I must confess, growing up as a wee ‘nipper’, I wasn’t always exactly as good as gold. I wasn’t a difficult or unruly child, but then neither was I the perfect little angel! Let’s face it! What child really is? But back then we grew up with a different set of rules, and a completely different form of parental discipline. We understood, respected and obeyed simple everyday instructions like – ‘Don’t do that!’ ‘Sit down and be quiet!’ OR ‘No you can’t have it!’ And all was absorbed and understood without throwing a complete and unnecessary tantrum before storming off yelling ‘I hate you! I hate you!’
The threatening phrase issued by many mums – ‘Wait ‘til your father gets home!’ was enough to strike fear into the bravest of hearts. And the prospect of a policeman turning up on the front doorstep was mind-blowing. These days, children and teens alike feel confident enough to cheek representatives of the law, along with their parents, superiors and complete strangers.
As a child, if I annoyed the neighbours by continually kicking my football up against their walls, they would tell me to clear off and play outside my own house. I would grudgingly yet instantly obey and hope my parents didn’t find out or take me to the ever ominous police station! I tried that little rebuke myself a few weeks ago, just before lockdown, on a boisterous boy with a ball, and was met with a look of complete arrogance, disinterest and incomprehension as if I’d asked him to fly to the moon using paper wings.
Of course not all children are like that, but sadly many are, and have become that way because relaxed parenting has placed their little darlings on a bit of a polished pedestal where they can’t do anything wrong; especially here in Majorca where the children always come before everything, including conversation with another adult, demanding constant and instant attention, and usually getting anything they want! Like right now!!!
Naturally, every parent thinks their own children are perfect angels, and of course they are. But behind the radar, children have got to grow and explore in their own inimitable way, experimenting with their social and anti-social skills, making their own decisions along with their own mistakes, and ultimately learning from their experiences, including the suffering of disappointment by not getting everything they want at the drop of a wallet.
Off the leash, most children will run wild; yet running feral without boundaries is a dangerous course, and not the best introduction to success within society in adult life.
In lockdown, I have noticed the streets are exceptionally quiet. No screaming children running circles in the square, outside our house, or anywhere in fact! I’m not saying I miss it, but the peace and quiet does feel very strange!
As a successful children’s author with over 70 published titles in print (Google me!) I have always been fascinated by the behaviour of children, drawing inspiration for my many characters. One of my favourites is ‘The Cartwheel Cutie’, usually a girl of around nine years old who suddenly, out of the blue, feels compelled to spin a random cartwheel. It can happen anywhere – a busy supermarket, a church aisle, a crowded market. Spinning Susan knows no boundaries. She also has a habit of throwing herself backwards at the most inappropriate times into a ‘crab’ position, holding the ungainly pose for a second or two, before righting her posture and carrying on her skipping way.
The Karate Kid is the equivalent with the boys. Again around eight or nine years old, who suddenly launches himself into a martial arts battle with an invisible opponent? Flying kicks, spins and fist jabs with accompanying yells, grunts and karate calls end as abruptly as they begin; with hopefully nothing getting knocked off the shelves if this outburst takes place in a busy department store or private home.
It is funny, but it makes me realise how difficult current life must be for families here in Majorca where the children have always had such freedom to do and act as they please. For the first time in their short lives they are being kept on a short, strict rein and probably testing their parents to the very limits of their patience. The young children don’t really understand the gravity or true sense behind this lockdown, as all they ever really want to do is be out in the sunshine playing with their friends. And the teenagers? Well, all teenagers think they are invincible in their personal rebellions, and it will come as a sad and terrible shock for them to ever realise that they’re not! Covid-19 is not a Playstation video game. It’s a very real and dangerous scenario.
Parents in turn are also being tested in the control of their offspring like never before, and helplines have even been set up in the UK for parents struggling with home-schooling and managing their children’s behaviour during the Covid-19 crisis.
Parents here in Majorca must be very grateful that the restrictions regarding their children have been relaxed slightly, and as from Sunday 26 April, their little ones have been allowed out with an accompanying adult for an hour of supervised exercise. I only hope the parents comply equally with this new protocol and don’t just ‘release the Kraken’ into our midst without the proper and responsible control. Most parents I should imagine can’t wait to fling open the front door and see the back of their children for an hour’s peace and quiet. But that’s not the idea! Children are allowed out for controlled exercise with a responsible adult. It’s not a playtime excuse to engage with friends and other children. But at least it’s a start
This is a very trying time for most families and not something any of us signed up for. But in the foreseeable future this is the ‘new’ normal, and I am certain and hopeful that with care and diligence, both children and adults alike will get through this.
Trying to run a home as a parent, keep everything afloat and organize the children with no free time for yourself must be an absolute nightmare! I can’t even begin to imagine the stress involved! Keeping calm and giving lessons to children on top of all that workload takes an amazing strength. But generally, children are very smart, and being disruptive or awkward is usually because they are bored and just another way of getting attention!
Children just want to be occupied and are generally very willing to learn something new, as long as it’s not presented as a boring chore! Why not reverse the ‘learning’ role and let them teach you something! Play being in school. Set up a classroom scenario with all the adults as pupils and the children as the teacher. Here is your chance to give those kids a taste of their own medicine! Surprisingly, getting a child to take on an adult role while trying to teach you something is a real eye opener, and makes them really think about what and why they are supposed to be learning!
One of the best teachers I ever had was Miss Greenwell, a geography teacher who came to our school in the UK all the way from New Zealand. As pupils we all thought we were so clever in regularly distracting Miss Greenwell from our lessons by encouraging her to talk about her world travels and adventurous holidays. We thought we were actually bunking off the curriculum and were enthralled as a class with her wonderful stories of far and distant lands. Questions and answers were encouraged and we actually learnt a great deal more without even realising it. The main thing was, the lessons became fun, and although we really did think we were controlling the teacher, of course we weren’t. Miss Greenwell knew exactly what she was doing – engaging brilliantly with young, ever curious minds.
It’s not been easy for the children to stay indoors for six weeks. It’s not been easy for the adults either! But it’s not exactly been a life sentence! And in the big scheme of things, it’s been vital for getting all our futures back to some form of normality!