Tuesday, 7 April 2009

A Sad Little Story

I went to get my hair cut at one of those walk-in places last week and ran into a situation that just made my heart ache.

There was a family group ahead of me composed of a woman in her late forties, at a guess, her married daughter, the daughter's husband and toddler and a second daughter, at least eight, whom the mother referred to as 'my youngest'. When I got there the toddler's father was having his hair cut and the young mother was trying to persuade the little guy to have his done also. Toddler was having none of it, screaming 'No, NOOO!' and trying to pry the door open to escape. The little girl was next, before me, and she was acting so much like the toddler that it was hard to tell the difference. Her mother was trying to persuade her that she should have her hair layered and trimmed but she had selected a very extreme cut from a magazine and wanted nothing but that.

As her mother tried to persuade her, she hauled open the door and stormed out. Her mother shrugged and asked the hairdresser to hold her place while she tried to persuade her. So, we waited.

After a bit, little miss came storming back in with mother, still arguing. She refused to get in the chair. By this time other customers had come in. The poor, beleaguered hairdresser signalled for me to sit down and started cutting my hair. Little miss demanded to have hers cut; her mother said that her bad behaviour had caused her to miss her turn and that she would have to wait. While my hair was cut, the argument continued, with little miss now thumbing through the sample books looking for another style and mother insisting that she was to have 'layers and a trim'. Another hairdresser finished a client; little miss refused to have her do the cutting.

Little miss was also consuming a steady stream of the suckers that children get after their hair is cut, taking them out of the box on the counter herself, in spite of her mother's orders that she stop.

Mother did not enforce her orders. She did not try to stem the behaviour. She seemed to be uninvolved emotionally. In fact, she chatted with her other daughter and with us while this was going on, but without referring to the girl's actions, other than to say that she, herself, was a hairdresser but preferred not to cut the girl's hair herself as it was 'too much trouble.'

When I got out of the chair, mother directed little miss to climb in. Little miss refused and continued to look at the books and magazines. Mother then said that since the girl was not ready, they would leave. Little miss screamed, stamped and banged the books around. Her mother stood with the door open, saying that they were leaving, and went out. The girl stood in the doorway and screamed at the top of her lungs. Just a series of shrieks.

Perhaps the little girl was behaviourally challenged in some way; certainly her actions were far more characteristic of a two year old than of an average girl of her age. Her language level and ability to read would indicate, however, that she was of normal intelligence. That would not preclude ADD or autism spectrum disorders. Whatever, her mother was certainly not helping; she was confrontational, uncompromising and seeming uninvolved in and unembarrassed by her daughter's over the top display. If the girl was simply an uncontrolled average kid, her mother was totally at fault, in my estimation. In either case, I think she should have been taken out of the salon when she started to create and, certainly, have never been brought back for a second try.

I felt very sorry for both of them, but my heart really bled for little miss. Judging by the twenty minutes or so during which I watched the action, the girl did not know the boundaries of appropriate behaviour nor have any method of getting what she wanted other than disobedience and screaming. If she was a child with a disability she should not have been handled that way; if she was a normal child she had, very obviously, never been given rules or boundaries. And it seemed to me that her mother did not care.

Kids, I believe, need rules. Boundaries to their behaviours inside which they can feel safe. Techniques (good manners with strange adults, for one) that they can trust to work and to make them likeable. How to bargain for what they want badly. Structure. Support. This poor little kid did not seem to have any of these things. She was angry and, I think, frightened of her own anger. She was frustrated and had no way to express the frustration other than to scream.

There are a lot of children with behavioural problems who need skilled help. She may be one of them. In our province many of these children are presently waiting to be diagnosed at the request of teachers whose access to services is ludicrously small. Even when the children are diagnosed, ever growing numbers of them are on waiting lists because the service providers have no funds to hire staff to deal with them. There are caps in this year of economic downturn on a lot of the programs funded by the Ontario government through the Ministry of Health and Social Services; no money is available even for the programs that are up and running.

There are also a lot of average children whose behaviour is out of control because no one in their life has consistently tried to teach them how to act in a way that will bring them success. No one has helped them learn to govern their tempers, to share, to have patience, to get along with other people. No one has, if you will excuse the plain speaking, civilized them.

Both of these lacks are sickening, because it is the children who suffer in the long term, not the adults who fail to provide the help and support. I ended up wishing that someone would pour a pail of cold water over the head of little miss screamer. And that's horrible. Because I think every adult in the hair cutters' establishment was thinking much the same. While, in fact, she was suffering a lot more than we were, poor thing.


  1. I could not agree more with this. With every word of it, in fact. Sigh. It IS a sad story.

  2. yikes.

    yesterday a friend was telling me about her sister and BIL who were raising their toddler without spanking and without time outs. I thought, what's left? Yes, they reason with him. They are going to be so burnt out before that kid even starts school. Their explanation was that the father had had a very strict upbringing and wanted to do things differently. Friend is having them for visitors soon and she is very interested to see how things are going. Me too.

  3. Sometimes, one almost wishes that potential parents had to pass a license requirement in order to have kids.

  4. We have to get a license for having a dog (or at least certification of appropriate vet care) - and yet anyone can raise a child. While I all for freedom of action, when you take responsibility for another life, there should be both training and consequences.

    My two cents.

  5. Whenever I read stories like this one, I am always dumbfounded. How can parents not parent. I mean for me it would take more effort to abdicate parental responsibility than to show it. I don't know how to not be embarrassed in public. I don't know how to correct my child (sometimes gently, sometimes forcibly). I don't know how to not let her help me make dinner, do chores, or engage in any other manner of learning activity. Wouldn't it be hard NOT to parent. I wonder what the circumstances of the mother's life were that rendered her so ill-fit for parenting.

  6. Anvil Cloud and W -- I could not agree more!

    Mad, I know. I needed to do something for or about little miss screamer -- I promised the YD when she hit 21 that I would stop bringing her up but it is a promise I have not always been able to keep.
    And, yes, I wondered about mother. Her face was the shipwreck of what once had been beauty.

  7. Oh how I agree with you! Very sad story though. Thanks for the comment on my blog, looks like we both had issues with the same thing last week.

    Anvil Cloud and W made an excellent point. There should be some licensing/course for these parents.

  8. Dog licensing does not teach the dog owner anything. Dog licensing is just a way of registering the dog with the government.

    Sorry it's a side note but that argument always drives me crazy. I do agree that parenting classes would be helpful -- but! Can you imagine the fights over THAT curriculum?!

  9. I think the problem stems from parents wanting to be their children's friends. My theory is that the kids have enough friends in their lives that they don't need another. What they need are parents. Who parent.

  10. oh. those scenes are so painful to watch. you just feel so helpless