Kat was the same little girl I used to watch while Bob took a shower or was talking to his girlfriend on the phone. One December day in the living room she was having a rough time and had a tantrum, throwing the crayons, scissors, and Xmas stuff on the floor in a fit of frustration. When I gave her my usual “Those who make the messes are the ones to clean it up” pitch, she flat refused. “No!” she yelled. “YOU pick it up!” I knew her unstable mom and could easily see where the behavior came from.
“No, you know the rules in my house Kat, and if you aren’t gonna obey the rules and pick up your mess I’m not going to play with you ANY MORE!” I said sternly.
“Okay!”, she says, getting down from her chair and starting to stomp over to her bedroom door.” I didn’t want to play with you anymore anyway!” she huffed.
Halfway to her door, I start talking loudly toward the ceiling rafters. “Do you hear that Santa? Grumpy Girl. You don’t give presents to Grumpy Girls right?”
She’s really ticked now. I’m “telling” on her.
Reaching her door she turns to me and makes an ugly face. “I don’t LIKE you anymore!?” and slams the door with all her might, rattling the door frame some.
“Did you see THAT Santa?” again talking loudly toward the ceiling from across the living room. “I bet you put Grumpy Girls who slam doors on your Naughty List and don’t give them ANY PRESENTS! I’m gonna call Santa and tell him RIGHT NOW!”
With that, I closed the door to my room.
Ten minutes later a very gentle tapping on my door is heard. A very chastened and apologetic young lady stood there. Eyes on the floor, in a worried little girl voice she whines, “I’m sorry I made a mess and didn’t clean it up”, glancing up to see my reaction.
Seeing I’m listening and not mad, she looks down again and continues. “I’m really sorry I slammed the door too, Prince Mel.”
(I was Prince Mel to her Arielle on better days.)
“Well…I don’t know…” rubbing my chin, unsure what to say or do.
Her face lights up with alarm and she’s speaking very fast. “You didn’t already call Santa did you?” searching my face for answers regarding whether my Santa Hotline had already been used or not.
“Well…” I can’t help a grin spreading across my face.
“If you did, call him back right now and tell him I apologized okay?” Her eyes are big and pleading.
“I don’t know Kat, the mess is still all over the floor…” This is a teaching moment, I think to myself.
She rushes to pick the crayons, etc. up. “See? See? I’m picking it all up!” My smile grows bigger. Its all I can do to not break out in laughter. “There! Its all done! See! All done!”
“I’ll see what I can do Kat…” My ear-to-ear smile makes her think I’m not taking her very important request seriously so she demands a solemn vow.
“Promise? Cross your heart?!” she makes me pledge before heading back to her room.
“Cross my heart…”
I learned as much as anybody that afternoon. I got a quick view of a four-year-olds thinking process. In addition, I realized that approach could also be very effective around Easter time in altering the behavior of the True Believers in The Easter Bunny.