Unfortunately our children did not emerge from the womb pre-loaded with what we consider (the important part) to be notions of right and wrong. Darling Wife and I had to have a bit of a pow-wow about behavior that we considered to be unacceptable and how we would enforce it…like a boxing referee before a big fight. Then we have to police it and present the all impotant ‘United Front.’
I notice how people parent since I have had kids and you can see that the roots of most approaches owe their predigree to a handful of parenting books. The books are very useful, but I think that they are merely a launching point and can only do so much for you because ultimately it is your job to parent. Also, the kids copy your behavior and in order to make them behave in a way that you consider appropriate then you have to change your own behavior. That is tough.
Our rules and regulations used to be pretty simple, but as our children have got older they have changed and evolved into a pretty organic list. They are as follows (they are loosely listed in terms of severity of offence)
- Hitting Darling Son is a gentle soul, with a long temper, and is not one to twat people without good cause. He does have a breaking point, though, and tends to go Chuck Norris straight off, laying in with kicks rather than mucking about with jabs and left hooks. Darling Daughter is a different kettle of fish and will cuff someone round the head just for kicks. We don’t want our children to hit other children, so we try and clamp down on this kind of thing pretty hard.
- Throwing Stuff It is part of human DNA that if something can be hefted then it can be thrown and if it can be thrown then it can quite possibly break into a million pieces, which is obviously very satisfying (If I won the lottery I would totally do a demolition derby with brand new BMWs). But, alas, I am not independently wealthy and my children do not wander around the house wearing crash helmets so the chucking of large, hard objects (i.e toys) is forbidden. I have been hit by a die-cast Thomas and it hurts. A lot.
- Swearing We both consider it unacceptable for our children to say: where the fuck my teddy be at, biatch? It’s just not on.
- Shouting / Screaming Some of you may be reading this and thinking: what? Kids shout, that’s what they do. Well, yes, but when I am in the room and they get frustrated because Timmy has the blue block and I want the blue block and not the red block because Polly has the red block and she smells so they start shouting at the tops of their voices and it is deafening. Darling Son went through a period that when he got frustrated he would scream – literally scream – the loudest he could possibly manage. We had to cut that out because it freaked everyone out a bit. Darling Daughter went through a similar phase (most parents use this word in every other sentence) when she got frustrated and sounded like a F15 taking a jump off an aircraft carrier.
- Procrastination If you have kids, I imagine that you are reading this and nodding. If you don’t, then let me explain: unless you use an incentive, a treat, blackmail, coercion or threats; then getting a child to put a coat on is nigh-on impossible. Getting them to eat their dinner – unless you partially starve them – requires powers of persuasion rivaled only by Derren Brown. Getting them to walk – unless periodically poked with a taser – is enough to drive you to drink. A child would rather spend 1/2 an hour arguing about who has what colour car than actually playing with said car. There will be a layer of dust on the lego before your kid can be persuaded to put them in a box that is right next to them. Kids are the worst procrastinators in the world, and if we don’t at least try and motivate them they’ll achieve nothing, ever.
- Table Manners I am in no way suggesting that I want my kids to sit at the table in formal wear, with napkins tucked under their chins and using the family silver in the right order as they sip table water from a carafe. No, what I want is for them to not eat food by lowering their faces into the bowl like a hound; to use a fork for eating, not attack and defence; to not wander around and grab the occasional mouthful like they are a publicist at a Californian launch party; to not use food as modeling clay; to not use food to perform precise airstikes upon their siblings; to not spit food out to see how well they’ve chewed it; to sit in a chair; to ask to leave the table rather than announcing – a tablé – that they’re going to do a large poo, the biggest poo you’ve ever seen; to not procrastinate. This is all simple stuff, and we are getting there, but it’s like training gibbons to play backgammon.
- Politeness Again, I do not want my kids to wander around saying: ‘Why, hello Daddy. I must say, thank you for yet another splendid breakfast, the porridge was simply divine. As the weather is rather clement, I was wondering if my darling sister and I may go to playground this afternoon? If this is any way inconvenient, then my sister and I shall make other arrangements…’ (and if they did, I would obviously take them for a neural consult somewhere…) All I want is their language to be peppered with please, thank you and maybe and odd hello. Not much to ask, is it?
So, how do you go about laying down the law. I’ll deal with one (hitting) situation and show how parents use different approaches:
5.00pm in a supermarket with a mother / father trying to do the weekly shop with two kids:
- Style 1 ‘Tyler!’ (it’s always a kid called Tyler doing the hitting: this is a 100% FACT), mother grabs Tyler roughly by the arm, ‘what have I told you about hitting other children? What?’ Mother then hits Tyler, who cries. ‘If you ever hit another kid again, I’ll fucking wollop you, you evil little sod. Is that clear?’ Tyler cries some more. ‘Bu-bu-but Mu-Mummy…’ he says through sobs, ‘…To-Toby hit me first!’ Mother gives Toby an evil stare,’the little shit…if they hit you first then it’s okay to hit them back…harder…and don’t swear, you know I don’t like it.’
- Style 2 ‘Tyler, you shouldn’t hit your brother,’ Tyler hits toby again. ‘Please don’t hit Toby, it’s not nice.’ Tyler smiles, malevolently. ‘He hit me first,’ says Tyler, and hits Toby again. Toby cries. ‘Listen, you can have a sweetie if you stop hitting your brother, okay?’ Gives Tyler a sweet. When Tyler finishes the sweet he hits Toby again. Mummy gives Tyler another sweet.
- Style 3 ‘Tyler! Say sorry to your brother, hitting is wrong.’ Tyler sulks but doesn’t say anything. ‘Say sorry now or I’ll take you back to the car for some thinking time.’ Tyler mumbles something. ‘Say it properly. Last chance.’ Tyler mumbles again. ‘Okay.’ Mummy takes Tyler and his brother out of the trolley and back into the carpark. Tyler cries, ‘bu-bu-but mummy, he hi-hi-hit me first!’ Mummy says nothing and straps Tyler into the car seat. After a minute or so he stops crying, ‘say sorry now or we go home,’ Tyler looks sheepish. ‘Sorry,’ says Tyler.
Okay, so Style 1 is so wrong (at least I hope you’re thinking that…) because if you hit children, even if they are your own, it’s called bullying (or child abuse or picking on people smaller than you or using violence instead of parenting as you are a bloody insecure Neanderthal) They will learn behavior from you and will ultimately take this into the playgroup / playground and bully someone else. Probably your child. Secondly, the mother is punishing the child not the action. The action is wrong, not the kid. The kid doesn’t know any better. Learn them. Finally, the mother has lost control of the situation. She is a muppet, her kids are calling the shots (literally, in this case) and she is trying to fight fire with fire. Back of the class, biatch.
Style 2 is wrong because the mother has, again, lost control. Firstly, she needs to signal to Tyler that he has actually fucked up here and he needs to know that; her tone needs to be more severe. Secondly she is begging her child to be good and she needs to lead her children, be the authority figure. Finally, she is rewarding bad behavior by giving Tyler sweets. Please try harder, you is on the ropes, lady.
Style 3 is great because the mother is punishing the behavior, not the child. She is showing Tyler that his negative actions have negative consequences. Finally, she has followed through. You have to follow through with a realistic threat. I once threatened Darling Son with leaving him on the hard shoulder of the motorway; no matter what happens, I can’t do that.
Anyway, this is long enough. Thoughts? Theories?