Since when has telling one’s children in urgent, threatening stage whispers to, “behave!” when they’ve more than slightly lost the run of themselves, gone out of fashion? It seems to me that it has been: replaced with the maxim that rules supress the imagination; supplanted by the notion that robust play fuels creativity; brushed aside by a deep held belief that “my child couldn’t possibly have said or done that!” Alas, I am fearful that we’ve demoted good behaviour, sent it to Coventry, ordered it to sit at the back of the class, and that we’re bringing up an army of miniature tearaways.

Picture the scene: I’m sitting in the park being told by the doting mother how it’s best not clip little Harry’s wings at this impressionable age. Yes, from this angle it could be misconstrued, might possibly look as though Harry is pushing Alfie out the climbing frame, but really he’s a burgeoning physicist: force, motion, acceleration, mass – and all that jazz. It’s a game that Alfie is in on, she assures me. I am not assured. “There goes another one,” I caution her, as a second four-year-old falls like a chestnut from the monkey bars and hirples across the bark chippings of the playground floor towards his mother, yelping. “Harry is assertive,” she explains to me, impervious to the assisted tumbles unfolding before us. “He’s going to be a leader, the boss at work when he grows up.” I reflect on her prediction as to his career trajectory. She’s probably right; the child is doubly inoculated with the natural born nature of a bull, coupled with carefully nurtured devil horns that his mother is helping to finish to a high shine. Yes, someday he might even be a world leader, I think to myself, cynically.

I’m more than aware that I might sound like a stuffy, judgemental, fuddy-duddy, but come on…, you’ve seen it too, right? Certainly, a measure of transgression in one’s childhood is an altogether natural and wholesome thing: we expect youngsters to be flailing balls of unrestrained energy, up to a point. And, if you’re not going to revolutionise the world and take on all comers as a youth, then when will you? But when that youthful vitality explodes, like the contents bottle of Coca-Cola opened after a vigorous shake, it can get very stick and messy. When a romp on the trampoline crosses the boundary of a good bounce and ends up with others being trampled upon (both literally and figuratively), then it is time for a little wing clipping. Nurturing a sense of adventure and fearlessness is all well and good, but not when it results in crashing, pummelling, child-eat-child chaos. Surely there is room to bring back a dose of old fashioned good behaviour?

And (you might ask yourself) what makes me such an expert? Nothing much – is the most honest answer. People watching, perhaps, observing my friends as they help their children navigate the minefield that is growing up. Watching the majority of parents who are rearing children with care and love, teaching them to be kind, thoughtful and compassionate children: those we hope will be the leaders of tomorrow. Be assured, by no means am I advocating a return to the days of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. No way. We’ve outgrown that nonsense. At a recent get together of my old friends, one of us recounted how she was taught to ‘behave’ the hard way, aged just four years old. We listened, shocked, as she described getting her hand stuck in a toy teapot in the Wendy house (remember those?) in the play area of the classroom, and she was robustly smacked by her teacher. To make matters worse, her mother had to pay for a replacement toy teapot, broken to free her little hand. As for sympathy for the injured hand – “I didn’t get any, nor did I expect any,” she explained, with an exaggerated shoulder shrug, the modern non-verbal way of saying: ‘Sympathy? Meh!’ That was how it was then, the school of hard knocks: at best another mild trauma to get over, at worst, a life wounding injustice.

Perhaps the best advice we can give, and model, to a child growing up, is: ‘choose to be kind and you’ll be right every time’, alongside some gentle rule enforcement – without the trauma. Whatever you do, don’t take a leaf out of Lewis Carrol’s book as, other than for laughs, he might be a little out of date.

‘Rules and Regulations’, by Lewis Carrol (abridged)

Learn well your grammar,

And never stammer,

Write well and neatly,

And sing most sweetly,

Be enterprising,

Love early rising,

Go walk of six miles,

Have ready quick smiles,

With lightsome laughter,

Soft flowing after.

Drink tea, not coffee;

Never eat toffy.

Eat bread with butter.

Once more, don’t stutter.

 Don’t waste your money,

Abstain from honey.

Shut doors behind you,

(Don’t slam them, mind you.)

Drink beer, not porter.

Don’t enter the water

Till to swim you are able.

Sit close to the table.

Take care of a candle.

Shut a door by the handle,

Don’t push with your shoulder

Until you are older.

Lose not a button.

Refuse cold mutton.

Starve your canaries.

Believe in fairies.

If you are able,

Don’t have a stable

With any mangers.

Be rude to strangers.

Moral: Behave.


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