a peek inside the fishbowl

18 Jun, 2008

When a small thing is also a very very big thing

Posted by andrea tomkins in: parenting

It took me a long time – dare I say – YEARS before I discovered a little something that has decreased my stress levels by whole bunch.

Here’s the back story.

I pick the girls up from school every day. And every day we walk home. And every day I used to remind the girls to do the same three things.

1) “Don’t forget to wash your hands!”

2) “Unpack your lunch bag!”

3) “Hang up your backpack!”

I said these things, plus a couple of others, every.single.day.

If you were a thinking kind of person you could safely ASSUME that if I said these things five days a week, sometimes three or four times each afternoon, for an entire school year, they’d REMEMBER that they had to wash their hands as soon as they got home from school.

Nay. That is not so.

If I didn’t remind them – multiple times – we’d be sitting down to dinner three hours later and I’d ask, offhandedly, you washed your hands, right?  I could tell by their faces they had not, and so they’d rush off to the powder room, leaving a clouds of cold germs in their wake, for a symbolic rinsing of their sticky, dusty paws. 

Anyway, yes. I hate repeating myself. I hate repeating myself. What I hate, even more, is the progression that happens when I repeat the same things too many times within a very short span of time.

“Don’t forget to wash your hands,” I say, calmly, casually, as we walk in the door.
“Wash your hands girls,” I’d say, calmly, wondering if they heard me the first time.
“Have you washed your hands?” I’d ask while I’m in the kitchen, after having washed my own hands.

By this time my voice will take on a slight tone, and it will escalate from there.


It finally occurred to me that I could just write down my three things and display them somewhere they can easily see them. We have a white board on the interior side of the front door and now it does all the talking for me. All I have to do is say “WHAT DOES THE SIGN SAY” and they know exactly what do to. And for some reason, they do it. No nagging required.

This little thing has gone a long way to saving my sanity. Hallelujah.


9 Responses to "When a small thing is also a very very big thing"

1 | porter

June 18th, 2008 at 4:22 pm


I just read an article about this…where was it???? I think in our local newspaper. I hate, hate, hate nagging the girls to do these types of things too. Speaking of which…now I must run and get on them to put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket and their shoes in the closet…….again.

2 | Ginger

June 18th, 2008 at 6:12 pm


I really like that idea! I am going to use that with my boys one day…you know after they are born and can read and stuff! :)

I hated repeating myself at school thousands of times day. Finally I wrote important things on the board and would just point. Most figured it out and would read the board before asking, but a few still asked.

3 | words words

June 18th, 2008 at 7:54 pm


Genius. I need to put a sign up for my just potty trained son reminding him to pee.

4 | Scattered mom

June 18th, 2008 at 11:53 pm


I’ve been using lists for years on my fridge!

They do help a LOT.

5 | javamom

June 19th, 2008 at 6:49 am


Yes, we are big handwashers here. Every singe time we come home, from shopping or school or the park, there has to be handwashing.

No, you can’t have milk until you wash your hands.
No, you can’t have a snack till you wash your hands.
No, you can’t watch tv/play with toys/yada until you wash your hands.

Is it working? He’s 3….so…um…sometimes. But only if I say it out loud at least, um…twice. Ok, 3 times. Or more times….

6 | BeachMama

June 19th, 2008 at 8:14 am


Oh Thank you.

For admitting that your voice takes on ‘that tone’ when you repeat yourself so many times. Hubby thinks I am losing it, but I told him when you repeat something forty times a day, by 5pm (when he gets home) you are tired, very tired and the tone stays until everyone is in bed. I am trying very hard not to use the tone and trying to not have to repeat myself. Fortunately J does wash his hands as soon as he comes in, but there are so may other things I have to say over and over again…

Thank you.

7 | andrea

June 19th, 2008 at 8:40 am


I’ve mentioned this before, but you know what also helps with “the tone” ? Pretending that you’re being filmed for an episode of Supernanny.

8 | andrea

June 19th, 2008 at 8:41 am


I forgot to mention, there’s a fourth thing on our list: “Play before dinner.”

That’s important too.


9 | J.

June 19th, 2008 at 9:58 am


Thanks fantastic news. Taking down notes for when I have kids as we speak. :)

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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