It’s interesting how my children differ in the ways in which they misbehave. My older son prefers a medley of operatic tantrums and sulks as if he’s suffering early onset adolescence. My youngest is more of a traditionalist, an old school mischief-maker. He’s one jauntily-angled cap away from Just William.
The one thing that unites them in their naughtiness is their disobedience. I’d say that they act like wild animals but I imagine that even the most feral creature can be brought to heel eventually. Except sharks. Or ants maybe. Or seagulls. And I know it makes me sound like a bristling major-general but I find their habitual insubordination a continuing challenge.
I have been presented with two rebellious seagulls who flap about the house, repeatedly squawking ‘NO’. ‘NO’ is a mantra in our home, a way of life. ‘YES’ is so last year. I cannot get my children to do what I want them to do and it has unlocked an anger within me that people who know me wouldn’t recognise.
With each ‘NO’ my rage is brought closer to the boil until it finally escapes in the form of a sharp yap. It’s like my sons have woken a small aggressive dog. But it soon withers away into something more sad and desperate: a grovel. Just repeating their names over and over, each time more pathetic than the last.
The only power I have over them is physical. Physically putting their socks on. Physically getting them out of the bath. I regret that I have not yet found a way to physically make them tidy their toys. At my most frustrated I’ve scooped them up brusquely, scrumming them into submission. And immediately felt guilty afterwards.
This is one of the many reasons I would never smack my children. It doesn’t feel instinctive at all, in spite of being whacked a few times myself as a boy – with the desired effect notably. The law states that it’s alright to hit your children as long as you don’t leave a mark; basically you can’t assault them. But I’d rather not even dabble with that.
Putting them on a naughty step or telling them to go their room seems ineffectual. Try telling an ant to stay on a naughty step. A few friends have tried locking their scamps in their bedroom but this seems a touch medieval. Besides we don’t have locks on the bedroom doors so we’d have to install some form of barricade and siege warfare would break out in the house.
Reward charts bring about a short-term spike in good behaviour but their power soon fades with the novelty. My sons are incorruptible; bribery and blackmail just bounces off them. I’ve delivered long rambling sermons to them which have no impact except to send them to sleep. Which at least stops them misbehaving.
I don’t have any answers. Maybe my children have singled me out as a drip that can be taken advantage of. I’ll ponder that as I spend the night tidying up all their Duplo bricks, grovelling gently to myself.