Arthur was standing in front of me, brandishing a retractable pencil.
Being the disposable society this is, he was all ready to throw it away, until I explained to him that you can buy more leads for such things.
This led us on to the fact that the rubber, which also serves to hold the leads in, was missing… And with that, a whole can of worms was not so much opened as unleashed.
“Where is it, then?” I asked innocently, totally oblivious of the ensuing drama.
“I was drawing and I removed it to rub something out…”
So far so good.
“… and then somebody lost it.”
See… the end of that sentence is one of my least favourite family utterances. And in a family of so many children, there is ample opportunity to utter it. I have a great deal of experience centring around personal responsibility, or lack thereof, and it has become a pet torch of mine.
Of course, the last thing you want to do as a parent in these circumstances is lay it on with a trowel, or a heavy hand. Or even attempt to turn your children into the next generation’s torch-bearers on the subject. After all, it is only a rubber. But every small situation such as this offers the potential to learn something before it becomes something bigger, more complicated, and harder to transform. Preferably without even realising it’s being learned, but that part isn’t always so easy.
“Erm,” I stopped him. “‘Somebody‘ lost it?”
Arthur looked shifty. And a little sulky. His eyes had begun to narrow and he was casting the spotlight of his mind about, searching for another tack.
“You asked me to go and get something, and when I came back it was gone.”
The fact (based not solely on the words, but also the tone of that last sentence) that I had now been plonked bang in the middle of the Group of Blame didn’t escape my attention.
I know my little Artie well. I know that he is extremely resistant to being in the wrong, and will find as many plausible explanations to divert attention from that possibility as he can find. And I know that learning to overcome this need is a great challenge for him.
But for the sake of his relationships, present and future, I also know that he’s got to at least give it a shot.
Where does it come from? I would guess it is a mixture of fear and embarrassment; fear of disapproval, reprimand, being out of favour; fear of losing face.
So I tried to explain to him that it is much easier for all concerned if he can just stick to the facts of the situation, without any evaluations, judgements or deflections. He will, in fact, receive far more credibility and respect if he can simply take responsibility:
“I took it out and I don’t know where it went.”
“Oh, okay. Never mind.”
See? How simple? Nobody’s angry. Nobody’s distressed. And nobody is left feeling uncomfortable about vague and unfounded blame statements.
And Arthur is safe and untroubled in the knowledge that he has simply reported the truth.
From tiny acorns…