A strategy recovering addicts sometimes use when tempted to go back to their vice is “play the tape through to the end.” So if a recovering alcoholic is tempted to have “just a little sip” of bourbon, she needs to consciously go through what would happen as a result of her behaviour. In other words, how would it affect her? her family? her job?
Now we all have our dangers. Trivial though it is, I rarely play the tape through when I’m near a bowl of salt and vinegar chips. If I were to fast forward, I would know that repeatedly scalding my tongue with vinegar and consuming 985 calories in five minutes are not prudent.
You just have to turn on Entertainment Tonight to see evidence of people not playing the tape through to the end. Tiger Woods didn’t pause and fast forward to see the havoc his baker’s dozen of affairs would have. Neither did John Edwards. Or Jesse James. Or Lindsay Lohan. Or Tiki Barber.
Unlike celebrities, however, many parents are experts at playing the tape through to the end, at least in terms of their children.
Here’s an example of how I fast forward the tape:
A favourite post-dinner, pre-bedtime activity for my twins is running around in circles in our living room. With blocks, puzzles and cheap plastic crap put away, the carpet is both visible and traversable. So our kids run around, one twin being the cat, the other the tail.
The other night, this escalated into a game that generations of children have played: with arms spread out, kids spin around in circles like a top, until they either crash into each other, fall down, or puke.
Or they manage to keep spinning until mommy looks up from her dishes, instantly plays the tape through to the end, and yells, “Stop that right now. Someone’s going to fall down and crack their head open.”
They stop, temporarily.
Round Two starts, and I play the tape even farther. “I said stop. If you crack your head open, we’ll have to spend all night in emergency while they give you 48 stitches.”
They stop and head up the stairs, looking dejected.
So, here’s my parenting tip of the day, which I’m sure is infinitely more useful to the Tigers and Johns and Jesses out there: play the tape through to the end and exaggerate the consequences. Nothing stops a potential crisis like imagining a catastrophe.