Screw You, “British Nanny,” I let my kids choose their sippy cups

Society isn't in crisis just because I let this kid choose this Elmo cup (and her outfit).
Society isn’t in crisis just because I let this kid choose this Elmo cup (and her outfit).

At this point, everyone who knows anyone with a kid has likely seen the latest viral parenting piece from a “British Nanny” letting us know 5 Reasons Parenting is in a Crisis. Most of them left me with that record-scratch sound playing in my head.

For one thing, I’m an ACTUAL PARENT, and I’m not here to tell you a bulleted list of how to raise your kids. Because if twins have taught me anything, it’s that every kid is different, and every parent is different, and only you know what is best for your child. We’re all just doing the best we can here, and my biggest takeaway in two years has been that we all need a little more grace and a lot more help.

But for another, what really bothered me the most is that Emma, the aforementioned Nanny, characterizes every interaction between parent and child as a power struggle, one in which parental will must be exerted at all costs, lest children get the idea that they “are in charge here.” She makes an example of a child requesting a particular sippy cup, and suggests that parents should ignore their child’s request, ignore their child’s feelings about the request, and even ignore the outpouring of emotions, which she calls a tantrum, that follows the parent’s indifference to the child’s small request. Here’s the thing: that’s insane. Only a tyrant sees every interaction with another person as an opportunity to remind the other person of their powerlessness.

My children are not animals to be broken or wills to be crushed. I make many, most even, decisions for them at this point in their lives, but my biggest goal is to raise kind people who make wise choices. This means I must first model kindness to them and for them at every turn, but also that I must give them the opportunity to practice making choices, even in small areas, so that they know they have the power to make wise choices in big areas too. It’s no skin off my back, before pouring some milk, to say, “Would you like your milk in the Tinkerbell cup or the Toy Story cup?” It’s a small gesture that sends my kids a bigger message: I care about you, and I want you to be able to make choices. Sometimes, they don’t have a choice– they must wear shoes and weather appropriate clothing. But I could let them choose among some outfit options, for example.

And, in the event that say, we are out in public and I already packed the Toy Story cup, and it’s the only cup we have, and they suddenly really want the Tinkerbell cup, which is at home? And if their response to my, “I’m sorry, this is the cup we have for you here, if you want a drink, it will have to be in this cup,” is a “tantrum,” my response will not be to abandon them to the storm of their emotions or walk away as the nanny suggests, but to coach them through their feelings so they might learn to deal with disappointment. Because while Emma thinks giving my child choices or coaching her through an emotional outburst shows I’m “afraid of her,” what really shows a fear of the increasingly-independent and assertive individuals my children are becoming is an attempt to control them at all costs for fear that I might lose some sort of power or authority in their eyes.

My kids are human beings. With whom I am in relationship. It is one characterized by affection, trust, and attachment. I believe my children heed my influence because they feel secure and loved and free to make wise choices and empowered to behave well. And, I must say, I have two fabulous children who are constantly complimented on their behavior, but who are also so very two a lot of the time. This doesn’t mean I have “lowered the bar.”  This relationship is not, and will never be, a power struggle, because I refuse to make it one. I am not afraid that allowing my children the freedom to make small choices will undermine my role as their mother.

This part especially broke my heart: “Babies must learn to self-soothe instead of sitting in a vibrating chair each time they’re fussy. Toddlers need to pick themselves up when they fall down instead of just raising their arms to mum and dad.” Children learn to self-soothe in the arms of their parents. In the safe embrace of people who love them and who help them to take deep breaths, to engage in positive self talk, and who coach them through emotions that often feel very large and overwhelming to very small people. This doesn’t mean I rush to pick my kids up every time they fall down, but if they fall down and cry out or reach for me, I will always be there to pick them up and kiss their booboos and help them learn how to calm down. Because this is what it means to foster the kind of secure attachment that gives them the strength to be independent and confident.

This is what works for us. I’m just a mom of two. I’m no British Nanny. And I don’t presume to speak for you. But I’m not afraid. I haven’t lowered the bar. And I’m not contributing to some kind of societal crisis. Likely you aren’t either.

9 Replies to “Screw You, “British Nanny,” I let my kids choose their sippy cups”

  1. Hell YES. Fucking SNAP. Talking your child through a tantrum does not mean you’re “afraid” of her. Hell, as special needs parents I think we’ve seen more than our fair share of scary things — “tantrums” doesn’t even make the list. I *could* leave June or Henry to tantrum, but like you said, I don’t think that’s as constructive as guiding them through an outburst. “Control” is not the endgame here. Raising a kind person IS. So much win in this post.


  2. Definitely agree. As a family therapist, I’ve seen countless kids that have grown up in families that over rely on the “self-soothing” doctrine. They’re generally more emotionally detached than their peers, show lower levels of empathy towards future spouses, and failing to verbalize emotions in adult life until they can’t take it any more. There’s a gigantic different between soothing a child who is figuring out life and knowing when to draw boundaries with a tantrum,.


    1. Ken, thank you so much for your comment! It means a lot to hear from a professional that I’m thinking on the right track. It just goes against all my instincts to walk away from a child in the middle of an emotional outburst.


  3. I despise the idea that a small child not knowing what the emotions they are experiencing are or how to handle them, but just knowing they feel enormous should be defined as a tantrum. I want my son to know it’s ok to experience and express emotions. But equally I want to assist him in expressing these in an appropriate way so he can communicate them to me so they feel easier to manage for him. I hate how kids are berated for feeling cranky, but it’s ok for us to be moody, tired or excited. We just manage it better, why? Because we’ve learnt how to. You raise lots of lovely points in your post. I let my son have choice but reading your post has made me realise that I can encourage him to make more. I believe it will lead to greater self confidence in the long run. I agree parenting should not be a power struggle, I want him to feel loved not dominated. So much parenting advice out there and like you say not enough grace and support. We should be supporting each other not criticising. It makes it very easy to question your ability to parent effectively and it shouldn’t we should be empowering each other. Thank you


  4. I raised my girls according to your side of the Nanny Debate. My girls turned out to be wonderful, kind, caring, loving adults and parents to sweet babies that are being raised in the same manner. Keep it up and in 20+ years you too will reap the benefits from your hard work now. And the Nanny will just be, alone.


  5. Well said mama… Let’s treat our kids with the kindness and respect that people (children are people!?!) deserve… Unfortunately, however, I wrote that that’s why modern day parenting is in crisis :-/


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