This dad's lesson "worked," but a clinical psychologist weighs in on better ways to help a child learn—and create a trusting relationship along the way.

By Melissa Mills
March 18, 2021
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This dad on Reddit is wondering if the lesson he taught his son about the importance of putting his toys away was too harsh—or if it was warranted because, well, it worked.

"My son Tim (9M) has a habit of leaving his bike outside when he's done playing with his friends for the day," the father wrote in the Am I the A**hole subreddit. "It feels like my wife and I are constantly telling him to put the bike inside of the garage because it could be easily stolen and if/when that day comes we wouldn't simply buy him a new one, he'd have to earn it himself with extra chores and prove himself trustworthy with his belongings."

Fast-forward to the dad going to work one morning and seeing the bike outside again. He winds up taking the bike and letting his son believe it was stolen. "Upon finding his bike missing he was distraught. He called me crying asking if I had seen it when I left this morning and I told him 'No, I didn't see it. Isn't this why we always tell you to put the bike away?'"

An image of a bike in front of a house.
Credit: Getty Images.

Dad brought the bike home later that night, pretending he got lucky and found it abandoned in a park. Mom wasn't in on the plan and wasn't happy to learn what had happened.

"Was I the a**hole here?" the dad asked. "For what it's worth Tim seems to have had the lesson stick. The bike's been put away every night since."

While some Redditors found the dad's technique to be acceptable since he was just teaching his son that there are consequences to our actions in life, experts say that there are better ways to handle situations like this.

"This technique apparently 'worked' in this case to change the boy's behavior, but at what cost?" questions Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist based in Princeton, New Jersey and author of Kid Confidence: Help Your Child Make Friends, Build Resilience, and Develop Real Self-Esteem. "The boy experienced considerable sadness and continuing anxiety, and the father lied to him, which is certainly not a good basis for a caring and trusting relationship. It's definitely not the only option for teaching a kid to put his bike away!"

According to Dr. Kennedy-Moore, you can teach your kid to put away their bike—or any toy—by using these healthier techniques:

  • Create a habit out of it. Before the child comes inside, stand at the door and remind them that the bike needs to be in the garage—and not outside. "It's easier for the child to follow through while he's outside rather than collapsed on the couch."
  • Use a when/then statement. One example: "When your bike is in the garage, then you can have dinner."
  • Communicate—and have your child help in problem solving. What's the reluctance to putting the bike away? If your child says the garage is too cluttered, have them help clear out an area. If your child says they just keep forgetting, work with them to create a reminder sign they can spot before coming inside.

"Kids learn best not through suffering, but by doing it right," says Dr. Kennedy-Moore.

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