Mr Nice Daddy needs a stern word

7th April 2000 at 01:00
"WE CAN learn a lot from the experts." A long time ago, when my life consisted of more exciting things than reminding small people to tidy their rooms, I wouldn't necessarily have agreed with that assertion. In those far off days I wrote and directed plays. I also thought I knew it all, right up until the day I went to study with a celebrated BBC producer.

Directing is not a difficult task. It's mainly about making sure the actors understand their lines and don't fall off the stage.

The problem arises when you have explained a particular line in three different ways but the actor in question is still looking at you with all the perspicacity of a guppy and asking "Yes, but why?" My mentor, after 30 years in the business, had come up with the ultimate answer to such a conundrum:

"Because I say so."

Of late, I have reluctantly come to the realisation that this same wisdom can be applied to parenting. Given half a chance children will say "Why?" until the cows come home.

My generation of parents was particularly soft on this one. We wanted a partnership with our kiddies. Naively, we believed thatif we explained that a tidy bedroom means you can actually find things our infant charges would say:

"Father, you have convinced me!", and set about doing our bidding. Not a bit of it. A child who is determined not to understand, won't, regardless of how much you play the Mr Nice Daddy role. That bedroom is going to stay in a mess until in desperation you invoke the all-purpose explanation: "Because I bloody say so."

Our Victorian forefathers had no truck with all this partnership nonsense but then they were

having to cope with a sudden drop in infant mortality during Victoria's reign.

As the first generation for whom 12 pregnancies could actually mean a dozen offspring round your breakfast table in the morning, the Victorians were obliged to invent the idea of children not answering back. Imagine trying to explain the whys and wherefores of a particular course of action to 12 dim-witted or surly infants. Well, of course, if you're a teacher, you probably can.

Maybe I didn't need to seek out that top director in my quest for enlightenment - teachers can teach parents too, I guess.

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