Dear Dave

Friday 17 August 2007

Pester power

Dear Dave,

Sorry to hear that Sam's constant demands for attention and material gratification are driving you crazy. Let's face it, he probably knows that his entire life is about to go down the pan with the arrival of a sibling, and so he's just trying to get what he can while the going's still good. Stay strong and don't let him pester you into buying anything other than consumer electronics.

I'm fairly immune to pestering, myself. Well, actually, that's a lie - it makes me irritable, crotchety and prone to shouting. Pestering annoys me as much as the next dad. What I mean to say is that it doesn't get the kids what they want.

Much of this is down to Fraser. He has a bad case of Alpha Male Syndrome and desperately thinks he should be in charge. When confronted with two chairs and the command to sit down, he will begin by ignoring the command. On the second repetition of the command, he will argue. Why does he have to sit down? Wouldn't it be better if he sat on the floor? Why can't he witter about pokemon first? Why isn't Lewis sitting down? On being shouted at and pointed to the left seat, he will perch on the edge of the one on the right. It's a near certainty he will fall off and injure himself within a couple of minutes and then complain about how he didn't want to sit down in the first place.

He's been like this for a long time. When he was still two, I had a big fight with him over a beaker of milk. We both wanted it transferred from his hand to the table beside him; we disagreed on the method in which this goal could be achieved. I wanted him to reach over a few inches and put the beaker down. He wanted me to cross the room, take the beaker from his hand and put it down for him. We were there for fifteen minutes before his arm got tired and he put the flipping thing down. It was all about dominance and control.

The thing is, all that petty, pointless pestering has built up my resistance. If I feel I'm being pestered then I'll even actively delay doing something I was about to do anyway. I hope that, one day, the kids will learn from this to be polite and patient. It's not working so far but, in the meantime, at least I get to sit around for a few minutes and claim it's all in the name of teaching them manners.

Of course, it's best to try and nip the pestering in the bud whenever possible. When we go to the supermarket, for instance, the kids are each allowed to choose one special treat. If they've already got something in the trolley but see something else they want, then simply being reminded 'they already have their special thing' is enough to stop them asking any more. If they really want to swap, they can, but usually they're just too lazy to bother. In essence, they get to automatically win a small battle in exchange for not starting a war. I like to think this set up teaches them decision making as well but, deep down, I know that's just the deluded longings of a middle-class stay-at-home-parent. They usually just go for the shiniest thing they see first. (If I'm fortunate, they'll choose an item I was going to buy anyway, such as crisps. Normally it's probiotic yogurt drinks(!) or cheestrings. One time Fraser pushed his luck with an enormous bowl of trifle - we all ate well that week).

Lewis has a different pestering technique from Fraser. He tries to grind me down with questions:

Lewis: Can I have a chocolate biscuit?
Me: No.
Lewis: Why not?
Me: Because it's almost teatime.
Lewis: Why's it almost teatime?
Me: Because it's five o'clock.
Lewis: Why does that make it almost teatime?
Me: Because you normally have tea at five thirty.
Lewis: Why?
Me: Because, if I left tea until later, you'd get hungry.
Lewis: Why would I get hungry?
Me: Because you wouldn't have had anything to eat.
Lewis: Why not?
Me: Because it wouldn't be teatime until later.
Lewis: Why wouldn't it be teatime?
Me: Because... No, hang on, it is going to be teatime at five thirty.
Lewis: Why?
Me: Because that's when you normally have tea.
Lewis: Why do we normally have tea at five thirty?
Me: So you don't get hungry.
Lewis: Why would I get hungry if I'd had a chocolate biscuit?
Me: You wouldn't get hungry if you'd had a chocolate biscuit.
Lewis: Why not?
Me: Because you'd have had a chocolate biscuit.
Lewis: Why can't I have one then?
Me: Because it's almost teatime.
Lewis: Why's it almost teatime?
Me: Because it's... Look over there! Something shiny!

All I can do is run away - it feels wrong to tell a child to stop asking questions. He still doesn't get what he wants, though. Marie has found a much better way to get round me - if she wants something, she acts as if she has it already.

Marie: I want ride my pink scooter to shops.
Me: You don't have a scooter.
Marie: Yes, I do.
Me: No, you don't.
Marie: Yes, I do. It pink.
Me: Where is it then?
Marie: It in kitchen.
Me: No, it's not.
Marie: Yes, it is.
Me: Show me.
Marie (going through to kitchen): It not here! It not here! We go look for it.
Me: But you don't have a scooter.
Marie: Yes, I do. It pink!
Me: Er... How about we go to the swing park?
Marie: Hooray! I scoot there.
Marie: I do... (Bites lip and looks sad). You help me find it?
Me: I, er...
Marie: Please...
Me: Er, I think you might have left it in the toy department at John Lewis.
Marie (brightening): We go get it! It pink!

She's trouble, that one. It got to the stage that she coveted pink Crocs so much that, whenever she saw another child wearing them, she'd run over and accuse them of stealing shoes she didn't have. Credit to her, though, while Fraser unwillingly sits on a chair listening to Lewis ask questions about the relationship between teatime and chocolate biscuits, she scoots round them, happily wearing fuchsia footwear.

I was unwrapping a Mars bar for myself today and she walked over and said, "That's mine." AND I JUST GAVE IT TO HER. It's like some strange form of Jedi mind control.

I think she may have bitten off more than she can chew for her next project, however. Apparently we're all going to Euro Disney. At Easter. In a plane. She's totally convinced this is happening but I'm wise to her schemes now. I will resist.

Good luck with Sam.

Yours in a woman's world,


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