04/09/2012 07:13 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

The House Dad Chronicles: Punishing My Children Hurts Me More Than It Hurts Them

The House Dad Chronicles: Punishing my children hurts me more than it hurts them Rex

Of our three children, our seven year-old boy, is the most caring, the most helpful, the most sensitive.

He can also be the most exasperating. He can be the biggest pain in the backside since red-hot pokers were invented. And he has got down to a fine art the ability to completely ruin a day.

That's what happened on Saturday. We all ventured out to the local park – me, my wife, my 10-year-old stepdaughter, our four year-old. Scooters and a football, a backpack filled with farmers' market bread, cheese and russets. The epitome of the Perfectly Pleasant English Family On A Rare Warm Summer's Day.

And then the clouds came in. Metaphorically. I'm talking metaphorically.

Seven year-old wouldn't share his football. He had a tantrum when his sister caught him in a game of tag. He wanted the apple his brother was eating. He decided that his Favourite Food In The World - chocolate ice cream - was now a stinking pile of dog you-know-what.

Each time, his mother told him to behave, chill out, stop spoiling things. I tried to ignore it. But when he ignored his mother, it was time for Yours Truly to have a quiet but forceful word. And for a milli-second, he calmed down, lightened up.

The sun was out again. Followed by thunder.

Who knows what the row was about? Who cares? Their mother and I don't get to spend much time with each other nowadays because she's at work 10 hours a day: we just wanted it to stop.

"OK, come to me," ' I said, pointing at my frowning boy.

He refused. Then refused again. And again. And then the lightning followed.

I stood up, so angry that I couldn't even speak, picked up the rucksack and gestured to my son to follow me.

"Where are you going?" my wife asked.

"Home. He's ruined enough of the day already. He's not going to ruin the rest of it."

I marched across the park, towards home, fuming. I could hear my son running behind me, apologising like crazy.

Now, I know I'm the adult in this situation, and he is the child. I know I should have calmed down, lowered myself to his level, looked him in the eyes and spoken to him in a cool, calm, reasonable tone of voice. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. I'd snapped. My petulance was dictating things now.

When I was a child, punishment for me and my three brothers was a smack on the bottom, or back of the legs, or, when we grew older, a clout around the earhole.

My Dad would deliver these blows with the words: "This hurts me more than it hurts you, Son."

I very, VERY much doubt it, Dear Father.

But now that I'm a dad myself, I realise what he meant.


The days have long gone when smacking was deemed acceptable, and it's never gone on in our family.


But what I needed now, as we approached home and The Big Moment stared me in the face, was how to come up with a suitable punishment that would achieve the desired effect of both punishing my son for ruining the day, whilst at the same time changing his behaviour for the forthcoming summer holidays.

But the Red Mist was still in my eyes and all creativity eluded me. All I could say when we got through the front door was a very quiet: "Go to your room."

And he did. No tears. No arguments. Just swift, instantaneous action. He went into his room, closed the door. And stayed silent.

I busied myself by putting a wash on and folding some clothes. I put the radio on to listen to some football commentary. But I couldn't concentrate. Why was he being so quiet?


This is hurting me more than it hurts you, Son.


Is he alright in there? It's not like him. He usually cries until he makes himself sick.

This is hurting me more than it hurts you, Son.

Perhaps he was asleep. I poked my head around the door and saw his little white face peering out from the duvet. His eyes were wide open. He didn't look at me. Just stared at the wall behind me.

This is hurting me more than it hurts you, Son.

"Are you OK?" I asked.

He didn't say anything. I went towards him - and he flinched. My own boy, flinched. What did he think I was going to do? My God, he was scared of me.

This is hurting me more than it hurts you, Son.

He looked up at me with his big blue eyes, which were filled with big fat tears, and said: "I'm sorry, Dad."

This is hurting me more than it hurts you, Son.

I put my arms under him, around him, drew him up and close into my chest.

"I know, Son. I know you are."

I kissed him on the forehead, pulled the duvet back, told him to come into the kitchen.


I felt terrible for making my seven-year-old child terrified of me.


I wanted - needed - to make it up to him. I went towards the freezer, pulled out the drawer that contained the chocolate ice cream, but before I could retrieve the tub, my son spoke.

"Can I have a cuddle?" he said.

As I put my arms around him, he looked up at me.

"Da-ad," he said. "Yes, son?" "I love you more than chocolate ice cream, Dad."

And for one day only, perhaps he meant it!