E Jane Dickson: Accentuate the positive, Soviet style - that's my new regime for successful parenting

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Charging through Waterloo station, I'm tickled by the announcement that there is a good service operating on all London Underground lines this afternoon.

Charging through Waterloo station, I'm tickled by the announcement that there is a good service operating on all London Underground lines this afternoon. It's a Soviet-style approach to public information that, just a few weeks ago, might have annoyed me beyond reason. But, I reflect, what better time than the beginning of a new year to start accentuating the positive?

In childcare terms, it's axiomatic that successful parenting rewards good behaviour rather than moaning about infractions. So, next morning, when Con, as usual, makes to leave for school without his coat, I stifle my inner Rosa and congratulate him instead on remembering his PE kit. He is, I note with a pang, wrong-footed by the unaccustomed pleasantry.

"S'all right, Mum," he says uncertainly.

"So," I continue, still pleasant as hell, "is there perhaps something you've forgotten?"

"Er, s'all right thank you, Mum," he offers.

Clara rolls her eyes. "Coat!" she bellows, stepping into the maternal breach. "It's your coat! How many times do you need to be told?"

There's nothing quite like hearing one's exact exasperated tones replicated in the voice of a nine-year-old to stiffen the resolve for change. On the way to school, I explain the new regime. "Instead of banging on about the things that annoy us," I say, "I want us to start noticing the good things about people."

"Yeah, right," humphs Clara. "What can you say good about a brother who makes you late for school every single morning because he can't even remember to get himself dressed?"

"Oh," says Con taking a deep breath to count the ways, "there's loads of good things to say about me. I'm not grumpy, and I don't shout at people and poke them when they forget things and... and..."

"Well?" says Clara. "Go on."

"And... um," says Con, seized by sudden inspiration, "I've got a good loud voice for singing."

"It's true," I acknowledge, "that Conor is a cheerful boy and a good loud singer, but I was actually thinking more of nice things we might say about each other."

"Ah," say Clara and Conor together, and we continue the journey for some moments in silence. Con, abhorring a vacuum, cracks first. "I suppose," he says, "that Clara is quite pretty."

"D'you really think so?" asks his sister, preening delightedly. "Even with my hair like this?" (With nits abroad, we are back to penitentially tight plaits for school.)

Just in time, she remembers the new rules of engagement. "Of course," she says, "Mummy's pretty, too. No, really," she goes on, waving away all natural objection. "I was just thinking the other night when I was looking at all your little lines that it's great the way you don't have any wrinkles at all round your ears."

"Well, thank you," I manage, and smooth back my hair to accentuate this positive and hitherto unregarded feature. I'm not sure the Soviet dream is quite going to work for us. But you have to make a start somewhere.

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