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Avoiding Escalation – The Use of Marshmallows in Creative Parental Negotiation Techniques

John-Morgan @

Laylee was mad.  The anger was sudden and strong and it was the kind of anger that grows and brews and is pretty hard to deal with patiently.  She was the kind of mad that leads to power struggles, words of parental censure, banishment to bedrooms, and lots of door slamming.

It was a couple of weeks ago and neither Dan nor I can remember what exactly set her off but it was some gross injustice like Magoo getting to sit next to Wanda at the dinner table even though it was CLEARLY Laylee’s turn.

She said something snotty to Dan, one of those comments you just want to smack off her face so you send her away while you regain composure.  I remember my mom telling me to “get that look off” my face when I was Laylee’s age and I guess Laylee's inherited that look.  I could see Dan’s face reddening and I knew we were in for a stormy evening.

Then, quite unexpectedly, he reached into the cupboard, pulled out a handful of mini-marshmallows and walked to where she sat glowering.

“Close your eyes,” he commanded.


“Just close your eyes and open your mouth.”

Laylee looked up at him skeptically before reluctantly doing what she was told.  The second her eyes were closed and her lasagna hatch was open, he stuffed it full of tiny white bits of sugary goodness.

She grinned and then laughed as she tried to keep all the marshmallows from spilling out onto the floor.  One leftover angry tear ran down her cheek.  She wiped it and then giggled out of the room in a delightful mood.

No escalation.  No bad memories of mean evil parents who obviously don’t love you because they refuse to let you treat them like garbage.  Just silliness and diffusion.

Dan is a parenting genius.  Most of the time he’s lovingly firm with the kids but he knows just the right time to use a spoonful of sugar to heal someone’s ‘tude.

A couple of days later he and I were sitting on the couch watching an episode of Castle, our weekly TV date show.  Oh how we love Castle.  We curl up with my laptop, navigate to Hulu and watch it once the kids are in bed.

But this week we got right to the most exciting part of the episode when Magoo came bouncing downstairs as though we hadn’t tucked him into bed AN HOUR AND A HALF earlier. 

“Hey mom!” he grinned.  Then he tried to make his face look serious.  “I have this red part on my thumb and it looks like it’s gonna bleed!”

Dan paused our show, his eyes rolling back in his head.  This was not his night to play it cool.  But as he started to command Magoo back to bed, I remembered the marshmallows and pulled the little munchkin onto my lap and examined his thumb closely.

“This looks very serious,” I said, “I bet if you head up to bed and go to sleep it will turn green in the night, green with purple spots.”

“NO it WON’T!” he groaned.

“Well then you’ll be right and I’ll be wrong,” I conceded, “But we won’t find out until you go upstairs and rest it for the night.”

“Okay,” he grinned as he headed up, “But I know you’re wrong.”

I may have been wrong about the thumb but I was way right in that parenting moment.   Less than two minutes and he was back in bed with no fighting, no tears.  I love when a little sweetness and fun can get you out of a power struggle.  Let’s just hope it still works when they’re teenagers.  We may need to buy some bigger marshmallows.