Mother courage

As the summer holidays drew to a close the shops were full of
those back-to-school posters with pictures of beaming children.
Their happiness, we are left to presume, is because they
can’t wait to get back to the classroom.

Whether or not the advertising image belies the reality, for
James the thought of going back to school was no cause for

When the day came though he put a brave face on (as did I). The
first day went quite well – he liked his new teacher and only a few
children were unkind – and the rest of the week passed by without
any dramatic incident.

What changed, however, was his behaviour.

Over the summer holidays we noticed a real improvement on this
front, but we seem to have moved back a step since school

On the advice of the child psychologist who is working with us,
we have devised a reward chart – a sea of smiley faces peer out at
us from the kitchen wall. Good behaviour earns James a smiler and
he can exchange them for rewards such as a bike ride or some
exclusive time with us.

The problem is that, far from being able to award smiley faces,
we seem to be in the business of taking them away. And then
there’s the question of how many do you deduct? Does telling
your dad to: “Get out of my room you fat moron” classify as a major
misdemeanour or a minor infringement of the smiley face system? And
exactly how should we chastise our eight year old for deciding to
walk along the main road to the shops on his own when we were
gardening, safe in the “knowledge” that he was playing in his

Some weekends pass against a backdrop of constant conflict and I
know it’s a clichéd refrain of many parents, but I
really am surprised that the neighbours haven’t notified the
authorities, so bad is the screaming that comes from the house

I know why James so often behaves like this, I know in theory
the best way to deal with it, but it’s hard not to resort to
yelling your head off. I think it was Ezra Pound who said: “When
you are up to your arse in alligators, it’s hard to remember
that you started out to drain the swamp”.

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