If You Give A Mouse A Cookie…

Deciding When To ‘Give In’ And When To Hold Your Ground

“Can I have a snack??”

No sweet boy. You just ate lunch and when we get home, we are going to take a nap. After your nap, you can have a snack.

”I want a snack BEFORE my nap.”

You are not going to have a snack before your nap. The answer is no.

“Can I please have a snack before my nap?”

I noticed you used a really calm voice that time to ask but the answer is still no.


I hear you saying you want a snack. You can choose to keep asking but the answer will still be no. After your nap, you can have a snack.


We did not have a peaceful drive home from school on Monday. In fact, it was the opposite of peaceful. Keener was making enough noise for himself, Grace, and myself that I made it a point to be calm and quiet. No additional amount of noise was needed.

He continued to cry the entire way home from school. Once we got upstairs, I told him if he didn’t stop crying, I wasn’t going to be able to read him stories before his nap. I informed him:

You are making a choice to cry right now. If you don’t stop crying, I am not going to read you books as you won’t be able to hear me. You are choosing to cry right now. Are you going to stop so we can read or are you going to choose to keep crying?

“I’m choosing to keep crying.”

That’s fine. I am putting you in your bed. Do you need a hug first?

A tearful, “Yes.”

We will read books when you wake up instead. I gave him a huge hug and put him in his bed. He continued crying for about 10 minutes until he fell asleep, which in total was about 45 minutes of tears.

Sometimes we find ourselves, as parents, adding to the chaos. I went to a friend’s wedding on Saturday and the entire flight there, the mother of a toddler was trying to keep her child happy. However, what she didn’t realize was that she was adding to the chaos. She met every one of his complaints with endless questions, bribes and attempts to distract him. Asking him if he wants to do stickers 37 times in one minute when the answer was clearly no was not helpful. But I know where she was coming from — I’ve been there.

When Keener woke up at 5:20 AM on Tuesday morning claiming he was starving and asking for apple slices, I decided to give the mouse a cookie. My response was not the same as it had been at 1:30 pm the day before. I told him he was going to eat them and then go back to sleep as it was not morning yet. He agreed and did exactly that.

Why did I give him a snack at 5:20 AM and not at 1:30 PM? There were a host of variables influencing my decision making. While on the one hand I don’t want to reinforce him waking up at that time and asking for a snack (which may happen if I always give him a snack), I also know that every time I have done so he has eaten his snack and gone right back to sleep. So maybe he really is starving? Maybe he is totally playing me? If you give a mouse a cookie, will he always want a glass of milk?

One thing I am always reflecting on is my role in Keener’s meltdowns. Am I adding to his frustrations with my words or actions? Is what he really needs is for me to stop talking? For Monday’s meltdown, I know that I was “causing it” by my answer being “no.” If I had really wanted to stop the meltdown dead in its tracks, I’m pretty sure having said “yes”’ to a snack would have led to a more enjoyable car ride home. Which is why on an airplane, we are more apt to “say yes” to try and eliminate the public nature of the melt down.

The problem with this for me lies in a few areas:

  • How do I not lose credibility if I change my mind from NO to YES?
  • How do I teach him that sometimes the answer to the same question is YES and sometimes it’s NO?
  • How do I teach my child better coping strategies so he doesn’t resort to melting down when he doesn’t get his way?
  • How do I know when to really listen to what my kid is asking? Is he in a growth spurt and he really is starving? I hadn’t checked his lunch box – maybe he didn’t eat much of his lunch.
  • How do I know when to give a mouse a cookie and when to really put my foot down?

I have written about this before on my post about role playing and giving children the language you want them to use.

My mind is challenged the most on wanting to avoid the meltdown (i.e., giving them what they want) while also teaching them the ever important life lesson – you don’t always get what you want. I certainly don’t want to be raising children that cheat, cut in line, or steal simply because they wanted something or were told no. But how do we teach these important skills without losing our minds, having our kids lose their minds, and avoiding public embarrassment?

Staying Calm

My steps for role playing have definitely helped. I also think that staying calm is a big part of the answer. “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.” – L.R. Knost

While I had never seen this quote before naming my blog, a girlfriend sent it to me assuming I had used it as my inspiration. I love it. And it speaks to me 100%. When we are calm in response to our children’s big emotions, we are giving them a gift. We are:

  •  Modeling for them how to stay calm in the midst of chaos
  • Being their rock of support when they need it most
  • Staying level headed which will help brainstorm solutions
  • Responding with compassion
  • Acting our age, not theirs

One of our biggest roles as parents is knowing our kids well enough to know when giving the cookie will suffice, and when giving the cookie sets them up for wanting the glass of milk, a straw, and a napkin. I don’t have a perfect answer.  But I do know that sharing our calm and not joining their chaos is a good place to start.


  1. Jenny, this is a brilliant post. It brings me back to a talk that I heard a number of years ago — the presenter said that if your child came running into the room on fire, would you say “you shouldn’t have played with matches, I told you to be careful around open flames, you should always stay away from people who are acting dangerously”? No — of course not. First things first: put out the fire. Oftentimes our toddlers, and our teenagers, are on fire emotionally. Calmly — he said — it has to be calmly! put out the fire! Then get to the bottom of what caused this fire!

    • Thanks Beth! I love the fire metaphor. They certainly can be on fire emotionally and are looking to us for help. I need to explore more ways to help myself react calmly – a work in progress for sure!

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