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My love-hate relationship with Horrid Henry

You could never accuse the average three-year-old of being predictable.

But my youngest son’s capacity to surprise me reached new heights this week when – completely out of the blue - he huffed: ‘That’s it. I’m leaving. Thanks for nothing!’

As his seven- and eleven-year-old brothers creased up with laughter, I picked up my jaw from the tarmac, while they explained: ‘He heard that on Horrid Henry.’

But of course he did.

When you have kids of different ages it often results in anomalies in their viewing habits. The programmes aimed at my three-year-old - In the Night Garden and Justin’s House – are too young for the other two; conversely, those that appeal to my 11-year-old are too old for him.

So we meet somewhere in the middle. Which, high risk as it is, means Horrid Henry.

In some ways it was a relief that the three-year-old’s outburst was merely a parrot-style rendition of what he’d seen on television - rather than the start of a personality trait that would leave him prone to dramatic, Eastenders-style slanging matches.

But even so, it should have come as no surprise that this programme, and its anti-hero Henry, was the inspiration for his diva moment.

As a novelist, I completely appreciate the brilliance of author Francesca Simon’s creation. Her stories are hilarious, the characters a hoot and all three of my kids, like millions of others, have loved both the books and the programmes.

As a mother on the other hand, I don’t appreciate a thing about them.

At least not when my kids attempt to emulate Henry’s every move - every nose-picking incident, every whining session, every sneering put-down of his brother.

The worst thing is though, against all my instincts, I am strangely sympathetic to Henry, who is surrounded by some of the most cretinous individuals you could hope to meet.

His parents are the kind of dullards you’d avoid getting stuck next to at a party, his brother Peter is a whiney creep and, even accounting for the fact that I’m glad he’s not mine, you could at least imagine Henry growing up to be the kind of bloke who’d be a laugh in the pub.

Unfortunately, this is a difficult message to convey to your children, at least without catastrophic consequences: that the kid who does as he’s told is a weasel and the naughty one is the best of a bad bunch.

So I don’t tell them. I instead maintain a dignified silence, until they all start shrieking ‘IT’S NOT FAIR!’ At that point, believe me, I’ve got plenty to say about it.

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