What My Kid Learned On The Night I Cancelled Dinner
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How do I teach my child to have a sense of urgency?
There is only one way, as far as I can tell, and that is to let the child fail at something big, so that the transition from the careless childhood to a more level-headed youth takes place.
It sounds almost insane, and I hope you will take my word with a grain of salt: if you’re asking about it for your child, and your child is not mentally or emotionally ready for the transition, then I hope you will be able to vary this experiment accordingly. (Basically, there’s no parenting school, and we all do our best as parents.)
If you decide to go ahead with it, remain strong and keep this question — and the long-term implications — in mind. You should pick something which, if failed or neglected, will have consequences but not too dire and definitely not lethal.
Let’s say you pick a chore of laundry. Your child will be responsible for laundry, hopefully with something at stake — some event to attend (with the needed clothing mixed in with the remainder of the laundry), or some delicate item (let’s say a dress) which requires some attention. Then, you put your child in charge of this, and however it is done — badly, or left too long in the washer (and moldy), or dryer set too high (wrinkled and almost crispy) — you just tell the family to wear it.
Yes, it will be something you need to stomach yourself, and chances are that you will get some weird looks, and your child is likely to be petrified, on several counts: you actually went ahead with the chore, and you actually went ahead with the outcomes. So, as the result, your child is likely to think twice before testing your resolve — a parent who can walk around in a bleach-sprinkled (and ruined) t-shirt should not be messed with; god only knows what else you can do.
Another, less embarrassing, but more pressing matter could be washing dishes — either by hand or using the dishwasher. I had to do it once, and once is all that took to get the point across to my child.
My child was not taking this seriously, and the only way out was some tough parenting. The next time the dishwasher was “forgotten,” I just announced that the dinner is cancelled. Fully expecting me to bluff, the child was ignoring this. In about 20 minutes, when hunger pains were difficult to ignore, the child had to supply me with dishes and utensils.
I can’t properly express the amount of moaning and groaning surrounding this simple process — I should have recorded it and sold to Steven Spielberg for the next horror movie. Well, I was even accused of letting my child starve to death (by my own child) — I survived those accusations, and from that time, not a single plate was out of place.
This is when I had earned my reputation of a bad cop at home. Now, when I ask about something, and of course my child re-checks if I am bluffing, there is a greater likelihood of compliance.
It is not easy though, and willingly and deliberately watching the child failing is not for the faint of heart, however it’s either failing now or failing later, in a more public and in a more embarrassing manner. I choose a private (controlled) failure.
Margaret Weiss is an accomplished writer whose work has been published by BBC and Fortune. Read more from Quora here: