Monday 7 April 2008

The abject failure of 'The Naughty Bag'

A few years ago I recall having a conversation with another parent about the 'terrible twos'; that phase in a childs development when they hit 24 months and suddenly it seems that all they have learnt how to say is 'no', and all they want to do is shriek and/or pummel you.
"If you think the 'terrible twos' are bad...," they replied, in the weary tone of parent who has realised the fight is endless, and that heavy personal losses are inevitable, "...just wait until you hit the 'f**king awful fours'..."
Amelie is four now - perhaps you can see where this is heading?
It's not that she is physically spending any more time being naughty now than she was back then, its that there is greater spite and sophistication in how she goes about doing it. She can choose to deploy, at any moment, any one of a number of increasingly sophisticated techniques for increasing blood pressure/rage levels in her father, such as:
- Protracted sulking: proper 'thunderclouds-overhead, bottom-lip-jutting-out' sulking, combined with painstaking efforts to make sure I know at all times how unhappy I have made her (achieved by doing her level best to remain constantly in my field of vision, even if doing so involves following me from room to room; if I escape to the toilet I half expect to hear a ladder at the window and her face appear in silent admonition, pressed against the frosted glass).
- Whispered backchat: for example: " Daddy, in fact you are the naughty girl..." Always delivered on the cusp of hearing with her face turned away from me, so that when I demand "What was that?" she can reply "Nothing" and I can't be sure if she is telling the truth or not.
- The old 'Divide and Conquer' routine: "But Mummy lets me..."
- Anguished howling and flailing: including throwing herself bodily to the floor, kicking until her shoes come off, face reddening etc. When she does it in public (which is fortunately very rarely), I am always slightly concerned that anyone passing by will think she is having some kind of seizure and call the paramedics. It would be hugely embarrassing having to explain to the emergency services that no, all that's actually wrong with her is that she's been denied a 'Hello Kitty!" chocolate egg.
- Straightforward lying: Perhaps the best example here being the seminal classic "Neve did it."

...all of which make me pine for simpler times, when all she used to do was smash me in the face with a fistful of Duplo.
Nini is surprisingly unsympathetic over the whole affair, primarily because she firmly believes that all this behaviour is entirely my fault on a genetic level, i.e the 'lying', 'sulking' and 'tantrum' genes are exclusive to my genetic makeup and have been passed on from father to daughter. This impression has been reinforced by my own mother, who on more than one occasion has provided my wife with a 'top ten' list of examples of my own childhood misdemeanours. In fact, so firmly does Nini hold this conviction that when presented with a child in full-on tantrum mode, she will turn and scowl menacingly at me, jabbing a finger at me and mouthing "All your fault - your crappy genes".
As the scope of Amelies possible 'naughtiness' expands, so must our corresponding disciplinary measures. Let's be frank, the 'naughty step' is simply not cutting it any more. She no longer fears the naughty step. In fact, she kind of likes the naughty step, as she can lean back on the stairgate and kick repeatedly at my keys (which hang on a hook nearby) and thus drive me absolutely crazy - every jangle and tinkle from the hall says defiance. Unfortunately, none of the extra measures we have tried out have worked that well yet: take the following example of 'The Naughty Bag'...
The scene: as punishment for some misdemeanour Amelie has been sent to her room, where she is lying on the bed maintaining a carefully pitched repetitive whine/sob. (By means of experimental tiptoeing I have discovered she only makes this noise when she knows you can hear her: she starts as soon as she can hear your footsteps and doesn't waste any energy doing it while you are out of earshot). I decide today is the day I will put the naughty bag into operation, and so march into her room, holding it aloft.
"Do you know what this?" I ask. She looks at it sullenly.
"A shopping bag" she replies.
"No" I say, which clearly confuses her, probably because it actually is a shopping bag (not a plastic carrier bag, mind, this is a black fold-up shopping bag from Wilkinsons that I bought in an uncharacteristically eco-friendly moment when I was shopping for cheap Easter eggs)
"It looks like a shopping bag..." she says.
"Never mind what it looks like. It is not a shopping bag. It is...The Naughty Bag." I announce.
There is a pause. She sits up and looks interested.
"Why? What has it done?"
"It hasn't done anything" I say, with the sad awareness that we are only 10 seconds in and things are already going badly. "It is for when you have been naughty."
"Why? What do I do with it?"
"You don't - look, just listen and stop asking questions, will you? - you don't do anything with it. I do. It is a bag where Daddy might put your toys when you are naughty." I leave this point hanging, so the full weight of this dire consequence can be appreciated. Sadly, the point goes completely over her head.
"But I have got a toy bag already."
"This is not a toy bag. This is The Naughty Bag!"
She looks at me as if I have gone mad. I decide to press on. "If you are naughty, Daddy will take away a toy and put it in The Naughty Bag, and you can only have it back if you are good." I wait for a reaction. None comes.
"The toy will be gone" I explain.
"No, of course not. You can have it back the next day. If you are good."
There is a long pause. She looks at both the bag, and me holding it, with mild suspicion. It is very clear that she does not consider 'The Naughty Bag' to be a punishment in any way. She just thinks it is odd, and possibly stupid.
We'll see,
I think, how she feels when we actually have to use it. That'll teach her.
Later that day, when she misbehaves again, I confiscate one of her teddy bears and tell her it is going in The Naughty Bag. She immediately cheers up, gets very excited and asks if she can put him in herself. I refuse, at which point she gets tearful and howls, as if I have denied her a treat. Through her sobs she complains to her mother that "Daddy is not sharing The Naughty Bag". Nini laughs into the back of her hand and I stalk off downstairs in a rage.
The next day, just before bathtime, I fetch the The Naughty Bag and tell Amelie that as she has been good all day, she can have her teddy back. I ceremoniously upend the bag to release the bear, and out he falls - along with a toy lamb, a Barbie, a wad of tissues and a plastic teacup.
It transpires that Amelie added the lamb and the Barbie to keep the bear company, and the tissues are for him to make a bed. The teacup is in case he felt thirsty. Nini quickly stands and leaves the room, so that her poorly-disguised laughter does not further undermine my crumbling parental authority.

We have not used The Naughty Bag since.


Max Halliwell said...

Oh dear oh dear, you're struggling now mate. I so hope we still live near you when your daughters are teenagers.

Anonymous said...

I didn't think you were still allowed near teenage girls since the "incident"!!

hutters said...

It's so good to come into work, sit down with a coffee and review your musings (can we have more, please?) It's even better when I can soooooooooooo relate to your posts, particluarly Brown Fish and Naughty Bags, both of which we have endured similar experiences of during the last couple of weeks.


ps. congrats on the job front, hope it all works out well for you.