What a ‘Cookie Incident’ Proved About My Kid With Down Syndrome


It took me a long time before I was willing to discipline my 5-year-old daughter, Addison. For the longest time, I wondered if she understood the action/consequence equation. So she used to get away with murder (not literally, of course, unless you count my white couch as a person.) That is, until the Great Cookie Incident of 2015.

Location? Grocery store.

Individuals present? Addison, my sons, Carter and Eli, and myself.

Method of transportation? A grocery cart.

Level of energy? Very high.

Crime committed? Unkind hands (don’t laugh, this is a very real thing in my household).

For a grocery outing with all three of my kids, I really couldn’t complain until Addison started smacking her brothers upside the head. At first, she only hit Carter, who was sitting next to her. He didn’t hit back. He just told me (quite loudly) every time it occurred.

“Mommy, Addisie is hitting me!”

“Sweetie, please don’t hit your brother.”

But she didn’t stop.

“Addison, if you don’t stop hitting your brother, you’re not going to get a cookie.

A cookie. It’s the most prized award given to the wiggling child who somehow manages to sit in the same spot during the entire grocery shopping expedition. It is a highly coveted, much talked about thing at our house.

Addison settled down for about 30 seconds and then started hitting and pushing even harder.

“Addison. Stop. If you keep hitting and pushing, you’re not going to get a cookie.”

Well, she didn’t stop. Furthermore, she started hitting Eli, too, until he started to cry. Lovely. Dozens and dozens of times she hit and pushed them, and each time I told her “no cookie” if she didn’t stop.

I knew what I had to do. It felt mean and cruel, like I was the worst mother in the world, because I knew how she’d respond.

Then I started waffling. Should I give her a cookie? Does she understand? If she understood, she would’ve stopped hitting, right? She loves cookies. She wouldn’t risk it, right? She’s acting like she doesn’t understand. Should I give it to her anyway because she doesn’t understand? Am I expecting too much?

It came time. On this particular day, the free bakery cookies were especially delicious. Large, soft, yet crunchy around the edges.

I handed Carter a cookie and thanked him for obeying. I handed Eli a cookie and thanked him for obeying. I didn’t hand Addison a cookie.

Addison held out her hand and said, “Cookie!”

I knelt until I was eye to eye with her.

“Sweetie, I’m very sorry, but you don’t get a cookie today. I asked you to stop hitting and pushing, but you didn’t stop. I told you that you wouldn’t get a cookie if you chose to keep hitting. You kept hitting. So you don’t get a cookie. I’m very sorry and I love you very much, but no cookie today.”

Would the kiss I gave her be enough to ease the “cookieless” pain she felt in that moment? Not one bit.

Her screams were intense enough to shake loose the entire display of cookies next to us. Gasping wails. Pitiful screams of “cookie, cookie, cookie!”

My heart was breaking. Did she understand? Was I just being mean? I wouldn’t have thought twice about doing this for Carter.

Her brothers happily munched their cookies. Tears streaming down her face, she stared at them and then kicked her screams up a notch at the unfairness of it all.

I stopped to talk to her several more times, clearly laying out why she didn’t get a cookie and her brothers did. Her only response was to glare at me before pitifully sobbing once again for her cookie. And then screaming.

When a woman in line ahead of us turned around to see who was screaming so loudly, I held my breath. Was she going to make a comment about Addison having Down syndrome? About me being unfair?

But this wonderful person stared at Addison for a long moment, heard my quick explanation and said, “They have to learn. It’s hard, but it is the right thing to do.”

A couple of hours later, Addison went to school. I’d been thinking about the incident all day. About how she plays me. About how I tend to be softer on her because I want to give her the benefit of the doubt.

After her long afternoon at school, her bus ride home and a couple of hours playing on the deck, she was in the kitchen helping me make dinner.

I decided to check in.

“Addison, do you remember what happened at the grocery store this morning?”

“No hitting. No pushing. Be kind,” she answered.

“And what happens if you hit and push?”

Her bottom lip quivered and she said, “No cookie. Hit, push, no cookie for Addisie.”

The little stinker. No lack of understanding here at all.

Although I do have to say I let my breath out after I felt like I had been holding it in the whole day until she repeated this back to me hours later. She did get it.

I don’t know why I underestimate her. Some days I do better than others. No doubt it’s a combination of her being my first and me learning that all children do this to a certain extent. 

Down syndrome isn’t an excuse for disobedience or misbehavior, but the method of correcting and disciplining often trips me up because I always want to give her the benefit of the doubt. Walking the straight and narrow is hard work. Of course, there are things for us learn along the way. (I’d say there’s as much for me to learn as there is for her.)

This hitting/pushing thing has been a big battle. And the thing is, at times no matter how consistent I am with consequences, she does it again. And again and again and again. Which makes me think: Does she just not understand?

But she does. Sweet cookie, does she ever understand.

A version of this post originally appeared on Everything and Nothing From Essex.

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