I went out for a run and left some instructions for my daughter.

By the way, running is the suckiest form of exercise there is.  The only thing worse than my jog up and down the street is running on a treadmill, if only for the change of scenery.  Very slow change of scenery.  But I will admit that the boredom involved adds a dimension that you don’t get from actual, useful exercise like playing sports.  I can run around on a tennis court for hours but I am embarrassed to tell you that after about a year of regular running I can’t comfortably run more than a mile.  There being no assistance whatsoever from competitive spirit or just plain old enjoyment, running is a pure exercise of the will to prolong immediate suffering and boredom in return for some abstract, delayed benefit.

And that mile takes me more than 10 minutes.  I think.  I am too ashamed to time myself.

But nevertheless not so long as to make me feel uncomfortable leaving my 10 year old at home for the duration (I actually don’t know what the law is, I hope I am not incriminating myself.)  And she had an assignment that she needed to finish so I suggested that she work on it while I was out.

Now there were also some other things that needed to be done.   And you never know what’s going to happen when she sits down to do her assignement.  Does she have all the stuff she needs, is she going to need some help? etc.  So ideally I would give her a contingency plan.  If for whatever reason you can’t do the assignment, do the other thing in the meantime.

But this is not always a good idea.  Just mentioning the contingency turns a clearly defined instruction into one which invites subjective interpretation, and wiggle room at the margin of acceptable contingincies.  “You said I should do the other thing so I did.”

Of course there is a tradeoff.  First of all, there’s the basic second-best trade-off. Without a plan B, when it turns out to be truly impossible to do plan A, you come home to find her on plan Wii.

But more importantly, she’s gotta learn how to judge the contingencies on her own, eventually.  The thing is, rightly or wrongly I think parents instinctively believe that in the early stages of that process kids read a lot, indeed too much, into the items put into the menu of options.  There is an excessive distinction between an unmentioned, and hence implicitly disallowed option and one which is mentioned but discouraged.

Unlearning that kind of inference, clearly a necessary step in the long run, can be tricky in the short run.

Heh, short run.

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