No time like the present for a little emotional training

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The Independent Online
Fantastic to see media coverage this week of "Emotion Trainers" - mums who:

a) empathise with their anguished children

b) help them to express their angst

c) set limits while trying to find solutions to the problem.

Yesterday I put in a bit of valuable Emotion Trainer role-playing when my son Timon wanted a second Lucky Bag.

Stage 1

Timon: You're the worst mummy in the world. I wish I was dead.

Empathetic Mum: As you know, Tim, I myself was very sick last year: depression, tranquillisers, cry-for-help overdose - and went on strong medication. I know how you feel.

Timon: I hate you.

Empathetic Mum: I love you very much even though you have bitten my neck and it is bleeding.

Stage 2

Timon: I want a Lucky Bag.

Expressing Mum in soothing voice: Repeat after me Timon, "I already have a Lucky Bag. I only think I want a second one."

Timon: I want a lucky bag.

Stage 3

Limit-setting Mum: You've said "I want a Lucky Bag" for a full two hours now. It's time to stop saying "I want a Lucky Bag".

Timon: I want a Lucky Bag.

The confident Emotion Trainer knows when to let empathy win out. On this occasion I felt Timon needed to know that I forgave him and didn't mind about my neck wound. He showed no signs of guilt which worried me: repressed feelings of guilt can last well into adulthood. We went together to the newsagent's where we bought a second Lucky Bag, and then to the chemist's for a Lucky Bag for mum containing plasters, Savlon and headache pills.

Mums who are no good at emotion training fall into three categories: a) dismissive, b) disapproving, or c) laissez faire. Our new neighbour Sue, poor love, shows signs of falling into all three traps in the rearing of her child, Harry. When she first moved in I thought she was different from the other local mums, all of whom I'm afraid show classic signs of being over-protective. I remember asking one whether her kids could come over and she told me to "f- of". "Kids must socialise," I said. "Timon's already had one friend - Tom? Ron? Don? - over. They had a smashing time."

"His name is John and your son shaved his hair off," she snapped.

"Native Indian fantasy play!" I explained but she'd already gone.

"I think we ought to talk about why you haven't asked Timon back," I said next time I saw her. Sadly, the whole family upped and left the next day.

At any rate Sue agreed to drive my kids to school and was very positive about this opportunity for the children to socialise. Then suddenly she announced that on no account would she take them again. I was ready to look at this in a positive light. Driving the kids can be a smashing time to talk problems through. Mine are very chatty with Dave of Dave's Taxis.

But Sue - and you've got to feel sorry for her - handled the whole thing in a very negative way. She arrived on our doorstep and immediately eyed Timon and Esme in a Disapproving way. "That boy has bitten my son," she declared.

"He's never bitten anyone except me, my elderly mum and one or two close friends," I replied in a firm but friendly way. "You know Only Children can have tremendous difficulties socialising. Come on kids, say `hi' to Sue."

"Uggh" said Esme, whose speech therapist says she's making brilliant progress.

"Esme says `hi' Sue," I said. But she was classically Dismissive: "I couldn't care less what Esme said."

The following day Dave told me all his cars were busy indefinitely. I decided to take them myself and use the journey for Spontaneous Conversational Interplay. "How is your playground socialising, kids?" I began, not at first noticing that Timon had managed to get on top of Harry in the middle of the road. "Timon," I called several times. I spotted Sue approaching looking classically anguished. "Sorry Sue. He's been eating too many fatty foods and it's affected his hearing." But she had already yanked Timon off Harry. "Another classic mistake, Sue!" I shouted, with a pleasant laugh. Do remember, mums, physical interference is never the answer.

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