Parenting Time Out ... Paul Chai shares his daddy don'ts.
If my household were assigned just one verb to summarise its character, it would almost certainly be “to shout”. He shouts, she shouts, they shout, we all SHOUT. Rarer than a yeti is the morning where the volume doesn’t threaten to shake the place off its foundations.
But then, exceptional is the morning when my older son doesn’t drift off for a pee at the precise second his father declares: “We’re leaving NOW!” This is the point at which boy number two decides that he can’t leave the house without the superhero figures that are prohibited by school rules. My husband stands by the open door, bellowing with the incoherent rage of the studiously ignored, while his face turns puce. Then the 10-year-old yells “I’m just coming”, from behind the bathroom door, although it’s clear he’s smuggled in the iPad and is busy constructing a volcano in Minecraft.
His little brother, meanwhile, has flung himself to the ground outside our front door and is wailing: “I hate school, I hate rules, I HATE YOU.” This is when I dust off my inner UN peace negotiator and tell everyone to “CALM DOWN!” Everyone takes not a jot of notice. And since she who shouts last shouts loudest, and looks most like a raving lunatic, I attract the darkest stares from passers-by.
So I can’t help wondering if the London School of Economics hasn’t put the cart before the horse when it reported on Tuesday that shouting at children makes their behaviour worse. It seems to me that children who behave badly goad their parents into shouting loudly. Every day starts with a resolution to communicate in the musical tones of Julie Andrews at her most Poppinsesque – then the blighters shove you over the edge.
The LSE says “reasoning with children” is the most effective way to improve the situation. But I find it’s the quickest way to tip you into madness. Take the exchange I had this weekend with my older son, who had been unrepentant about dropping litter, despite numerous lectures. I told him I was removing the iPad for two days, at which he said: “Then I won’t do anything you say, until you give it back.” So I said: “Then I’ll take it away for the whole month.” So he said, smirking: “How are you going to work in the holidays, if you can’t use the iPad to keep us quiet?”
That’s where reasoning gets you: to a place where you’re quickly outfoxed. To a place where you want to shout and froth at the mouth. No wonder I have long remembered an older friend’s advice that there are times when the only language children understand is their mother bawling: “If you don’t do what I say now, mummy is going to stab a fork through her eye!”
That’s not to say that I don’t respect parents who maintain an iron rule over their children with dulcet tones. But I presume they’ve learnt mind control from Derren Brown and the art of threats from Cruella de Vil. I also remember visiting non-shouty houses in the Kent stockbroker belt when I was young, and finding them repressed to the point of peculiarity. Where was all the seething emotion and vitality? Was it absorbed by the wall-to-wall carpets?
My father, who had fought in the war, bellowed at his five children like a sergeant-major on parade, throwing in the endearment “fathead” for good measure. Even so, we flourished. Like our Airedale terrier, his bark barely concealed the fact that he had no bite. My mother was the quiet disciplinarian, while Dad buckled at the first request for crisps or a 50p piece.
Which is pretty much how the land lies in my adult home. My sons know their deafening father is the softer of the species, and that selective deafness lightens any rant. It’s fair to say neither boy needs lessons in voice projection. But I’d far rather have loud sons than ones versed in the silent treatment.