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Disciplining children doesn’t have to be a war

When my son was in middle primary school, he had a memory like a goldfish and was constantly losing pencils, books, lunchboxes, watches, and anything else that was not firmly attached to his body.

Other parents had assured me that their children had similar irritating behaviour, but that did not stop me from nagging him each time I was presented with another list of missing or stolen items.

Stern warnings

One day, I bought him yet another mathematical set, with the warning that if he lost even a single component of it, I would make him suffer the consequences.

The very next afternoon, when he came home from school, I noticed from his fidgety demeanour that something was amiss. I didn’t bother to ask him, knowing that he would eventually confess without any prompting from me.

True enough, he blurted out that someone had stolen several components of his new set ­— no doubt when he was dithering outside his class during break.

I held my temper in check but told him that it was in his best interests to come home with the set intact the next day.

I was surprised when he did indeed come home with the whole set the day after! I went through it and found out that the set squares and the compass were missing the names that I had painstakingly scratched onto them with a heated pin.

I went on the warpath, demanding to know from whence he had obtained the obviously brand new replacements. He explained that, upon seeing how distraught he was at the theft of his new set, a caretaker at his school had replaced the set for him.

On hearing this, all my anger dissipated and was replaced with horror as my mind leapt to all the possible unpleasant motives of this overly generous caretaker.

I went on the warpath at my son’s school, and the headmaster grudgingly called in the caretaker for an interrogation. He explained that he was only trying to be helpful by getting a worried child off the hook.

It was a plausible reason, but with the ever-increasing reports of paedophiles in our population, I could not afford to take any chances.

I refunded him the price of the set, and the headmaster assembled the students and cautioned them against accepting gifts from people not sanctioned by the school or parents.

Eye-opener

This incident was a real eye-opener on several levels. While I was trying to teach my son the virtues of being mindful of his belongings, my excessive strictness could have exposed him to an unsavoury set of circumstances.

Wolves in sheep’s clothing abound, ever ready to take advantage of the vulnerability of children who feel that they cannot communicate with their parents.

After that incident, instead of being harsh with my son for typical childish behaviour, I spoke candidly with him about why I was angry that he was not more mindful of my advice.

Simultaneously, I would warn him to look out for people who would take advantage of others’ desperation by pretending to be friendly.

Fast forward to the present. My son still loses the odd book or two, and goes through a pack of ball pens with alarming speed. Trying to mould children exactly how we think they should be is like trying to control the weather.

It is even worse when parents run households like a boot camp. The best we can do is constantly talk with them, and with time, I believe, the message seeps in and stays put.