Helen Martin: Precious parents create bad kids

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IT was all I could do to restrain myself from writing to Boots, not a complaint signed “Disgusted of Edinburgh” but a letter of gratitude and congratulations, saluting the Lincolnshire pharmacist who smacked a three-year-old on her bottom and told her she was “naughty” after the child knocked several products off shelves and smashed a bottle of disinfectant.

The store manager stood up for his employee but Boots head office caved in to the mother’s outrage and issued an apology. . . . shame on them.

Little, undisciplined, remorseless tyrants rule the world nowadays, or rather the world is chock-a-block with limp, whining, over-protective, irresponsible parents who think we should all put up with their horribly-behaved child without raising our voices let alone delivering a tap on the bottom.

I don’t have grandchildren yet, but I do have step grandchildren. Really that should make me more objective about them and less doting, less blind to any failings they might have and less personally proud of their 
achievements.

But I can honestly say they are very well-behaved, generally do as they are told and are a credit to their parents who, without smacking or any harsh treatment, have set firm boundaries and taught them how not to annoy other people. That is one crucial part of parenting that is often missing nowadays because naughty children can be extremely annoying, apparently to everyone except their parents.

It’s almost quarter of a century since I gave birth so I’m prepared to be called out of touch . . . to which I would respond that the old ways are often the best.

After feeding, clothing, changing, washing and cuddling, I saw one of my first duties as bringing up a toddler who didn’t have tantrums, could be taken into a fine china shop let alone a chemist without touching anything, knew to keep quiet in a cinema, and didn’t whine. Mercifully all that was easily achieved in three years.

I would quietly seethe when other kids created mayhem in a shop – watched curiously by mine who thought they were nuts – and the parents did nothing other than issue a drawling, doting, ineffectual, and repetitive plea with no expectation of their brat paying any attention at 
all.

“Please sweetie . . . don’t do that.” “Now John, put that down please . . . just for Mummy?” “Oh John, Mummy’s getting a wee bit angry now. I know, let’s have a nice lollipop.”

No, let’s just get the little monster out of the shop and everyone else’s way, home to bed without tea and no lollipops for a week, actually.

One of the reasons I loved living in our Bruntsfield tenement was the vertical village aspect. At the time there were lots of children within a few “stairs” of us and there was a certain element of communal parenting that went on as the children moved like a shoal of fish between one home and the other. They’d have tea, overnights, play games or watch movies in each other’s homes and effortlessly fitted in with the rules of whichever house they happened to be in because children are clever and adaptable and they instinctively knew the tolerance levels of the parents in each.

Those accustomed to helping themselves to sweets in their own house would politely accept rationed offerings in another; those used to traipsing about in muddy shoes in one knew to take their shoes off in another. They knew which homes demanded they put rubbish in the bin and which didn’t. And since we all looked out over the same rear gardens they could in theory be told off by any or all of us if they did something wrong. For them it was a secure environment. For us it was reassuring that so many people were looking out for them.

Nowadays children are so isolated and restricted to their own families that if mummy and daddy happen to be pleading, whiny people who don’t take control, there’s no other influence around as there was in the days of real “community”.

Naughty children are the result of “precious” parenting where the child’s wants come first and needs second.

The three-year-old in Lincolnshire could have cut herself on the smashed bottle, or endured an impromptu eye-wash of disinfectant. Whose fault would that have been . . . the store’s, the pharmacist’s, the child’s, or the mother who had failed to teach her daughter than knocking stock off a shop shelf, especially potentially “dangerous” stock such as glass bottles and disinfectant, is unacceptable and would result in injury, or at least a damn good telling-off, perchance a smack on the 
bottom?

Tail ends happily

I AM delighted to report after last week’s column, that our dog’s tumour analysis proved to be benign.

There was great joy in our house, not to mention dog-treats aplenty which were quite unnecessary. The dog notices only that his rear end doesn’t have quite the dangly bits it used to. I console myself that, like many a woman and her breadmaker, he never used them so he won’t miss them.