Helping Kids See the Consequences of their Choices: The tree and the toilet bowl activity

One of the paradoxes of life is that things that feel good in the short run can be very bad in the long run. Twinkies and heroine come to mind. So I’ve heard. Whereas decisions that can feel really lousy in the short-term, like getting up early to run, paying bills on time, eating kale, and studying, lead to greater happiness and success. Some choices are seeds that grow tall trees while others take us on a trip down the drain.  The Tree and the Toilet Bowl (find on page 32 of our full activity book) is a simple activity we created at Tall Trees Grow Deep to help kids track the short- and long-term consequences of one good and one bad decision they’ve made. It helps them see clearly the life-truth that sometimes you have to do the hard thing to get the good stuff.

As adults, we know that we can’t just indulge every impulse for pleasure without a consequence. Though knowing this does not always change our behavior. We still get wrapped up in immediate pleasures. We overeat, drink too much, and watch TV all day while overeating and drinking too much. And we have to pay in the long run. We also know that a day of hard work on a project we care about will reap long-term benefits, though it might not be a blast in the moment. This is even harder for kids to see. Of course, that’s why kids have parents. My oldest son is a good student, but he would gladly play video games and eat candy all day. It’s my job to make sure he reads, eats vegetables, and doesn’t punch his little brother in the face. But eventually, we want to work ourselves out of a job. We want our kids to choose what’s hard in the moment (studying, exercising, telling the truth, not robbing banks) knowing that it will pay off. Yes, it is more fun to cut class and spend the afternoon eating Twinkies, playing Xbox, and robbing banks, but this is not going to lead to greater happiness.

The Tree and the Toilet Bowl guides kids through two past decisions. They chart the short- and long-term consequences of those decisions, seeing first-hand how sometimes choosing immediate pleasure will result in long-term difficulties. And very often the difficult choices in the moment, the choice that does not offer an immediately good feeling (like skipping a party to study, or working for hours on a project) will be the choice that pays off in the long run.

The idea is that the next time they’re faced with a tough choice, they’ll focus more on the long-term benefit than on immediate pleasure.

Now I’ve got a box of Twinkies to finish.


Tall Trees Grow Deep is devoted to growing awesome humans through the creation and sharing of contemplation, motivation, and inspiration resources that work in the classroom or around the kitchen table.


1 Comment

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