Wednesday, April 4, 2012


This morning I saw a piece on Jezebel about how parents in Park Slope, Brooklyn are backing a ban on ice cream trucks at their local park because their kids see the trucks and want ice cream. Then the parents say no because of childhood obesity and stuff and then the children cry and everything is ruined. So the solution that some parents, at least, are agitating for is to ban ice cream sales at the playground.

You should go read the piece. Jezebel's take is that banning ice cream trucks is redonk and that these parents need to man the eff up and deal with the kids' whining and wheedling, that it's a parent's job to "deny them, again and again, until they grow up to be people the rest of us can tolerate being around." I have an affinity for this view, which is expressed in Jezebel's signature style. I mean, yes, just because a child gets mad and cries does not mean that there is some problem needing a solution.

But what I thought as I was reading it, though, was, "Geez, buy them an ice cream." Not every day, and NEVER after a fit has been pitched or whining is underway. But lord, that's the time and place for sweets. It's what I think of as a high-impact treat. Lots of bang for the buck. Spend your sugar allowance on ice cream at the park and not fruit loops for breakfast every single day or some other crap loaded with HFCS.

While I was in my active weight loss mode, I formulated a rule for myself (guided by Michael Pollan's Food Rules, which I highly recommend). I wouldn't eat what I thought of as "meaningless bread." You know, bread eaten for no reason and for no occasion, just gluteny carbs. But at someone's birthday party, I would have a piece of cake. Just make it matter. Make it an honest treat that means something.

And ice cream at the park is making it matter.

What do you think?

The other, deeper aspect of this that troubles me is the idea that it's normal for your kids to totally fall apart when they don't get what they want. I swear, after the age of two, this is not the case. They need to be more resilient than that. Part of the trick of this is that you've taught them that whining will never, never work, but for Matt and me, it's also that they DO get what they want a lot. They don't feel that life is an endless series of no's, which means that when the answer is no, you can point to all the yesses, and they know more yesses are in the future.

When my kid got excited about the ice cream truck and asked for a treat, I would say, "Okay." And make it a big occasion! "Yay, ice cream! Which one are you going to get?" Then, later at the grocery store, I would say, "No, you don't need that free cookie they give out at the bakery. You had ice cream, remember?" End of story. 

I think the word "permissive" has taken on some slightly negative freight. But I guess our parenting style is basically permissive. I mean, we have core principles and values about what we think is important, but we lean toward saying yes a lot of the time. When one of our kids does complain about not getting/doing something, we're like, "Dude. Listen to yourself! You don't have a leg to stand on here."

Look for my forthcoming book, Dude, Listen to Yourself: Tactful and Respectful Communications with Children.

I wonder if some of these crying Park Slope kids feel that they are in a pitched battle with their parents over every indulgence, so every bit of anything they think they want has to be Custer's Last Stand, and both parties are stressed out over it.

I mean, we all grew up asking for candy in the checkout line at the store, right? I don't remember our parents being too bothered about saying no. In fact, TRUE STORY: Once when I was four or five, I asked for a little plastic suitcase of candy at the cash register at Ben Franklin. My dad said no, but I picked one up and opened it anyway. He took it from me, paid for it, and then poured the candy in the garbage outside the store. So you know him as the kind and loving Camp Papa in my comments, but he is also the Pourer-Out of Candy. THAT HAPPENED. 


Aimee said...


This is why I love you.

I had this conversation with someone earlier in the week. My kids hear the word, "No," and they shrug, say okay, and go on with their lives. They are PROs at hearing No and taking it in stride.

No, it was not always this easy. There were tantrums back in the day. But, oh MY, is it worth it now. So worth it.

There's my unsolicited parenting advice to parents of littles. Say no. Say it a lot. Say yes now and then. The looks of absolute joy and surprise when I say yes? Wow, they rock.

Christian said...

I think I would like your father very much.

Jessica Gottlieb said...

Mommy's afraid of a tantrum so we're going to outlaw the iconic ice cream truck.

I guess the good news is that these kids will never beat my kids out for a job.

Lisa Lilienthal said...

Please don't go on hiatus anymore ever.

delaine said...

Yeah, that Camp Papa is one tough dude! Whe you guys were little, I made a conscious effort to intersperse no amongst the frequent yesses. And, funny thing, they were often applied in the grocery store check out line. But, to tell the truth you kids were never much for "pitching fits" anyway. Frequent yesses didn't hurt your development and occasional nos didn't warp you either. Not one spoiled ax murderer in the bunch! It's all about balance and talking to the child . Thus endeth the lesson for the day.

Veronica said...

OMG, I read that article too. I'm basically with you, though I must admit that I'm glad to hear that it doesn't have to be a battle after the age of 2, because I do sometimes feel like there are tantrums about everything...

I was at a playdate recently at a friend and her son's house, and there was another mom and her daughter there. The hostess mom had baked brownies, and since Shay only occasionally gets for-reals sweets like that, I was all, "Wow, awesome! Shay, look, brownies!" I figure, first of all, it's great that it's homemade and not packaged, and second of all, it's great when the treat is outside of our house so it doesn't seem like an everyday thing that he expects me to have available. Mom #2, on the other hand, with a worried look on her face, broke off a teeny-tiny piece of brownie about the size of a pea and gave it to her daughter, saying to us, "We don't really eat sugar." The poor girl cried most of the rest of the playdate, asking for more brownie, which her mom wouldn't let her have, and I thought, that's going to be a childhood full of battles.

gretchen said...

Well, I'm buying that book. When you write it. And I love that Camp Papa, because you deserved that, girl. I'm afraid I am probably not the one to comment on this, as I let Jude have ice cream almost every day. I know, I know. But he's a scrawny little thing, so... And Jude learned right off that I would never let him have ice cream from those ice cream trucks, not because it's ice cream but because it's nasty ice cream. I mean, definitely low quality - melted, then refrozen. And all you get are those Push up things or maybe a Dora the Explora pop or something - ick.

Amy said...

Yes and Amen! We try to teach our kids that we are, in fact, reasonable people. When we ask them to do something (turn the TV off, go to bed, whatever) and they lose it because the show is over in 5 minutes and they want to see the end, we tell them, "If you would just tell us your reasoning and ASK, 99% of the time, we'd say yes. Meltdowns don't get you what you want." Ava and Nate get it now, but Grace? Not so much.

I am sympathetic to the Jezebel perspective too, but I tend to get annoyed when people with no kids give advice and are kind of contemptuous of parents/kids. Which is also often the perspective there. It's like, Oh really? Thanks for your informed opinion. Now shut up. :)

The story with Dad made me LOL. He did that with you, but I bet by the time Dave came along, he'd have bought him the plastic suitcase and a pack of Hubba Bubba, too.

Amy said...

Just saw Gretchen's comment...I'm the same, actually. The kids get ice cream or some coveted treat nearly everyday. Which makes the protests when I DO say no pretty easy to ignore.

Camp Papa said...

Amy, Becky and Matt always said that David could have been raised by bears...which I've never quite understood. But, by the time he came along we already had a good track record with you two girls and, heck, two outa three will keep you in the major leagues.

Nina said...

Just had a conversation yesterday with Boyfriend about how I was never allowed Mars Bars and he had at least one every single day. I don't feel like I heard too many 'no's, but he definitely didn't hear enough. And now, his internal 'no' is pretty ineffective. There's a funny situation, though, when his nephews visit his mum: she stocks up on chocolate and offers it to them every 5 minutes (to make sure they're not being deprived - and this woman is an early years care trainer, I promise you), and these kids keep telling her 'no'!

Amy said...

You write that book and it's going NYT Non-Fiction Bestseller. Really. Me, I'm buying copies for everyone I know, and all my FB friends too.

I'm also going to say yes an extra time today, just 'cos. Wonder if I can rustle up an ice-cream truck?

AlGalMom said...

I always tell my kids that if they throw a fit when I say "no," that means they need more practice hearing the word "no."

I always say no to ice cream trucks b/c they give me the creeps. I mean, what a perfect job for pedophiles and drug dealers. (I'm not paranoid as a rule, but this is one gut reaction that I don't feel compelled to override.)

Lastly, when I was a kid, my dad bought us donuts at the grocery store. By the time we got back to the car, my brother had finished his but I still had mine, so I taunted him (as any self-respecting older sister would) and my dad took my donut and gave it to my brother. That spoke so strongly to me, it is still indelibly imprinted on my memory. I've had similar opportunities to teach my children not to be little twerps, but don't quite have the cojones to follow suit. Hopefully strongly worded lectures will be partially effective!

Anonymous said...

Oh, Lord, I don't want to sound like one of those provincial NYC types, but I need to render the full picture for you bc I don't think you have it. You may feel the same way after you see it but if I may:

The NYC playground is like yr backyard. If yr kids go outside, it is to the playground, many hours per day. There are v few private outdoor spaces, running & roughhousing in the house is verboten (neighbors! often on all sides!), and honestly, the playgrounds of NYC are the most wonderful places on Earth: kids play together, mixed-ages, conflict-resolution w peers, caregivers playing gin rummy (or whatever) abound.

So imagine if the ice-cream truck rolled into your actual backyard every flipping day. Or, prob a more fit analogy for the suburbs: Imagine the ice-cream truck rolled into the school pickup line every flipping day. And some of the kids would have ice cream and some would not and some kids would dart out while they waited to use their $$ to get ice cream & other parents would be on the hook.

There's also a lot of socioeconomic stuff at work -- primarily that no one feels right depriving the ice-cream dudes of a payday (which they play, like bartenders on wheels) and I could go on, there are language/cultural barriers in this, too, but just the outdoor-space thing is what I wanted to avail, not a freaking dissertation on playgrounds in NYC. I'd already written that on my blog in 2010. Ok, love xoxo

Laura (sweltering) said...

Here in Panama, there's a raspado guy (shaved ice with syrup and sweetened condensed milk) outside my kids school at pick-up every day. My kids have one maybe once a week (usually more like 2 or 3 times a month). And honestly, it isn't hard for them to understand that every day would be too much. That's why it's a treat.

I had exactly the same reaction to the Jezebel article. Loved this post. Thank you.

Becky said...

Good, very helpful annotation, Elle! I can see how the space constraints just ratchet up the pressure on the situation. Plus the fact that these guys are trying to earn a living. I would probably buy ice cream every day in light of these facts, true confesh.

V, the teeny pea-sized bite of brownie just almost made me cry.

Amy, I agree that Jezebel sometimes has that exasperated-with-all-children tone. But they also call it out a good bit. Remember that piece, "Everybody Hates Your Baby"? LOL.

And it's just the truth that my brother was allowed to do basically whatever he wanted. This is not in dispute that I know of. And it seems to have turned out okay, so good job Mom and Dad.

Becky said...

I also wanted to add: Speaking of treats and their doling out, my children were up making cookies with their grandmother before I got out of bed this morning. Makin' it matter!

My Kids' Mom said...

@ Elle... I live across the street from a pool, so the ice cream truck comes by hourly every summer. When my kids were little. I told them it was the "music truck" and we always enjoyed hearing it. Then 5 years later the oldest one (at age 7) came running to tell me that the music truck had ice cream too! Now my deal is that I buy it once each summer month, but I tend to keep ice cream bars and popsicles around at home. They can use allowance for extra treats if they really care.

Again, my mantra: "I'm not raising kids; I'm raising adults."

Kate said...

Well, I popped over to Jezebel for the first time and fear I will be a regular. I totally agree that "permissive" has a negative connotation in parenting circles. I can just say that giving occasional treats makes life sweeter. I have an aquaintance who is totally crazy about food--no transfats/hfcs/anything processed. Nothing. She goes to school functions armed with treats along the lines of kale chips mentioned in that blog post commentary to protect her child from junk food. If she lived in Brooklyn she'd be banning ice cream trucks. Guess what I saw her child eating at the school cafeteria? A corn dog. Yep. Out of mom's restrictive kitchen he doesn't make such healthy choices.

Beth said...

Great conversation. In my house, Daddy almost always says no and I say yes more often. But I agree with Aimee who said that they need to hear no often in order to learn to deal with it.

What I think is going on with these kids with the tantrums is that they work. The tantrums, that is, not the kids. The kids throw a fit and the parents finally give in. I've seen this at work a lot in our community. Guess what kind of adults these kids will grow into? Yep, that's right.

Justine said...

Agreed! I feel the need to mention yours is one of the only feeds I click on in my Google Reader and come to the actual blog post to read; the comments are the best ever of any blog. But you know that already.

And now, I must add my ice cream guy story to the bunch. When we lived in DC, we had much the same experience as Elle with the ice cream guy in our backyard. Only I'll up the ante by relaying that this man apparently didn't understand the creepy value that his track--the first few bars of Beethoven's Fur Elise--added to the experience.

@My Kids' Mom: We TOTALLY called it the "music truck" too and had a similar "the music truck sells ice cream!" epiphany by my daughter. Aw, memories.

My personal favorite was the "other ice cream guy," a smiley old dude who would walk the cart with the bell around the 'hood. He got our money every time! Talk about an entrepreneur.

Becky said...

The Music Truck! You guys are geniuses. It reminds me of how, when Laura was little, she thought the toy store in the mall was just a place you went and played with the toys. She thought it was like an interactive museum, that you couldn't actually bring the toys home.

Justine, thanks for clicking through! Yes, the comments are so often better than the posts. Totally humbling.