My worst parent - Praise defeats drunken abuse

18th June 2010 at 01:00

Molly was a tall, often dishevelled, red-haired girl who always reminded me of Pippi Longstocking from the Astrid Lindgren novels. Although not the brightest academically, she was very likeable and the slightest bit of praise worked wonders in getting her to behave and perform to her full potential.

Preparing for parents' evening, I tried to construct as realistic and positive a picture of Molly as I could. I wanted her parents to see that although their daughter's future probably would not lie in university study, she was a kind, caring girl who had many gifts and talents.

When parents' evening arrived I was greeted by Molly's mother and father and it soon became obvious that both parents had been drinking. I began by telling them how much I enjoyed having Molly in my class but the mother began to giggle. I proceeded to say that Molly was making steady progress in all her work, trying to ignore the smell of alcohol wafting towards me. Again the mother giggled for no apparent reason.

Molly more resembled her father, who was a tall, slim, red-haired Glaswegian. He leaned back on his chair, crossed his leg, cowboy style, on to his thigh and declared: "Look, I know she's crap! Crap! Thick as mince!" I rapidly interjected and told him he was wrong, but the father insisted Molly was "rubbish at everything". No matter how much I protested, I couldn't change his track and eventually gave up as he became more aggressive. I let him ramble on until the end of the interview and heaved a sigh of relief to see them go.

After that evening, I had a new-found respect for Molly and understood why the slightest bit of praise made a difference to her. I tried to find as many opportunities as possible to provide it.

The writer is a teacher in North Lanarkshire.

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