Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Responsibility Leads To Good Behavior

To my son Tommy,

On our Saturday adventures, you acquired yet another stuffed animal, a bird which you named Mr. Bubbles. You are showing quite the affinity for this one, and, like any good father, I am using that to my advantage.

One trick I learned (probably because my father used to pull it on me) is if you give a child responsibility over another, his behavior gets better. Simply by making him accountable for the care and education of another, the child ups his game immediately. If you decide to give this power to your son over another human being, like classmates or a kid brother, the potential for disaster is high. The kid can turn into a bossy little bully who when unsuccessful at controlling his charges turns into a whiny tattletale. However, if that object of responsibility is a stuffed animal, the disaster potential dissipates. Stuffed animals only resist as much as the kid wants them to and never more than the kid can control. They make great pupils and charges in this way. I did exactly this with Mr. Bubbles and you.

When I served you breakfast this morning, you were reluctant and whiny. Instead of powering through and imposing my will on you, I asked that you show Mr. Bubbles how we do breakfast. You looked at me confused. I explained that this is the first breakfast that Mr. Bubbles has been invited to and he needs to know what is expected and how we do things. Then I left the room.

I came back and you had wrapped Mr. Bubbles in a blanket (just like I normally wrap you to eat your cereal) and pulled up a chair for him at your breakfast table. You were showing him how you fed yourself and occasionally offered him a bite. You were also explaining what else we would have to do this morning. I explained to you and Mr. Bubbles that I was going to take a quick shower and when I came back we were going to brush our teeth or beak as the case may be. After my shower, I came down and I snapped the picture while you were making sure the bathroom had an extra rinse cup for him so we could all brush our teeth together.

I guess, technically, this is pure manipulation and trickery to get you to do what you should be doing. But you were going to do what had to be done no matter, so the alternative was to fight about it all morning. Remember, if you need someone to do something, sometimes a frontal assault is not the best way. Instead, give them some responsibility and let them surprise you. Even when they know it is make believe, they are eager to teach someone else how to behave, and in the process do exactly what you want them to do in the first place. Now if that only worked with politicians...

Sincerely with love from your dad,

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