Bad Cop

Rebecca Nelson Lubin
guest column Last week, Lila wrote in with a great comment, about how it is very hard for some Nannies to say “no” to their charges, and suggested that I might run with that topic for a future article. Lila, I would write about that in a heartbeat, except I know nothing about that breed of Nanny, for the truth is that “no” is one of those words that tends to fly out of my mouth with great speed and fortitude in continuous five minute cycles throughout any given day. I even have been given a nickname at work. It is “Bad Cop.”

I was raised in the 70’s, truthfully, a decade of decadence and debauchery, absent parenting and divorces, and tons of parents burnt out from the big old sixties party that had preceded my formative years, but my parents, even though they were beatnik artist types that hailed from the East Village, had a stable, strong marriage, and were big on discipline. There were no elbows on our tables. We children went to bed clean and well groomed and well before 8pm. We did not eat anywhere but at the dining room table. Talking back earned you solitary. I balked against these rules as a child – and even more as a teenager - and thought them both overbearing and unrealistic. I longed to live in a place where one could eat a cracker in the car, or a cookie on the couch with the TV blaring loud. I often imagined myself as a grownup, living in a rule-relaxed atmosphere, my shoes up on the sofa, dirty laundry piled on the floor, and a wet towel on my bed. Ah, heaven.

But then, of course, I grew up, and began paying for all my own stuff. A car, my mother likes to say, is the equivalent of a $25,000 sofa. Do you really want to let kids eat all over your $25,000 sofa? And the sugar thing. All kids want to exist on a diet of crap. As I once did. But once you learn about nutrition and read all those articles about childhood obesity and early onset diabetes, well, I make sure to pack healthy snacks and little water bottles for our outings. Every lunch I pack is loaded with fruits and vegetables. I’m even stingy on dessert. As a child I used to cry out in protest at the teensy tiny slices of homemade pie my mother served to us. My Father called those wafer thin slices “cheap pieces” and my brothers and I couldn’t have agreed with him more. I swear you could see through them. But now, I would skip serving dessert all together if my employers would let me. Dessert is the first thing on the chopping block of bad behavior related consequences that I will begin to list at the first blush of disobedience. It goes a little something like this:

The four-year-old boy will not remove himself from the car. I am standing by his door with three re-usable grocery bags slung over one shoulder, which are planet friendly, but are digging into my skin, and his seventeen month old sister on my other hip who is trying to remove items from my handbag and throw them on the lawn. I say firmly,

“Four year old boy, if you do not remove yourself from this car by the time I count to three, there will be major consequences.”

He begins to move before I can say “one” for he knows well what “major consequences” entails. Loss of dessert, television, audio entertainment (the ipod in the car. It’s a hit) Thomas trains, bedtime book reading, and for the really heinous crimes, solitary bedroom confinement.

The truth is, it’s easier to let bad behavior go. Making a toddler toe the line takes up a great deal of time. But just as I am not one of those nannies that always say yes, I am also one of those Nannies that feel amazingly invested in the lives of the children I care for. I love them and I care about the people they grow up to be. If that makes me act the Bad Cop, so be it!
Rebecca Nelson Lubin is a writer and Nanny who resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. You may read more of her articles at


nannybee said...

I am often the bad cop at work as well, and I'm totally ok with that. I've heard my 4 and 6 year old charges whispering about how my kids will never be allowed to have dessert. It cracks me up.

Food for Thought said...

Oh, man, I hate it when adults use food as a bargaining chip. Games, toys, electronics, sure. But food? Really? What happens when they turn 13 and realize that food is the one thing they CAN control? Major issues could erupt. And before you yell at me, I said COULD. But given the fact that Anorexia Nervosa has the highest death rate of all mental illnesses and obesity is killing thousands of people by the day, food shouldn't be a bargaining tool.

anon1 said...

Anonymous said...

You know, Food for Thought has a point. It's important that children learn about nutrition from a young age in a less extreme way than they will discover it from pop culture. I find it severely depressing when I hear fit teens worrying about what they eat. Healthiness is important, but shouldn't be the obsession that pop culture makes it into.

nycmom said...

I totally agree with Food for Thought. I have no issue with almost any other form of punishement that I have heard of, but I try NEVER to use food as a punishement with my kids. I don't see dessert as a reward for good behavior. I think it's part of having balance in your meals. I would never threaten withholding dessert. Just as I would never use "you must eat extra broccoli" as a punishment. Both send the wrong message: sweets = good child; vegetables = bad child. It's a setup for a lifelong poor relationship with food.

another nanny said...

I agree with not using food for reward/punishment (although I find it hard to avoid at times). But overall, let's hear it for strong discipline. I get so tired of parents who feel guilty for setting limits with their kids. That's part of teaching them and if they grow up thinking they are entitled to whatever they want, how do you expect them to deal with life's inevitable disappointments?

christine said...

I went to my son's 1st grade conference many years ago and the teacher was telling me how, just that day, he had dropped his crayons and it took him the entire snack time to pick them up, so he had gone without his snack. I asked her what time lunch was and she replied 12:45. I explained to her that he was dropped off at his child care provider at 7:30 and ate his breakfast at around 7 am. I was very angry and made sure she understood that it was not to happen again. He was only six!

Then, I went straight to the principal's office and he agreed with me. Food should never be used as a punishment or reward.

hmmmm said...

Uh Christine...that was not a case of food being used as a punishment or a reward. That was a case of your son learning that, if he takes a really long time doing something else, he won't get to participate in the activity that the other children are participating in while he's doing that thing. What is the teacher supposed to do, continue snack time forever while your child picks up his crayons slowly? Then what lesson does your child learn? That the world revolves around him. It just coincidentally happened to be snack time, and I'm sure that if he had dropped his crayons during play time or music time and spent that whole time picking up the crayons, he wouldn't have been able to participate in those activities either. He may be "only six" but going from 7 am to 12:45 pm without eating anything for one day is hardly going to damage him.

Simone. Australian nanny said...

Hi rebecca. I grew up as a 70's child like you and my parents brought me up exactly the way you where brought up. Infact we are the same age. I work for 2 famlies and both families ask me to be the countrng rule you use I use that as well and it works . With little miss 3 year old from family number 2 i only have to raise 1 fingeer count to 1 and she does what she is told. With family number 1 i have been with them for 10 and a half years and the 11 year old boys know their bounderis. The only time my counting rule back fired is when twin number 2 said i will only do what i am told if you stop counting . He was 3 an the time.

christine said...


I see your point and you're right.

Anonymous said...


LOL, what a power play that little boy made! He must be smart to realize how to control the situation at 3yo...if you keep counting, you're "in control" but know he will not obey, if you stop counting, sure he obeys but only on his terms with things under his control.

What did you do?