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23 September 2008

Changing Habits

Adi, (Short for Aditya) my son, has a very bad habit of losing things.
He is currently in class 4. Never a day passes when Adi has not lost something in the school. It could be an eraser, a sharpener, scale, book, pencils..., you name it he has lost them all.
Every time he loses something our reaction has been the same. Shout at him, continuously probe why he lost it (leading to his cooking up some fantastic story...), exhorting him to be careful in future and finally replacing the lost item.
I have a feeling that if I had encashed the value of all the things that he lost, probably I could have reduced my home loan by a notch...(Of course I am kidding)
The whole effort used to stress us out and put the poor child under a lot of pressure..
The other day he had a book fair in his school. He wanted 15o rupees to buy a book.
I told him that I will go with him the next day and help him choose the book. But he was adament that he wanted to buy the book that day itself. I hiked my offer. I told him that if he agrees to wait for another day, I will personally come and buy him books worth 500 rupees. I told him of the benefits of delayed gratification and how it will help him in future...
All to no avail. The kid clung to 'I want to buy it today' like he was glued to it. Tenacious kid.
So I end up giving him 15o rupees.
In the evening I come home and ask him to show me the book.
He says he lost 100 rupees. So he couldn't buy the book. What about the remaining 5o rupees? Since he was not buying the book anyway, he spent the whole of it in the canteen, he says.
I lose my cool and shout at him. I tell him that he wont get any more books. I remind him that I had told him not to take the money to school that morning and that he did not listen to me. I am all 'I told you so's.
The child retires to a corner and sulks.
Next day morning, I suddenly realize that I am fighting a losing battle. By shouting at him, while I am telling him what he is doing wrong, I am not giving him any suggestions for improvements. And probably shouting was not helping any way.
I decide to change my approach. I think that being proactive could be the better way.
I call my son. "Yesterday I gave you 150 rupees and you lost it. Since you have taken money from me, I need to get something in return".
The kid is immdiately on the defensive. "What should I give you?" he asks
"You need to promise me that you will develop two good habits. One, you will develop the habit of being careful with your thing and not losing them. Even if you lose things, you should give your level best to trace it back. And two, you should develop the habit of 'delayed gratification'. If you get some good thing today and a better thing tomorrow, you must choose the 'tomorrow' rather than 'today' if you have an option."
The kid know when he is outclassed. "Okay", he says albeit without much conviction.
In return I make this promise. "In case you do not lose anything for a week, I will buy you a book of your choice. For every instance of 'delayed gratification' behaviour demonstrated by you, I will buy you a book of your choice."
He is happy but has a minor modificaiton. "For one of them above, you must give me some other gift. What about a transformer if I demonstrate 'Delayed Gratification'?"
We sign off on dotted line.

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