GROWING PAINS: Letting Child Express, Not Repress, Himself

This week my parents are over sampling the delights of Moscow, which they do every five years or so. Since they have three sets of grandchildren growing up in three different countries - America, Russia and Britain - I decided this would be a fine opportunity to quiz them about the social and cultural differences they find being nurtured in each family.

Nice focus for my column, I thought. A profound little piece exploring the challenges of growing up in New York as opposed to Moscow or London. So I chose a relatively quiet moment and sat them down to ponder the question.

After some thought, my father - called "Grumps" by all his grandchildren - put down his newspaper and said, "Well, yours are definitely the worst behaved."

He then took a sip of coffee, picked up the paper again and added, "Which is surprising, because Russian children are the most beautifully behaved in the world."

Needless to say, I wasn't too happy with this response. What adoring mother would like her reading public to know that her children are pretty appalling? However, I then recalled how my oldest daughter, Sasha, had been apprehensive about Grumps' visit because "I'll have to sit up straight and eat properly, whereas when I'm with babushka she'd let me eat under the table with the dogs if I wanted." So perhaps I'm not entirely to blame on the bad-behavior stakes.

As I mused further on this discipline issue, it occurred to me that my brother, who has lived in New York for the past 20 years, was so aghast at the every-little-child-has-a- right-to-be-respected attitude there that he decided to keep his daughters on a fairly tight rein. And my twin brother, who lives in England, is a natural-born disciplinarian. But I, no doubt because of the squash and squish 'em approach to upbringing in Russia, went in more for "express yourself, don't repress yourself."

Oddly enough, this was nicely illustrated today as I hauled my 5-year-old, Bobby, around his third art gallery of the week. There were also several large groups of schoolchildren, aged about 8 to 10, who trooped soberly around the halls, keeping a respectful distance from the paintings.

Bobby, however, was seeing how close he could get to a painting before the room attendant started barking. Finally, he broke loose and ran from one end of the hall to the other yelling, "Vroooom!" He was immediately pounced upon by an elderly attendant who angrily shouted, "Don't run! Don't go near the paintings! Just be quiet!"

He scowled at her, climbed into my arms and whispered bravely in my ear, "If she says that again I'll tell her to be quiet!" Which is kind of half "repress yourself" and half "express yourself."

So perhaps that answers my question to my father?