Sunday, April 5, 2009

Teaching Children not to Peek

I'm just back from a visit to my younger daughter's home where I did some magic tricks with her children.  The key to my magic shows is that the children do the magic and make the discoveries. I'm just the storyteller. They are the actors. They wave the magic wands, say the magic words, and perform the decisive actions.

As I was setting up for the show, I told my grandchildren "Don't peek in the living room. We'll have a magic show in a few minutes."  I was called away to help in the kitchen.  When I returned to the livingroom, my 4-year-old grandson was in the living room. He had one of the boxes open and his hands were on several of the items inside. I said, "You're not supposed to peek."  He let out a wail! "I didn't peek!"  His dad came rushing in, scooped him up, and once in his dad's arms, my grandson put on a crying show that would have made Shirley Temple proud. He kept it up for over 10 minutes. And his dad told me I had scared him. 

I don't know how to handle this. I want my grandchildren to learn not to peek at my props before the right time during the magic shows. I also would like it if they didn't lie to me.  Since their parents don't share either of these values, I don't know what to do. I'm not surprised that a 4-year-old would test the rules. I'm surprised that his parents don't support these rules.

I had  two participation tricks.  I let my grandson help me with the one he hadn't peeked at. And my grand daughter helped with the one he had peeked at.  I asked him not to tell his sister what he'd seen,  but I have no idea if he told her anyway. She didn't seem surprised by what was in the boxes.  Maybe she's blasé about dried octopus tentacles, a rubbber snake, toenail clippings,  smelly old striped socks and foil-covered chocolate coins.  (these are the treasures the kids find while they go through Pharaoh's rafts.)

My grandson looked pleased when his imaginary matzo cracker became real inside a paper bag.

And the Mr. Tall and Mr. Small trick wowed the adults more than the children.

But nothing took away the sting of my grandson crying and glaring at me, while his father cuddled him and told him it was all right.

I know -- I could have been nice about it -- asked him what he had found, asked him what he thought it was for -- but he was already on the defensive when he saw me. He knew he wasn't supposed to be in the living room, let alone have my box open and his hands inside. He knew he had been caught. And I'm the villain, because I walked into the livingroom when he was doing what he'd been asked not to do?  I was being selfish because I had wanted to see surprise on his face when the treasures were revealed. Instead I saw a guilty angry little boy whose father protected him from this teachable event, and carried him away, cuddling him while he put on a show of prolonged forced crying. I'd rather he had apologized for peeking and promised not to do it again.  I'd have liked to have a talk with him after the show, in which he could have thought about how the show would have been more fun if he didn't already know what was in the boxes.
Instead he learned that bad behavior gets you a free peek and an extra cuddle.

I still want to do magic tricks with my grandchildren that have surprise props.  I guess the trick I need to learn is how to stay out of the kitchen until after the magic show.  But even if I'd stayed with my props, I'd have shooed my grandson out of the livingroom until the show was ready. And he'd still have cried, and I'd still be the villain.

I don't know how to handle this. 


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