Award-winning author, L.R.Knost

My Little Caboose & the Very Bad, Horrible, No Good…Month :(

[Portions reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]


The things that challenge us are the very things that refine, strengthen, and grow us. Each of my children has stretched and molded and defined my parenting beliefs in their own unique way through the years. And, as is so often the case in life, it is times when I am not at my best that my children seem to need the most from me. Here is a recent ‘mommy fail’ that has reminded me of my blessings and redefined, once again, my priorities and purpose.

~~A Confession and a Challenge~~

~The Confession~

This adorable little person has been a royal pain in the ‘caboose’ for the last few weeks. She has whined, cried, ignored direct requests, climbed on me, hung on me, played with her food, snatched things from the baby, been in my face and space incessantly, and on and on.  And the more difficult she got, the more I ‘powered up’ on her. Oh, I didn’t yell or punish. No, I pulled out all my gentle parenting techniques, spoke calmly and respectfully to her, offered diversions and alternatives, read her books and provided lots of reasonable and kind council. She occasionally responded with a half-hearted attempt at cooperation or humorously declined to cooperate, but more often than not just dug in her heels and determinedly upset the normally peaceful and happy timbre of our home.


And then it happened. A few nights ago, I stood in the shower listening to the goings-on outside the door (A mama’s ears are the proverbial ‘eyes in the back of her head’ you know!), and it hit me. Over and over, I heard my older children tell my little caboose, “No,” as she made one unfortunate decision after another. Over and over, I heard her whine and argue and cry. Over and over, I heard the older ones correct her, not hatefully or harshly, but repeatedly, gently, and firmly. And, over and over, I realized I was hearing myself as my older children reflected what they were seeing and hearing from me…repeated, gentle, firm correction…but no listening…none. And my heart broke. I realized that I had been parenting from a position of disconnect from my precious little caboose. Between jumping through all the hoops necessary to get a homeschooler into a pre-med university program to working with my publisher on the super slow and cumbersome process of getting my books onto store shelves, to writing an upcoming book, my busy schedule had overtaken my parenting.



How many times had I told my little caboose “Just a minute” when she needed me? How often had that ‘minute’ stretched into an hour? How many times had my eyes strayed back to my computer screen in the middle of one of her stories about how terribly painful the invisible scratch on her pinky toe was or how pretty the light looked as it danced through the dust motes in front of the window? How often had she fallen asleep waiting, waiting, waiting for me to come and read her a bedtime story? (Oh, my mommy’s heart hurts.)


And so I took my own advice…advice I’ve given umpteen times to other mamas who were experiencing a ‘parenting disconnect.’ I took my disgruntled, whiney, clingy, disruptive child (who I felt like sending to her room just so I could get a break and to make her think about her actions and to get her behavior ‘back in line’) and I pulled her closer than close, under my mama’s wing. I took her everywhere with me. I let her sleep on a pallet next to my bed. We cooked dinner together and made a museum out of her paintings and folded towels together. And I listened and listened and listened…intentionally and thoughtfully and responsively. And my little caboose and I reconnected. In just a matter of days, life returned to its normal cadence of what we affectionately call ‘joyful chaos.’ People see the difference and ask me, “What did you do?” And I simply respond, “I listened.”


Here’s a little story to illustrate…

~The Little Caboose Who Almost Came Loose~

The little caboose chugged along, clickety-clack, clickety-clack, happy as could be as she followed her mama engine and brother and sister cars along the tracks. Up and down hills, around curves and through tunnels they went, all strung together with their secure couplings. And at the end of each day, they headed back to the station to get all fueled up and rested for the next glorious day. One day, the little caboose was startled when mama engine took off extra early without checking to make sure all the couplings were tightened. As they chugged forward, the little caboose could feel her coupling slipping a bit, and she ‘choo-chooed’ loudly to get mama engine’s attention. But mama engine was too busy to notice and kept picking up speed as they began their journey up and down the hills. Alarmed now, little caboose tried to pull backwards and slow the train down, but mama engine chugged on, ‘choo-chooing’ encouragingly. Little caboose felt her coupling getting looser and looser as mama engine sped toward the dangerous curves and tunnels ahead. In a panic, little caboose screeched ‘choo-choo’ over and over and tugged and pulled backward frantically. Mama engine just chugged on, this time ‘choo-chooing’ firmly and giving a gentle extra tug forward. Little caboose spent the rest of the day screeching ‘choo-choo’ and pulling and tugging backward until they finally arrived back at the station, everyone exhausted and cranky from the difficult day. Little caboose was so overwrought from the fear of being disconnected all day that she continued to screech ‘choo-choo’ and pull at her coupling even after they were stopped for the night. Mama engine chugged ominously in her direction, determined to restore order, but suddenly paused, hearing for the first time the fear and exhaustion in little caboose’s ‘choo-choos.’ She looked carefully and noticed the loose coupling. Pulling little caboose closer than close, mama engine tightened the coupling and ‘choo-chooed’ a soft, reassuring lullaby, and little caboose finally stopped her screeching and tugging and relaxed gratefully into her mama engine’s embrace.


~The Challenge~

If you have a parenting issue right now, any parenting issue at all for any age child, take a mental snapshot of what a typical day looks like at the moment. Then take one week, just a single week out of your life, and listen to your child. Listen intentionally. Listen consciously. Create opportunities for your child to talk. Open conversations to get them started, then stop talking and stop planning your response and stop mentally going over your to-do list and just listen. Take your child with you whenever you can, wherever you’re going. Involve them in your day. Invite them into your life. ENJOY them and get to know them, get to really KNOW the unique and remarkable person they are. They are a precious, priceless gift, and their childhood will be over before you know it. And, at the end of that week, take another mental snapshot of what a day with your child looks like. Then you can decide which path to take. Will you go backward or forward? Is connecting with your child worth your time and effort? What will you choose?

Related posts:

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child

The Problem with Punishment

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

Bridge Over Troubled Waters~Parenting a ‘Problem’ Child

Rethinking Tattling

Fear Doesn’t Lead to Faith: Becoming Your Child’s Safe Place

Spare the Rod: The Heart of the Matter



Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.

11 Responses

  1. I have “Mommy dates” with my angels. Planned one on one time to just reconnect. =)

    September 19, 2011 at 1:29 am

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  3. MrsWalker

    This was so lovely, and exactly what I needed to hear.

    My son is only 18 months but I’ve been seeing his desire to be heard frustrating him, and making him lash out. It’s hard to connect when we don’t understand each other’s words yet, but I hope he sees that I’m trying.

    May 29, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    • L.R. Knost

      It’s a learning process for all of us, mama. We’re learning ‘on the job’ and our little ones are learning…well, everything from scratch, lol! I like to (mis)quote Dorrie from Nemo, “Just keep listening. Just keep listening.” Staying in tune with our small people requires a lot of trial and error (and, yes, we all do make mistakes!) but luckily children are far more forgiving of us than we are of ourselves! 🙂

      May 29, 2012 at 11:05 pm

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  8. Help! I am using your wise words but it’s not working. I listen when my 4yo tells me he wants peach yoghurt and I explain there is none in the fridge, but we can go to the store and buy more in the shopping next week. He then smashes his strawberry yoghurt into the table and kicks the cat 🙁 If he is not instantly gratified he vents his frustration by hurting the cat or his sister or smashing something up. I suggest he punch pillows or we can go outside for a run and he says he wants to hurt his sister and the cat cause it’s funny 🙁

    February 1, 2013 at 5:05 am

    • L.R. Knost

      I hear you, mama. Little ones have such a hard time handling frustration and disappointment, don’t they? Keep in mind three things: 1.) Be positive in your presentation (i.e. “Wow! You must really love peach yoghurt. You ate it all up! You must be a peach-monster!” *tickle his little tummy* “Let’s choose another snack, and while you’re eating it we’ll make a grocery list and put peach yoghurt right on the very top for when we go shopping next week!”); 2.) If he still gets upset, validate his emotions instead of explaining why he shouldn’t be disappointed (i.e. “You’re really disappointed because you love peach yoghurt, aren’t you? I’m sorry we don’t have any. I know how it feels to be sad and disappointed.” *tell a little story about something that disappointed you* That will help him move past his feelings better than, “You know we’re going to the store next week to get more, so there’s no reason to be upset.”); 3.) Don’t let him hurt himself or anyone else. He needs your help in coping with his big feelings, and he needs you to help him restrain the impulse to lash out. Here are some tips for coping with hitting: Hope that helps, mama!

      February 1, 2013 at 2:41 pm

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