Friday, September 23, 2005

More Mouths of Babes

I'm still collecting kids' comments. But sometimes I forget them and then remember them a couple of years later. They’re weird, and often prophetic, or at least brilliant. Okay, maybe not prophetic or brilliant—but they do make you look at surprising relationships between parts of syntax, sounds, and how the mind works linguistically.

Some years ago we had a discipline system in our house called 1-2-3 Timeout. No, actually, that’s a misnomer. The method is called "1-2-3 Magic." This is the name of a book by Thomas Phelan. It turned out not to be magic for more than about five minutes in our house, but that’s beside the point. The point is that, memorably, Dr. Phelan suggested that older children who understood the concept of money and earnings and allowances also be taught the flip side of the coin: debits.

So we learned that for certain infractions of behavioral agreements, we should try “docking,” which means taking away a percentage or fixed-cents amount of the allowance. Parents can dock by whatever “reasonable” amount they want. Problem One: In our house, we’d never been able to motivate any kid to do any chores or work of any kind by offering an allowance (this is still the case, and one will be in college in a few years, if he survives. So see what I think, Dr. Phelan). We started out using this method sparingly, only when we were deeply incensed. Ultimately we wound up with a twenty-five-cent threat.

But when misbehavor skyrocketed, we tried the docks more frequently. They kept coming up with quarters. We had no idea they had so many quarters. We knew we hadn’t given them that many for their piggy banks; and they didn’t yet have bank accounts that they could access alone; perhaps Grandma had given them a roll, or they’d gotten into ours? Oooh, all the more reason to dock them! Docking back our own quarters! But, sadly, the whole message of docking never did seem to sink in.

One day I was listening to them argue indoors. They were threatening each other. And the little one finally said, “If you don’t do what I say, I’ll court you a doctor!”

Silence. There were no more words, no more fighting. The big one just looked at the little one quizzically.

“Uh, I mean, if you don’t do what I say, I’ll uh, I mean, dock you a quarter!”

So they had been listening, after all! But it still didn’t result in the intended outcome; the sibling didn’t follow the instruction, and didn’t care about being clocked--I mean clicked--I mean docked. And still doesn't. He just hands over the money and goes back and invents a new infraction.


At 9/27/2005 6:02 AM, Blogger Tuesday said...

A quarter is obviously too little keeping inflation and your mother-in-law in mind.

Go for the jugular. Go for a dollar.


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