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
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
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
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?"
"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
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
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