The best toy in the toy store–a broom.
Last week I was standing in line at a toy store and I saw a little boy about three years old very excited about the present his dad was buying for him. You might imagine it was a car or truck, maybe a building set, or even a sword or light saber. Any of these would have been expected for a little boy to be excited about, but to my surprise this boy was delighted to have a kid sized broom and dustpan. Like many kids, he wanted to hold his new toy while standing in line. He took the broom and began sweeping the floor and singing…”Clean up, clean up, every body do you share. Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere.” I was amazed by the sheer enthusiasm this child had for doing his share and getting to work cleaning up messes on the floor. Generally speaking kids and adults alike do not like cleaning up messes.
Give your kid the best chance for success and plan for failure.
One of the best pieces of advice I got as a mom of toddlers was to give them the best chance of success and plan for failure. What do I mean? When we bought our new home the dining room was carpeted. The highchair sat on carpet and three times a day our son would throw food on the floor and we would have to get down on our knees and dig the food and crumbs out of the fibers. The carpet was never really clean and so we were upset every time our kid did what kids do, make messes. We decided to pull up the carpet and put in a hardwood floor.
When the floor was installed, I was as excited as that little boy in the toy store was to sweep up the messes my kids made. What once was a headache and chore became easier to manage and my attitude was much happier. The broom was always close by. We planned for failure when they were learning how to drink as well. We gave our kids tiny steel cups to drink from and put about a tablespoon of liquid in the bottom. If they spilled it, it was no big deal to wipe up. If they drank it quickly, we would give them a refill. When my son fought to hold the spoon I was feeding him with, I gave him his own spoon too. Two spoons allowed for us to be successful. Two spoons changed my relationship with my son. No more fights…for now.
Teaching our kids responsibility is easy in the beginning
Teaching our children how to clean up their messes is easy in the beginning. Taking responsibility follows a natural course. In our house these were the simple questions we asked our kids to help them take responsibility for their mistake
- “Tell me what happened?” Ask your child to tell you what happened and give them a chance to tell the truth about what they did.
- “What kind of mess did you make?” What was the mess that happened as a result? Were any people hurt in the process? Did anything get broken?
- “Clean up the mess.” With help if necessary. This step is so important for learning how to take responsibility and how to repair relationships, and toys. This is when we say sorry when we hurt others whether we intended to or not.
- “What can you do to see that this doesn’t happen again?” We usually skip this step because it is the hardest. This involves role playing with your kids and imagining what they could do differently in the future. Once they have in their mind some good options, then they can make some promises about how they will handle the situation in the future.
But as they grow the messes they make become more complicated and more damaging. Planning for success and failure becomes much more difficult and there are times when even our good kids get way off track. What do we do then?
When the principal calls….
When our son was ten years old he did well in school, had close friends, and was competing in chess competitions and winning. So you can imagine how shocked I was when the principal called and said our son was in trouble. Within a two-week period our son played rough on the playground and chipped his front tooth, messed up someone’s science project, and misbehaved in two other classes. We were really in shock—what was going on at school that caused him to misbehave? To make matters worse in the meantime he had qualified to go to the state chess competition in less than one month.
A simple “your grounded” wasn’t going to work this time.
Taking the time to work through the problems and find a solution…
This was a lot more complicated than spaghetti spilled on the floor and took more time to clean up as well. My husband and I took some time to talk about what happened and figured out a game plan about how to handle the situation with our son. We walked him through the steps—what happened, what can you take responsibility for, what damage did you do, and what can you do to repair this damage? When we were able to sit him down and just listen to what happened, we discovered that the classroom incidents were related to another playground incident. One of our son’s friends got him in trouble without admitting his own role in the troublemaking on the playground. Then our son took matters in his own hands and began to get back at his friend in the classroom, which then backfired on our son. We were relieved to understand the motivation behind his bad behavior.
We made a Written Contract with our Son.
The parenting solution took some time to layout. We wanted him to compete in the state chess competition, but we also wanted him to learn from his mistakes. So we typed up a contract making it clear what we expected of him and the exact details of what being “grounded” meant. He had to write a letter to the three teachers and apologize for his behavior, promising to make a fresh start in class. He had to write a letter to the boy whom he had wronged. He lost privileges to watch tv on school nights and his grades had to be exemplary to earn the right to go to the chess competition.
As his Parent, I made some Promises too.
As his parents we noticed we also had made some mistakes and had failed to support him. Subsequently, I made some promises too. I promised to help him daily with his homework. I promised to not watch tv on school nights as well. I promised to read to him every night and be available to talk with him to give him a chance to share what had happened at school during the day.
We both signed and dated the contract…
It wasn’t long before the attitude of our son shifted significantly. I believe he got back on track not so much because of what he had to do, but because he knew he could count on his parents to support him. He wrote every letter, he learned how to take responsibility for bigger messes, and he went to the chess state competition and did very well–was in the top 15 in the state for his age. Most importantly, he and I strengthened our relationship and we figured out a way to get us both back on track.
God makes covenants with us too.
So often when we deal with our kids it is one sided. We expect a lot from them, yet we do not notice our own responsibility to be good stewards of our children. I believe that Khalil Gibran understands well that our children belong to God. God promised to care for us and in turn, we promise to care for creation and God’s children, all of them, even our own….
Your children are not your children.
They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the make upon the path of the infinite, and
He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He also loves the bow that is stable.”
May you experience the love of your creator by the love you give to your children.
May you guide your children to mature in their behavior and in their faith, even as you promise to mature in your behavior and in your faith.
May we realize that we are forever covenanted with one another—able to remake our promises for love and compassion whenever we get off track as parents.
Blessings and Peace,