Diana was finding it difficult coping with her mother’s yearly visit. Being a harsh disciplinarian with kids was expected, in her day, she thought, but invariably counter-productive. Yet Nana takes it as her duty to help instil manners in her grandchild, Jasmine, aged three. Let the child forget to say Thank you, and Nana snapped: ‘It’s wicked not to say thank you. You’re naughty’
‘I’m not n-n-naughty.’
‘You are naughty.’
Jasmine had never stammered before. By then, she stuttered her way through every sentence.
Diana gritted her teeth, thinking, surely mother will see she’s causing distress, making things worse? She tried to lighten the situation. ‘Stop fighting, you two.’
Nana glared. ‘I’m not fighting – she is.’
Diana boiled, unable to stand it a moment longer. ‘Come her, Jasmine.’
‘I’m g-g-going to t-t -tell my Mummy on you.’
Nana launched into a diatribe. ‘The child’s allowed to get away with anything. In my day-’
‘But you like fighting,’ Diana said.
‘I do not,’ she snarled, tears glistening.
Diana went on, ‘ Other people have no problems with Jasmine – she’s usually very polite.’
Nana sniffed. ‘No doubt they let her get away with anything.’
‘You’re using negative psychology,’ Diana said quietly. ‘Tell her how good it is to use please and thank you, not that she’s naughty if she forgets. Manners are more caught than taught.’
‘Huh! You have to make her obey. Let her get away with something once, and she’ll think: Beat her that time. I’ll do it again.’
‘You’re talking about the parent/ child power struggle. I try to avoid that. We want her to enjoy being polite. It’s silly to turn every trifling mistake into a war. One only forces children to do things when they’re important, necessary or involve danger. Don’t expect me to rear Jasmine the way I was brought up. I don’t approve of your methods. Hated all those fights-’
‘Don’t approve?’ Nana’s eyes bulged. ‘Fights? Nonsense! I had trouble with your sister, Lal. but never with you.’
‘That’s because I used psychology.’
‘Huh. Psychology. Managed well enough without it.’
‘Yeah, right.’ Diana thought, mother hasn’t the slightest insight into the anger and guilt I swallowed as a child. Here I am at twenty seven, still trying to overcome it.
She went on: ‘I kept quiet because I could see argument only made things worse. Lal had a more outspoken personality – never learnt how to handle you.’
Nana looked stunned, wiped away a tear.
Diana thought, there – I’ve said it. Phew!
It worked. Her mother dropped the confrontational approach. Freed of the pressure, Jasmine’s stuttering ceased, never to return. And it was gratifying to hear her use of Please and Thank You for the remainder of Nana’s visit.