Kantian moral logic doesn't work on four year oldsby Sam Leith / January 21, 2016 / Leave a comment
“Dad, can I have a trickortreat today?” These are, more or less unfailingly, the first words out of my four-year-old son’s mouth at half six in the morning. A “trickortreat,” in his happy rhyming slang, is a sweet, so named because of the indelible impression that Halloween made on him. On that night, my children went through the backstreets of East Finchley like a swarm of confectionery-crazed locusts. We have buckets of sweets; literally, buckets. Two of them: one purple, one orange.
“Rrghghhgbrorryshup,” is my reply.
“Dad, can I? Can I maybe?”
“Maybe. Ok. Maybe. NaSHUP.”
“Dad, when can I watch Pork Patrol?”
“It’s called Paw Patrol, and I don’t know, okay? Please stop asking me.”
And on it goes. He’s relentless. No messing about. No “good morning.” The day’s, and if he gets on a roll the whole week’s, ration of treats will be negotiated up front, first thing in the morning. Or, at least, the groundwork for later negotiation is established.
“No,” is regarded as an opening gambit, to be converted at once into “I’ll think about it,” or “I’m not making any promises,” or “maybe” in the interests of two or three more minutes of parental peace. And come 4pm, the mental ledger will be extracted and that “maybe” will be weaponised.
How on earth is one supposed to deal with this stuff? Being uptight middle-class parents, we are in general opposed to the idea of our children binge-eating confectionery; likewise its televisual equivalent. Sweets, we intone piously, are a treat, to be consumed singly and only after meals on weekends; just as screen time is a privilege.
And yet—by that peculiar logic whereby anything forbidden becomes infinitely more desirable—the kids are obsessed with sweets and television. Which means, in turn, that they become ever more central to daily life. Since both physical violence and locking children in basements is frowned on, and Kantian moral logic doesn’t work on four-year-olds, my main if not only disciplinary resource is a vague threat.
“Brush your teeth and you can have a toffee. No, not after brushing your teeth. One day,” or: “Stop punching each other or all of…