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« Q&A: When and How to Transition a Child from the Family Bed | Main | A Sticky Social Situation »




I can't. stop. laughing.

Go, mom.


Very funny, made me laugh, but then I thought....Would she actually do it? What if he went and peed on the rug a couple of days later.... That sounds like something I would say to my children, but could never actually do it.

The Zero Boss

Oh, I'm using that one.


This is great! I'm glad that you didn't have to resort to actually following through with peeing in your son's bed, though. I agree since this was a one time "threat" that isn't isn't abusive, but rather an eye opening experience for your son.

Keep the True Grit stories coming, I can't wait to hear more!


That is a little weird, but i kinda like it. I am glad you would have actually done it though. I have to follow through on the things I say. When I don't, my kids revolt. Luckily he didn't give you the opportunity.


In the immortal words of M.C. Hammer "Won't touch this"
Although the thought of my wife squatting over the two year olds bed does make me laugh/snicker.


I LOVE it!!

"True Grit" sounds like its gonna be a lot of fun... its part of the reason I troll the internets looking for like-minded folk who can unabashedly report on their *unique* parenting styles! You'll get no gasps or grimmaces from me (although I snickered too!)


I love your honesty! I know the outer body experience of a moment like that w/my child. I find myself thinking "would I or could I do it"- if it taught him a lesson, yes I would!


Ok, so, if the behavior were to continue? Give a second warning. If it happens again? Look at the child, go to the bathroom and grab some toilet paper (and a small glass of water that is hidden under your shirt), walk into your child's room, close the door, and pour the water onto the bed. Is that mean?


Not a bad idea, as long as the waterproof pad is already on the bed...


Why on earth would you agree with this course of action? What has this child learned? 1. RETALIATION AND VENGEANCE IS OKAY. What's next? If the boy's little sister hits him, he should hit her back? Or another child? 2. IT'S OKAY TO PEE SOMEWHERE TO PUNISH SOMEONE. When the boy is 4 or 5 and at a friend's house for a playdate, how is Mommy going to feel when her son pees on his friend's bed because his friend wouldn't let him play with a toy? 3. MOMMY MAKES THREATS THAT SHE WILL NOT BACK UP. Sure, she can pee in his bed and who is going to clean it up, a three year old? No, Mommy will. And the next time? Is Mommy going to continue to pee and clean it up? I don't think so. Mom's credibility is lost because there’s a good chance that at some point her son will call her bluff to see what she'll do.

It’s one thing to say, “How would you feel if. . . ” It’s completely another to say, “If you pee (hit, steal, bite, whatever), then I’m going to do it to you.”

Laura S.


Boys don't develop inductive reasoning as early on as girls do. That's why the "How would you feel" doesn't necessarily work at 3 1/2 years old. That approach requires reasoning of which he is most likely not yet capable. What the mother said allowed her son to virtually experience how it would feel if someone violated his territory without actually doing it. It let him know how SHE felt. And, clearly, he undertood. But it would have been a whole other issue if she had actually DONE it.

And, according to this mother, she didn't have to back it up by actually doing it because he hasn't peed in retaliation since (as far we know).

Also, unless the mother actually tells her son in other situations (hitting, biting, etc.) I doubt her saying this ONCE to her son will suddenly generalize to ALL other situations.

Derrick R


So you’re saying that a 3 ½ year old boy can’t understand “How would you feel if I peed in your bed?” but he will understand “If you do that again, I’m going to pee in your bed” because he doesn’t have the inductive reasoning skills? That’s absurd.

This situation isn’t about a logical process for the tod-lar. It’s about being able to feel empathy and teaching the child how to feel it at each and every opportunity by putting the situation into words that the child can understand. For example, “How would you feel if your [favorite toy] broke? How would you feel if your sister broke it on purpose? That’s how I feel when you pee on the carpet. I don’t like it when you pee on the carpet. Now I’m taking your [favorite toy] for 2 days and I want you to take a timeout and think about that.” The mother lets her son know how she truly feels (unlike your method) but in a more constructive way that doesn’t lose credibility with her son.

The likely reason that Anonymous didn’t have as much prior success using the “How would you feel” approach versus her latest “I’ll pee in your bed” approach can be found in her letter. She was livid. And if she was livid I’m guessing she wasn’t speaking in gentle tones to her son. Moreover, her solution is a short term [wrong] answer to a long term problem. Did she teach her child to be more empathetic? No. Does he understand why he shouldn’t pee on the carpet? Sure, because Mommy will be mad and pee in my bed. If that works so well, why don’t you tell her to use that method in other situations? “If you throw food, I’m going to pee in your bed!” or “If you hit your sister, I’m going to pee in your bed!”

Teaching children right from wrong is a long process. This was a chance to teach him something and she missed the opportunity. What’s even worse is that you’re advocating for this method.

Laura S.


I'm just telling you what the research and developmental theory say -- a girl gets the "how would you feel" much earlier -- before 5 years -- than boys do. This logic requires inferring how they might feel in that situation. A lot of times, a boy might just think, "I don't know," or "I don't care," whereas a girl will be able to infer her own real potential sadness, anger, etc.

Additionally, it's important to remember that the child peed in the house in retalitation and it was his intention to make mom angry.

As far as why you think she hasn't had much success with this approach before, well, that's your assumption. Yes, she wrote in the letter that she was livid, but she was writing about a specific situation. I don't think it's appropriate to assume she's livid in EVERY situation. Nor do I think it's appropriate to make assumptions about her tones. Some people are quite capable of being livid and maintaining even tones. Gentle tones, however, in this situation would not be appropriate. Stern ones, yes, gentle ones, no.

The thing about this situation is that it appears to be a ONE time thing, and I'm only approving it as such. Yes, it's a long process to teach right from wrong. And I would almost guarantee that she has more than 100 opportunities to teach that every day. But sometimes -- SOMETIMES -- it's not about the teaching, it's about stopping the unwanted behavior immediately. And, she successfully did that WITHOUT harming his body, or demeaning his character.

Finally, the examples of throwing food and hitting and then threatening to pee in his bed, don't apply here. As I said in the post and in my earlier comment, her saying that to him gave him the experience of what it would be like to have someone pee in his territory, which is what he did to mom. If anything, I would think that an example of throwing food or hitting would be followed by a threat to do the SAME thing to the child -- not pee in his bed. But, I think I've made it clear that harming the child's person or demeaning his character in any way is NOT acceptable.

Mary P

An author on a book about the emotional development of boys was interviewed on the CBC a while back. (Sorry that I can't remember the title.) He suggested that for boys, the best question is not "how would you feel", but rather "what would you do?" Boys, he stated, find the "how would you feel" question much more difficult, and rather than teach him anything by that question, you are more likely to frustrate him and shut him down.

Now the "what would you do" question in this case is rather interesting, because of course it was the boy who had peed first.

As Laura said, we're not suggesting this particular action taken by Anonymous is an appropriate parenting tool in every situation. In this particular situation, at this particular time, it was the action taken by this particular mother - and it seems to have been effective. Without harming or demeaning the child.

And perhaps, upon imagining his own space intruded upon in the same way he had intruded on mom's space, perhaps he was even given a first lesson in empathy.

Derrick R


I wasn’t assuming she was livid in EVERY situation. In fact, I stated the exact opposite. She PROBABLY speaks nicely to him when she is trying to teach him something but on THIS occasion she was admittedly LIVID and I’m GUESSING that means she was more than just stern.

On the other hand, isn’t it you that has made some large assumptions here? 1) If it’s just “R&D Theory” then you shouldn’t make the assumption that he doesn’t understand the “how would you feel” technique because (simplistically) he’s a boy. Maybe she hasn’t framed the situation properly (see second paragraph of my last post). 2) Why do you assume that he is peeing on the carpet because (again simplistically) he is retaliating to purposefully anger his mom? Maybe he (like many young children) just doesn’t know how to articulate his feelings and is just frustrated. Maybe he’s frustrated because he hasn’t been properly taught how to clean his room – an opportunity to teach him the correct way and how to make it fun by doing it together until he learns. Maybe he’s frustrated because he wants to stay up longer – an opportunity to teach him how important sleep and bedtime rules are. Maybe he wants to play longer – an opportunity to teach him about priorities and that he can’t always get what he wants. Maybe Anonymous (and you) simply underestimate his ability to learn how to articulate his feelings but instead rely on the THEORY that he’s a boy so it’s a waste of time to try. Again, retaliation is a short term [wrong] answer to a long term problem.

In terms of teaching, I completely disagree with you. As parents, it is always about teaching. We are their most important teachers. As you said, we parents have “100 opportunities to teach” every day and I believe we should use each and every one of them to better our children. This was not just about stopping the behavior as you suggested. Yes, it was successful THIS time but for how long and what happens the next time? THE ENDS NEVER JUSTIFY THE MEANS. If it worked once, should she try it again when he pees on the carpet? If not, then it was the wrong course of action the first time.

Why aren’t you giving her any other suggestions as solutions? What about your readers? Are they to assume that this is a good course of action one time? All the time? Without providing suggestions of ways she could’ve handled the situation, you’ve left your readers wondering what they would do in a similar situation. I guess you must be suggesting that parents threaten and retaliate as she did, if necessary.

Lastly, her course of action did NOT teach “him the experience of what it would be like to have someone pee in his territory” as you suggest. I think it would have taught him that only if she followed through. Instead, he learned that it’s okay to punish someone with something repulsive whenever you don’t like that someone’s action. I used the examples of throwing food or hitting and then threatening to pee in his bed because that would teach him the same thing and besides, you seem to be advocating that the ends justify the means. If threatening to pee in his bed (means) gets him to stop peeing on her carpet (ends) for a while, then why don’t you tell Anonymous to threaten to pee in his bed for other situations? I’ll bet you could really modify his behavior with that big hammer hanging over him. But what would that teach him? The same thing that her threats taught him in this situation, that it’s okay to retaliate and threaten.

Laura S.


1) Maybe you didn’t mean she’s livid in every situation, but that was all I could glean from your comment – especially since the mother said in the post that she’s never really had any luck with the “how would feel” deal. You claim it didn’t work because of her tone. But according to the post, she didn’t a) try it in this situation, and b) it hasn’t really worked in the past.

2) I’m not saying “it’s just R&D [sic] theory.” I’m saying that this gender theory could provide a plausible explanation as to why she hasn’t had much success with the “how would you feel” deal in the past. You said it was absurd. You think he SHOULD get it if told differently. I’m telling you there’s research giving a reason as to why he may not.

3) I already explained why saying to the boy what you suggested would not work. Aside from the theory as a plausible explanation, if he did what he did in retaliation, then most likely he WANTED her to be mad. So how does that teach him empathy if he wanted mom to be mad in the first place?

4) The mother claims it was in retaliation. For me to assume anything else would be insulting to the mother, and out of left field. She knows her son best. Not me.

5) I’ve demonstrated in other posts here how important emotion coaching is. And, for all we know, she did do some emotion coaching after the first incident. It’s not uncommon for parents to tell a child how to properly express their frustration or anger after a time-out situation since most parenting books teach this. Obviously, I have no idea whether she did this or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she did. But, regardless, this mother wanted this behavior to stop NOW, and she managed to do that without harming his person or demeaning his character.

6) Your point about “wasting time on him because he’s a boy” – that’s absurd. I have a son. I’ve been teaching him to effectively express his emotions since before he could speak. And, I don’t think any of my writing on this or any other blog has demonstrated a gender bias. All I’m talking about are real gender differences. And, no where in my part of the post did I indicate any bias, or suggest that she NOT emotion coach her son.

7) The mother didn’t ask for an alternative and neither did the readers.

8) I'm not advocating it as a good course of action for anyone else. I’m advocating it as an example of what sometimes happens in parenting. Sometimes an unwanted behavior needs to be stopped immediately. Sometimes that means doing something very un-PC. You may not agree with that, but maybe there are others who do. In the end, what she did was NOT abusive, and it immediately stopped the unwanted behavior. And, since this mother obviously felt guilty about it, I would bet this is not a strategy she’s ever used before, or may even use again.

Again, I’m advocating it as an example of what sometimes happens in parenting. I’m not advocating it as, to quote Mary, a tool for our parenting tool box.

9) You keep saying that what the mother did was retaliation and that she’s teaching him retaliation. But the kid already knows how to retaliate. He did it first by peeing on the rug. My guess is that he retaliates in other ways, too. All kids do. My own son has called me “stupid” and “poo poo.” He has hit me. He’s done all kinds of things. I don’t call him names back because that would demean his character. I don’t hit him back because that would cause harm to his person. Instead, I teach him how to effectively express his anger towards me without saying or doing those things. While I want those behaviors stopped, I don’t need them to stop immediately. Instead, I can use them as opportunities to teach. I would bet this mother has other opportunities as well.

But maybe – I don’t know for sure, obviously – but maybe what the boy learned in this situation is that another person can retaliate against him. Maybe he hadn’t experienced that before. I don’t think that’s such a bad lesson. Sometimes, as adults we choose not to do things because of what someone else might do to us in response. We don’t flip-off other drivers because they might be packing a gun. We don’t yell at the waiter because he might spit in our food. We might want to do these things, and maybe we shouldn’t do them because it’s just a) ineffective, or b) not nice, but knowing they can retaliate helps us to control our own behavior sometimes, too.

10) You may not think what she did gave him the experience of what it would feel like to have someone pee in his territory, but the mother certainly thinks so. And since she was a) there, and b) knows her son better than we do, I’m gonna go with what she says. To do otherwise, again, would be insulting.

Finally, I would like to ask you: You seem fairly upset by this post. Why?

Derrick R


First, I’d like to address your final statement and then address each of your points one by one.

What gives you the idea that I’m upset? Was it because I disagreed with you? Are you that insecure with yourself that you can’t take the intellectual debate? Does my opposition to your advice make you feel attacked personally? Are you one of those academic types who talk about theory and think that they are always right and anyone who simply disagrees with them must have a problem? Aren’t you being a little defensive here?

Now let’s look at your comments one at a time . . .

1. I don’t think you understood the third paragraph of my post from 8/29. I speculated as to why she got a different result this time. Since she didn’t have success in the past, why was she successful this time? My speculation was that previously she wasn’t livid and talked in gentle tones to her son to try to correct bad behaviors. However, this time she was admittedly livid and I guessed that it came out in her tone when she made the threatening comeback. Now the question is this. Was it the threatening remark that made him stop (which you seemed to believe) or was it the livid tone? I’m guessing it was the livid tone.

Moreover, you didn’t address my questions in the third paragraph of my post from 9/1. Regardless of why he stopped the behavior (WHAT she said versus HOW she said it), what happens the next time? Should she immediately pee in his bed as retaliation? Of course not! Should she make another threat? If you say yes, then she is showing him that she will not follow through with promises and she has lost credibility. If no, then she shouldn’t have made the retaliatory threat in the first place. If there is one thing children need it’s consistency. If you don’t recommend her using this retaliatory threatening strategy over and over to teach her son a lesson then she was absolutely WRONG to use it in the first place.

2. In my first post on 8/28 I stated that it would’ve been “DIFFERENT” and better (but not as good as other strategies I’ve suggested) if she has said, “How would you feel . . .” instead of making a threatening retaliatory remark. It’s better because she could use that strategy over and over, if necessary. However, for the reasons I’ve described above, she should NOT make a threatening retaliatory remark and use it again and again.

You countered by saying that since he’s a boy, he is less capable of understanding the inductive reasoning within the “How would you feel” analogy. I didn’t say the theory was absurd. I said your application of that theory was absurd. The American Psychological Association defines Inductive Reasoning as follows: A form of reasoning in which a conclusion is made about the probability of some state of affairs, based on the available evidence and past experience.
It takes just as little inductive reasoning to understand “If you pee on the carpet, I’ll pee in your bed!” as it does to understand “How would you feel if I peed in your bed?” As I’ve repeatedly suggested, maybe the success of the threatening retaliatory remark came from his ability to INDUCE from his mother’s LIVID reaction the PROBABILITY that he would get punished in some way based on PAST EXPERIENCE and NOT the actual content of the threat.

3. Actually what you said was this . . . “This logic requires inferring how they might feel in that situation. A lot of times, a boy might just think, "I don't know," or "I don't care," whereas a girl will be able to infer her own real potential sadness, anger, etc.” I reiterate that this is simply a poor application of the theory and a broad GENERALIZATION about what boys MIGHT do and how that compares to girls.

Again, it’s wild speculation to assume he is peeing because of retaliation regardless of what his mother said. As I stated in paragraph 2 of my 9/1 post, there are many other more plausible and simple explanations for what his motivations were. Moreover, if (and it’s a big if) you assume he did do it as retaliation, how can you say he retaliated to make his mother mad? Wouldn’t that take INDUCTIVE REASONING? You can’t have it both ways! Either he doesn’t have inductive reasoning skills or he does. He can’t have it just when you find it convenient for your argument.

4. It really doesn’t matter if the mother assumes it was retaliation. I don’t believe it was. I’m not saying that I know this child better than the mother. What I’m saying is that she was LIVID and gave you an emotional description of the situation by calling it retaliation. Using a pejorative word to describe her son’s behavior is her attempt to justify her course of action. Of course she wants to justify her behavior just like you want to justify your initial response to her now. The more likely reason is FRUSTRATION not retaliation. Toddlers often feel frustrated because they can’t communicate their feelings and they often don’t even understand their feelings in the first place.

I don’t understand your last point. You said, “So how does that teach him empathy if he wanted mom to be mad in the first place?” What does that mean? I never said he wanted mom to be mad. You did. I explained how to teach him empathy in paragraph 2 of my 8/29 post. It’s a process, not a short term [wrong] answer to a long term problem like her response.

5. Thank you for agreeing with my response of using emotional coaching. As I’ve stated before, THE ENDS DO NOT JUSTIFY THE MEANS. Just because she wanted the behavior to stop right now doesn’t justify any sort of response. The hurdle isn’t whether it was harmful to his person or character but whether it achieves that AND can it be used repeatedly to teach him right from wrong.

6. No you didn’t suggest she NOT emotion coach her son BUT you also DIDN’T say she SHOULD emotion coach him. Failing to tell her she should emotion coach is just as bad as telling her she shouldn’t do it. You failed her by not giving her other alternatives as I’ve stated previously.

The fact that you emotion coach your child only proves my point. It’s okay for your son to get emotional coaching but not hers? What you’re saying is that the mother is justified in using a retaliatory threat because her son didn’t respond to emotional coaching previously? Would you stop trying with your son if he didn’t respond to emotional coaching? I doubt that.

7. What is your purpose with this website then? Of course people want to hear about parenting techniques! Why do you think people come here?

8. Thank you for finally stating what your readers need to hear. Why didn’t you say that in your first response to her letter?

9. Some people might simply think our disagreement is about semantics but it’s not. I don’t believe he is retaliating, I believe he is frustrated and needs help learning how to express himself. Just because your own son hits you or calls you names doesn’t mean he is retaliating. Your response to your son sounds exactly like what I’ve suggested for Anonymous – teach, teach, teach.

Your second paragraph makes my point again. Yes, the boy learned that someone can retaliate against him. What’s worse is that he learned that it is okay to retaliate because his own mother does it. How is she going to feel when he “retaliates” against a pre-school classmate in a very bad way? There are other ways to learn that there are negative consequences to his bad behaviors without retaliating. As I’ve suggested, timeouts and loss of privileges work well at this age.

10. This paragraph made me laugh out loud! If a parent’s action is the best solution simply because he/she knows their child best and is right there, then why do your readers need you or this website or any person who provides parental guidance for that matter? You’re basically telling parents that they can do anything they want to their child as long as it doesn’t demean or physically harm them. That course of action is necessary but not sufficient. Most parents want to parent better and as such they want better dialogue, better resources, better answers and better methods to improve their parenting. They don’t want to know the bare minimum it takes to simply get a passing grade. Parents want and A for a grade not a D.

Laura S.


When I said, "You seem fairly upset by this post. Why?" I was thinking that when people spend a lot of time on a particular topic, it can mean that it strikes a nerve with them and possibly upsets them. If that was the case with you, I was just curious as to why. That's all.

You could have easily responded with, "I'm not upset. I just enjoy intellectual debates." However, instead you chose to insult and even stereotype me. Thus, I will not be spending any more time addressing your comments.

Finally, you may want to have a look at our Rules of Engagement.

Mary P


I'm going to step in as arbiter here. This discussion has gone on quite long enough. What was intended as a light-hearted post has turned into a long-winded explication of a couple of points of view. It's becoming self-indulgent and boring; nothing further is being accomplished.

I think the time has come to agree to disagree, and move on.

Thank you.

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