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The Little Boy in the Bathroom Story

By Susan Ford Collins

While I was doing a Technology of Success seminar for customer service supervisors at Florida Power & Light, a participant asked me about a problem he and his wife were having with their six-year-old son. They were concerned that he might have a learning problem. He just couldn't follow instructions. Tom felt the information I was teaching might be relevant. And it was.

"What exactly does your son do?” I asked.

"Well, every night he takes a shower and he does the same dumb things over and over. He leaves the shower curtain hanging outside the tub so water pours all over the floor. Then he leaves the towels in a pile sopping wet on the floor, and the soap floating in the tub till it melts into a thick, sticky goo. We go through a bar of soap every couple of days. And my wife hates scrubbing that soapy goo off the sides of the tub."

"And what exactly do you do when your son does all that?” I asked.

"Pretty much the same thing every time. I get mad and I yell: “I’ve told you a million times not to leave the shower curtain hanging out, not to leave the wet towels in a pile on the floor, not to leave the soap floating till it melts into a thick, sticky goo. Son, I can't believe you're so stupid. You must be slow. Then our son starts to cry and we send him to bed. What do you think, Susan?"

"Well, I have good news and bad news," I replied with a chuckle. "The good news is, based on what you just said, I see no reason to think your son has a learning problem. The bad news is... you and your wife are responsible for creating this problem!

Think about the instructions you're giving your son. He’s done exactly what you told him to do, if you take the not out of every sentence!” We all laughed and started talking honestly about where and when we were doing the same thing. I asked the group what they thought this father could do to turn the situation around. and developed a plan for what he could do that evening. The next morning we were eager to hear how it had gone.

"It was amazing," he said with a smile. "I told my son that I wanted to show him how to take care of the bathroom. I was sorry that I’d forgotten to teach him how to do it right in the first place, but I'd be happy to correct that now… if he'd let me. I know you’ll be able to do the job perfectly from now on. And hesitantly, he said yes.

First I showed him how a shower curtain works. Turning on the water, I pushed the curtain in the tub and aimed the shower head in that direction. The water ran down the curtain into the drain. Did you see that? ‘Yes, Dad, I did.’

Next I pulled the shower curtain out of the tub and turned on the water. As the water headed down the curtain toward the floor, he quickly pushed it back in the tub. Good son, you've got it. You're a very quick learner! He was smiling and proud, happy to know he’d finally done something right!

Next I told my son he could choose between two ways of folding the towel. First, there's the one-fold method. I laid the towel on the floor, folded it down the middle lengthwise, picked it up carefully, hung it over the towel bar, and straightened out the edges. My son nodded OK. Then he laid the towel on the floor, folded it down the middle lengthwise, picked it up carefully, hung it over the towel bar and straightened out the edges perfectly. His confidence was growing.

Now how about the two-fold method. I laid the towel on the floor again. This time I folded it lengthwise twice, one third and one third. He followed my example and liked this way even better.

OK, son, there's just one more thing—the soap. Could you figure out a way to make a bar last a week if I promise to take you for ice cream? "I sure could! Dad, let’s go buy a soap holder with points on the top and points on the bottom. I'll use it to keep the soap high and dry. And, if it lasts two weeks, would you get me two cones?”

You bet, as long as you still manage to get yourself clean! Son, you're no only smart but you're one heck of a salesman!

Then my son started to cry. Oh no, what's wrong? "Dad, I thought you didn't love me. You always said I was stupid. I couldn't do anything right. I'm a good boy, aren't I Dad?"

Yes, son, you’re a good boy.

"I love you, Dad."

I love you, too. Not only are you a good boy but a very smart boy as well! We hugged each other hard. OK, let's go get your soap holder!"

We were touched by this Dad's story and spent hours talking about how supervisors and managers could use these same understandings. He said this experience would help him at work too “because I’ve been making the same mistakes with my employees as well!”

What is the real message you’re sending yourself and others? Take the not out of the sentence and you’ll immediately know.

Not creates stress and uncertainty. And, it also signals opportunity… the opportunity to make a more thoroughly considered choice. A healthier, more loving choice. Starting today, let’s resolve to think and communicate what we do want. And when we catch ourselves not-ing ourselves or not-ing others, let’s resolve to take that extra life-saving, love-saving step by simply asking, What do I want instead?

(c) Susan Ford Collins. For permission to use this article, email

* For more on The Positive Command Brain, read Skill 3: The Science of Dreaming in The Joy of Success. And Skill 3: Hologramming in Our Children Are Watching

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