Little rotters: everyone loses if you let them win

Yes, it will mean screaming fits and ugly battles, not to mention emotional blackmail, but we can’t always give in to our children – their future happiness depends on it

Fri, Apr 18, 2014, 01:00

At the school gate I tend to migrate towards the grannies. They’re hardy, no-nonsense types who have been there, done that, raised a bunch of kids and are now back for more. One of them wears great knee-high boots, another fabulous red lipstick and jewellery.

I think what I’m drawn to, however, is their attitude towards their grandchildren. They adore them, anyone can see it, but they also manage to rise gracefully above the – now how should I put this? – control freakery/manipulation/power- hungry ways of young children. They’re all angels, of course, and the world would be hopeless without them. But just for once, can we talk about how crazy they are?

A few days ago, one of the grannies stopped me and asked: “Do you know what he’s after doing?” We were both watching a robust two-year-old heading off down the footpath like a man on a mission.

Earlier, she had been getting him out of the car, and he didn’t like the way she had opened his seat belt, and unless she strapped him back in and started again he wasn’t moving. A stand-off ensued, with her outside in the rain and him sitting in the nice warm car.

He left her there for 10 minutes before deciding to get out – and I suspect this was only because he had forgotten why he was still sitting in the car in the first place.

It would have been hard work lifting him, not to mention the screaming fit she would have had to endure. But what happened wasn’t exactly right either. As the mother of a wilful little boy, I know there is only a certain amount we parents can do about this. Some kids are born with a strong will and we walk a fine line between good old-fashioned discipline and nurturing their spirit and self-confidence. But we have to do something, don’t we? Otherwise it’s Lord of the Flies in training pants.

My five-year-old goes swimming once a week, and when I’m supposed to be watching him, I’m actually fascinated by a drama that takes place at the side of the pool.

There is a nice mother there whose little girl refuses to get into the water. She started doing this on day one, and, as a result, the mother gets to stay hunkered down at the poolside in plastic overshoes, coaxing, cajoling, begging, bribing – as the child looks off into the middle distance as if she doesn’t actually know her. The nice mother then goes and sits on the damp floor with her back to the damp wall and waits – because it’s all a bit of a game, of course.

Exactly halfway though the lesson – we’re now at lesson 11 out of 12 – the little mermaid glides in. And she’s a topping little swimmer too, but at some level there is also a queen manipulator here, and a mother who is so weary-looking that I would like to go over there and hug her.

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