How Do You Get Children To Behave?

How do you get children to behave?

This is the problem for Young Herbert's mother in my new show Young Herbert's Horrors. Living on a boat on a river, Herbert imagines himself as a swashbuckling, treasure-seeking, trouble-making  buccaneer and no matter however much Mum tells him to tidy his cabin, eat his greens and show her more respect, she just can't stop him being a "naughty, naughty pirate".

In desperation, Herbert's Mum threatens him with a visit from his long lost Great Uncle Albatross, a fearsome naval commander and the scourge of all pirates and rebels.  Great Uncle Albatross will "sort you out", Mum warns...

Parents have long been inventing characters to get their children to behave. And some writers have tried to help parents by writing stories and poems that warn children of the terrible consequences of naughty (or unsafe) behaviours.

These poems and stories are called Cautionary Tales. Some of the most famous cautionary tales were written by a German doctor Heinrich Hoffman whose book Struwwelpeter (published in 1845) is now famous all over the world. No prizes for guessing what happens in Hoffman's rhyme to Augustus who doesn't eat his soup (he wastes away and dies) or Pauline who plays with matches.

There's a strong tradition of cautionary tales in the UK too, although Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales For Children, published in 1907, featuring Jim (who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion) was much more tongue-in-cheek than Struwwelpeter. Most recently, David Walliam's Worlds Worst Children series also draws on this tradition as does the ITV series Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids,  based on poems by Jamie Rix.

As part of my research and development for Young Herbert's Horrors, I've been writing some cautionary tales with groups of children in schools, festivals and libraries. It's been a lot of fun. Children have been telling me about the punishments their parents threaten them with (and parents about the punishments that their parents gave them too). One child said his parents warned him if he didn't tidy up his toys he'd get a visit from Take Away Tom - who'd take all his toys away - other children told me their untidied toys are threatened with Toy Prison. It sounds terrible, doesn't it? I think we can safely say that some of us parents find dealing with naughty children very stressful!

In the show Great Uncle Albatross TURNS OUT TO BE ACTUALLY REAL (although not really real because it's a story!) and he has three frightening tales of his own to tell. At the moment I am wondering whether being told those tales is going to make Herbert behave better or whether they are just going to scare him so much that he wants to rebel even more. What do you think?

If you want to know whether Herbert and his Mum get to sail away towards a happier horizon, why not come and see the show? The first performances are at The Half Moon Theatre, east London on January 19th and 20th 2018.






Justin chambers-coe