to x.” I tend to look at things like taking scissors away as a way to teach them reasoning skills, even if they don’t get the connection initially.

    But also, you know your kid. It may well be the case that getting some fuzzy cloth and explaining that cutting the couch is a problem may be all Sally needs. For my older kid, that would have worked But poor impulse control is developmentally appropriate for many young children, so I would keep an eye on the scissors . . . (says the woman who is still pretty sad that the sheets hand embroidered by her grandmother as a wedding gift got cut up). :)

    • Jayn

      I was thinking the same thing–I would have taken the scissors away too, not to punish the child but to prevent hir damaging something else expensive or sentimental. Ze might well take it as a punishment, but it’s also necessary in that situation. I think it’s partly a perspective thing. As parents/caregivers we can do things that look and feel to a child like a punishment, but that are necessary to prevent damage or harm.

    • Rosa

      taking them away also means you get to have the “why you don’t have access to the scissors” discussion multiple times, which should increase the chance of the kid learning something.

  • sylvia_rachel

    I’m not sure this was so terrible. But it does sound like the fact that the scissors-removal was temporary did not get communicated to Sally, and should have.

    Honestly, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing for kids to see their parents get upset or angry — as long as they then see the upsetness or anger get resolved constructively. Occasional yelling followed by “I was angry, I yelled without thinking, I’m sorry I yelled, but here’s why I was angry, and here’s what we should do differently another time” is a lot different from constant yelling followed by more yelling :P

    I struggle with this, too, the instinct to do something in response to a destructive act. When my DD was about Sally’s age, she took a ballpoint pen and drew a black wiggly line all along one side of her brand new bed, which we had paid a bunch of money for and spent considerable time and effort putting together. I yelled, and I think I asked her what she had been thinking (ouch!), and I made her sit there with a wet rag trying to scrub off the ink until it became clear that it was never coming off. When I think back on it, I’m honestly not sure why I was so upset, and I suspect I know exactly what she was thinking: it was her bed, the first bed of her very own that she’d ever had, and I’m sure it didn’t occur to her either that she couldn’t decorate it if she wanted to, or that the ink wouldn’t wash off. She’s still sleeping in that bed (now flipped to be a loft bed), and we all long ago stopped noticing the line of ballpoint pen, but I still feel bad about how angry it made me. The good news is, she doesn’t seem to remember at all.

    Anyway, the family couch is a different story from your (the child’s) own bed, and actual cutting up is different from just drawing. I’d have been mad about a six-inch slash in the couch. I think most people would.

    • Beroli

      “I was angry, I yelled without thinking, I’m sorry I yelled, but here’s
      why I was angry, and here’s what we should do differently another time”

      Agh! Childhood flashbacks!

      Never, ever, say “I’m sorry but.” That’s not an apology and the child is not going to mistake it for one. If you want to apologize for something you did, say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” Don’t justify in the same sentence.

      • Things1to3

        So is anger never justified? I have a serious temper and all three of my kids inherited that. Acknowledging that temper and the anger first, then figuring out the trigger and what to do differently next time has been key to learning how to manage our emotions. In my husbands family you NEVER apologize, because an apology to them means that you accept full responsibility for everything that happened and the person you apologize to is completely blameless.

      • sylvia_rachel

        I don’t think people should have to apologize for being angry, but if your anger expresses itself in ways that are destructive, hurtful, etc., then yeah, that needs an apology. Except, of course, you have to actually be sorry. (I’m a huge non-fan of the forced apology :P)

        I never heard my father genuinely apologize for anything; I think he honestly thought it was always someone else’s fault. At least 50% of my parenting philosophy can be summed up as “don’t be like dad”; this is one such instance.

      • Beroli

        My father was the same way. I think the “I’m sorry, but [insert explanation of why whatever he'd done was actually my fault]” formulation was his favorite sentence formulation.

      • sylvia_rachel

        Actually now that I think about it, I don’t think I ever remember my father apologizing to me at all, ever, even in a not-pology kind of way. Not for making me miss the Pathfinder backpacking trip because it was his weekend, not for trashing my bedroom desk because he was mad at me for talking on the phone with my friends instead of hanging out with him, not for accusing me of trolling for handouts and being too stuck-up to get a job at McDonald’s when I mentioned in a letter from university that I was budgeting carefully so I could afford a new printer, not for almost not showing up at my wedding, not for accusing me of inviting him to my bat mitzvah for the sole purpose of making him uncomfortable [he's not Jewish; ditto about 75% of the other guests], not for telling me I should give up my ambition to become a doctor because “you don’t like people” [I never did become a doctor, because I flunked out of calculus in grade 11, but still] …

        I do, however, have a very clear memory of him standing in the front hall of our house on Christmas Eve a year or two after my parents’ very acrimonious divorce (which was precipitated by his announcement that he wanted to stay married, but have separate bedrooms so his grad student / new girlfriend [later my stepmother] could sleep over — I SWEAR I am not making this up!) and saying to my mom, “… and I apologize for any gratuitous insults I may have directed towards you.” Not all the insults … just the gratuitous ones. Not admitting that he actually did say nasty things … just admitting that he might have.

      • sylvia_rachel

        You’re totally right, and what I wrote above is not what I would actually say. I don’t generally apologize for feeling angry; I do apologize for non-constructive ways of expressing my anger, such as yelling.

        My kid can spot a not-pology from a mile away.

      • AlisonCummins

        I think it’s fine to say you’re sorry for yelling, because you are. You don’t want to be a yelling parent, you don’t think it helps and you know it scares the kid.
        I think it’s also fine not to apologize for being angry. Being angry isn’t necessarily something to be ashamed of. I don’t think Libby Anne wants to raise Sally to be ashamed of being angry; I think she wants to raise her with to have better ways of dealing with things than yelling.

      • Composer 99

        I might add that it’s also fine not to apologize for enforcing household rules (such as, say, not damaging the family commons with scissors) or consequences (such as, say, temporary restriction of scissor access following damage to such commons), even if you simultaneously apologize for some other inappropriate behaviour, such as yelling at your child, that you may have undertaken while going about the enforcement.

  • Abby Normal

    Did Sally figure out that cutting up the couch made *Mom* sad?

    I don’t know–I would’ve taken the scissors away, too. You still have to set limits for kids and sometimes they’ll get upset when they bump up against them. That’s just something they have to learn to deal with, I think.

    • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

      In addition, children are very insightful, and I think it’s likely that Sally knew this framing would bring this back around to focusing on what YOU may have done wrong, instead of her own behavior. I say this, because my daughter was quite the little lawyer at that age. Now, as she heads into her teens, rational arguments have fallen by the wayside, and the conversation tends to go like “Clean your room” “UGH Y U OPPRESIN ME MAWM”

      Like, the flip side of this reading, is that Sally’s focused on HER feelings instead of yours, because she got the scissors back. Perhaps if her behavior had a more lasting consequence, the lesson she would have learned would have been different.

      All parenting tends to be a guessing game, and your endeavor you reason with your children over commanding this is a valuable one. But don’t underestimate children’s ability to use this against you( and I don’t mean in a fractious, rebellious way, this is all a part of learning for them).

      • AnotherOne

        Yes to all of this. I think part of parenting is also teaching children what emotional reactions are reasonable, mostly by modeling them yourself, but partly by not letting yourself be swayed by unreasonable reactions from other people, including your kids. My kids picked up pretty early on the fact that I’m very easily swayed by other people’s negative emotions. I’ll give in when people get angry or forceful, and if my kids are hurt or upset by something, I’ll often soften my stance. I have one kid who models me and essentially folds if she gets pushback from anyone, and another kid who realized she can get what she wants from me by acting hurt or angry or oppressed.

        So over the past five years or so I’ve made a concerted effort to stick to my stance If I believe it is reasonable. I don’t try to keep my kids from being angry or hurt, though we do have guidelines about what appropriate expressions of those emotions are. But these days, once I’m convinced that I’ve taken all aspects of a situation into consideration (including my kids’ points of view and input), I’m going to stick to the line that I draw, and after a certain point, I’m not going to engage in the UGH Y U OPPRESIN ME MAWM conversations. I don’t draw tons of lines, and things are always negotiable to a point. And they’re welcome to write in their diaries about how awful I am, or whine to their friends, or go slam the door and hide out in their room, but I’m not going to be swayed by emotional reactions that aren’t reasonable or appropriate. My refusing to be swayed by unreasonable reactions and behaviors is part of how they learn what an appropriate response is.

        These days I feel like pre-adolescence is analogous to toddlerhood in some ways. Once again I’m facing a developmental stage where my kids have to learn to calibrate their emotions, and learn what is and isn’t an appropriate response.

      • Christine

        I’m hoping that in the future, I will be able to continue expressing to my daughter that it’s ok to be upset, and I can understand why she is, but that being her upset isn’t enough reason for me to not do something necessary. It’s a lot easier to do with a toddler.

      • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl


        We have to teach that a) it’s ok to be upset, but (most importantly) b) that doesn’t mean I must do something about it.

      • Rosa

        Part of that is modeling that it’s OK to be angry or upset but not OK to yell or hit.

      • alwr

        Parenting by the “never make my kid feel sad” philosophy is a recipe for big problems in the future. And some of them will be very expensive. The thought of getting a summer job made my 18.5 year old nephew feel upset. So his parents, who are “aware of his feelings”, get to foot all his bills for money he doesn’t have. Believe me, if you decide you never want your child to be upset and “you made me sad” pushes your buttons…well, nephew is also going to the most expensive college on his list of choices because the idea of not going there upset him. And mommy and daddy don’t want him to be upset. They can’t pay for it and financial aid is insufficient and working himself makes him sad. So now my brother is working overtime and thinking about a second job. But nephew isn’t sad. That’s the reality, people.

      • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

        This is similar, to me at least, with people who never want their kids to see them fight.

        Now, of course, too much fighting is a bad thing. At the same time, conflicts and disagreements are part of any relationship, and I don’t think keeping this from children does them any favors. I think it creates unrealistic expectations about what they can expect from their own relationships, and can insulate them from what could be life changing conflicts.

        Some parents get divorced, but they hid their own problems for so long, the kids are absolutely blindsided.

        So whenever my partner and I are having problems, we are honest, we are fighting over this(to an extent, we don’t do details), this is how we worked it out.

      • Christine

        I find that if you ask people about “fighting” there is a lot of disagreement over what it means. I know some people who hear “fighting” and assume that there’s yelling & acrimony involved. And frankly, a fight like that (which obviously shouldn’t be happening anyhow) shouldn’t be done when kids are around.

  • Mary C

    I don’t think you were at all wrong to remove the scissors. Note that Sally’s telling of the story was “you took away my scissors and made me sad,” NOT “I cut up the couch and made mommy sad.” My goal for discipline is that the child can acknowledge and take responsibility for the behavior, and also describe why the behavior was not acceptable. So if I heard a re-telling like that, I’d definitely help her re-frame the event from the other perspective. I also have noticed in my own child raising experience that even when the child remembers very well the negative thing they did, it is not always easy to admit it in the re-telling of the story. Easier to talk about someone else’s actions. Another reason I wouldn’t take Sally’s words as evidence that removing the scissors was not effective or not the right thing to do.

    When we are disciplining, we don’t use the word “punishment” in my house, we use “consequence.” Because DH and I want very much to impress upon our daughter that every action and choice has a consequence, and some actions have ones that we don’t like…just how the world will work when she is an adult.

    And appropriate discipline/consequences is not always
    going to leave your child with warm happy feelings. The consequence might
    mean losing a privilege or an item or missing out on something they
    wanted to do, and if it is valuable to them, it very well might make
    them sad, angry, resentful, etc. Conversation is important, but it will not always take the place of the consequence.

    • AngieGW

      The trouble there is, though, that removal of scissors isn’t an *actual* consequence of the incident – it’s a contrived one. The actual consequence is having to sit on a damaged sofa, or not having some of the fun money in the household budget, so that the sofa can be mended – something Libby-Anne mentioned. So Sally is experiencing the consequences – *she* offered fun money (in the form of ice-cream) in order to solve the problem. That’s the consequence – not the parental removal of something – which is a punishment even if it’s dressed up as a “consequence”. I’m not knocking anyone for getting cross and punishing, btw – I’ve fallen into that trap myself, but Libby-Anne was able to see it as it was, rather than pretending it was a “consequence”.

      • AlisonCummins

        No, it’s a consequence. If Sally is too immature to handle scissors without direct supervision, then she will need to ask for scissors and only be able to use them when an adult is available to watch her.
        One day when Libby Anne is too old to drive safely, Sally and Bobby may need to confiscate her keys and the DMV may not renew her license. That’s not punishment, that’s a natural consequence of not being safe to drive.

      • Christine

        This is why I like taking stuff away as a consequence. It is a disincentive to do inappropriate things (sitting in flimsy toys, using a toy phone as a hammer, etc.), and it’s something that I really need to do anyhow. If my toddler is standing on a toy that won’t hold her weight, I can’t leave the toy out.

        Now, currently I’m in a position where I can always give a warning. What I can see from Libby’s story that makes taking the scissors away is that Sally just lost them. Also, from the way Libby tells the story, Sally hadn’t been told that she had to be very careful what she cut with the scissors, so it isn’t as if she would need the scissors removed to ensure that this didn’t happen again. But I suspect I’d have taken the scissors away. (I’d take them away for a set amount of time, and announce that when I did so.)

      • Mary C

        I disagree – losing the privilege of using the scissors is a real consequence, created by the person in charge of the scissors (mom). Sitting on a damaged sofa and losing money are also consequences, but they don’t have to be the only ones. And from a practical standpoint, losing the scissors is the consequence that made the greatest impression on the child.

        For an adult example, consider someone who, I don’t know, drives a tow motor at work. They are reckless, and their boss tells them they are no longer allowed to drive the tow motor. That is not a contrived consequence, it is a real result of being reckless with the tool.

      • AngieGW

        But the scissors were Sally’s. So the person “in charge” of the scissors was Sally. The only way in which mum is “in charge” of the scissors is if mum is “in charge” of Sally – which is not the impression I get of the style of parenting Libby Anne aspires to. All removing the scissors says to the child is “if I do something a bigger person doesn’t like, they will take something of mine by force.” It in no way addresses *why* the misuse of scissors is detrimental to “society” (in this case the family). Talking does that. Moving to your adult example, that too is not a consequence – it is also a punishment. The *consequence* of recklessly driving the tow motor is crashing the tow motor. Of course, we don’t want that to happen – and in discussion, both the boss and the employee may agree that driving the tow motor isn’t a good idea, but banning the employee is very definitely a punishment, *not* a consequence. Please note, I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for removal of items (especially in as non-punitive a manner as possible), but let’s not dress it up as a “natural consequence” to make ourselves feel better – it isn’t; it is an imposed punishment. A natural consequence is simple – you go out in the sun without sunscreen = you get sunburnt. You mess about on a rope bridge = you fall in the river.

      • Rosa

        yeah, it’s not a natural consequence, but it’s still a consequence. I like your “contrived consequence” phrasing. And Libby obviously felt like she was coming from a place of punishment, not allowing consequences. It *is* hard to be honest with yourself about that one.

  • http://fancystephanie.wordpress.com/ fancystephanie

    I think you are right. Taking the scissors away wasn’t the greatest idea ever. I love that you realized that, and I think it’s awesome that you’re not a “punishment happy” parent. :)

  • AngieGW

    I just want to say (because there are quite a few comments here apparently saying that you are mistaken in feeling that you shouldn’t have removed the scissors), that I really value the way you are attempting to parent – it is so helpful to have people around (even in cyber-space) who are prepared to question their parenting, admit their mistakes and consider different (better?) ways of doing things in the future. It helps me to do the same. I almost certainly would have done the same as you, and taken the scissors away – and I agree with you that it probably wasn’t the best course of action, and the lesson could have been learned with minimal additional hurt . I hope if (when!) it happens to me I will remember your post. Thank you.


    • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

      I don’t think people are saying she’s mistaken, we are saying, both models can work, and to not underestimate a child’s ability to play you, which based on Libby Anne’s other stories demonstrating how astute Sally is, seems likely here.

      Now this doesn’t mean that because your children have/can learn to be manipulative, you have to be adversarial. I’ve never been prouder than when my daughter demonstrated the ability to outthink me.

  • Joykins

    Honestly, losing the scissors for a set period of time, and then reintroducing them after a time-out period with supervision and the same consequences (or a longer time-out for the scissors) for failing to use them appropriately afterwards seems like a good, instructive logical consequence to me.

    Because toys and tools can go into time-out just like kids can, and for pretty much the same reasons. We need to learn to behave responsibly with our toys and tools.

  • Mel

    Here’s what I see from your description:
    1. Sally has a hobby box that includes scissors and paper that she can cut.
    2. Sally had either:
    a. Did not understand the difference between cutting paper and cutting fabric on the couch and therefore dove right into cutting fabric.
    b: Knows the difference between cutting paper and cutting fabric on the couch but thought/felt/impulsively started cutting the couch up.
    3. You saw the damage done to the couch and removed the scissors from the situation.
    4. Sally pitched a fit.

    I was with you up until this point. Sally damaged the couch using scissors. Regardless of the “why”, she’s not mature enough to have scissors when unsupervised. It’s not a judgement on Sally’s personality or morality – she’s just not ready yet. Sally gets to play with paper and glue when you can’t sit and watch her for another few months until she’s got a bit more impulse control.

    Sally is at an age where pitching a fit is a normal reaction. She is also approaching an age or at an age where she can learn how to pitch a fit to get what she wants. She wanted her scissors; she threw a temper tantrum, chatted with Mom and got her scissors back. Sweet win-win for Sally from her point of view. Plus, now she’s learned a new tactic- she doesn’t even need to pitch a fit; just telling Mom how sad Mom’s action made her leads to even more attention from Mom.

    I don’t know that you can control what your child takes away from a situation. Re-hashing this situation over and over sounds exhausting for both you and Sally.

    • jdens

      Whoa. Bursting into tears is not the same as pitching a fit or having a temper tantrum. If this were my daughter and you were describing her this way when you weren’t even there, I would be pretty upset. Heck, I might even pitch a fit.

      • Mel

        Congratulations. I’m glad to see pitching a fit works so well for you and your family.

      • jdens

        Come on that was a joke–admittedly not a very funny one, but still. The point is I think you read into the text things that were not there, and you did so in a way that a parent might easily find offensive. I’m not a parent, and I’m not offended. I’m just trying to point something out.

  • Sophie

    I’m going to agree with quite a few of the other commenters, taking the scissors away was the appropriate action. Sally damaged something that is going to be expensive for you to fix, only being allowed to use scissors with supervision for a while is a good consequence of that. She’ll learn to think before she cuts something else that seems ‘fun’ to cut. To be honest I don’t particularly agree with giving her fabric to cut either, at least not right away, that is essentially rewarding her for doing something wrong. I would have waited a few weeks and then given her fabric to cut, so that she didn’t make the connection. From the way you’ve written about this incident, I wouldn’t be surprised if the lesson that Sally learned was how to manipulate her mum. When she told you that you taking her scissors away made her feel bad, she erased her actions that led to the scissors being taken away. Even if she was then able to discuss what else happened what she has taken away from the incident is how she felt, not that she did something wrong or that she upset you and you reinforced that by giving her the scissors back.

    Obviously I wasn’t there and I don’t know your child, so I can only go from what you have written. But I think your first reaction was the right one. I also want to add that I don’t see why positive parenting can’t include consequences for the child’s actuons

    • Sophie

      It won’t let me edit my comment so I’ll add what I wanted to say here:

      I also don’t see why positive parenting can’t include consequences for the child’s actions as long as they are ‘natural’ consequences. Learning that what we do can have negative results is an important part of child development. I would never agree with punishing a child for the sake of it, but ‘natural’ consequences make sense to me. You didn’t take Sally’s scissors away because she hit her brother or because she was watching the screen without permission, you took them away because she caused damage with them. That action follows on from hers. I want to add that when I used the word manipulate I did not mean it in the way it’s used in TTUAC, I meant it in the way that children do learn how to ‘push our buttons’ to get their own way. And that is a normal part of child development and should not lead to an adversarial parent-child relationship. But it’s an important thing for a parent to learn, our kids watch how we behave and they learn how to get the desired reaction from us.

      • Rosa

        discerning “natural” from “appropriate” consequences is really hard, and if you get angry and do something punitive, even if it’s an appropriate reaction that helps the child learn, then it’s definitely not a natural consequence – natural consequences just happen. Like “if you go out without your coat you will feel cold.”

      • Jayn

        I think maybe the word we’re looking for here is ‘logical’. It’s logical to lose something if you’re using it inappropriately or dangerously, even though it doesn’t directly follow from the misuse itself.

        ETA: Although sometimes it could be a natural consequence as well, if the object gets broken and you opt not to replace it.

      • Rosa

        logical works too, or as was used here earlier, “contrived”.

        But trying to teach through only natural consequences is a different, specific thing (and really difficult, I think, if only because too often the natural consequence falls more heavily on others than on the person who caused them.)

      • Sophie

        Logical would have been a better word choice, my apologies.

      • Sophie

        I do get that it’s hard, but I would argue that you shouldn’t be making that decision whilst you are angry. Obviously it’s important for young children that the consequence follows on quickly from their action otherwise they won’t make the connection, but you can take a minute to make sure you are calm.

      • Rosa

        that’s true for just about any parenting decision :) But even when you’re not angry, there’s a lot of possibility for self-deception.

  • krisya0507

    To me, the best part of this whole post is ” If Sally was a serial furniture-cutter, or if she was unapologetic and unremorseful, taking away her scissors might have made sense.”

    I love how you really work on knowing YOUR child and guiding her in a way that works for her. You know that Sally can understand the harm of what she did without having a specific privilege loss.

    I really struggled with this for awhile with my son. I love the concept of positive parenting, and it’s really what I use with my high school students. I can’t even remember the last time I had to levy any sort of consequence aside from a talking-to. I always speak to my son with respect and as a valuable human being who can understand the reasons behind rules. We negotiate a lot of things and make many decisions together. However, I can’t get away from the taking-things-away type of immediate consequences a lot of the time. My son (4yo) is not a people-pleaser, he has very strong opinions, his empathy is still very dependent on expression (if somebody isn’t crying or bleeding, he doesn’t get it when he is told that his behavior was hurtful), and he dismisses reasons that he can’t understand or doesn’t find valid. I think as he gets older, his logical reasoning will stand him in good stead because he’ll develop more subtlety and sophistication in his ability to understand and predict real-world consequences, but right now, if I tell him that something he just did is serious and he can’t do it anymore, he just wants to argue and give his justification for why it’s really ok.

    The other day, he got into the cupboard and started smearing flour all over. In his mind, “because it’s fun and I want to” is more than a match for “doing that makes a lot of extra work for mom, and I need you to stop doing it, help me clean it up, and then we’ll figure out something else we can do that will be fun and messy.” He IS unapologetic and unremorseful. If I didn’t tie stopping it to a consequence, he wouldn’t stop, and he would do it again. When I say, “If you continue to do that, you will not be able to play the Wii tonight because you’ll have to help me clean up the kitchen,” that works because it changes his calculation. Before, he was weighing his desire for fun versus mom’s desire not to have a mess to clean up, and he weighs his desire higher. Now, he’s weighing having fun but losing the Wii, versus mom’s desire not to have a mess to clean up, and he REALLY wants to beat the next level of Lego Star Wars. I hope to be able to phase out those types of consequences as he gets older, but for now, it’s the only way I’ve found to actually get him to comply with things that aren’t negotiable, and I’ve made peace with it. I’m pregnant, and if my next child is more like Sally, I think we’ll be able to get along without that type of discipline.

    • XakirTatsu

      Slight tangent but would you mind explaining how you go about using Positive Parenting on your high schoolers?

      I just got this job working with 2-12 year-olds. I am rather short (5′) and am soft spoken. I am having trouble getting the older boys to stop fighting and listen to me. They listen to my authoritarian supervisors but the way they do things just isn’t me.

      thanks for any advice.

      • krisya0507

        It sounds like we are pretty similar in terms of manner. I’m also short and have a soft voice, and I don’t have a naturally commanding manner. If I tried to be an authoritarian, I wouldn’t be a very good one.
        To me, there are two parts of positive parenting that I try to always keep in mind. The first is to listen and get to know the kids. If you’ve asked a kid how his baseball tournament went and noticed when he cut his hair or got a new jacket, he’s a lot more likely to want to treat you well and consider your needs without your having to ask. The second is to always act as if the kids will behave beautifully, and treat occasional mistakes as aberrations. Most kids really will rise to your expectations, if they can, and there’s nothing more demoralizing than feeling like people around you expect you to fail.
        In terms of your specific issue with transitions, that’s the hardest part of managing a group of kids for me, too. It’s always the worst when you don’t know the kids yet, so I think you’ll see it improve. What I usually do is ask for their attention, and then deliberately keep my voice at a normal conversational volume. Don’t raise it over the kids who are talking. If they don’t trail off quickly, then just stop and wait. Don’t look annoyed, make eye contact with the kids who are being attentive, and you’ll often get some kids who will nudge the talkers. With my age group, a lot of times the kids who are talking will notice that they’re holding everybody else up and apologize. That doesn’t set up a power struggle and lets them maintain dignity. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go a little closer to the talkers and quietly say that we can’t move on until they’re listening. When they comply, give them a genuine smile and move on as if nothing happened. Don’t ever try to talk over them. For a few days, it might be kind of laborious, but they’ll get the picture. If it’s the same few kids doing it a lot, talk to them privately and ask for their help. Those kids can often be really good leaders if you can get them on your side. If necessary, try to separate them, but I try to keep that as a last resort because it can set you up as adversaries instead of partners. When I do have to do that, I tell them very clearly that I know they enjoy each others’ company and I would like them to be able to work together, but they’re having a hard time doing that productively so I need them to move into different groups and they can try again in a few weeks.

  • rovinrockhound

    Come on, people. Give Sally some credit for being little. If you don’t have the words “shame” and “regret” easily accessible, the closest feeling you can describe is sadness. And since she started feeling this only after mom took the scissors and told her she had done something wrong, the logical conclusion is that mom caused it. Hence “and then you took my scissors away and made me sad.” A perfectly valid description of the events of the day when you have the limited vocabulary.

    As a kid I was always frustrated with the “I’m taking X away until you can show that you won’t ever do Y again” line. How do you show that you are able to NOT do something? Sally had been using her scissors correctly so far and this seems to have been a freak event – she can’t prove that it will never happen again. She can promise not to do it, but that never seemed to work for me. The removal seemed permanent because, with my logic, I could never demonstrate enough responsibility. Even if things were made available again, I still felt that I shouldn’t use them because I had the potential to go on a cutting/writing/… rampage and destroy everything because I was so untrustworthy.

    Kid logic is not the same as adult logic.

    • Divizna

      And there’s usually a nice catch 22 in it, too. “You won’t have any scissors until you’ve demonstrated that while having scissors, you don’t cut furniture.”

  • Niemand

    Two thoughts:

    1. While I agree with you that approaching the situation non-punitively at first is a good idea and that maybe next time you won’t need to take the scissors away (or whatever equivalent) at all, relax. You didn’t traumatize her and she’ll be fine. Don’t beat yourself up over it.
    2. When you don’t overtly punish children, they become more sensitive. Sally may be sad if you talk to her seriously about being upset that she cut the couch. That’s ok. She should feel a bit bad at doing something that hurt you. She just needs a constructive way to work through that feeling and a way to do what she likes without doing any harm, both of which you provided.
    In short, you did good. You’ll likely do even better in the future. Sally sounds like a very nice and happy child.

    • Niemand

      Sorry, one more point: You’re also teaching Sally that adults can realize that they’re wrong or have been too harsh and back down. This lesson will likely make adolescence much easier.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    To touch on the appropriate consequence thing, sometimes you find that it’s not so simple.

    For example, my daughter has a cell phone, that she uses for the purposes of staying in contact with us when she’s home by herself. But, she also fails to stay in contact, like she leaves the phone in one room, while in another and fails to answer or call back in a timely manner, or she just doesn’t think to check in.

    Since the infraction involved failing to use the phone, it would seem sensible to take away the phone, since it’s also what she uses to chat and text with friends. But, with no landline at home, this is her only way to communicate, so I CAN’T take away the phone.

    At the moment, failing to check in responsibly or stay in communication gets her cable turned off in her room.

    • Rosa

      That’s the reason we still have a land line; I feel like being able to be reached by phone is a pretty basic right for kids in rich countries like ours, and I am still conflicted about when/whether it’s appropriate for a kid to have a cell phone, and wondering how to enforce cell-phone rules without cutting off all communications. But it’s an expensive solution to a dilemma.

      I know not everyone feels the same way I do about the phone – my ex, his daughter had a prepay phone and if she used up all her minutes, she was just out until she came into more money. And other parents take away the kids phone and make them use Mom or Dad’s phone instead for a while. But I do really feel like the ability to make private phone calls is a pretty basic piece of autonomy that at some age (which i don’t know what it is yet! My kid is still only 8) people should have if it’s economically feasible.

      • AnotherOne

        Yeah, we’re in the midst of trying to figure this out right now, too, and I think we’re going to go with a landline for now. And Aeryl, you’re so right. Figuring out appropriate consequences, or just appropriate ways of dealing with or responding to certain behaviors is pretty freaking hard sometimes.

      • CarysBirch

        Rosa I used to work for a mobile company (I’m not going to say who because I now work for a competitor and it just feels murky to me) but they had a special for-kids plan that had unlimited minutes to the parents phone, and prepay for everyone else. If you do a little research, you might find something like that out there! I thought it was a fantastic solution — call mom as much as you want but you can only call Jimmy and Suzie 200 minutes this month and then you’re done.

        This was several years ago, so I don’t know if it’s still on offer, but worth mentioning! :)

      • Rosa

        I will look into that! We are still on the fence about even having a cell phone (and he goes to hippie school, no electronics allowed, so there’s already that limitation). But I know eventually we will get him one, if only because he needs all the help he can get fostering social connections.

  • Rachel Heston-Davis

    I agree with your parenting philosophy, but in this particular instance, I have to wonder if the shock of having the scissors taken away was part of what alerted her to the seriousness of the situation, thus facilitating her ability to pay super close attention and take the conversation seriously.

    You know her better than I do, of course…I guess I’m just thinking of myself as a kid. Having some sort of immediate consequence (being removed from a room when I was misbehaving, for example) was a signal to let me know that the behavior we were about to discuss was serious business, and I needed to pay attention. It helped me realize when the adults around me had really been affected by my actions.

  • jasondick

    My sister and I did this as a kid (I don’t remember it). Yeah, we weren’t allowed to have scissors for a few years after that. That bit I do remember.

  • Karen

    I admire you, Libby Anne, for being a conscientious parent. I think that so often people who were raised by authoritarian parents tend to revert to those bad old ways when they are under extreme stress. Sometimes it’s simply automatic to do what your parents did, even when, in your saner moments, you know that is not your childrearing plan. I think it takes constant vigilance for parents who came from that authoritarian background to not repeat the pattern under duress.

  • Rilian Sharp

    It _was_ wrong to take away the scissors. If your spouse had done, you wouldn’t have taken away the scissors. You would have asked him about it. And if his reason seemed stupid to you, you might have gotten mad, but you wouldn’t take the scissors away (unless he went crazy and started waving them around at people or something).

    It may have seemed obvious to you that people should not cut up couches. But that’s actually just a social convention, not inherently good or bad. I can imagine myself in sally’s place, when I was single-digit-age, thinking that this is my couch, so I can use it how I please, and it doesn’t hurt anyone.