I used to hate Thomas the Train. I mean really, that song. Ugh. But now I really have grown to love that little blue engine and his friends. Why? Because I can use him to manipulate my kid.
- It is the one show I can put on for my kid and leave the room to shower or clean and know that no one's Mother will be killed so that they can grow up/have an adventure. (Seriously, why do all the Moms bite it in the first ten minutes of a kid's movie?)
- They appreciate nature (on really beautiful days my Personal Assistant will exclaim "Oh! What a beautiful day on the Island of Sodor!")
- When they screw up, they always own up to it. (Now when my Personal Assistant spills or breaks something, he always comes running to tell me. Very Useful.)
- They celebrate "special days" by being on their best behavior. And by "special" I mean totally ordinary.
- They are obsessed. OBSESSED with being helpful. I can and do use this to my advantage.
Exhibit A: The Personal Assistant's Helping Chart.
This was the day 2 or 3 of the helpful experiment. He loves stickers, so they are an easy reward for good behavior and helpfulness. The items on the chart are easy things for him to do independently. I drew little pictures to help him remember what the words say. I don't expect perfection, just a helpful attitude. He has his own broom, toys go in boxes or bins, and he will ask for a rag if he spills. Setting the table consists of carrying his plate and cup it the table. Big stickers are given for good behavior.
Here is where we are today, about two months later. We have taught him how to feed the dog, so that has been added. Honestly, there should be more stickers, but I don't always remember, and he doesn't ask. He just genuinely seems to like being helpful. (I have heard that this is one of the Montissori principals.)
Like I said, it's not perfect, but he's just 2 and my goal was to instill the idea that it is good to be helpful. Thomas has certainly been a good help sometimes when my Assistant is "doing some working" he is also pretending to be Thomas or Kevin, his two favorite engines.
Exhibit B: On the fly manipulation. In public even. Like in front of God and everybody.
Just last week, when it was too damn hot to do anything, much less cook or eat, we decided to go out for a meal. My poor Assistant fell asleep on the way there, and was not pleased to be woken up at a busy restaurant where he was expected to behave nicely. There was a fair amount of tears, but it wasn't the worst tired-kid-in-a-restaurant behavior I have witnessed, and I was determined to enjoy the air conditioning. Hugs were not working, crayons were a bust, empathy was a waste of breath, even a self-imposed time out didn't do the trick. (Yes, you read that right, I have the only known 2 year old who puts himself in time out. You can be jealous now.) So I used Thomas.
"You know," I said to a moaning Personal Assistant, "All of these people are here to celebrate a Special Day." (This was a lie. They were there because it was hot, and Friday, and really really hot.)
"They are?" He perked up and looked around.
"Yes, and you can help them."
"I can?" Sitting up smiling.
"Yes! You can help them by being kind and courteous, speaking nicely, and using your manners."
He sat up and happily made a meal of bread sticks, croutons and milk, knowing that he was being Really Useful. You win some you loose some. And sometimes air conditioning and a pleasant meal out is worth letting your kid eat whatever makes him happy, or at least gets him to stop being a screaming puddle on the floor.
I still can't believe the "You can help all of these people on their Special Day" ploy worked, but I will be shamelessly using it again.