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".