The Case of the Flying Slipper

Q. Last night, our five year old took off one of her slippers and flung it down the stairs at my husband because she didn’t want to go to sleep. He was outraged and stormed up the stairs, got in her face and told her she was a “BAD GIRL!” He and I have had many talks about not negatively labeling our kids. I think he should have said that throwing her slippers down the stairs was “bad,”not that she was. Actually, I thought he should have just said calmly that she should stop throwing things and get to bed and then walked away, because mostly I think she wanted to provoke him to start a scene, get attention and postpone bed-time, which is exactly what happened. Then, he and I had a big fight about it. What do you think? Are we failing as parents?

A. We’ll assume that your daughter’s decision to hurl footwear was a self-generated impulse and not inspired by news coverage of middle eastern politics. I agree that it’s not “best practices parenting” to call a child “bad” instead of criticizing the behavior. And it would’ve been great if your husband had calmed down enough to phrase his response perfectly by the time he got up those stairs. But I’m guessing she launched that slipper at the end of a long, tiring day by which point his reserves were pretty well drained. Unfortunately, as you point out, your daughter “won” that round because she got her way through negative attention, and you don’t want that to become–or continue to be–a habit. The two of you should get on the same page about how to handle future projectiles. You can do this casually when you’re (finally) in bed or, if it works better for your relationship, have a more formal, “what were we thinking?” meeting in which you deconstruct the event, each say your piece, then make amends and plan your parenting response. I suggest that you meet any future episodes of airborne footwear calmly but also with the clear message that such behavior is unacceptable and definitely grounds for consequences. Suggest to your husband that he explain to your daughter that he got angry and said something he didn’t intend. For example, he could tell her: ” I don’t really think you’re a bad girl. I know that you’re a very good one. But what you did was wrong. You are never, ever to throw things at me or Mommy–or anyone else–because you could hurt somebody, it’s disrespectful and not a nice way to try to get what you want.”

Don’t let this incident discourage you about your co-parenting abilities. You have a child who actually wears her slippers–which means you’re already way ahead of the curve.

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