It happened again! My son ran out of his room after cleaning it, yelling “That was FUN!” Now before you shoot me dirty looks or hit the home button, let me assure you this is NOT normal. At least it hasn’t been.
Normally, when it comes to cleaning up, my 6-year old has been quick to despair. He spends most of his time in the realm of imagination and his little body with sensory, auditory and self-regulation challenges doesn’t quite know what to do with being jerked into a reality he doesn’t want to or feel like he can face. I’ve tried nagging. (I wouldn’t have called it that at the time, but in hindsight, yep.) I’ve felt the tug of war between frustration and compassion even as I’ve quickly done most of his work for him when no one was looking.
When my husband and I started to take notice of the sneaky influence of entitlement in our family life, we found help in The Entitlement Fix, an e-course by Connected Families. As I listened to Jim and Lynne as they shared stories and modeled role plays, I had a lightbulb moment:
I don’t have to choose between connecting with my kids and holding them accountable. I can do both.
Grabbing hold of what felt like missing puzzle pieces in the framework of our family culture, I started to practice what I was learning. While I was amazed in the improvement of my interactions with my 9-year-old daughter, my 6-year-old remained a mystery to me. How could I show him how capable he is? How could I help him grow?
A few days ago, I gathered the kids for a much-needed cleanup session. Their rooms and playroom looked a little daunting, but I could tell that with focused effort, it would only take 10 minutes. My daughter had gotten started, but my son laid in his room exasperated, overwhelmed and withdrawn. I walked in and said in a positive tone, “Let’s get started. I’m here to help you. With a little bit of effort, we’ll be done in no time.” He moaned, saying he was too tired. And I knew he was. He’d been up almost every night that week with bad dreams, something that he’s dealt with on and off for a few years.
I reminded myself: I don’t have to choose between connecting with him, showing compassion and empowering him for his task. Lord, give me wisdom.
“What if every toy we touch is part of a story we’re creating?”
He looked puzzled.
I grabbed a dinosaur and started “walking” it toward my son’s animal bin. “Roarrrrrrr! I’m tired! I need a nap! Where’s my bed?!” as I put him in the animal bin. My son’s face lit up into a wide smile as he anxiously started grabbing every toy he could as we built a silly storyline together.
His room was clean in minutes but more than that, I was grateful to be able to connect with him and turn it into a positive experience, another seed of truth that work is good and that he is capable, even of things he feels are hard. Yesterday, we pretended we were making a recipe and every “ingredient” (toy) had to be in the right place. That’s when he yelled, “That was FUN!!” Whatever works, right?
Our kids are wonderfully made by God. Each one is unique in the way he or she is wired. What reaches one may not reach another, but that’s where wisdom comes in. The Creator who knows our kids inside and out can give us keys to unlock gifts hidden inside them. This week, for my son, it was showing him that his imagination could be a conduit of energy for tasks that would otherwise feel too hard.
Here are a few other ideas that have helped our family wipe out entitlement and grow good habits around tidying up.
Set an expectation.
Transitioning from one activity to another can be challenging for kids. It’s been super helpful for us to say, “Okay, kids. In 10 minutes we’re going to gather for a quick clean up session.” With a smile, I make sure each one has heard me and understands so that when I call, they’re not thrown off.
We clean together.
I don’t necessarily always plan to do this, but since my kids are still 9, 6, and 2 AND because we’re still learning good habits, all of us working on the same end of the house helps to create some momentum. Because I’m present, I’m able to keep the tone fun and positive. Because I’m an active observer, I can affirm their efforts, gentle coach them where they need it and help them problem solve when they’re stuck.
Often, we turn on upbeat music and make it a dance party. (Silly moves are mandatory and believe me, I can bust some silly moves.)
We incentivize ourselves.
I announce something like popcorn and our favorite book once we’re finished. The reality is work isn’t always fun, but it sure is easier when we’ve got something to look forward to.
This conversation is a bit unfair though because I think you’ve probably got some tips or practices that have been helpful to your family. Please share them in comments below. I’m still learning, and I’ll take all the help I can get.
If you’re curious about The Entitlement Course that I mentioned in this article, you can learn more about it here. You can also head to my Instagram here to enter the giveaway for your own free Entitlement Fix e-course.
If you’d like to read more about this, you may enjoy How to Turnaround Your Kids’ Entitlement with Deeper Connection and Lasting Change. Lastly, if you’re on Instagram, use #TheEntitlementFix hashtag to share your struggles, stories and victories. Parenting is a hard. I’d love to share it together.