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"Check Yourself"

By Chick Moorman

"Check yourself," I said to Austin recently, "and make sure you have all your equipment for Tae Kwon Do."

"I have it all," he replied (without checking), and he placed his Tae Kwon Do bag on the back seat of the car before settling into the front passenger seat. Gameboy immediately appeared and became Austin's only concern during the thirty-minute trip to Saginaw, where his twice-weekly lessons take place.

Actually, Austin, age twelve, didn't have all his equipment. His headgear was on his bed at home. I spotted it there moments before we left.

When I spotted the headgear in his room, I had several choices:

1. Remind Austin that it was on his bed.
2. Put it in the trunk of the car to give to him later.
3. Tell him that because he didn't have all his stuff, he wasn't going.
4. Use "check yourself" Parent Talk.

I decided on the "check yourself" response.

I did so because my job as a parent is to teach my child a system. It's Austin's job to use the system. I bought him a Tae Kwon Do bag with a place for each piece of his equipment. I taught him how to use it. End of my responsibility, beginning of his.

If I remind Austin that he doesn't have all his equipment the first time it happens, I'm a nice guy. If I remind him on a second occasion, he'll begin to expect my reminder. If I help him out a third time, I have a new job. I have unofficially become the reminder person. I don't want that job. I already have enough jobs. It's Austin's job to make sure he has all his equipment, not mine.

So off we went to Saginaw, Austin thinking he had all his equipment, me knowing he didn't. We traveled in excess of thirty minutes to attend a class in which he wouldn't be able to participate because he didn't have the proper equipment.

When we arrived, I let Austin out at the front door and parked the car. By the time I entered the lobby, he was in a state if panic.

"I can't find my headgear!" he screamed.

"You're kidding," I replied, pretending to know nothing of his predicament.(I successfully resisted the urge to say, "I thought you said you checked yourself and that you had all of it.")

"It's not here. Someone must have stolen it!" he exclaimed, disowning responsibility for its whereabouts.

"What are you going to do?" I asked, attempting to switch the focus from blaming to solution seeking.

"Nothing I can do. I'll just have to sit out."

"Austin, you always have more choices than you think you have," I said, using another one of my favorite Parent Talk signature phrases.

"There are no choices here," he said. "There's nothing I can do."

"I can think of some choices. Want to hear them?"

"Okay."

"You could check the lost and found. Maybe your headgear is there. Or maybe there's another one there you can use. Perhaps a classmate has an extra one. You could check around. Maybe Master Gary has a loaner for cases just like this."

"I don't know."

"Well, there are some possibilities. I know you can handle it. I'll be back in a bit -- I want to visit the convenience store." (My ritual on these days is to drop Austin off, go to the corner store, get a 44-ounce diet Coke and a newspaper, and then return in time to watch his practice.)

On this particular day I purposely took a bit longer. I wanted to make sure the practice was well under way before I made my appearance. When I entered the training room, Austin was sitting on the side watching. He couldn't participate because he didn't have all the necessary equipment.

On the way home I used some really effective Parent Talk. I said nothing. In this case, the consequence did the teaching. Any words I might have added would only have taken his focus off the teaching and placed it on the preaching.

When we got home, some two hours after we left, Austin found his headgear on his bed.

"I don't know how it got there," he offered.

"Me neither," I said.

I told this story at a parenting workshop a few months ago and was chastised by a mother who informed me that I had wasted two hours of my time as well as gallons of gas. Her response, she informed the group, would have been to tell the child to "check himself." When he announced that he had everything, she would have told him, "Your headgear is on your bed, so you aren't going today." She felt that keeping him home would have held him accountable and that she wouldn't have had to waste two hours going to the class for no reason.

The flaw in this mom's strategy is that it sets up a scenario in which the child would see her as the one responsible for his not going to class. By looking to her, he would spend no time looking to himself for responsibility. He would have been mad at her instead of at himself. In his mind, she would have been the cause of his missing class.

The two hours I spent and the gallons of gas I used were not wasted. They were invested. They were invested in Austin's future, placed securely in a responsibility bank account that he'll be able to draw on later if he chooses.

How long it takes Austin to learn that he's responsible for his own equipment is up to him. I'm not in charge of when he learns the lesson, only whether or not he gets learning opportunities. I'm willing to take my responsibility. And leave space for him to take his.

 


Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of The Abracadabra Effect: The 13 Verbally Transmitted Diseases and How to Cure Them. They also publish a FREE email newsletter for parents and another for educators. Subscribe to them when you visit www.chickmoorman.com or www.thomashaller.com. Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. For more information about how they can help you or your group meet your parenting needs, visit their websites today.