Counting on Good Behavior
I've developed a way of guiding my children's behavior through the use
of counting. It's a playful
variant of the old "I'm going to start counting and if you don't have your
coat on by the time I reach ten you'll be sorry" routine that generates the
desired behavior and a fair bit of laughter, at the cost of my dignity
(which frankly I consider to be a bargain).
The script, easily adapted to multiple situations, goes like this:
After the child has shown little or no compliance with one or more
earlier requests to put on her coat, the grownup slowly announces,
in a really pompous voice, "I'm going to count to ten, and by the
time I reach ten, I want you to have your coat on." Meanwhile, the
kid races to put on her coat BEFORE the grownup gets to say "one".
The child's reward is the spectacle of seeing the grownup's resulting
tantrum: "No fair! You didn't let me even START counting! You NEVER
let me count!" The adult's reward is that the child puts on her coat.
Getting the child "on-script" requires a transitional version of the
game, in which the grownup gets petulant over not being allowed to
count all the way to ten. (It helps if the grownup conceitedly
declares "And I'm a really good counter, so you should let me
count!") Once the child gets the idea of the game, the grownup will
seldom get to count at all.
This innovation in child-rearing can be justly regarded as an instance
of applied combinatorics, inasmuch as combinatorics has been defined
as the art of "counting without counting".