When I was teaching, I had as a mentor a veritable dinosaur of the Secondary system, a teacher who had been teaching for over 25 years and was, amazingly, still not weeping every weekday morning. He gave me much advice, some of which I had to disregard if I wanted to keep my job, and one bit which stuck with me, because it worked. He told me never to loose my temper, even with a class of 35 Year 9's, last lesson, and that before I lost my temper, the best thing to do was to act loosing your temper. Because once you've lost it, you're not in control. But whilst you are acting loosing your temper, you get all the benefits of the shock and awe response, but you can also add little Bette Davies touches that will add to your mystique and legend, and you will be in control. So, before the Year 9's tip you over the edge, pause, and go scenery chewing crazy, stop them in their tracks, and then calmly switch into neutral and carry on. Pretend you haven't done it. You will only ever have to do this with each class once or twice a term. Particularly if, as I did, you misjudge quite how much slamming a door can take and the pane of glass falls out and smashes everywhere. They never played up again.
What has this to do with my usual blurbs, which are usually about parenting, eating, hens, with the occaisional Conservative hate mail? Well, I have of late been losing my rag. It comes in cycles, and I have found that when son develops a new skill, daughter will quickly develop a rival skill or whine to compete. I have weeks that go like this:
son: "Mum, MUM, MUUUM! Look at me do this!" (recites entire Quentin Blake book at me without looking at pages, just holding it above his head)
daughter: "MUM! Mummmmeeeee! Look! Look! I can do this!" (does inexplicable Haka like dance with ugly toy dog she got for her birthday before throwing it at son)
son: "Nooooo! I was READING! You are a stupid stinky bum head!" (sings stinky bum head song repatedly)
daughter: "I am NOT you are and that is not reading it is STINKY like your BUM!"
Slight pause while both of them decide whether to cry to gain most attention or fight. Fight. Pause while they examine themselves for wounds, as wounds command high Mum Attention points, especially if there is blood. Hence, son has stopped screaming if daughter attempts to scratch or bite him, as the end result of the scratch or bite is more pleasing than actually stopping it would be. All this while I am on the loo, trying to have a poo. Now, I have had a few moments of late where I have flared up at this, and ended up shouting the mum equivalent of "stinky poo bum" at them, and we all end up shouting, weeping and feeling bad. I did try to separate and calm them, using the divide and conquer rule, but this fails as it only adds to their sense of injustice, and whilst moments before they were mortal enemies, once in their respective rooms, they become allies, cruelly separated by their Nazi of a mother, and tap the dividing wall, whispering messages to each other. I fully expect to see a Poster of a Honda Fireblade on his side and a pony on hers hiding an escape route. Thing is, they just annoy me. They know how to do it really well, and which whiny voice is going to get the most response the quickest, like they have a little ipod of whines in their heads and they're there thinkg "Hmm, it's almost teatime, and I want some attention. Shall I go for the feeble voiced, weak sounding whine and plead for a snack? Or shall I revert to baby speak, and introduce a sad sob effect, implying I have been abandoned, and then ask for a biscuit?" And I am, by 4pm, cooking, end of tethered, and very liable to explode easily. It couldn't go on.
So I decided to go back to my teaching books. I re-read the very useful "Getting the Buggers to Behave" and various other tomes and I can honestly say that I'll be able to make them behave beautifully when they are 11+ in a classroom setting. But really, it's my old mentors advice that has been useful. And not only in acting mad, but in acting calm too. I decided to reverse things and pretend to be calm when I wasn't. I have spent all week pretending calm and responding calmly, acting calmly when really I wanted to yell. I've been anticipating flare ups and out-calming them. I have been unruffled by the fights, I have NOT yelled. And it has totally freaked them out. Initially wrongfooted by my zen-like responses, they were flustered. But then they calmed down. They've had a good week. And so have I. I am calmer. Maybe there's something in Zen and all that, because by pretending calmness, it has actually, in part, descended upon me. Of course, it helps that I have earplugs.