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A sting in the tale

Jayden has come to my classroom to say sorry to Thomas. Apparently he beat him up for reasons he can neither remember nor explain. There is no doubt that Jayden looks genuinely contrite, but then he's had a lot of practice. This is the third time in a week he's had to apologise for an act of violence.

Thomas smudges his tears with the chewed cuff of his school sweater and graciously accepts Jayden's apology. The boys shake hands to show they are willing to draw a line under the incident. To complete his act of atonement, Jayden puts an arm around Thomas and offers to spend the rest of his lunchtime teaching him how to hang upside down from the monkey bars.

If only all conflicts could be resolved this easily, the world would be a better and more peaceful place. Or would it? There is no doubt that Jayden is sincere in his apologies. He is a genuinely affectionate boy and has enough emotional intelligence to appreciate the damage he has caused. He takes no pleasure in beating up his classmates; the problem is that he can't stop himself.

A colleague, whose association with our school goes back to a golden age when no child would ever dream of telling her to fuck off, remembers teaching Jayden's dad: "He had anger-management issues too, but for the most part he was a lovely lad. All the children liked him, even though being his friend was a bit of a gamble."

Being Jayden's friend is a gamble too - similar to playing Russian roulette, and sometimes as messy.

"Can Thomas come out now?" Jayden asks.

"That's up to him," I reply, "but I'd like to talk to him first in private."

When Jayden leaves us, I ask Thomas if he knows the story of the scorpion and the frog. He shakes his head.

"A scorpion asks a frog to carry him across the river, but the frog is worried the scorpion might sting him," I say. "The scorpion explains that if he did, he would drown, so the frog agrees.

"Now, everything's going well until they get about halfway across the river, when for no apparent reason the scorpion suddenly stings the frog. `Why did you do that?' cries the frog. `Now we will both die!' `I couldn't help myself,' explains the scorpion. `It's in my nature.' "

Fables are supposed to be a good way to teach children moral truths, but this one leaves Thomas confused. "Jayden is a bit like that scorpion," I explain. "He can't help losing his temper, and when he does, he's likely to hurt whoever he's playing with at the time. Do you understand?" Thomas nods.

"So if you would rather stay in for the rest of lunchtime to keep out of his way, that's fine," I add.

Thomas weighs up the odds and decides he'd rather play with Jayden.

"OK, but remember to watch out for the sting in his tail," I say.

"Ribbit-ribbit," he replies.

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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