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18/07/2011 / melgardener

Lost dogs and lessons learnt

As parents, one of the most important lessons we can teach our children is responsibility – responsibility for our actions, for our property and our behaviour. Quickly following behind these lessons are the dreaded “consequences” that children have to learn to accept for the choices and decisions they make.

Case in point: On Saturday we flew back to Sydney from a family holiday to Cairns. In preparation for the three hour flight, I had packed a backpack for each of the girls that contained (among other items) reading books, activity books, games, snacks, drinks and they had each opted to bring a favourite toy. My eldest chose a soft dog (named “Sizzles” for no apparent reason) and my youngest brought a baby doll.

In terms of plane seating, I sat my husband in the three-abreast seating and I took the opposite aisle seat for myself. Partly this was calculated strategy. Being slightly removed from the children, I reasoned (as I patted myself on the back) that the whinging and whining, which were sure to emerge at some point, would be directed at the nearest available adult (ie. not me). I also figured that he would have to deal with the inevitable requests for food, drinks, entertainment and toilet stops.

Was my strategy a success? In a word….no. They simply leaned across him and yelled at me whenever they needed something.

But, that is not the point of this story and I digress.

As we came closer to Sydney, I leant across and started encouraging the girls to pack up all their belongings back in their bags. Of course, three hours is plenty of time for them to have emptied their backpacks and strewn the books, toys, food and drink bottles across every available surface (and even some that were not).

And here’s the interesting* point:

If it had been me sitting with the children, I would have encouraged them to find all their belongings and put them in their bag. I would have then checked the area around us to make sure nothing had been missed. I would have then packed all the items I had located, then checked again. I truly do believe in helping them to learn about taking responsibility, I do, but I recognise that 8 and 4 year olds are possibly not best at seeing outcomes that may be detrimental to their mental state of health.

My husband, on the other hand, simply ordered them to pack up all their items and assumed that it was their responsibility to make sure it was done.

While I agree, to a certain extent, that if you don’t give them responsibility and the opportunity to discover some of the more negative ramifications of not completing these tasks correctly, there is something about that look on a child’s face when they suddenly realise that a beloved toy has been left on the plane that cracks my heart open.

Cue horrified look, followed quickly by a pooling of tears and a down-turning of the mouth.

Quickly followed by a mute pleading in the eyes as they turn to you, desperate for you to magically solve the problem.

Then the final, dramatic collapse as they realise what might be.

Luckily, there is a happy ending to this story, although not so much for my resting heart rate. I sprang into action, sprinted from baggage collection back up the stairs and through security, returning finally to our arrival gate. I was thankful to discover that they had not only retrieved Sizzles from the plane but it looked as though a few other people would be learning a lesson about responsibility and consequences soon.

* If you were a casual observer, I’m sure it would have been very “interesting”. Of course, as I was emotionally invested in the situation the word I’d rather use here would be “infuriating”.

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