Care and Feeding

How Do I Keep My Son From Becoming a Mansplainer

He’s only 4, but his favorite phrase is “well, actually … ”

A young boy holds his finger up to make a point.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Am I raising a mansplainer? My son is almost 5, and he has always been very voluble and also willful. For the past few months, he has taken to interrupting us when we are talking and saying, “Actually! Actually …” He does this to both me, his mother, and to his father, my spouse. It occurs when we are explaining things to him, and of course he is always really wrong, because he is 4 and these are often topics that we have a Ph.D. in. It also occurs nearly every time my spouse is telling him a story, because he thinks the story should go a different way. We are trying to work on the interruptions, and I’ve tried telling him to ask questions about his understanding instead of saying “actually,” but he still does it. My spouse is not concerned. He notes that we explain things to each other a lot and thinks our son is just picking up on that dynamic. But I think that we need to curb the way our kid is “explaining” things before he becomes permanently insufferable. For context, he has trouble with impulsivity, emotional control, and paying attention to instructions both at home and at school. He has been evaluated and does not have autism, sensory issues, or developmental delays, but he might have ADHD (they saw signs but didn’t want to diagnose him yet). He seems of usual intelligence and reads at a first- to second-grade level. He is our only child. Is his behavior age-typical? Will he grow out of it, or should we work on it more? What do you suggest?

—Embarrassed by the Mansplaining

Dear Embarrassed,

I don’t like to fall back on my personal parenting experience here because if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that every kid is different. But in this case I thought it might reassure you to know that my kid went through a mansplaining phase around that same age, then grew out of it. Was it because we made it clear to him how much his “actually”-ing annoyed us, or did he just get over the thrill of ad-libbing longwinded, patently wrong explanations? We’ll never know. The only thing that’s certain is that you don’t have to worry (yet!) about raising a ’splainer. Maybe you can reframe some of these interactions as opportunities to give your son a receptive audience for his cockamamie theories, at least some of the time. If you listen patiently and ask questions, his monologues could turn into interesting conversations! And even if that doesn’t happen, merely thinking of what he’s doing as “practicing his storytelling” rather than “mansplaining” might be a step in the right direction, with the caveat that you don’t have to stop being annoyed, or bite your tongue when you’re interrupted by Professor Pre-K.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a typical parenting question that might give you reprieve from COVID anxiety-related questions! My husband and I are in the woes of potty training. Our daughter is 4 and we didn’t get her to pee on the potty until the beginning of the pandemic, when she was 3½. She only started because we took her Pull-Ups away. Now, we’re trying to encourage her to poop on the potty, and it’s a no-go so far. I’ve been trying to take a relaxed stance on this. My husband, not so much. It’s very obvious that this stresses him out. I know she’s on the later, but not unheard of, end of potty training. She’s had no developmental delays. In fact, she’s been ahead on almost every baby and toddler milestone. I’m not sure what to do here because I know I can’t force her to go! We’ve tried sticker charts and treats, and other prizes to get her to go on the toilet, and she just doesn’t seem to care! Do you have any advice on how to tackle this?

—Potty Training Woes

Dear P.T.W.,

Right now, it’s probably hard to believe your daughter will ever be potty-trained, but I’m here to assure you that in a very short time, she will be, after which you will forget pretty much immediately that any of this ever happened. It is stressful, though! I understand where your husband is coming from. The sticker charts, treats, and obvious frustration are currently working against you, I fear—kids this age are beginning to understand how generally powerless they are, and consequently they wield what little power they have with an iron fist (i.e., sphincter).

See what happens when you start giving your daughter more control of other things in her life. Make a big deal of letting her pick out her clothes or choose what she’ll have for breakfast. Meanwhile, be as laissez-faire about the bathroom as you can be. For a few days, don’t bring it up at all, and after that maybe offer using the toilet as an option as casually as you offer her waffles or oatmeal. Feign total neutrality and maybe you’ll be surprised by the results.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 5-year-old daughter is in a “pandemic pod” on remote learning days with three other neighborhood kids her age. We have spent time with all of the families separately, but are particularly close to one of the families. Their son Tim and my daughter are almost like siblings. Tim is a smart, curious, outgoing kid. He is also highly sensitive to things not going his way, moves to anger as his primary response to difficulties, and can be verbally and, at times, physically aggressive. I see that the caregiver is spending a lot of time managing Tim’s behavior, and I am now hearing from the other parents that their kids go home and complain about his behavior (one to the point of tears). My daughter talks about his behavior fairly neutrally, because she is so familiar with it. I am not sure having Tim in the pod is safe and sustainable, but I am guilt-stricken at the idea of asking these neighbors to find another caregiving arrangement. Help.

—Trouble in Pandemic Paradise

Dear T.P.P.,

My first thought is that four kids to one caregiver is a lot. Even just for that reason alone, it sounds like it’s time to sit down (safely, natch) with all the parents involved and talk about what’s working and what’s not. Pod school is a pretty strange and high-pressure situation, and there is inevitably going to be trial and error involved. I hope everyone you’re dealing with here has it in them to be flexible and roll with the punches—ideally, not literal punches.

One thing to mention when you talk to your podmates is that in regular school, kids have to learn how to deal with fellow students who misbehave. I’m not saying you ought to be purposely re-creating the worst aspects of in-person school, but it is worth thinking about the Tims of the world, writ large—the kids who are going to be automatically excluded from these kinds of opportunities simply because they’re harder to corral into their laptop lessons. It’s not your fault, of course, and there’s not much you can do about the larger problem. But maybe making sure your pod explores other options before booting Tim could be a step in the right direction.

For more of Slate’s parenting coverage, listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting

Dear Care and Feeding,

Is it OK to refuse to play board and card games with my family? These games are always fraught with tension, expletives, name-calling, and outright conflict and I find them too stressful. My husband is very focused on winning—and good at playing—and has sort of learned to lose gracefully. He covers his desire to win at all costs in joking, and to give him credit, doesn’t get overtly angry or mean (like my father did). Our children hate losing, and also hate every single little setback along the way, and their joking is overtly mean and aggressive. No one is mean to me, as they know I won’t tolerate it—I just leave—but their mutual accusations of cheating and disputes over minor issues are unbearable. I have asked that we tone it down, but no one does or can. I have tried to focus on collaborative games or games that leave little room for cheating (like Scrabble). But the tension and meanness persists. What stops me from outright refusing is that games is the love language of my youngest. I play some games just with her (like Spot It) because it means so much to her. But without games, it’s hard for her to have a place in family togetherness. She just doesn’t engage in family conversations. So if I don’t play, we don’t have any activities together as a family that include her.

—Caught Between Poker and Monopoly

Dear C.B.P.M.,

Wow, there is so much going on here! It sounds like playing games with your family brings up bad memories about your own father, and I’m so sorry about that. It also sounds like your husband has taught your older kids to play games in a very combative way, which they all seem to enjoy. Some people really do love to fight, and maybe it’s a useful outlet for them. Regardless, of course it’s OK to leave them to their games, and to find some other way to connect with your youngest. Family activities don’t have to include every family member. It’s OK to avoid family togetherness if it makes you miserable! Honor your own preferences and don’t let these jerks push you around. Find something that you like to do as much as they like to play games and make it a non-negotiable part of your schedule.

— Emily

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