Sorry seems to be the hardest word


Discipline has changed a lot since I was a kid.

The education system is unrecognisable to me now. Semi-psychotic primary school teachers and nuns patrolling corridors like rival drugs gangs have been replaced by thinking time and understanding the consequences of our actions. Thank Christ.

Keeping order at home is a bit trickier. The rules are hazier, the boundaries more fluid and the kids more likely to stretch or simply march right over the top of them.

I suspect trying to get my boy to stay on a naughty step in the house would be as easy as putting a jellyfish through a cheese grater.

My ‘skills’ as a disciplinarian met their sternest test this morning. Our son had woken too early. Well he always wakes too early but this was even earlier than too early.

Mummy brought him into our bed for a cuddle and tried to settle him down. For some unknown reason, and totally out of character, he reacted with fury, lashing out aggressively.

I put on my authoritative voice (don’t laugh!) and told him to settle down. He kept screeching and swinging his arms. It was clear he had gone into a rage and had no idea how to escape it.

The challenge for me is to try and be measured. Not to meet anger with anger. It’s always easier to simply lash back, trying to reason with him when you struggle to find reason yourself is the goal.

I’m fighting to remain calm as I tell him if he doesn’t calm down he will have to go to his room. He howls in defiance. I lift him to his room.

The stand-off begins.

I have to hold the door closed to stop him from simply walking out of the room.

As he struggles on the other side with the handle he screeches and kicks like a caged troll.

I tell him through the door that I want to have a conversation but it can’t start until he stops shouting. He shouts louder, it’s almost demonic.

Soon he has pulled at the door handle on his side so roughly that it comes off in his hand. At least this now means that I don’t have to hold the other side because he can’t escape now even if I’m not there.

I keep telling him how much me and mummy love him and how we are waiting for nice James to come back so we can talk to him. I’m surprised by the level of his anger and his stubbornness because he gives every indication of wanting to make this a long-running feud.

I tell him that he’ll stay in the room all day if he doesn’t calm down but secretly I’m praying that he cracks before I do.

Eventually, like a wild horse being broken, I can sense the fight going out of him. I hear him moving away from the door and sitting down with his toys.

My son’s bedroom is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of toys and he’s now playing with them. This would have been a holiday rather than a punishment when I was a kid.

He snaps at me a few more times but I know the end is in sight. Mummy tells him that whenever he wants to come out and have a talk he just has to knock the door three times.

He leaves it another minute or two, just to prove he’s nobody’s patsy and then I hear three weak knocks.

I carry him out and set him on the bed. We talk to him about anger and how to express it. He’s playing distractedly with a rattly toy, trying to avoid making eye contact.

The last hurdle to be overcome is getting him to show some remorse, to understand that his actions can hurt other people.

Sorry is, inevitably, the hardest word. He doesn’t want to face up to what he has done, to confront bad behaviour. He’s trying to wheedle his way back into our favour through a side door.

We keep at it. I tell him that saying sorry is the hardest thing in the world and that you have to be really brave to do it. I tell him that superheroes say sorry because they are so brave (don’t laugh, I’m making this parenting stuff up as I go).

Finally he ducks his head so we can’t see his face and whimpers the word ‘sorry’.

I look at my watch and realise it’s not too early anymore. In fact it’s not early at all now. The confrontation has broken the morning.

Did we handle the situation well? Who’s to say. Were we too soft? Too rigid? Did he learn anything? I suppose we’ll find out.

For now I settle for giving my son a big cuddle. I always love him but now he’s my best pal again.

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